'Weed the People' (Time Books)

Read: Exclusive excerpt from Bruce Barcott’s new book ‘Weed the People’

Bruce Barcott’s new book “Weed the People, the Future of Legal Marijuana in America” was released April 7 on Time Books. The author shared this excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 16, exclusively with The Cannabist.


At 6:27 on the morning of Jan. 3, less than 48 hours after the first retail pot sale in Colorado, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown tweeted out this little gem:

… legal weed contributes to us being a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese

Brown’s 19-word essay was embraced by many as the smart take on legal pot. Fans of the movie Animal House will recognize in its cadence an echo of Dean Wormer’s advice to “Flounder” Dorfman: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

Brilliant in its provocative arrogance, Brown’s tweet managed to pack elements of classism, stereotype, wrong information, xenophobia and competitive anxiety into the strict confines of the 140-character space. As a thumbnail of the fears of America’s striving class, you could do worse.

In the media business, January is the “New Year, New You!” month. Everybody’s exhausted from the five-week bacchanal we run from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. January is for life assessing, goal setting, body trimming and bill paying. The rent has come due. That January it felt like half the adults in America were “doing a cleanse.” The other half were rummaging through the fridge to cobble dinner together out of something other than quinoa and kale.

Given that mind-set, what Tina Brown offered was a national stock taking. By hitching -ers to her freight cars, Brown made it clear that Americans were already fat, stupid, sleepy and powerless to stop China’s economic ground game. Marijuana would only make us more so. Perhaps what America needed was an on-trend cannabis cleanse.

Brown’s tweet struck such a nerve in part because it glanced at so many things we think we know about marijuana. But as it turns out, what we think we know isn’t quite true.

Take the bit about marijuana turning us fat. This is hitting us where we live. Cannabis stimulates appetite. So is our national cannabis intake contributing to our obesity epidemic?

In a word, no.

The French looked into it. Yann Le Strat and Bernard Le Foll, researchers at the Louis Mourier hospital in Colombes, France, wanted to know if there was an association between marijuana use and weight in America. They ran the numbers on more than 50,000 Americans, comparing body mass index with marijuana use and stripping out factors like alcohol and other drugs.

What they found was this: “The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.” Sixteen percent of pot smokers were obese; 22 percent of non-users were obese. “The proportion of obese participants decreased with the frequency of cannabis use,” reported Le Strat and Le Foll. The more often people smoked pot, the less likely they were to be obese. A twice-yearly pot smoker was 25 percent less likely to be obese than a non-user. A heavy three-days-a-week stoner was nearly 50 percent less likely to be obese.

Remember: correlation doesn’t imply causation. Don’t fire up a bowl of Blueberry Kush as a slimming strategy. But it’s worth noting that over the past decade, one state has consistently ranked at the top of polls and studies ranking the fittest states in the nation. That state is Colorado.