Scotland's Chief Executive has warned that the downgrading of cannabis to a Class B drug will mean no change in its policy of arresting pot smokers, but the Purple Haze Café in Leith has put the government to the test by allowing customers to bring their own stash and light up beginning yesterday, the day the cannabis reclassification went into effect. The move is the first in a campaign to create a network of "cannabis tolerance zones" across Scotland.
Led by Rebel, Inc. publisher and Scottish Socialist Party drugs spokesman Kevin Williamson and Purple Haze owner Paul Stewart, the Scottish Cannabis Coffee Shop Movement (SCCM) wants to integrate cannabis cafes into Edinburgh's burgeoning night life and tourism industry. "Licensed cannabis coffee-shops would only add to the city's already cosmopolitan reputation, which, in turn, would add to the allure of the city as a potential holiday destination," wrote Williamson in an op-ed in the Scotsman earlier this month. "The benefits to the local citizenry would be just as enticing. The sale of cannabis could be taken out of residential areas -- where it is often sold alongside harder drugs like heroin. And, for users, it would end years of unjust persecution which wastes police and court time."
And it could be profitable for the exchequer, Williamson added. "Recent studies have indicated that UK tax revenue raised by legalizing cannabis could be in the excess of UKP 1.75 billion. This could be used to help treat individuals damaged by the effects of heroin and alcohol abuse for example, or to pay for its prescription to sufferers of illnesses like MS," he argued. "Licensing the sale of cannabis is such a pragmatic idea, with so many positive aspects to it, that when it finally happens most people will wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place."
"We're not glamorising drug use, or advocating drug use," Purple Haze owner Stewart told BBC Radio Tuesday. "All we're saying is people are going to use cannabis, we have to accept that, and if they are we're trying to give them advice and information so that they can use it in the safest possible way. If I have to be criminalized for that then that's up to the police."
"We want to build a network of cannabis tolerant zones across Scotland beginning with the Purple Haze Cafe and expanding it across the whole of Scotland with the objective of calling on the Scottish Executive, the police forces and the local authorities to create Scottish-wide cannabis tolerant zones until our parliament has the powers to change the law," added Williamson.
A cannabis café in Stockport, England, just outside Manchester, has been operating for more than a year, but also has been raided three times. According to Scottish police, the Purple Haze can expect the same fate.
A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said all offenses would be reported to prosecutors. "The possession and supply of cannabis is illegal," he told the Scotsman. "It is also illegal for the occupier or any person concerned in the management of the premises to knowingly allow any person to smoke or supply cannabis."
Editor's Note: That anticipated first raid has just taken place -- Stewart and two others were arrested for lighting up inside the Purple Haze Thursday. More details next week. In the meantime visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/321/fits.shtml for last week's report on British tabloid media reactions to cannabis reclassification.