The future of pot

We asked digital marketing firm JESS3 to design a branding campaign for a fictional pot shop set in 2020.
Michael Rosenwald
Monday, November 1, 2010; 11:00 AM

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. 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.

That research informed his article in The Washington Post Magazine, in which he predicted what the state of pot -- and American culture -- would be in the year 2020. Rosenwald took questions about the article and predictions for what's to come. The transcript is below.


Michael S. Rosenwald: Good morning everyone. Thanks for taking time out to join my chat. Will get to as many questions as possible!


Arlington, VA: I smoke marijuana every day. Have for many years. When I first started smoking a lot about 8 years ago, it led me to try other drugs like cocaine. I would have never tried cocaine if I wasn't looking for a new high after marijuana. I never believed that Marijuana was a gateway drug until it happened to me. I got sick of cocaine after a few years, but still smoke daily.

I vote for decriminalization......not legalizing. More smoking means more hard drug use means more dangerous drivers, etc. This isn't a culture like Europe...people here drive everywhere. It would be a nightmare.

Michael S. Rosenwald: Thanks for writing. This is a key argument that opponents of the California measure have put forward -- that pot is a gateway drug to other scarier stuff. On the driving side, some recent research shows that high drivers are safer than drunk drivers -- though of course neither are safe -- but that drunk AND high drivers are severely dangerous.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Do you have more details on whether the tobacco industry in general support legalizing marijuana? As tobacco use declines, they could use their land and resources for growing marijuana. Are they actively lobbying to legalize marijuana and to push that they be allowed to be the primary growers? Do you know if they oppose allowing individuals to grow their own marijuana?

Michael S. Rosenwald: This is a great question, and I one I tried to report out. One could have an easier time getting a shoelace to talk vs. getting the tobacco industry to talk about this issue. I couldn't even get analysts or trade groups to talk about it. I can't speculate on what their motives are, but experts I spoke with said it wouldn't take that much effort to turn their business and growing systems toward pot production. And it does, as I point out in the story, come up in the millions of pages of tobacco documents released as part of the tobacco lawsuits. Great question.


Falls Church, VA: Suppose that medical marijuana becomes legal in the District. How do you think that would effect all the Government employees who are randomly drug tested. I'm not talking about the Secret Service or the Air Force One pilots, I'm talking about low level paper pushers. A surprisingly large number of office jobs have random drug tests.


Michael S. Rosenwald: Medical marijuana is now legal in the District, and workplaces are working on how to deal with it. You raise an interesting point and an idea for a story. Thanks.


Health concerns: Your article briefly mentioned health issues from smoking pot. Could you please expand on those? Short and long term effects? At what usage levels? Other side effects?

Michael S. Rosenwald: I presented the key evidence about what is known about the health effects -- that smoking it alone does not cause lung cancer and that occasional smoking doesn't cause reduced brain capacity. Of course, these results factor in that age old wonder of a thing called moderation. The more one smokes pot, the more these results could become meaningless.


Orlando, Florida: How much special interest money from the Alcohol and Tobacco lobbyist are given to members of Congress? Don't you feel this plays the biggest role in preventing Pot from being legalized?

Michael S. Rosenwald: Federal tobacco lobbying topped $60 million a year in 1998 but has fallen steadily and last year was just over $24 million. A quick glance at the lobbyist filings don't show marijuana turning up as an issue, but that's probably because I don't know of any major bills in Congress concerning marijuana legalization. But it is true that the tobacco industry has serious efforts to lobby Congress, and if and when this becomes an issue, one can imagine it will be a big one.


mount airy, maryland: if the measure in california passes, what do you think the fed gov will do about it, if anything? plus if the house changes parties tomorrow, what will happen then?

Michael S. Rosenwald: Great question. And this one has loomed over the entire debate. The Obama administration had been rather quiet on the topic, but recently Attorney General Eric Holder has made it clear that the feds will continue to enforce drug laws around marijuana in California. So, what we would have is a little bit of chaos: a state legalizing something that the federal government still says is illegal.


Alexandria, VA: The gateway drug argument doesn't hold any water when you consider that alcohol is also often a gateway to using other drugs. If that is of primary concern to society, then in all fairness alcohol should be made illegal too.

Michael S. Rosenwald: Thanks for your opinion on this topic. Lots of people in California have voiced similar reasoning.


Michael S. Rosenwald: Well, that's about all the time we have. Great questions! And also some interesting ideas for follow up stories. Have a terrific day and keep checking back at for chats. We reporters enjoy interacting with readers.


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