The state of Washington in the United States of America has become the first state in the country to legalise marijuana. The move comes a month after the US election which saw the proposition to make the drug legal receive the votes needed for it to pass into law. Recreational drug users took to the streets to light up in celebration.
And there is another US state which will see similar laws come into force in the coming weeks. Colorado also voted during the national election on a proposition to legalise marijuana.
Under the new laws in Washington state, recreational smokers over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis or up to 450 grams of baked goods containing marijuana. Having in your possession, up to 720 ounces of the drug in liquid form is also legal under the law which came into force in Washington on Thursday.
There are however some conditions attached to the new law.
Selling, cultivating and giving away marijuana for free, even among pot-smoking buddies will continue to be illegal. And despite the public pot party overnight, toking on marijuana in public will still be verboten.
This begs the question: what has actually changed at present?
The answer is that not much has changed so far. The only differences for now are that you may possess the aforementioned quantities of the once illicit substance and smoke or ingest those products in private.
However, you will have come by the drug in an illegal manner and universities and workplaces will have the ability to ban it on their premises.
State authorities, under the law, will have until December next year to establish legal cannabis trading houses which will be taxed and licensed in much the same manner as liquor-selling businesses currently are.
There is some major uncertainty about the future of the laws in Washington state and Colorado.
The drug is still illegal under federal law and the federal government may well decide to override the two states’ laws, though this has not yet been confirmed.
It is true though, that the Justice Department did not move to override the Washington law before it came into effect and so perhaps this points to the possibility of letting the law in Washington stand as well as the path to legalised cannabis in Colorado being allowed to continue.
The US Government intervening and overturning the two state-based laws would however, actually be quite a good thing.
Cannabis and indeed all drugs, are substances which are harmful to the health of all users, especially long-term recreational drug-takers.
The drug Cannabis is responsible for bringing on mental illnesses which can have devastating consequences in the lives of those experiencing such problems and result in similar negative consequences for the community around users.
Legalising drugs, including marijuana, will not suddenly make them less harmful to the public. They will still cause mental illness in people taking such substances and those effects will continue to harm both the drug-taker and potentially members of the public around them.
And legalising drugs will not cut down on their use either. Legalising drugs would likely mean that more people, some of whom had perhaps wanted to engage in drug-use but did not partake because it was illegal, would take up the habit and this would not be good for both healthcare and crime budgets. When you legalise drugs, you remove the stigma which is behind stopping some people using them.
It is important to acknowledge that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ is a battle that governments around the world are losing and will continue to lose in varying degrees across the globe.
But legalising drugs is no answer.
Even the most tightly regulated drug-use schemes will have their problems unless scientists discover a way to remove the harmful compounds from the drugs, or they discover some kind of way to shield the brain from the potentially very dangerous effects of such chemicals.
Whichever path governments choose, they are going to face costs. But trying to stop harm to consumers of drugs and those around them should be the highest priority.