Pubdate: Mon, 02 May 2016
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2016 New Zealand Herald
Author: Matt Heath


Tax the Stuff, Build More Schools and Watch Crime Go Down

For many in New Zealand it's easier to get hold of marijuana than 
alcohol. And yet it's still super illegal. It seems strange a 
conservative country like the United States has states legalising 
cannabis when here in New Zealand - one of the biggest consumers of 
weed per capita - we're not even close.

Obviously Kiwis are divided on the issue. On one side it seems harsh 
that people should go to jail for simple horticulture. On the other 
side, weed makes boring things less boring, causing teens to waste 
their lives doing pointless stuff. Equally, surely people should be 
allowed to choose what they put inside their own bodies? Even then, 
pro-weed people might not like the taxation that comes with legalisation.

Almost all of us agree that if someone's got cancer, and cannabis 
will make their life better, they should be allowed it. And most of 
us agree it's not a good idea to have people driving massively stoned 
and/or drunk. So surely some kind of middle ground can be met.

Last year I travelled to Colorado, a state where marijuana is legal. 
It's sold in nice shops with nice people behind counters. On display 
are all kinds of weed - sticky buds glistening inside glass jars with 
crazy names such as "cat piss", because that's what it smells like. 
Different strains, strong, mild, uppers, downers, edibles, gummy 
bears - however you like your weed, and however you like to consume 
it, it's here.

As you would expect, they sell a lot of legal weed in Colorado.

But if it's doing any bad in the community, it's also doing good. In 
a deal that got Soccer Moms to vote for the legalisation, most of the 
money from taxing weed is earmarked for building schools. The state 
is smoking its way to new gyms, computers and classrooms.

I also toured the huge hydroponic facility of the state's largest 
cannabis-growing business. Being locked in a building with tonnes of 
a plant that's illegal back home is odd and exciting. It felt like a 
movie. Like the cops would kick down the doors and shoot everyone in 
the head any second. Adding to the cinematic vibe, there were private 
security guards with machine guns at every door. They were there for 
the money, not the drugs. It's still illegal to put drug funds into 
Federal banks. So everything is paid for in cash. I heard stories of 
millions being taken to the tax department in suitcases. Builders 
being paid for constructing an entire new wing in thousands of 
hundred dollar bills. Apparently in the US, when you have lots of 
loose cash, you need lots of guns to look after it.

The following day I attended the Colorado 4/20 rally in downtown 
Denver, named for the time of day when people feel compelled to smoke 
weed. So 4.20pm on April 20 is a big day for potsmokers. I was 
standing in a crowd of 60,000 people all simultaneously smoking weed 
at 4.20. The air was thick. The smell was strong. It was like being 
in a fragrant bushfire.

The day after that I spent in a Colorado police pursuit vehicle. The 
cop reckoned he could tell who's been smoking by how they use the 
roads. His big problem was people simultaneously driving under the 
influence of marijuana and alcohol. My big problem was my hangover - 
stuck in the back with his automatic shotgun, trying not to throw up 
as he demonstrated his Dodge Charger's impressive acceleration.

All this legal weed tourism was for a documentary called Driving 
High, which screens 9.30pm this Wednesday on Prime.

Marijuana will probably be legalised in New Zealand at some point. 
It's the way the western world is going. And from what I saw in 
Denver, when that happens, life will be pretty much the same as it is 
now. From what I could tell Denver hadn't descended into any kind of 
pot apocalypse. Crime has actually come down - which makes sense, 
since you stop arresting people for smoking weed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom