Marijuana has been legal in Colorado since last year thanks to a landmark constitutional amendment in 2012, but New Year’s Day 2014 marked the opening of sales of recreational pot. The rollout is the first of its kind. Other jurisdictions around the world have taken steps toward various degrees of decriminalization, but none have ever gone as far as Colorado has in creating a state-sanctioned marketplace for pot. Given the history of drug laws in the United States this is clearly the sort of thing that could have a negative impact on the state’s reputation if it were to go poorly, which is why the rulebook for Colorado’s newly legal marijuana market runs to 136 pages. They’re very concerned with getting things right. It’s a bit of a pain for the growers and pot shops in the state, who have to comply with all those rules. But it also sets the stage for Colorado to become a model for how other governments can begin mitigating the damage decades of drug-war nonsense have caused.
It’s going to be a long time before the full social effects of the policy are known – some knowledgeable and neutral observers suggest it may take up to a decade to suss out trends. In the meantime we’re left to measure legal marijuana’s cultural impact, which has already begun in the first week of the new year. Media coverage of New Year’s Day sales – including the first-ever sale, to Iraq War veteran Sean Azzariti – was heavy. The Denver Post’s John Ingold wrote up a thoroughly informative list of answers to 64 questions about the new legal pot market. The New York Daily News covered the new “green tour” industry catering to out-of-state enthusiasts who want to light up legally. And “satire” site The Daily Currant got plenty of buzz when it published a ridiculous story about 37 people dying from overdoses on the first day of legalized sales. (Huffington Post published a body count much more grounded in reality.)
Ever conscious of competing for readers and ratings, mainstream outlets everywhere have taken up the topic in the first week of 2014, too. A spate of pieces in print and on television ignored substantial arguments about the merits of prohibition – most likely because there are none, as the last several decades have shown – and instead promoted the idea that nobody productive smokes marijuana. The New York Times’ David Brooks bragged about his youthful indulgence and eventual discarding of herb because it “harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.” (Apparently most of “us” want to be East Coast elite twats, vexing the masses by retaining our jobs despite serving no discernible purpose.) MSNBC’s conservative voice, Joe Scarborough, said he’d never tried it himself but “just didn’t get it, man” because “pot just makes you dumb,” based on a personal scientific inquiry that found “everybody that ever (smoked) just looked dumb as hell.” And former Newsweek/Daily Beast publisher Tina Brown tweeted that legal weed would cause America to become “fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese,” exonerating herself and others like her for persistently dumbing down the media. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone dubbed this pro-prohibition trio the Yuppie Prohibition League, a group of privileged whites who come from “places where the police are not encouraged to go rampaging through dorm rooms or asked to do random pocket checks of all pedestrians as a matter of course.”
Plenty of pieces have been penned in favor of legalization, too, and almost never for the purpose of endorsing the drug itself. Adam Serwer noted the disparities between arrest rates for whites and minorities even though they smoke pot at the same rate. Chris Hayes retold an amazing story about getting into the 2000 Republican National Convention with $30 of weed in his bag; he says the cop who found it probably thought he was some senator’s son, and that he’d never have gotten away with it had be been black. Not all of the pro-legalization pieces fit neatly into the standard left-right political paradigm, either, perhaps none more so than the National Review. The conservative publication’s editorial staff praised Colorado for being “Sensible on Weed,” noting that “(a) great many people will avoid being convicted of crimes for a relatively benign recreational indulgence — and those criminal convictions often have much more severe long-term consequences on pot-smokers’ lives than marijuana does.”
When the buzz of newly legal pot wears off, opinion writers of all stripes will move on to the next topic du jour. Meanwhile, Colorado’s revolt against federal drug laws will continue to move forward into virgin territory. America is a capitalist country at heart, so it’s no surprise that businesses are already taking advantage of the new environment in all sorts of ways. While the state itself has taken a neutral stance on promoting its new law for tourism purposes, private tour companies have opened up for smokers from outside the state. Their instant popularity some hotels are considering designating some of their rooms as marijuana-friendly to accommodate visitors, who can only legally toke on private property and out of public view . Secondary industries have also taken to capitalizing on the new regime. Ben and Jerry’s sent out a few amusing tweets this week. Spirit Airlines, known for its irreverent marketing campaigns, began a new one this week announcing that “The Non Smoking Sign Is Off (in Colorado)” and advising customers who took advantage of their $10-off offer to “pack some munchies” for the trip.
These business trends are sure to continue later this year when Washington, the other state to legalize in 2012, begins venturing down the trail currently being blazed by Colorado. Where business goes, so goes the country. And where the country goes, so, eventually, does Congress. That means bills like the Ending Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Act, sponsored by Colorado congressman Jared Polis, will someday have a real chance of passing. And someday, like the ninja-sneaky legalization measures in Colorado and Washington, is likely to arrive a lot sooner than we think.