The Marijuana Revolution

marijuanaAs more US states legalize marijuana, the New York Times has opened its “Room for Debate” series to discussion of the inevitability of “Big Marijuana.”

The debate centers largely around whether the drug should be decriminalized or legalized. Decriminalization would simply lift penalties for small-scale distribution and possession, while legalization would treat marijuana the same way we currently treat alcohol and tobacco distribution.

Three of the four pundits that participated in the debate argued that legalization and commercialization of marijuana would be bad for Americans:

It is especially ironic that as we try to close the painful chapter on Big Tobacco, we seem to be welcoming with open arms its contemporary version: Big Marijuana. And that, of course, is the real danger of American-style legalization. It would be one thing if recent legalization laws simply removed criminal penalties for adult possession – a revision of that nature is overdue – but the current legalization wave is driven by far more than social justice: it is about making a profit. After all, businesses that rely on habit and addiction can only really make money if a proportion of their customers are heavy, unhealthy users.

The dissenter on this point, a lobbyist for the Cannabis Industry Association, argues that full scale legalization and commercialization will increase transparency and safety:

A regulated market provides great benefits to consumers. First and foremost, they are able to enter a safe and secure environment, where they can purchase products grown under controlled conditions with labels that convey THC content and other important information.

But while the discussion of legalization vs. decriminalization continues, the cultural impact of marijuana legalization is not up for debate. This year, the Oxford English dictionary considered the term “budtender” (a person whose job it is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop) for its word of the year; and Time reports that the family of the late Reggae superstar Bob Marley has partnered with a private equity firm focused on marijuana products to create an official “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strain” that will bare Marley’s name and likeness.