Cannabis capitalism: America's future?

Posted on December 9th, 2015 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

weedThere have been quite a few histories of cannabis culture and politics, but Bruce Barcott's Weed The People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America is the first to examine the cannabis industry and its future prospects at a moment when it is taking flight. His opening overview of how we got to this point is engaging if not always strictly accurate (he loans too much credence to the '70s paraquat scare). He notes the litany of US government reports back to the 1920s exculpating cannabis of the calumnies against it—all ignored by the very government that commissioned them. He details the bureaucratic obstacles that have been raised to research on cannabis' medical benefits. And he relates the passing of the torch (or, more literally, the joint) from the jazz scene to the beatniks to the hippies to the mainstream.

And finally, the successful legalization pushes in Colorado and Washington—the fruit of activist efforts that opened the door to the entrepreneurs. The subsequent "Washington state scramble" has seen equity firms jumping into a business that a few short years ago would have elicited derisive snickers from the moneyed set.

Barcott walks us through the industry inside—like the merits of CO2 machines versus butane extraction for hash oil production. He also takes a forthright look at the dangers of "dabbing," and even of edibles. Easy overindulgence in edibles has led to what Barcott calls "small catastrophes"—even a couple of homicides under the influence that have provided fodder for the anti-pot propagandists. But nor does Barcott swallow the propaganda undigested. For instance, how many homicides take place each year under the influence of alcohol? Thousands, he finds—yet nobody is calling for a return to alcohol prohibition.

So Barcott strives to be objective, despite a self-consciously conversational "stoner" style. He explores the "reasons to keep it illegal," and airs the (dubious) claims that cannabis is linked to schizophrenia. He quotes ex-New Yorker editor Tina Brown's asinine tweet that cannabis is making us a “fatter, dumber sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese”—and then cites studies that have found lower rates of obesity in cannabis users!

And he also looks at the USA's own political schizophrenia where the weed is concerned. After several chapters on the freewheeling atmosphere in Colorado and Washington, he has one on the racist dystopia of Louisiana, where harsh marijuana laws are used to enforce the "New Jim Crow."

Amid all the euphoria, there's still much work to be done.


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