Today, California becomes the world’s largest legal marijuana market. It’s not the first American state to go fully legal, but with its outsized cultural influence and economy larger than France, it’s about to do for cannabis what Hollywood did for celluloid and Silicon Valley did for the semi-conductor.
Already, 30 US states have legalized medical marijuana (Med). Next year, Canada is likely to become the first large industrialized nation to legalize recreational (Rec), with support from prime minister Justin Trudeau. Germany, Israel and Australia have the beginnings of Med industries. Legal marijuana is coming to your neighborhood, maybe a lot sooner than you think.
For decades the plant has been stigmatized, at best, as a time waster for malodorous and unproductive men, with the disapproval factor steepening after age 30. But here in Los Angeles, the world’s most important cannabis market, a rebranding is underway. Marketers are positioning marijuana as a mainstream “wellness” product, a calorie-free alternative to an after-work cocktail. In short, it’s on the brink of global conquest.
There’s much to celebrate in that. Among other things, cannabis can be fun, and in some patients it relieves certain kinds of suffering. In the US, legalization is an important victory for criminal justice reform, and racist “war on drugs” tactics which continue to ruin many lives.
For that reason and many more, marijuana needs to be taken seriously, even though it can make people act goofy.
With legalization, many more people will spend much more of their time high. It will have profound consequences for how adults relax, yes, but also how they date, parent and work. Already, seniors are the fastest growing group of users in the US.
Legalization supporters often say cannabis is safer than alcohol, and this view has gained mainstream credibility. As Barack Obama said, it was “no more dangerous than alcohol”.
It’s true that you can’t fatally overdose on cannabis. And the drug is less likely than booze to presage a car accident, an assault or another life shattering event. But legalization may give rise to unforeseen problems. (Some doctors have expressed concern about use during pregnancy.)
No one knows how mass-market weed will change how we live and relate to each other. It’s safe to guess it will alter daily life as irrevocably and intimately as landmark products like cars, smartphones and reliable birth control.
Society has embarked on these kinds of mass experiments before. More than a decade into the social media age we’re only beginning to appreciate the implications for our brains and for our world.
Cannabis, at least, is a familiar entity. The plant has been known as both a psychoactive and a medicine for millennia. But much of the existing information and superstition is anecdotal, since for a lifetime it’s been almost impossible to study this chemically complex plant.
Due to marijuana’s outlaw past, and its most famous property, a fog of misinformation and bullshit envelops the plant and everything it touches. As a reporter, I’ve been listening to it for three years.
Now that world-class marketers have arrived on the scene, the fog has, if anything, thickened. The shelves of California pot shops abound with products implying medical benefits. Several brands of cannabis lubes claim to heighten female orgasms. In stores, they sit alongside tempting gourmet chocolates and infused breath mints, discrete enough for work.
Some brands target young professionals and others, packaged to resemble pharmaceuticals, go after grandparents. Women of all ages are especially in demand; cannabis executives assume the men will follow along. This is all part of an industry-wide effort to reinvent marijuana as a cherished part of a functional life.
There’s some truth to this. But the organizations selling cannabis aren’t charities. While they talk constantly about “educating” the public about cannabis, it generally just means they’re talking up their product.
Cannabis has changed since you were in school. Upon entering a dispensary customers encounter dabs, rigs, concentrates, topicals, CBD and tinctures. Even the flower (that’s what it’s called now) comes in endless strains with unhelpful, sometimes threatening, names like Skywalker OG, Durban Poison and Blue Dream. The galaxy of websites dedicated to parsing them only makes it worse. My favorite write-up begins, “Pretty hard to write this on Dream Beaver.”
Now that the green genie is out of the bottle, let’s talk about it like adults.
The article originally appeared below