Joint committee and the prospect of white smoke on marijuana
Whether you agree or disagree, the past week has seen Ireland closer to seeing white smoke on looking at legislation for the legalisation of marijuana.
With marijuana now legal or decriminalised across much of the United States, where polls consistently show a majority of Americans support legalisation, will we really be that far behind? Country star and lifetime campaigner for the 'Bob Hope' brigade, Willie Nelson (below) has even launched his own company to sell the weed himself. Indeed one of his most popular songs is 'Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die'.
But more of that anon. Back in the old sod, the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use also moved up a gear - so to speak - this week when the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality "strongly recommended" that the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs be decriminalised. The news followed an earlier speech by Drugs Strategy Minister Aodhan Ó Ríordáin, referencing the Portuguese model, where the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use passed in 2001 has successfully resulted in more police resources concentrated on drug dealers and traffickers. The Labour minister was "in favour of removing the stigma compounded for those who end up with a criminal record due to possession of drugs for their own use". In a similar sentiment echoed in the US this week, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said: "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use." Sanders supports the legalisation of marijuana, saying the imposition of heavy sentences was "downright absurd".
Also this week, a ruling by Mexico's Supreme Court made the recreational use of marijuana legal - a move president Enrique Peña Nieto said "opens a debate on what is the best form of regulation to inhibit drug use".
For Willie Nelson, the debate is over and he has revealed that he has set up a company, Willie's Reserve, which will sell 'Willie weed' to the public. The product will be initially grown and sold in Colorado and Washington, and rolled out into other territories as they legalise the product. "There should be a menu just like in a restaurant because there's so many different kinds of pot that do many different things," Nelson said. A lifelong advocate of the herb, Nelson (82) continued: "It's just a matter of time before it gets legal everywhere in this country. I feel like I bought so much, it's time to start selling it back."
Taking the product away from criminals is a constant theme of Nelson's: "Why should the criminals make all the money? Let's tax it and regulate it, like we do with everything else, and make some money off this."
In his memoir, 'It's A Long Story: My Life', the country singer makes an impassioned case for the benefits of marijuana over alcohol. "Booze emboldened me. Brought out the fighter. My love affair with pot became a long-term marriage," he said. "It was, by far, the smoothest of all my marriages.
"Liquor agitated me. Weed calmed me. Liquor made me reckless. Weed made me careful. I owe marijuana a lot," he concludes. "I think I can fairly make the claim that marijuana, in the place of booze, cocaine and tobacco, has contributed to my longevity."
The payoff for legal pot has resulted not only in a more streamlined law enforcement focus, but also in a healthy tax revenue stream in the states where it has been legalised. Colorado is set to triple its marijuana tax revenues in 2015, up from $44m in 2014 to a projected $125m this year. With the amount of shops selling marijuana having increased from a handful in January 2014 to more than 400 today, the tax take on legal drugs has now doubled that taken on alcohol - a fact that has made neighbouring states sit up and take notice. The budding industry has also resulted in steep property increases in cities like Denver as new jobs are created in retail, security and horticulture. Legalisation has also impacted in community benefits, as seen in Washington State, where a government-run pot store called Cannabis Corner has its profits specifically designated to social projects.
Nelson is just one of a growing number of high-profile backers of pot legalisation, many of whom have invested in companies already gearing up to get in on the ground floor of this emerging industry.
"More than 85pc of men incarcerated in America are on drug-related offences," said actor Jack Nicholson.
"It costs $40,000 a year for every prisoner. If they were really serious about the economy, there would be a sensible discussion about legalisation." Fellow actress Susan Sarandon is another supporter: "It will be legal everywhere, and that will cause a very interesting tipping point. I think it would make for a much more gentle world."
The war on drugs has failed, believes musician Sting.
"The current laws are actively harming our society," he said. "We are spending billions, filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders and sacrificing our liberties." Fellow guitarist Carlos Santana echoes the sentiment succinctly, saying : "Legalise marijuana and take all that money and invest it in teachers and education. And you will see a transformation of America."