Every few days some celebrity ninny will call for the scrapping of marijuana laws, saying that it will take the drug out of the hands of criminal gangs. And all kinds of conservative-minded people will gravely nod their heads at the idea.
But those looking to condone cannabis use through the law should think about the consequences of such a move. All crime is caused by law. If we had no laws, there would be no need for those expensive police, courts and prisons to enforce them. There would be no crimes. There would be no criminal gangs. But there would still be a lot of people doing stupid, wrong things. Decriminalising cannabis won’t make its impact on society any less potent.
The clear evidence from North America should put the issue beyond any doubt: criminal gangs have flourished in Canada and Colorado, supplying marijuana to consumers who do not want to pay the heavy taxes levied on legal outlets. But if an untrue thing is said publicly often enough by famous, popular people, it will be believed.
Illegal drugs are sold by criminal gangs for the simple reason that they are illegal. Legal drugs, by contrast, are sold by cynical businessmen and businesswomen. Unlike criminal gangs, with their crude distribution networks and sordid image, Big Tobacco and Big Booze have the power and wealth to ensure that their products are readily available through shops and major internet outlets.
Interestingly, it is harder for them to advertise them, as they once did – but there is still plenty of product placement. For those such as me who have lived through the sixty years in which cigarette advertising has been slowly squashed out of existence by an immense, relentless effort, the swift rise of cannabis is an astonishing thing. The new semi-legal business empire of Big Dope will, when it fully gets going, be able to advertise, as Big Tobacco was once able to do. Public health experts face decades of trying to persuade the authorities that marijuana – its consumption now strongly correlated with mental illness – poses a health risk to its users and to society.
In the meantime, prepare to enjoy (or not) more of what happened last week when the singer Justin Bieber launched his own brand of pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes.
Bieber, in words which I rather think will come back to haunt him in middle age, praised the company marketing his favoured brand, saying he was ‘a fan’ of ‘what they are doing by making cannabis approachable and helping to destigmatize it – especially for the many people who find it helpful for their mental health.’
When the State of California passed Proposition 64 in 2016, following a very well-financed campaign, few noted that it contained detailed provisions for advertising the newly-legalised drug. When I pointed this out to British marijuana advocates in public debates, they dismissed it as alarmism.
But the once-cherubic Bieber’s commercial plunge seems to me to explain many years of militancy by Big Dope, which claimed repeatedly that in countries such as Britain and the USA there was a ‘war on drugs’ which was repressive and had failed. This was plainly not true.
In Britain, police had largely abandoned pursuing illegal possession, so that the streets of many UK cities stink of marijuana, easier to buy on campuses than full-fat milk. In the USA, legalisers had (as their guru Keith Stroup predicted in 1979) used medical marijuana as a red herring to garner pot a good name, and to eviscerate state laws against it. Now comes the really important bit – the unbridled commerce. And still, the criminal gangs have not gone away.