Published on 6 Dec 2012

Lighting up time in Seattle as cannabis gets a legal high

Ganga, weed, grass, dope, pot, mary J, hash, stash …cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, the two main varieties, have spawned more euphemisms than perhaps any other illicit substance.

But what you hear in Seattle these days when people talk about marijuana is a number: 502. That is the number of the initiative that passed in this state on that night in early November when the rest of the nation was focused on the battle between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

But initiative 502, which has now been turned into a law permits anyone of the age of 21 and older to possess 1 ounce of cannabis and use it purely for fun.

As one of its leading campaigners told me last night between tokes: “This is our Berlin Wall coming down.” It is a dramatic¬† and historic shift in America’s long running culture wars. Just five years ago the mantra around marijuana was “just say no!” Or face the consequences. Plenty of people have.

There are more than 800 000 people in American jails on cannabis charges. No policeman will now arrest you on the streets of Seattle for owning or using a small amount of dope. In the neighboring state of Montana a man is serving an 18 year long sentence for running a medical dispensary.

These glaring discrepancies are part and parcel of America’s federal system. In the squeaky clean Romney household it may have been perceived as a particularly cruel irony that on the night Mitt was licking his wounds of defeat in Boston, his own home state of Massachussets voted to make it legal to smoke medicinal weed at your gay wedding, both things that Mr. Romney implacably opposed.

America is changing. Medical marijuana is now permitted in 18 states, plus the District of Columbia. Gay marriage is legal in nine, as well as DC. President Obama came out clearly in favor of same sex marriage. But stoners are miffed that the man who has admitted to smoking and inhaling a spliff as a student has so far failed to come out in support of legalization.

In fact Washington, D.C. has greeted the new law in Washington state, on the other side of the country with ominous silence. This is not good for users, for police officers and for businesses who may want to invest in cannabis. The law is as grey and hazy a cloud of smoke from a bong.

The authorities have one year here to work out the details of taxation, acquisition and enforcement. Seattle, the city that changed the world with Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft may do so again. Why not call it world wide weed?

The liquor and beer giants, that have ploughed millions into lobbying against cannabis are nervously watching a rival stimulant. There is a ton of money to be made and they won’t want to miss out on that opportunity when the moment is right.

Meanwhile the message from the stoners last night to the man in the White House was simple: “Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!”

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16 reader comments

  1. kris beveridge says:

    I smell the dawn of a new age and it smells good.

  2. Chris says:

    Blimey Richard Branson is terrible at these interviews, I’d do a better job. It Hitchins asking for alcohol to be made illegal? If he’s not he should shut up. Legalize it.

  3. Tim says:

    Listening to Peter Hitchens tonight makes me want to kill myself, suffering through his options on a subject he verbally demonstrates he has no knowledge of, not only does he not know what he is babbling about he clearly exhibits the traits of a garden variety sociopath so bereft of human compassion or even a meagre shred of human empathy.

    Richard Branson simply communicated the truth about the criminalisation of human beings who take drugs. How much longer in our near bankrupt economy is someone with the power going to take to provide regulated quality cannabis which can be taxed to help pay off our nation’s debts.

    Please someone buy Mr Hitchens a one-way ticket to North Korea where their anti-human society may facilitate the peace of mind he so desperately requires.

  4. Tim woody says:

    Tear down this wall, U.K. wise up and right the wrongs

  5. Pete Stone says:

    It will be interesting to watch what happens – will Seattle turn into a crime ridden hell hole as a result of what some would claim is a “gateway” drug? I think we all know it won’t, if anything crime will come down.

  6. neiallswheel says:

    i hope the team catch up and put the entire interview with Sir Richard Branson on youtube.
    >>>>>In the neighboring state of Montana a man is serving an 18 year long sentence for running a medical dispensary. what is his name?? someone tell avaaz.

  7. David McArthur says:

    Good report, its time it was legalised, especially for medicinal use, its not all about being a “stoner”, it is a medicine, you just have to use common sense and remember to be nice to yourself and not over use, or abuse, but should be used with caution, as the new strains are strong and can effect some people adversley, although discontinuation will improve any possible adverse reactions almost immediatley.
    It is a considerably less harmful substance than tobacco or alcohol, with a lower toxicity, but it use should be promoted without tobacco, for obvious health reasons.
    It is better consumed orally, used in foods drinks and cooking.
    It would promote a healthy new industry in quality control of the products and healthy optional alternative ways for consumtion to licensed adults.

    1. parallel_monologue says:

      I am all in favour of legalisation but I would hate to see commercialisation.

      I think Peter Hitchens was trying to make Richard Branson admit that he wants to make a profit out of selling it. That would be wrong.

      The idea that Cannabis should become part of the corporate greed structure, with it’s over-riding duty to make huge profits for shareholders by continually growing (no pun intended) it’s market by advertising, is anathema to me.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m a stoner through and through but I do not want to see it marketed like tobacco and booze.
      It would be a better solution to allow people to grow a few plants for themselves.

      In order to supply the remaining demand for those who can’t grow it, avoiding corporate or gang culture incentives to expand the market artificially, it would be wise to create a legal framework for licensed cannabis clubs or co-operatives, where the customers must be 18 yrs. or older, to register as shareholders and will receive dividends on their purchases.

      Ideally, there would be a sensible limit to the size of the growing operations that such co-operatives would be allowed, but no limit on the number of clubs an individual could be a member of.
      Taxation could be levied in the usual way, on purchase through VAT and on profits through corporation tax but a good regulatory structure would keep each club small enough that they were not able to make huge fortunes anyway..
      I don’t want to see weed, or vulnerable people being exploited, nor any financial pressure to artificially inflate demand. We have already got that, with it being a crime.

  8. David McArthur says:

    With regard the interview between Sir Richard Branson and peter hitchens.
    This was a very poor broadcast and interview, satellite link up was a disaster…
    Peter hitchens is a complete moron, trust c4 to use this idiot.
    Mr Branson didnt do too well articulating, but” Hitchens” is about as pathetic and absurd as it comes in britian, His opinion ? is questionable. what a retard.

  9. Martin says:

    I thought Peter Hitchens was loud, bullying & bombastic on this news item, his arguments appeared dated & weak in the face of the mounting evidence. An archaic political agendist it seems. Can’t we have more reasoned candidates to interview on the programme please?

  10. Philip Edwards says:

    Matt,

    Congratulations on last night’s piece from Baltimore.

    More of that please. It is much closer to Yank urban reality than the usual propaganda and ludicrous lapel-badge politicians.

    I hope you can show even more of the reality, especially the situation in the South where racism still runs marrow-deep. The truth is US society is in an even more disparate state than Europe. Much more of the current deterioration and neocon Washington will have to start another war somewhere to deflect attention. The Tea Party nutters will be the least of it.

    As for cannabis – if someone is intent on addling their brain with that muck, they will do it whatever measures are taken. Legalise it, licence its production and distribution and mark the packs with the kind of warnings the Australians have adopted. Once the profiteering is taken from it the criminals will have turn to something else. In fact the world’s biggest drugs dealers are the tobacco companies and the brewers.

  11. Oliver says:

    Great article one of the few news reports related to cannabis that isn’t being prejudice or providing misinformation unlike the Daily Mail or Independent channel4 won’t have to worry about the leveson report you have my respect thanks ;)

  12. John Hodson says:

    How has Branson made so much money? Clearly not by using his powers to argue! Anybody living in Britain who goes out at night knows the cannabis is effectively legal: the police aren’t interested in it and the chances of receiving any serious sanction for its possession or use – not to be confused with it being taken into consideration with other offences – are slim. Finally, the way the presenter protected Mr. Smilealot from not answering the simple question ased by Hitchens was embarrassing !

  13. Andrew Cox says:

    Peter Hitchen is a walking flawed argument. He professes to be an able orator/debater but all i ever hear is ad hominem, slippery slope, appeal to history, straw man, begging the question, particular to the general, post hoc, false dilemma, false attribution, appeals to ignorance etc etc etc etc the list is endless. Add to this the personality he portrays, admittedly off camera he could be a lovely man, but with the limited evidence i have he seems an arrogant man who lacks empathy and is unwilling to address/engage with scientific, expert evidence based knowledge and research. Whilst demanding immediate direct responses to his own simplistic questions then jumping on a lack of a response to mean his argument is faultless. Whatever the arguments in any situation there will always be extreme voices of opposition, perhaps this is good as it makes the more sensible solutions/ideas seem just that ‘sensible’.

  14. Nicky says:

    They have started selling it in Tescos’ now

  15. anon says:

    The misuse of alcohol has caused innumerable problems. Yet it is freely available and socially acceptable. Perhaps there is a need for a restriction on the amount consumed by each individual. In other words enforced moderation. It sounds horrendous but with the possibility of the legalization of marijuana it may be worth considering.

    It will be interesting to observe the effects in areas where marijuana is now legal.If there is an increase in abuse then perhaps responsible restriction would be wise for the well being of society.

    I remember petrol rationing and postwar rationing.

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