You don't have to smoke it to know cannabis is here to stay - so why not make a buck from it?
I go into the yard to hang out washing, and smell it. I walk my children to school through the leafy avenues of Mt Eden, and smell it. I walk past a group of guys operating highly dangerous construction equipment and, with some alarm, I smell it there too.
Now, either I'm walking around with a smouldering marijuana leaf about my person (unlikely, as my married-with-young-kids lifestyle is so lily-white it would make the Swiss Family Robinson vomit with disgust), or every second person in New Zealand is on the wacky-baccy. In fact, it's about 10 to 15 per cent of us, according to a recent study in the medical journal The Lancet. Kiwis and Aussies are among the world's highest users of cannabis.
To my mind, this drug is completely loathsome. It makes people talk a load of bollocks, for one thing, but also plays a starring role in cancers, lung disease and our appalling road toll. Teachers hate it for turning students into glassy-eyed no-hopers, parents hate it for turning unreachable teenagers into ... well, more unreachable teenagers; and young children growing up in tinny houses add immeasurably to the workload of the police and social workers.
But the pragmatic in me thinks something lucrative and, dare I say it, positive for New Zealand could be mined in marijuana. Don Brash was halfway there before the last election, in attempting to approach the issue like an adult (for which he got shot down in flames) - but where he advocated decriminalising pot for personal use, I'm thinking bigger, bolder.
What about the Government taking a (cannabis) leaf out of the California story and granting permits to a set number of marijuana growers throughout the country, who would sell it to licensed outlets for use by those with a medical need for the drug (or those wanting a bloody great high - either way), and steal a jump on the way the world is inevitably going?
It's an industry that could create so much tax revenue, given its inherent popularity; it would mean no digging up the Coromandel or deep-sea drilling, for starters. Instead of losing whole generations of wily entrepreneurs to this leafy green underworld, their business acumen would be harnessed to produce a legal, safe(r) product - with by-products like hemp and hydroponics technology creating still more industry.
The sector may even invigorate the NZX, if the American example is anything to go by. In 1996 California passed the Compassionate Use Act; 15 other states have since legalised the drug for medical use. Sales of fully legal "medical" marijuana in California alone top US$1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) annually, according to Mother Jones magazine, which also sees a similarity between the dotcoms of the early internet days and today's "potcoms" - "start-ups helmed by young entrepreneurs with risky business plans [seeking] venture capital and dream[ing] of stock offerings".
The similarities go further. While the dotcom bubble was precarious and burst in spectacular fashion, California's largest cash crop - worth about US$14 billion - is also fragile, subject to the capriciousness of politicians. At any time, the US Federal Government might try and over-ride California's liberal drug laws. But that hasn't stopped young turks, "ganjapreneurs", and old hippies looking to cash in, banking on the fact that softening attitudes to pot are a reality - as is widespread use. Just like in this country, which can offer the world clean, green New Zealand, or clean New Zealand green, depending on which would bring in the most revenue.
As for me, I don't do marijuana, so I won't be contributing to the four-wheel drives of tinny house-owners or the higher tax take of a more liberal government.
I don't need to - if I want a free high, all I need to do is open my windows and inhale.
firstname.lastname@example.orgBy Dita De Boni