Visiting family and friends in Pittsburgh recently I had the usual array of questions that are frequently put to me by people who are from states that do not yet have legal cannabis. This usually occurs after a drink or two, because, after years of social conditioning, this lubrication is required before people become comfortable enough to discuss inebriating drugs. Inevitably this question comes up: So, where do you see this all going over the next ten to twenty years? This is usually quickly followed by the interlocutor’s own speculation that big tobacco will soon jump in and ruin everything for small producers.
I don’t have a magical gazing ball, but I have read about alcohol prohibition and so far the parallels between the arc of alcohol’s history and that of cannabis have held. When I tell this to people they are quite surprised to learn that: Alcohol had a great prevalence and widespread use among Americans as a mild intoxicant (pre-prohibition, most of the alcohol consumed was of low proof) that was generally used without great incident of social or moral decay, that early efforts to curb its use led to stronger drink and greater abuse, that its flow continued unabated during the years in which it was prohibited–except that it was accompanied by the increase in crime and enrichment of criminals we are all too familiar with under the current War On (some) Drugs, that the end of prohibition was heralded by the issuance of medicinal alcohol prescriptions by physicians to “patients” in need of the medicinal properties of alcohol and which were filled by special pharmacies (this is how Walgreens got their start), and that prohibition ended when people became fed up with Quixotic government policies that they never wanted in the first place and which were established only by a vocal moral minority.
There are differences, of course (notably in the outright racist origins of cannabis prohibition and the better-prepared and much more cynical use of the prohibition to support the incarceration industry), but the broad brush strokes are the same. Knowing this, we can make a fairly good guess as to how the cannabis industry will look in a decade or two: It will look like the alcohol industry. There will be big producers from which people will buy (probably blended) pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, just as the big beer outfits sell enormous quantities of cheap beer every day. There will be small craft producers, just like we have craft brewers for people who don’t like to drink shitty beer, who will take the time to produce a quality cannabis product that the big players won’t be able to match. And there will always be your buddy who grows his own, just like you know a guy who brews his own, and who has gotten good at it.
Just as we have a drunk driving industry that increasingly moves the “intoxication” limit to ever diminishing percents of BAC under the auspices of “public safety”, we will move from pot incarceration to pot “rehab” for people caught driving with whatever metric our bought-and-paid-for politicians can get passed into law to determine pot intoxication. This will be done to preserve the income of the major incarceration giants, Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Inc, and Community Education Centers, who are, as I write, retooling their rehab programs to replace the inevitable reduction in inmate population they will experience. There will be the cilice of sin taxes. These funds will be pledged to schools, youth awareness campaigns and whatever else we can come up with to discipline ourselves in the name of Protecting The Children. Finally, all of this will happen because we Americans are squeamish about our right to experience pleasure and we will embrace these changes and self-limitations to assuage our shame at feeling good. We will accept the trade-off that we always accept: Our government will return to us the right to enjoy our bodies as long as we agree that anyone enjoying this pleasure “too much” will be punished accordingly. Thus we will preserve that thrilling aspect of the experience of pleasure that Americans cannot truly enjoy any pleasure without: the threat of consequence.