So marijuana’s going to be legalised in America?

Hugo Rifkind

Less noticed among the Obamarama of last night were a couple of fairly major American social developments. First, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota all voted, in varying forms, for same-sex marriage. And second, both Colorado and Washington approved measures to begin the legalisation of marijuana for recreational use.

The former is obviously a big deal. The latter may be a bigger deal than it first appears. Indeed, I’ve a feeling it may be a global first (and Wikipedia seems to agree). Certainly, the use of marijuana and cannabis has been decriminalised in various countries (the Netherlands and Portugal are the obvious ones) and marijuana for medical use has been legalised in a handful of US states. But for recreational use? It being actively legal that people should want to get stoned and do so? This is new.

In my column a few weeks ago, I used the experience of the Netherlands to argue that decriminalisation, while it might sound attractive, actually creates a climate ripe for organised crime. For soft drugs, which are already so widely used, the only credible solution is a supply-side one, which takes not just possession but the whole industry out of the hands of criminals. Indeed, recent figures that suggest that use of Class A drugs is in decline in Britain, and that use of legal highs is both soaring, and increasingly worrying seem, to me, to back this up. The latter is clearly a health issue, not a criminal one. Isn’t this preferable?

Of course, two US states legalising recreational marijuana doesn’t mean that recreational marijuana is legal. Heavens no. As far as the federal government is concerned, it still isn’t, regardless of what any individual state says. So, as with same-sex marriage, what we have here is one of those complex and uniquely American situations where the country finds itself in conflict with the State. Considering how messy this is likely to get, you’ll want to keep a clear head.


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