High Time: Introducing The Guardian’s New Cannabis Column For Grownups

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High time: introducing the Guardian's new cannabis column for grownups Cannabis has long been shrouded in misinformation and stoner stereotypes. But with California now the world’s largest legal market, and others likely to follow suit, it’s time to start talking like adults. In a new column, Alex Halperin kicks off a conversation and invites your questions. A bag of cannabis seen in Toronto. Canada is likely to become the first large industrialized nation to legalize recreational use. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

Today, California becomes the world’s largest legal marijuana market. It’s not the first American state to go fully legal, but with its outsized cultural influence and economy larger than France, it’s about to do for cannabis what Hollywood did for celluloid and Silicon Valley did for the semi-conductor.

Already, 30 US states have legalized medical marijuana (Med). Next year, Canada is likely to become the first large industrialized nation to legalize recreational (Rec), with support from the prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Germany, Israel and Australia have the beginnings of Med industries. Legal marijuana is coming to your neighborhood, maybe a lot sooner than you think.

For decades the plant has been stigmatized, at best, as a time waster for malodorous and unproductive men, with the disapproval factor steepening after age 30. But here in Los Angeles, the world’s most important cannabis market, a rebranding is under way. Marketers are positioning marijuana as a mainstream “wellness” product, a calorie-free alternative to an after-work cocktail. In short, it’s on the brink of global conquest.

There’s much to celebrate in that. Among other things, cannabis can be fun, and in some patients it relieves certain kinds of suffering. In the US, legalization is an important victory for criminal justice reform, and racist “war on drugs” tactics which continue to ruin many lives.

For that reason and many more, marijuana needs to be taken seriously, even though it can make people act goofy.

With legalization, many more people will spend much more of their time high. It will have profound consequences for how adults relax, yes, but also how they date, parent and work. Already, seniors are the fastest growing group of users in the US.

Legalization supporters often say cannabis is safer than alcohol, and this view has gained mainstream credibility. As Barack Obama said, it was “no more dangerous than alcohol”.

It’s true that you can’t fatally overdose on cannabis. And the drug is less likely than booze to presage a car accident, an assault or another life-shattering event. But legalization may give rise to unforeseen problems. (Some doctors have expressed concern about use during pregnancy.)

No one knows how mass-market weed will change how we live and relate to each other. It’s safe to guess it will alter daily life as irrevocably and intimately as landmark products like cars, smartphones and reliable birth control.

Society has embarked on these kinds of mass experiments before. More than a decade into the social media age we’re only beginning to appreciate the implications for our brains and for our world.

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