Brian Monteith: Light a spliff for a history lesson

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The old man took a long, slow draw on his cannabis cigarette, closed his eyes and exhaled after a few moments; and then smiled. He turned to his son, who was nursing a 16-year-old Lagavulin, and then told him the story of how marijuana was legalised in Britain.

“It all started in Uruguay in 2012. Nobody really noticed at the time, but the Uruguayan president, José Mujica, enjoyed a majority in both the houses of the South American country’s Congress and passed two Bills that allowed the Uruguayan state to sell cannabis.

“There were heavy restrictions, of course, but it was the first time a government had not only ended the state prohibition of the drug but licensed its sale and as people got used to the idea gradually the rules were relaxed and it became as easily available as that glass of malt in your hands.

“It was quite clever, really. The Uruguayans were worried about the crime levels caused by the drug trade; the murder rate had doubled and there were lots of muggings and robbery caused by people finding the money to pay for expensive, illegal drugs.

“The answer was simple – take control of the cannabis supply away from the criminals, ensure the quality was reliable, make it a lot, lot cheaper but tax it and use the revenues to pay for drug rehabilitation of those who overindulged.

“To obtain the legal supply customers had to go on a database – rather like having a licence to fish in the Tweed – but anyone buying more than 40 of the marijuana cigarettes in a week would have to go on the rehab course.

“Within a year the crime rates were tumbling and Uruguay was becoming a tourist destination as people went to see if it might be copied in their own countries.

“Desperate for the tax revenues Argentina soon followed suit, and then Chile – it was spreading, and some people were even emigrating to live there!

“Naturally, there were opponents. The criminals were very unhappy and even tried to assassinate President Mujica, while the Americans were outraged, saying it would weaken the international war against drugs.

“Then, after a couple of years, President Romney became a convert – 
recognising that what had happened in South America was exactly the same as America prohibition of alcohol in the late 20s.

“Back then people said banning booze would make people healthier, wealthier and reduce crime but it had the exact opposite effect. There were soon more speakeasies in the US than there had been bars, the illegal and uncontrolled alcohol was often highly dangerous and so more people died from poisoning – and of course the booze-related crime was rampant and bred corruption in the police, 
politicians and judiciary. Boot-
legging from Canada was big business and made people like the Kennedys wealthy and powerful.

“Romney argued Mexico had replaced Canada as the bootlegging source of drugs that were ripping that country apart and bringing poisoned and adulterated drugs into the US. When he stood for his second term he said he would move to abolish the prohibition on some drugs, but tax them, license them and provide a network of rehab centres.

“It was a brilliant move for it split the Democrats down the middle, with states like California switching over to him, while the idea of people taking responsibility for their own choices convinced blue-collar Republicans to back the plan.

“By 2018 the US Congress was passing the necessary Bills and on New Year’s Day 2019 cannabis was legalised. After that the rest of the Western nations capitulated and Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, made the necessary changes in law that made cannabis available in Boots, Superdrug and Tesco. He was even photographed smoking a spliff, and although he denied it we all thought it was a typical Boris stunt – and right enough, his ratings shot up and he was re-elected the following year.”

“Wow, dad, that’s cool. I can’t believe it used to be banned,” said the son. “Yeah, it seems mad that we resisted the change for so long. Nowadays people use it for pain relief and often prefer it to alcohol. There’s a lot less fighting in Lothian Road and the Cowgate and being drunk out of your head is now frowned upon.

“For years the state had tried to control the use of cannabis while respectable people hypocritically smoked it out of sight, but it kept growing and when they tried to control alcohol and tobacco it just created more and more counterfeiting.

“If it weren’t for Uruguay it might still be banned, but as sure as eggs are eggs there will be some politicians telling us what’s bad for us and what we should or shouldn’t do with our lives. Thankfully they are just laughed at now, but we have to remain vigilant.”

“I raise my glass to President Mujica, dad, he must have been a brave man.”

“Yes, he was. I’ll spark up in honour of him too, I’ve got some Cohiba Cannabis Conquistadors in my humidor specially for the anniversary.”

The father and son walked into the conservatory smiling, wondering what all the fuss had been about.