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Now that Colorado has legalised ganja...

DIANE ABBOTT

Sunday, February 16, 2014    

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HERE in Britain we have legalised same-sex marriage. But legalising marijuana is considered a step too far. Yet, in the American state of Colorado they have taken the brave step of legalising ganja for personal use.

Legalisation began on January 1 this year and already the commercial potential of legalised marijuana is becoming clear.

Although it is now legal, the restrictions are still quite severe. Residents of Colorado can purchase one ounce at a time for personal use. But visitors are restricted to buying just a quarter ounce at a time and are barred from smoking it in most public places.

However, these restrictions have not stopped Americans from pouring into Colorado from other American states in order to sample the newly legal delights.

To help this new breed of tourist are special online maps which give them the opening times and locations of "dispensaries" licensed to sell marijuana. And to aid the curious visitor, numerous tour operators have been launched.

These tour guides will show tourists where marijuana is grown and any number of shops where it can be purchased. Your tour guide will also advise you on the various rules and regulations in Colorado and show you where you can safely smoke your purchases. There are hotel properties with names like 'Get High Getaways'. In these hotels the management places a nicely rolled spliff in guests' bedrooms every evening in the same way that a more conventional hotel might leave fruit and flowers.

And all over Colorado you can buy sweets, chocolates and biscuits laced with marijuana. For the time being, the Colorado Tourist Board refuses to officially exploit legal drugs as a tourist attraction. But this can only be a matter of time.

Jamaica's political class has firmly set its face against the legalisation of marijuana. But if, one by one, the other American states follow Colorado's example, how long can Jamaica sustain this stance? Jamaica's economy has been battered by international economic storms, the collapse in demand for traditional commodities like sugar, and structural problems.

In the case of tourism, the imposition of Air Passenger Duty has been a particular blow. But many argue that if Jamaican politicians could bring themselves to legalise marijuana, and if they did it ahead of other Caribbean countries, then there is no doubt it would provide a boost to Jamaica's tourism product.

Entrepreneurs could move into the business of guided tours, specialist hotels and the sweet and cookie-making market in the manner of Colorado. And the truth is that even though marijuana is officially illegal in Jamaica, the possible availability of it is still a draw to tourists.

However, it is argued that actually legalising it would make a whole range of legal entrepreneurial activity possible and turbo-charge the contribution of marijuana to the Jamaican economy.

Of course, politicians outside Colorado, including this writer, still have to decide whether legalising marijuana would actually be the correct thing to do. But meanwhile, the intriguing possibility is that Colorado, with its explosion of legitimate activity around marijuana, could be a peek into the future for countries like Jamaica.

— Diane Abbott is the British Labour party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

www.dianeabbott.org.uk

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