Sales of Pringles Crisps and fun-size Mars Bars shot up to record levels last week as stoners everywhere celebrated the news that the recreational use of cannabis has been legalised in two more American states.
In Colorado, as a matter of fact, more people backed easy access to the weed than voted for either of the two candidates, a situation which obviously says something quite profound about politics. (I’m not sure exactly what, but hopefully it’ll come to me when I’m a bit less baked.)
I’m joking of course - I didn’t rejoice unreservedly at the news for a couple of reasons – firstly I don’t live in either Colorado or Washington and secondly because I spent a number of years - (how many? – uh, not sure, dude) in Nimbin, a small town in Northern New South Wales known as the undisputed Australian capital of marijuana.
To get to Nimbin you have to drive through the most picture perfect rainforest, inland from the glorious beaches of Byron Bay, another part of my ‘patch’ as the local Probation Officer. Byron has quite rightly been described as Paradise Central – white sand as far as the eye can see, perfect surfing conditions and gorgeous backpackers, male and female, all intent on having as good a time as possible. But Nimbin represents the slightly left of centre version, set in a green valley, surrounded by rolling hills and waterfalls with – crucially – more drug dealers than you could shake a sticky toffee muffin at.
It’s simply impossible to avoid being offered drugs in Nimbin. Take it from me, if your 95 year old, white haired, sweet old Granny rocked up in the main street in her zimmer frame, she’d be asked the immortal question – ‘smoko mate?’ (And, if your Granny was anything like mine, she’d probably say – ‘yeah, all right then.’)
As a Probation Officer, whose job it was to ensure miscreants kept out of trouble, even I was habitually asked the question, often by people who had an official appointment with me later that morning.
Since no one in Nimbin was ever arrested for selling cannabis – on a small scale at any rate – whether such activity constituted a criminal offence was something of a grey area, though frankly it made a bit of a mockery of the requirement of someone on probation to avoid any contact with ‘illegal substances’, any way you looked at it.
To be honest, I was a bit rubbish as a probation officer, even though I was quite popular with my clients. I think my biggest problem – which at the same time was my strongest asset – was my effortless ability to identify with their desperate plight.
Take Wayne as an example. Wayne was a bloke in his forties who’d been round the block a few times with a face full of second prizes and a past littered with more miscalculations and ill-considered decisions than the Stirling Albion back four.
On Probation for a series of drink related cock-ups, Wayne was divorced, unemployed – unemployable by his own assessment – and living in a caravan, which would have been a nice spot to spend a weekend but wasn’t quite so great as a permanent residence, given that its boxy, fibreglass construction rendered it boiling in summer, freezing in winter and tiny all year round.
Indeed, so micro and bijou was his van that Wayne could, quite literally, answer the door, switch on the kettle and roll a joint, all without getting out of bed. (I know this is true, I saw him doing it.)
Consider Wayne’s plight, if you will. I could, quite easily.
Oh he had noble intentions. This morning would be the day he’d rise early, square himself off a bit and go and look for a job. But the sun was shining, the day was perfect and the smoko grew like, well, grass – so he tended to say - I’ll just have the one … and, bingo, another day was gone.
Like I say, I could readily sympathise with Wayne’s approach. In his situation I’d have done exactly the same thing.
In fact, on the weekends, that’s just what I did do.
Despite its hippy heritage – some would say because of it – Nimbin could be a rough, tough and all that stuff kind of town. Violence and mayhem were far from unknown and the main street of a weekend often resembled a scene out of any classic Western movie of the 1950’s - blood, snotters and whiskers all over the place.
But – and it’s a significant but – most of the carnage took place in and around the local pub, fuelled almost exclusively by booze, not smoko. (Admittedly many of the participants had double-dipped but I don’t think I’m being disingenuous by asserting it was the turps that was responsible for the pugnacity, as anyone who’s spent a night in any downmarket man’s bar anywhere in the world will unhesitatingly testify.)
Stoners, in the main don’t go in for that sort of thing, being much more likely to spend their time expounding on ridiculous conspiracy theories and coming up with great, grandiose ideas which never reach fruition due to it not being that great an scheme in the first place and – of course – the schemers just not being arsed.
So, I’m genuinely pleased that the legalisation of cannabis appears to be on a bit of roll. No one – least of all me – is saying that marijuana is completely safe – it’s a demotivator, a diversion and a big no-no if you have a predilection for mental illness but compared to the horrendous, wide-ranging consequences of alcohol abuse – a perfectly legal substance – cannabis is (relatively) harmless.
Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend.