Today I walked into a store in Washington, bought a mood-altering drug that was recently illegal, and knew I could enjoy it if I treated it with respect. Its legalization has led to the undermining of criminal drug organizations and, despite its stigma, is part of normal society for many. There was even a reasonably good supply. As of a few years ago, I can buy Kentucky Bourbon in the grocery store. I almost bought some marijuana at the small strip mall nearby, but the plant that is healthier to ingest, less processed, has fewer calories, won’t break if I drop it, and is more useful in cooking hadn’t arrived at the new store on the island: Whidbey Island Cannabis Company. Instead while I type this post, I’m enjoying an icy bourbon and soda on this hot summer day. Regardless of me and my actions, a world is changing.
Think there’s no stigma against alcohol? To many it is a guilty pleasure that must be prefaced with assurances that the drinker is not an alcoholic. Even in the open and liberal and libertarian society that is my neighborhood, considerable levels of guilt are dealt. The Prohibition against alcohol was repealed in 1933 in most, but not all of the US. Since then there have been enough drunk driver deaths and other abuses that there is considerable reason for caution; but the levels of violence, criminal activity, and hypocrisy that existed during Prohibition were far worse.
Marijuana’s stigma is different. The hype against marijuana was more political and ideological than medical. The legality is far fresher. Only Colorado and Washington State have made recreational marijuana use legal. That means at least two states allow a dramatic lowering of the hypocrisy barrier. Today’s twitter traffic had a chorus of alarmist hyperbole that had little or no substantiating data; especially, when compared to the amount of scientific and usage data. Yet, positive data aside, hyperbole fuels negativity and stigmas are reinforced. It will be interesting to see if marijuana’s stigma subsides faster than alcohol’s.
I didn’t plan to drop by the store today. According to my calendar I had meetings and work in the morning, and another set in the afternoon. But, a cancelled meeting in the morning opened up some time, and the history buff in me wanted to witness the historic event. The day Prohibition was repealed is splashed around with videos of parties and public celebrations. Marijuana’s celebration would probably be much more mellow, but historic in any case. Why pass up the opportunity to greet history? Besides, I knew the person opening the store and wanted to see how well it worked for her. I probably wouldn’t buy any because I have enough bills to pay, and yet . . .
Washington State only authorized 25 stores to open. This could get much more interesting. Fewer places opening. Fewer places to buy. Fewer places to line up. How long a line could we get on our island; especially, when all of Seattle only had one store opening, too? I might get to witness a media circus.
I planned to bicycle to the shop, but a flat tire and a time crunch meant I drove. Well, if there was a crowd I’d take advantage of the fact that a half-mile walk from a parking spot wouldn’t be an issue. Besides, I could bogart some wi-fi from the parking lot and get some work done first.
There wasn’t a line. An hour’s work later, there still wasn’t a line. I walked up to one of Whidbey’s less appealing strip malls, that did have the appeal of meeting all of the community boundary conditions of distances from schools, parks, and churches. (The strip mall does have a good Mexican restaurant and karate dojo.) There was an open door, and there was one of my fellow bloggers, Sean, who writes for @CurbedSeattle. We talked a few days earlier. Neither of us planned to buy, but we wanted to watch. Wold CNN actually make it to the island?
It was still an hour before opening, but the door was open. Why not walk in? The room was empty except for one poster on the wall, a ribbon barrier, and a sign that said “Line Forms Here.” The counter was empty. The store looked empty. There were echoes. The guy running the place came up to his side of the counter and stood for a chat. Yes, they planned to open on time. Yes, the media came and went – much earlier in the morning. No, they had nothing to sell. Oops. That explained the empty counter. Everything about opening the store happened so quickly that they barely had time to get the walls put up. They only thing they had to pass out were state pamphlets.
Evidently, Washington State was simultaneously cautious and abrupt. Of the 300 licensees, 25 were given ten days notice that they’d be the ones to open first. As I understand it, the State would arrange the deliveries and define the prices. Only a few growers and processors were legally authorized, so only about 400 pounds to 500 pounds were harvested, and only about 22 pounds were properly inspected. 25 stores were going to open with only 22 pounds of product. Imagine running a store like that.
Sean and I settled into spots on the sidewalk just to see what would happen, at least for a while. If there was a line, the two guys who hadn’t planned to buy anything (at least not on the first day) were it. People drove up, got out, heard the news, and usually pleasantly shrugged and drove away. (Except for one very agitated woman who was so upset she almost got into a wreck as she spun off to Seattle, hoping to get some there.) After about thirty minutes we had a line of four. If we were a circus, we were a mellow and small one. Jokes were involved.
About two dozen people dropped by while we waited. It became obvious that people who had experience with marijuana didn’t stress out about it. Maybe it is an island thing, but hey, they’d come back later. Few if any had no experience. Those with decades of experience, including one man who’d been advocating for this since 1965, took this slight delay as just that. Whidbey is rural. Things grow here. They possibly already had a supply and just wanted to be part of the event.
And yet, it wasn’t a non-event. The legalization of marijuana is having a similar affect on the drug cartels that the repeal of Prohibition had on the Capone-era mob wars. As the legal product becomes more available, there’s less demand for the illegal product; the prices of both drop, consumers and producers who had been criminals could now be tax-paying citizens, and the violence and hypocrisy diminish. As a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, I am excited about the prospect of the government turning an expense into income, and people finding a safe and possibly healthy alternative to alcohol while also finding less violence in their neighborhood.
The world is changing. People are hunting for solutions and challenging assumptions. The search for solutions is one reason for the positive hype. People want to try something new, or at least know that they have more rather than fewer options. Something similar is happening with BitCoins. BitCoins generate a lot of news, conceivably are a viable alternative currency; but, there’s very little real activity. I’ve opened my business to accepting BitCoins weeks ago and have yet to receive even an inquiry. Marijuana legalization is big headlines, yet the total number of purchasers is small. Maybe BitCoins will become a currency as large as a moderate nation, but that’s a long way off. Maybe marijuana will become as pervasive as alcohol, but this bud’s for you will continue to mean beer, not weed for a while.
The world is changing because a few people in a few places are willing to ask key questions and act on the answers. Thanks to all who have done so.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is time to enjoy another government regulated product for which some hold a stigma – a steak; after which it would be nice to learn that I’d won the lottery jackpot, which is another stigma-prone government regulated product.