Social change rarely occurs in a logical direction or at a predictable pace. Many Americans thought rampant, open use of marijuana in the 1960s and ’70s would lead quickly to legalization of the drug, but that didn’t happen. To the contrary, enforcement of anti-pot laws increased in the 1980s, and penalties grew stiffer.
But over the past few years, as several states and now the District of Columbia have legalized use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, a path to full legalization for recreational use has once again seemed clear to advocates of legalization and skeptics alike. California voters’ decision in a referendum Tuesday will play a large role in determining the momentum of the legalization movement.
To explore what that legalization might look like from the vantage point of a decade in the future, The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald pored through reams of government, academic and corporate studies, and talked to experts on marijuana, drug legalization, Prohibition and marketing.
This, then, is a reported fantasy, a look at the State of Pot in America in 2020, based on research conducted in 2010. All sources marked in bold type are real, and their quotations and information are from reporting this fall. All sources in regular type are fictitious, but what they say is based on predictions from sociologists, criminologists, economists, marketers and entrepreneurs interviewed by The Post for this article.
The story takes the form of an article from a news organization in Cleveland that sent a reporter to Washington to see how the nation’s capital was faring in November 2020, as Ohio and several other states prepared to vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Hypothesis is one of dozens of marijuana businesses that have opened recently in the District, where pot can be purchased, in cigarette form, at gas stations on Capitol Hill.
This is the dream tobacco companies have had since at least the 1970s, when consultants issued a secret report to Brown & Williamson touting a future product line in marijuana. “The use of marijuana today by 13 million Americans is socially the equivalent of the use of alcohol by some 100 million Americans,” said the report, found among millions of documents turned over to plaintiffs during the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s. “It is the recreational drug; the choice of a significant minority of the population. The trend in liberalization of drug laws reflects the overall change in our value system. It also has important implications for the tobacco industry in terms of an alternative product line.”
The tobacco companies, the report concluded, “have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it, the distribution to market it. In fact, some firms have registered trademarks, which are taken directly from marijuana street jargon. These trade names are used currently on little-known legal products, but could be switched if and when marijuana is legalized. Estimates indicate that the market in legalized marijuana might be as high as $10 billion annually.”
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