Social Experiments and What They Have Taught Us – Part 1

By Simon Doherty

In the following articles I intend to take you on a journey through various tolerant approaches towards cannabis policy around the world and have a look at the difference between legalisation, decriminalisation and tolerance. Cannabis social experiments.

The Netherlands

Tolerance Level: Tolerated

Many people reading this have most likely booked a cheap £60 flight to escape the cloak and dagger nature of the cannabis culture in England (in at least 364 days in the year anyway – see you next year on the park). The usual destination for a relaxed smoke, with only a medium-level risk of being seriously injured in a collision involving a bicycle or tram, is of course infamous den of vice and tolerance: Amsterdam.

Cannabis is illegal, but tolerated. This, in reality, means that you do not have to worry about being arrested for possessing or smoking it. Sure a police officer may have a quiet word in certain heavily populated parts of the city but it would be about the same severity as being asked to stop drinking a bottle of larger in a town centre shopping footfall.

What makes Holland unique is that they have two groups or categories of recreational drugs; hard and soft. On the face of it this initially sounds like a triumph of common sense. That is until you realise that alcohol is in the soft category and then it all seems a bit daft. One bizarre consequence of this non-enforcement approach is the existence of what one could describe as a gray market. Cannabis users can buy up to 5 grams of weed providing that they are over 18 and not causing any sort of disturbance. However, who is supplying the buds and hash? It is illegal to grow or import it! This strange paradoxical legal contradiction seems to lend weight to the argument that cannabis must by legalised rather than decriminalised or simply ignored.

“The front door is open, but the backdoor is illegal.”

Cannabis is tolerated in The Netherlands

Colorado, US

Tolerance Level: Legal for medical or recreational use

Since the introduction of Amendment 64 citizens of Colorado, presuming they are over the age of 21, can do the following legally: grow six plants, posses up to an ounce (28g) of weed whilst travelling and pass on up to an ounce to somebody else of legal age.

So what have been the implications of this change in legislation? A decrease in crime, including a 4-5% decrease in burglaries and robberies, according to USA Today magazine. This has been predictably accompanied with a commercial trade flourishing as fast as the plants can. Many have dubbed the plant ‘green gold’ as 11million dollars in taxes were secured within the four months of legalisation from recreational sales. I bet the UK could really do with that sort of cash to be extracted from the black market and invested in public sector services, such as education and healthcare, in this time of austerity.

This is certainly a welcome change for local cannabis users; according to the FBI’s data, in 2011 they arrested someone for a cannabis related crime every 42 seconds in the US. However, it is always useful to take statistics generated by any police, or ‘law enforcement’ as it is in this case, with a pinch of salt as they will almost certainly have a plethora of hidden agendas to work towards.

Brixton, London UK

Cannabis protest in Brixton

March for legalisation of cannabis in Brixton, London.

Tolerance Level: Personal use briefly tolerated in some circumstances between the years of 2001-02

In an interesting turn of events in 2001 the radical and outspoken then Metropolitan Police Commander Brian Paddick spearheaded what came to be known as a ‘softly-softly’ approach to cannabis in Brixton. He argued at the time that he had “never known anyone commit crime to fund a cannabis habit”. The move was revered by drug lobbyists as a step in the right direction and simultaneously condemned by prohibitionists as the beginning of a tolerance to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Unfortunately, during the experiment strong opposition emerged, mainly in response to sensationalised, attention-grabbing and speculative tabloid headlines depicting children as young as 10 addicted to cannabis.

Crime increased in Brixton as more dealers seemed to be travelling there, sometimes bickering and causing a disturbance, to sell cannabis. Soon after this, as predictable as clockwork, the then director of the DEA Asa Hutchinson visited the Metropolitan Police to denounce the experiment a failure. This was of course the last nail in the coffin for Paddick’s attempt to infuse some common sense into modern policing in Britain.

Professor David Nutt, former UK Government’s chief adviser on recreational drugs who was sacked in 2009 for telling them what they did not want to hear, has a possible explanation. In his 2012 book ‘Drugs Without the Hot Air: minimising the harms of legal and illegal drugs’ he describes the social experiment in Brixton as producing a ‘goldfish effect’. By which he meant that individuals were coming to the area as they thought that there was something interesting going on and they would not be prosecuted for dealing softer drugs. This, Nutt argues, resulted in a surge of crime which simply would not have happened if the approach was rolled out nationwide.

North Korea

Tolerance Level: Unenforced?

Yes, North Korea. This one cannot be officially confirmed due to the low levels of validity, and spurious nature, of their national media which is controlled entirely by ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-Un. However, there have been several reports from various defectors that cannabis is used with impunity and even English media reporting that they openly bought a carrier bag full of green and smoked it with no problems.

I really hope that weed is accepted in North Korea, I think them guys probably deserve it more than some. Annual GDP for the country was ranked at 197th in the world last year standing at $1,800, and electricity can be sporadic and intermittent.

Do we want to visit to see for ourselves? Probably not.

Enjoy this article? Then add us on Facebook NORML UK and look out for the second part which will feature countries such as Portugal and Uruguay.

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