I’ve written a book about marijuana policy, and I know that Just Say Now and Firedoglake readers will appreciate it most — so I want to give you a sneak peak. The title is After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy in America. Below are a couple of passages from the introduction.
The writing is finished, but we are running a Kickstarter campaign to help with the production process. The money will be used for things like editing, proof reading, formatting, printing, etc… If this opening passage piques your interest, please consider contributing to the Kickstarter, and we’ll aim to get a copy of the book to you by mid- or late-December.
Excerpt from the Introduction of After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy in America:
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.
The idea may seem unbelievable to those who grew up during the War on Drugs, and who were subjected to countless government-funded anti-pot public service announcements. The simple fact is that marijuana legalization has become increasingly inevitable. It may not happen immediately or all at once, but legal and social trends are heading in that direction.
Once we accept that legalization is inevitable, the important question becomes how marijuana is legalized. For each of the wide variety of legal consumer goods, the federal government has a distinct approach. Apples are legal, and they can be sold to anyone and grown by almost anyone. Distilled alcohol is legal, but only those over 21 can buy it, only specially licensed stores can sell it, and only licensed distillers can produce it. Similarly, handguns are legal but are often subject to many restrictions, including background checks and permit requirements. Morphine is legal, but only in specific medical settings under a doctor’s supervision; outside of that, its use and sale is a serious crime.
While I am an advocate and activist for legalization, this book is not my utopian vision of how marijuana legalization should proceed. The future depicted in these pages is not exactly the one I want, nor are the regulatory and legal systems described necessarily the ones I think would work best. This is not my perfect world, nor simply a how-to guide for regulating cannabis. Rather, this look forward is based on historical examples, current trends, past legislation and my experience as a political strategist. The fact is, politics and regulation are often very messy. They are driven by painful compromises, ideological arguments, greed, and sometimes good, old-fashioned stupidity. If people really want to shape policy, they need to understand the forces at play. I’ve tried my best to leave my personal bias at the door and instead take an objective look at existing data and information—relating to marijuana and other products—to construct the most likely outcome.
This book is written from the perspective of someone in the year 2030 describing what America looks like after federal marijuana legalization has been in place for a few years. It is intended to answer the two big “how” questions: how marijuana will be treated as a legal product, and how this change will come about. I will show in a very tangible way what legalization will mean for regular people and give a detailed explanation for why things may turn out that way.
It is easy to scare people with the unknown. Even if we understand that legalization is inevitable, it can still be difficult to envision what legal marijuana will look like. One goal of this book is to demystify marijuana by providing the most realistic vision of how marijuana legalization would likely function in America.
Back at the beginning of the 20th century when extremely few Americans had tried marijuana, prohibitionists like Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, could get away with making ridiculous claims. He told the American people marijuana use could turn the youth into crazed murderers who would lose their minds forever. He linked marijuana use to every terrifying thing he could think of: insanity, violence, the deflowering of white women, and even Communist plots. Anslinger began his article “Marijuana – Assassin of Youth” in American magazine by claiming, “Not long ago the body of a young girl lay crushed on the sidewalk after a plunge from a Chicago apartment window. Everyone called it suicide, but actually it was murder. The killer was a narcotic known to America as marijuana, and to history as hashish. Used in the form of cigarettes, it is comparatively new to the United States and as a coiled rattlesnake. How many murders, suicides, robberies and maniacal deeds it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured. In numerous communities it thrives almost unmolested, largely because of official ignorance of its effects.”
By the beginning of the 21st century, so many American adults had at least tried marijuana that such absurd and unfounded scare tactics were no longer effective. Instead, opponents of legalization shifted their focus to the public’s uncertainty about how legalization would work and natural aversion to change. Many attacks against Proposition 19, California’s marijuana legalization initiative in 2010 that narrowly failed, focused not on the dangers of marijuana but on making voters worried about how it would be implemented. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who co-chaired the campaign against Proposition 19, attacked it as creating “a patchwork of thousands of conflicting local laws” which would end up a “legal mess.” Several prominent California newspapers reiterated this theme. For example, the LA Times editorial board warned voters Prop 19 would be an “invitation to chaos” because it would conflict with federal law and “would permit each of California’s 478 cities and 58 counties to create local regulations.” Often ignored in this patchwork argument against marijuana was the fact that almost everything in America, from alcohol to parking to septic tank installation, is treated in this “patchwork” manner. Local regulation is a natural and often necessary part of American governance. It frequently doesn’t make sense to apply the same rules to urban environments as rural ones.
By showing in very concrete terms how legal marijuana would probably be handled and how it would impact the country in both good and bad ways, I hope to make it real to people, and to allay fears that arise from uncertainty. Marijuana legalization should not be a scary unknown but a clear policy choice. Ideally after reading this book, a citizen should have a clear idea of how—or, more accurately, how little—legalizing marijuana will change their lives and community. Those changes will be much less drastic than legalization’s opponents would have us think. Numerous data points support this hypothesis, including the adoption of medical marijuana in certain states and the end of alcohol prohibition. There is also a wealth of data to draw from internationally, such as the several-decades-long de facto legal status of marijuana in the Netherlands.
An even more critical goal of this book is to start a conversation about what the next step should be for marijuana reform. In the past decade, much of the debate has focused on whether the plant is safe or harmful, whether prohibition does more good or more harm to society as a whole, and whether it should be legal or illegal. I’d like to move the conversation forward.