Immunisation or ‘immun-highsation’? If you’re lucky to live in the state of Washington, US, you’ll now be able to get the best of both worlds: a free cannabis joint with your COVID-19 vaccination. Puff, puff, jab. Forget the grinder or papers, this scheme will offer anyone over the age of 21 receiving their COVID jab a pre-rolled spliff—meaning you’ll be able to spark up fresh out of the vaccination clinic. The scheme, catchily dubbed ‘Joints for Jabs’, aims to promote Washington state’s vaccination efforts. Let me explain.
On Monday 9 June, 2021, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) gave the go-ahead for state licenced cannabis retailers to offer out free joints “to adult consumers who received a vaccination at an in-store vaccination clinic.” The promotion applies only to joints, not to other products like edibles.
The scheme was set up to promote and support the state’s vaccination efforts. According to the WSLCB’s official news release, it had received multiple requests from licensed cannabis retailers to help in the efforts. Community spirit at its finest, right?
The scheme will run until 12 July, so if you’re wanting to take up the offer of free green best get yourself down to the clinic and receive your shot soon. Incentivising citizens to get vaccinated isn’t a new phenomenon—last month, Washington also partnered with businesses to allow them to offer one free alcoholic beverage to customers with proof of vaccination. Across the US, many other states have offered other (less PG) incentives, ranging from free Krispy Kreme doughnuts to baseball game tickets.
It comes after the US vaccination rates, which are currently one of the highest in the world, have begun to slow—leading government bodies to come up with creative solutions. According to CNN, 48.7 per cent of Washington residents are fully vaccinated. The state’s goal is to hit 70 per cent by 4 July.
It’s all spliffs and roses on the surface, but it begs the question—while free joints are given to vaccinated citizens, what about the thousands of people (disproportionately people of colour) who are incarcerated across the US for possession of cannabis? While I’m sure the scheme is well-meant—a creative solution to a problem—dig a little deeper and it feels somewhat hypocritical.
According to Human Rights Watch, every 25 seconds someone is arrested for drug possession, a number that has tripled since 1980. In 2015, 1.3 million arrests were made for drug possession in the US. That’s six times the number of arrests for drug sales. 456,000 individuals, equating to one fifth of the incarcerated population in the US are serving time for drug charges. Admittedly, not all of these are from possession charges but doesn’t it seem a little immoral that state officials are now practically showering citizens with free weed? Then again, what does it mean to be moral in the US?
It’s shown that locking people up for drug-related offences has little impact on substance misuse rates, and is actually linked with increased mortality from overdose. Likewise, incarceration has shown to have a negligible effect on public safety. While the western world, particularly the US, is opening its eyes to the positive benefits, both medicinally and economically, that weed can bring to society—‘Joints for Jabs’ being a prime example of this—it’s important to remember the thousands still locked away for possession of the very same plant only a few years ago.