This move, I think, would restore a lot of people's faith in the idea that such things are possible. We had the farce in the last government of swinging from class C back to Class B with very little constructive debate- the whole think reeked of nannystateism. If the Dutch and Canadians are mature enough to have a regulated but workable cannabis culture I would like to think that the people in the UK are as well. A lot of people smoke cannabis, for some it becomes a problem, the openness of a coffeeshop culture, I am confident will improve this situation not make it worse. The dutch perception of cannabis is, for me, the most heartening indication of why such a move is constructive. You will notice when talking to the vast majority of Dutch people that cannabis is not venerated, it is not even thought of particularly favourably- it is for students and slackers. But the rights of those students and slackers are not dictated by a brow-beating middle-aged majority. Cannabis is just a plant you can smoke, coffeeshops are just a place you can hang out, chill out, make new friends, make big plans, form new ideas, start up new bands. Please let us have some.
There may have been a time when the criminilisation of marajuana made sense- I don't know, I wasn't there. At present its continued status as a class B illicit substance is silly. Prohibition makes gangsters rich, this has been true since the bootleggers of the 1920s grew rich and powerful from the actions of an unworkable temperance movement. Admitedly said gangsters did use their new found wealth and power to bequeth the US one of it's most progressive and inspiring presidents in JFK, but that's not really the point. It shouldn't have to happen that way.
There remain problems with legalizing cannabis, of which any government who has tried is all to aware. It will inevitably remain a controlled substance, we aren't living in paradise, we're living in the real world. However, we have a tailor made solution to our current impasse from our friends from across the hook. The Dutch coffee shop model is ripe for introduction into the UK. It works well there, seems to have little bearing on crime, and has become, as far as I can make out entirely normal. Here are but a few advantages to the coffee shop model:
Coffee shop boosts tourism bringing revenue into the UK.
Coffee shops are a good form of urban regeneration filling empty space in towns and cities and offering private sector employment at a time when it is much needed.
Coffee shops remove the gateway element of cannabis to gang culture.
Coffee shops are taxable.
Coffee shops might encourage a move way from our more harmful binge drinking culture, at least for some.
Advances in growing technology mean that the best cannabis, as in Holland, can be grown in the UK. Less sterling would flow out of the UK if we could sanction grow rooms as part of a coffee shop.
Coffee shops will not be to everyone's liking but I'd sure like to run one. Mine would be a cannabis and comedy lounge- putting on live shows and running film nights whilst people could get high. To be honest I feel my careers a bit in limbo until I'm alowed to do it. But as Howard Marx once told me: "You'll get there…"
Finally the other problem the smoking ban and the obvious problem that presents to coffee shops there are five possible solutions that I can conceive of:
1) The vaporizer lounge solution favoured in Canada where no tobacco is smoked and cannabis is vaporized in machines to create a smoke free way of getting high (much better for the lungs).
2) The extractor fan rooms favoured in some establishments in Holland. Smokers go into a seperate, sealed room, where they smoke and their smoke is sucked up by extractor fans in the ceiling.
3) Outside terraces, the conventional solution for pubs, nice in the summer, heaters and awning required for winter.
4) Ignore the ban. A lot of places in Amsterdam do. There are some sweet places in Amsterdam that have jars to collect money for potential fines for the establishment being caught permitting tobacco smoking. The idea is, you want to smoke tobacco, you put a couple of euros in the jar, if everybody does that and the establishment is eventually charged, the fine is covered.
5) Modify the legislation around the smoking ban, or just give coffee shops the same status as private smoking clubs and the bar in the house of commons, so that smoking is permitted by the reasonable consent of the customer.
This is all very doable and I'd be willing to help make it happen.