Legal weed? Don't do it, warns California cop

Marijuana fans in San Francisco (Getty)
Marijuana fans in San Francisco (Getty)

A veteran San Francisco cop has warned New Zealand against decriminalising marijuana, saying it's ruined his home state.

California was the first state in the US to legalise the drug for medicinal purposes in 1996. Since then, it's been made legal in four states and decriminalised in two dozen others.

A recent poll here found a majority of Kiwis want it at least decriminalised, and a third want it completely legal.

But Keith Graves has a simple message for the country.


Talking to Paul Henry this morning, the self-described "drug warrior" said it's a lie that legalising any drug gets rid of the problems caused by its prohibition.

He said medicinal marijuana was used a stepping stone to liberalisation of drug laws across the board.

"As soon as you legalise it for medicinal purposes it's going to open the door and it's going to make your drug problems even worse, exponentially…. Everybody regrets it."

In 2014 the state voted to reduce penalties for possession of hard drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin from a felony to a misdemeanour.

"There's no consequences," says Mr Graves. "Now if you go to a beautiful city like San Francisco, you see people smoking crack cocaine out in the open."

He says since legalising medicinal marijuana in 2001, road fatalities in Colorado due to drug driving have increased 100 percent. But studies reported in the Washington Post and fact-checking site Politifact suggest this claim - made by a number of anti-drug groups in the US - is based on incomplete data, and fatalities overall have actually been dropping over that time period. 

Mr Graves also disputes whether states that have legalised marijuana are really reaping the financial windfall supporters claim.

"I do hear when I travel across the country and across the world, I do hear people say, 'It's been great - we have more money, we have less use.' Completely untrue."

Marijuana is taxed at about 30 percent in Colorado. In the year to June, sales brought in about US$129 million, most of which is earmarked for spending on schools.

As for use, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment survey found use among high school students is down since 2011, and below the US-wide average. Around 50 percent more Colorado teens use alcohol. 

Mr Graves also says marijuana these days is a lot stronger than what we, or our parents, used to smoke.

"In the year 2000, marijuana was hanging around 5 percent THC - right now it's 30 percent."

And people are now smoking bigger doobies.

"In 2000, at least in America, people smoked a joint which was a quarter-gram. Now people smoke what's called a blunt - a blunt is a full gram."

Mr Graves says that makes a modern smoke 30 times more powerful than one in the 1990s. This claim appears to be somewhat true, based on an NBC report last year. 

The Government has no plans to legalise marijuana, while Labour has talked up the possibility of holding a referendum.

Prime Minister John Key says even decriminalisation would send the wrong message, and medical products containing THC are available on a "case-by-case basis".

"If someone does smoke a joint when they're terminal, I can't ever recall and I don't believe there ever would be a case where someone would be prosecuted for that," he told More FM on Thursday morning.

Asked if he would back a "compassion list" like New South Wales - where people with a terminal illness are put on a register, allowing them to smoke marijuana without getting arrested - Mr Key said New Zealand already has a "de facto" list.

He says it would be "quite a rigmarole" to set it up officially, however.