Many books have already been published regarding the impact of cannabis legalization — from both positive and negative perspectives. But Bruce Barcott’s new book “Weed the People, the Future of Legal Marijuana in America” (released April 7 on Time Books) looks to be among the most credible.
Barcott — “a Guggenheim Fellow in nonfiction, is a contributor to the New York Times, Rolling Stone, National Geographic, the Atlantic Monthly, Outside magazine, and many other publications,” according to his own bio — is a legit science journalist. In an adapted excerpt from “Weed the People” just launched on Time’s website, he positions himself a few years ago as an undecided voter as his homestate of Washington was deciding the fate of legal recreational marijuana.
A little more than two years ago, I was anti-pot. I hated marijuana. I hadn’t really touched the stuff since college. Moreover, I didn’t want my teenage children to have easier access to pot. Instinct told me to vote no to legalization.
Then a friend swayed my vote. Legalization wasn’t about whether I loved or hated pot, she said. “This is a race issue. It’s a civil rights issue.” Generations of African-American men sat in prison “because they were caught with a substance that’s less harmful than alcohol,” she said. “You’re a white guy, so you don’t have to worry about it. Others do.”
Fair enough, I thought. I held my nose and voted yes. The next morning I awoke to find that we’d legalized pot. My first thought involved the word holy and is inappropriate for a family publication. My second thought was this: What in the world did we just do?
After two years spent researching legal weed for his book, here are a few of Barcott’s takeaways.
Legal, well-regulated marijuana has had an overwhelmingly positive change for my state, my community – and yes, my family. That’s not the answer I expected.
There have been bumps. Pot-infused edibles have been a problem for some people – Google “Maureen Dowd” and “bad trip” – but state regulators quickly reduced the allowed dosage and increased controls on the products. The solution was market regulation, not mass incarceration.
We no longer arrest 12,000 people every year for possessing marijuana in Washington state. Those are 12,000 people who kept their jobs, went to college, supported their kids, and enjoyed happy and productive lives. State-licensed pot farmers have driven illegal growers out of the state. Mexican cartel pot has no market here. Thousands of new jobs have been created. We’ve seen no pot-inspired crime wave, no mass conversion of citizens into stoners. Parents know more about pot than we did two years ago; when we talk to our kids about avoiding it, we come from a place of knowledge, not fear. My family is safer and healthier because marijuana is regulated and legal.
Barcott goes on to contemplate what could be lost if the United States follows Washington and Colorado’s paths of legalization and regulation.
I’m a middle-aged non-stoner who’s been living in a marijuana-legal state for two years. Here is what’s lost when pot goes legal: fear and destruction. Fear of the unknown, fear of skyrocketing use rates, fear of reefer madness. Here in Washington, as in Colorado, we’ve stopped destroying the lives of people who possess a drug that’s less harmful than alcohol. What we’ve gained are new opportunities for responsibility, honesty, and freedom.
That’s not what I expected, but it’s the truth.
Barcott will speak about “Weed the People” in Colorado during 4/20 week — at 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm Place. The event is free.