THE NEWSDESK: The argument for cannabis legalisation can no longer be ignored
IN JANUARY, the state of Colorado made $2m dollars in tax revenue from the sale of cannabis.
That's £1.5m in a month, the first month of legalised commercial cannabis sales, almost the same level of tax it took in from the sale of alcohol, at £1.6m.
The tax total reported by the state Department of Revenue indicates $14.02m (£8.4m) of recreational cannabis was sold from 59 businesses.
The taxes come from 12.9% sales taxes and 15% excise taxes. Including licensing fees and taxes from Colorado's pre-existing medical marijuana industry, the state collected about $3.5m dollars (£2.1 million) from the marijuana industry in January.
Colorado is the first US state to legalise the licensed sale of cannabis for recreational use provided it is grown by the seller - it has allowed its medicinal use for the past three years.
In Colorado, it is illegal to advertise cannabis where children might see it.
Now, the debate is on as to where this tax revenue should be spent - state police have put a bid in for extra funding, there are many who argue it should be spent on health projects.
Other US states are now looking at potential legalisation.
And it got me thinking. Anyone who believes cannabis is not freely available in every town in Britain has been walking around with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears for decades.
We've seen, here in Newport, the consequences with which our police officers have to deal.
Organised gangs - one of which was involved in the killing of a Vietnamese man dumped at the Royal Gwent Hospital in 2006.
The trade in people trafficked from south east Asia to become slaves taking care of illegal cannabis farms.
And few dealers will stick to selling one drug. This week, the Wales Green Party has put legalisation of cannabis back on the political agenda.
It says that in March 1961, the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was signed. This convention obliges all UN member states to prohibit the production and distribution of a number of psychoactive substances that are considered dangerous for public health.
But its leader Pippa Bartolotti, says now: “It is time to separate out the use of cannabis from hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. No one has yet died from using cannabis, in fact the health benefits of cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy and cancer are already well documented.
"Commercial organisations in the UK are already allowed to patent and sell cannabis extracts, whilst the population as a whole is criminalised for using it...This simply has to be changed.
“Cannabis has been wrongly labelled as a gateway drug. It is not. It is the criminalisation of it which is the gateway to harder drugs. If we remove cannabis from the black market there will be many benefits for society – not least in taxation." The argument about taking it out of criminal hands and raising taxes is a powerful one for me.
Although the Greens say a comparison with alcohol is wrong as that is responsible for thousands of deaths every year, I think we should make that comparison for that very reason - do we believe legalised cannabis would lead to the sort of social problems alcohol causes?
If it did lead to them, cannabis use is already so widespread they would have been far more evident by now than they are.
Let's not be naïve about it, though.
Some people will always abuse cannabis or alcohol or another drug - and abuses should be dealt with in the same way.
If cannabis is legalised, it would be no more legal to drug-drive under the influence of cannabis than drink-drive, no more acceptable to turn up to your workplace stoned than drunk.
As it is unacceptable right now.
And we could target precious police resources away from cannabis possession cases to where they are more sorely needed.
The argument that a legalised cannabis trade would vastly increase consumption in the long term also doesn't wash with me. Are those espousing it telling me that drug dealers currently don't try to saturate their marketplaces in the most aggressively capitalistic way? They're in it for the money - and Lord knows what else that dirty money chain is funding. Terrorism? Human trafficking?
The Wales Green Party leader says decriminalisation will "add taxable income to the Treasury where it should rightfully be spent on public health.”
Here's something else to think about: Forbes magazine reports that 1,200 people attended the first ever jobs fair for the legalised Colorado cannabis industry last week - an industry which has created growing, processing, retail and clerical jobs.
For me, the sheer weight of the arguments for legalisation can no longer be ignored.
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