FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jon Walker, After Legalization: Understanding The Future Of Marijuana Policy

Welcome Jon Walker (Just Say Now) (FDL/Action) (Twitter), and Host Philip Munger “EdwardTeller” (ProgressiveAlaska) (Twitter)

After Legalization: Understanding The Future Of Marijuana Policy

What will you be doing in 2030?

If I survive that long, I’ll be 84 years old. My dad lived to be 87, my mom to 94, so there’s a chance I’ll be around. Will I be using cannabis then, if I’m still around? If so, it will be in a vastly different legal and social framework than what exists now.

Firedoglake‘s Just Say Now Senior Editor and valuable contributor, Jon Walker, has just published what appears to be the first comprehensive look at a future in which some modicum of sanity prevails in the ways our society deals with cannabis as a social, recreational and medicinal product. Walker projects us into 2030. He begins his introduction with this:

There’s no longer a question of whether marijuana will be legalized in the United States, only a question of when and how. The historic 2012 passage of marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington State made that clear.

Walker looks at how markedly demographics have driven the ongoing shift from a majority of Americans opposed to cannabis legalization, to one where a rapidly growing majority of Americans favor such a change:

Public opinion isn’t just shifting, but shifting exponentially. In the ten years between 1995 and 2005, support for legalization grew by 11 points nationwide, from 25 to 36 percent. It grew by another 10 points in the five years between 2005 and 2010. And after the historic victories in Colorado and Washington, support jumped to 58 percent. When the issue of marijuana legalization first appeared on the ballot in Colorado in 2006, it was roundly rejected with 41 percent voting in favor and 59 percent against it. Just six years later, public opinion had completely flipped. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana when 55 percent of voters supported Amendment 64.

To understand why this trend is destined to continue, one should start by looking at the demographics. Opinions about marijuana heavily break down by age. In 2011, 62 percent of adults under 30 thought marijuana should be legal, while only 31 percent of senior citizens felt the same way. A new generation in support of reform is taking over. Every year, young pro-marijuana adults are reaching voting age, while older opponents of reform are, to put it bluntly, dying out. [emphasis added]

Each of Walker’s chapters is richly detailed:

Chapter 1 – Where to Buy: Walker takes existing examples such as those recently opened in Colorado, those that have been around now for decades in the Netherlands, and some of those contemplated by others already projecting future businesses, and describes them as he sees most likely outcomes for 2030. My favorite description is that of “Oaksterdam,” in Oakland, California:

The flagship store for Indica Aficionado, located in the heart of the “Oaksterdam district” in Oakland, is one such successful niche retailer that focuses on high-end buds. It is a small luxury chain with five locations throughout California. The first Indica Aficionado opened in 2017 in Santa Monica to target the true connoisseur in the newly legalized market. Because of its success as a niche retailer, the company expanded by building this large flagship store two years later. It chose Oakland because, as part of a tourism and downtown revitalization campaign in 2018, the city changed several zoning rules to officially create a pro-pot “Oaksterdam district.” The store features much higher prices, but they are justified with unmatched selection, quality, and customer service.

The author also describes some states that, even in 2030, are “straight,” or as we say in Alaska about villages and towns that now prohibit alcohol, “dry.”

Chapter 2 – What to Buy: Brands, Selection and Big Marijuana. Right off, Walker makes a prediction I hope is true:

Almost all the pure buds sold here and across the country are certified organic. This is not required by law, but rather how the market has evolved to meet consumer demand. Regulations require a “complete list of all nonorganic pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides used during the cultivation of the retail marijuana.” Even though a certain level of pesticides is considered safe by the government, many marijuana users don’t find the idea of smoking chemicals appealing. The notice on a package can turn off enough consumers to make it not worth it.

On might also hope that the sustainable agriculture practices of these products will also be a major marketing point. In this chapter, Walker describes cannibinoids and how marketing deals with specific differences in the psychoactive properties of various strains of cannabis. His sense of humor enters into this description:

While [one store,] the Stevenson brothers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable purveyors of marijuana, their selection cannot compare to that of [another store,] Indica Aficionado, which is famous for its bud selection. The store boasts not only more than 200 different strains, but several different versions of some of the more popular strains. Connoisseurs believe that, like wine, the terroir of marijuana confers unique characteristics to plants that are otherwise genetically identical. Some competitors have been known to joke that Indica Aficionado was founded solely to prove that Napa Valley doesn’t have a monopoly on pretentiousness. (Of course, the actual jokes tend to be much cruder than that, often focusing on the problems arising from inserting or removing heads from asses.)

Chapter 2 also has a section titled Extracts, Sprays and Edibles. Walker discusses how Federal policy might develop in these niches, in line with what policies exist now in terms of what can or cannot be patented or marketed as unique. He also makes a good case for why the legal cannabis market might be resistant to a Big Marijuana takeover. He uses the microbrewery explosion of the late 20th century as an example:

Heavy consolidation among a few big beer companies was not some natural end state created by the invisible hand of the market. It was a policy choice. The government adopted regulations that disadvantaged smaller producers and made new start-ups almost impossible.

For example, most states didn’t change their rules that prohibited “tied houses” until the 1980s. A tied house is a bar owned by a particular brewery, which sells that brewery’s beer. This prevented brewers from selling directly to consumers, making it very difficult to start a new small brewery without a massive investment.

In 1982, California helped kick off the micro-brewing revolution when it allowed breweries to sell directly to consumers as long as they maintained a restaurant on site. With brewpubs finally legal in California, many other states soon followed suit. Starting around the beginning of the 21st century, micro-brews and craft distilleries saw an explosion in popularity, thanks in large part to changes in regulation. In 1983, there were only 80 breweries in the United States, but by 1996, there were over 1,000 with new ones being founded every day. Unlike the United States, Germany never experienced extreme market concentration in its beer industry, because the government made it a goal of its regulations to protect the country’s long and diverse brewing tradition.

When discussing edible products and FDA resistance to them (candy-like products might be targeted to minors or even kids), Walker’s humor comes out again:

The FDA considers brightly colored foodstuffs, candy flavors, lollipops, ice cream, or baked goods containing THC to be troubling on several levels. These products seem to be marketed to individuals under the age of 21. There is also the risk of accidental ingestion by adults and young children unaware of the products’ THC content. The federal government does not allow these products to be made for retail sale. After the FDA put these rules in place, a pair of senators from Vermont and Maine tried to quietly insert into the 2024 Farm Bill a special carve-out for pure maple syrup candies containing THC by classifying it as a natural binder and not a candy flavor.

Walker observes:

You also won’t be able to find any marijuana products that also contain alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, nicotine or other legal drugs, as mandated by the FDA. Marijuana extracts can be suspended in ethanol, but the ethanol can only be used as a solvent. The alcohol content must be low enough so that it doesn’t amplify the intoxicating effects.

This is probably going to be the case. Perhaps for the best, but do find the idea of THC-infused late harvest Zinfandel, imbibed during a late summer evening of sitting on the deck to be inviting. The chapter titles continue:

Chapter 3 – Price

Chapter 4 – Taxes

Chapter 5 – Home Growing

Chapter 6 – Where You Can Smoke

Chapter 7 – Who Is Smoking

Chapter 8 – Impact on Public Health

Chapter 9 – What Becomes of Medical Marijuana

Chapter 10 – Criminal Justice

Chapter 11 – Industrial Hemp

Chapter 12 – How and Why It Happened

I can’t continue to detail each of these chapters without intruding into the time we can spend here today with Jon, discussing this remarkable book. But I’ll bring out a few of his details that merit deeper discussion in the salon:

Smoking: Walker envisions some governmental bodies being more restrictive regarding second-hand, or even first-hand smoke than others. This will be the case, for sure, but I predict that anti-smoking regulations will even be more severe than the ones he foresees. Vaporizers will probably be in far more universal use in 2030 than the scenario the author describes. In the next 16 years there will be technological breakthroughs in this realm that will bring the price and utility of these delivery systems down.

Impact on Public Health:Walker’s approach to this chapter should be commended. He is dedicated to legalization, but doesn’t fail to acknowledge dependency:

Cannabis can be habit forming and some individuals can become what is classified as clinically dependent, but it is less “addictive” than most other common drugs. About 9 percent of people who try marijuana are said to become dependent. By comparison, the figure is 15 percent for alcohol, 17 percent for cocaine, and an incredible 32 percent for nicotine. People are not only less likely to become dependent on marijuana, but being dependent on marijuana is far less problematic than being dependent on most other drugs because of its relative safety.

I love this minor detail I hadn’t yet thought of:

[T]he legal market gives consumers access to the court system. A producer that is not making a safe product or that falsely advertises has to worry about being sued for negligence. In the black market, there were no authorities to turn to, nor a court system for the redress of grievances. People don’t normally go to the police and admit they have committed a crime just so they can pursue a class action lawsuit against a drug dealer. The stringent regulations and market forces that attended legalization helped guarantee marijuana was not tainted, deliberately or accidentally. Just as the end of alcohol prohibition resulted in the improved safety of alcohol, so too did the end of marijuana prohibition improve the safety of marijuana used by adults.

Jon Walker’s chapter on the future of medical marijuana probably doesn’t go as far as it should. But he does give us a lot of food for thought. I’m convinced that once research into all the cannibinoids goes mainstream we are going to see some very remarkable, even borderline miraculous uses occur in this realm.

The strong part of this chapter, though, is Walker’s discussion on how the FDA will play a role in decision making on what will happen in terms of cannibinoids as “botanical drugs.”

The Criminal Justice chapter of After Legalization fascinated me partly because I worked in the criminal justice industry for almost seven years. As a halfway house administrator, I sent scores of people back to prison for illegal cannabis use while under my custody. I didn’t like it, but …..

Walker asserts correctly:

The tremendous burden of the war on marijuana didn’t fall evenly across the American people. The vast majority of this needless suffering fell on the shoulders of minorities and the poor. The war on marijuana was built upon tactics of racial fear, and through its entire history it was enforced in a shockingly racist manner. Even though whites and blacks tended to use marijuana at similar rates in the first decade of the 21st century, African-Americans were almost four times as likely to be arrested for a marijuana violation.

By 2030 we will no longer be a white majority nation. States will maintain racist laws, but the Federal government will most likely do a lot more than now to throttle or attenuate this. Walker continues:

Since marijuana has been fully legalized, the number of marijuana arrests has plummeted from over 870,000 in 2007 to only a few thousand in 2030, with many of them in straight states that have yet to legalize its recreational sale.XXII There are still arrests for such offenses as selling to minors, regulatory violations, and marijuana tax evasion, but the number of actual marijuana arrests pales in comparison to what it once was. There are also a significant number of minor, civil violations such as smoking in public, but these only result in fines like those for a parking ticket or for littering, saving the time and expense that are put into an arrest. Most importantly, these fines don’t result in a record. The money wasted on enforcing marijuana prohibition has fallen to a tiny fraction of what it once was. For the most part those law enforcement resources have been redirected to far more critical issues or freed up for other government services.

Like the author, I look forward to a world where cannabis use and misuse are dealt with much more rationally.

Please join me in welcoming Firedoglake‘s own Jon Walker to the book salon.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

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