Matt Heath is a radio host on Radio Hauraki and Herald columnist

Matt Heath: Legalising pot could do a world of good

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Tax the stuff, build more schools and watch crime go down.
Marijuana is legal in parts of the United States. Photo / AP
Marijuana is legal in parts of the United States. Photo / AP

For many in New Zealand it's easier to get hold of marijuana than alcohol. And yet it's still super illegal. It seems strange a conservative country like the United States has states legalising cannabis when here in New Zealand - one of the biggest consumers of weed per capita - we're not even close.

Obviously Kiwis are divided on the issue. On one side it seems harsh that people should go to jail for simple horticulture. On the other side, weed makes boring things less boring, causing teens to waste their lives doing pointless stuff. Equally, surely people should be allowed to choose what they put inside their own bodies? Even then, pro-weed people might not like the taxation that comes with legalisation.

Almost all of us agree that if someone's got cancer, and cannabis will make their life better, they should be allowed it. And most of us agree it's not a good idea to have people driving massively stoned and/or drunk. So surely some kind of middle ground can be met.

Last year I travelled to Colorado, a state where marijuana is legal. It's sold in nice shops with nice people behind counters. On display are all kinds of weed - sticky buds glistening inside glass jars with crazy names such as "cat piss", because that's what it smells like. Different strains, strong, mild, uppers, downers, edibles, gummy bears - however you like your weed, and however you like to consume it, it's here.

As you would expect, they sell a lot of legal weed in Colorado.

But if it's doing any bad in the community, it's also doing good. In a deal that got Soccer Moms to vote for the legalisation, most of the money from taxing weed is earmarked for building schools. The state is smoking its way to new gyms, computers and classrooms.

The air was thick. The smell was strong. It was like being in a fragrant bushfire.

I also toured the huge hydroponic facility of the state's largest cannabis-growing business. Being locked in a building with tonnes of a plant that's illegal back home is odd and exciting. It felt like a movie. Like the cops would kick down the doors and shoot everyone in the head any second. Adding to the cinematic vibe, there were private security guards with machine guns at every door. They were there for the money, not the drugs. It's still illegal to put drug funds into Federal banks. So everything is paid for in cash. I heard stories of millions being taken to the tax department in suitcases. Builders being paid for constructing an entire new wing in thousands of hundred dollar bills. Apparently in the US, when you have lots of loose cash, you need lots of guns to look after it.

The following day I attended the Colorado 4/20 rally in downtown Denver, named for the time of day when people feel compelled to smoke weed. So 4.20pm on April 20 is a big day for pot-smokers. I was standing in a crowd of 60,000 people all simultaneously smoking weed at 4.20. The air was thick. The smell was strong. It was like being in a fragrant bushfire.

The day after that I spent in a Colorado police pursuit vehicle. The cop reckoned he could tell who's been smoking by how they use the roads. His big problem was people simultaneously driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol. My big problem was my hangover - stuck in the back with his automatic shotgun, trying not to throw up as he demonstrated his Dodge Charger's impressive acceleration.

All this legal weed tourism was for a documentary called Driving High, which screens 9.30pm this Wednesday on Prime.

Marijuana will probably be legalised in New Zealand at some point. It's the way the western world is going. And from what I saw in Denver, when that happens, life will be pretty much the same as it is now. From what I could tell Denver hadn't descended into any kind of pot apocalypse. Crime has actually come down - which makes sense, since you stop arresting people for smoking weed.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Matt Heath is a radio host on Radio Hauraki and Herald columnist

Matt Heath is a breakfast radio host on Radio Hauraki, and a television producer, writer and director. He made a name for himself with Back of The Y Masterpiece Television, Balls of Steel UK and the feature film The Devil Dared Me To. Matt was guitarist and singer for the band Deja Voodoo which released two top twenty albums. He is currently a producer on Best Bits, a cricket commentator for The Alternative Commentary Collective, and the director of Vinewood Motion Graphics. Matt is a father of two living in Auckland City.

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