Some dude outside my supermarket just asked me to sign a petition to legalize marijuana. Apparently he was so high that he forgot he's in California, where pot is already more legal than budget-balancing.
Last year I was granted a medical-marijuana license, even though I'm healthy and I don't smoke weed. I went to a doctor's office that consisted of a desk, a TV, two cans of air freshener and a man wearing a Hawaiian T-shirt. I told Dr. Magnum P.I. about my constant anxiety, insomnia and headaches — two more conditions than any previous patient had bothered to mention. He freaked out and gave me a pot license for only six months until I saw a psychologist. My lovely wife Cassandra, however, got a full year's prescription by claiming she was afflicted with a condition called "menstruation." Looking back, I'm pretty sure I could have used that too.
There are more medical-marijuana dispensaries in L.A. than Starbucks. Most are like nice tea shops, where salespeople behind a counter open glass jars so you can smell the Sugar Kush, look at the Purple Urkel under a magnifying lens and ask about the effects of Hindu Skunk. At the Farmacy, I spun a wheel to determine my first-time-buyer gift and was handed a pot lollipop. If the pot-dispensary people ran General Motors, the recession would be over. Although GM cars would be engineered to just stare idly at the road for hours. Which is more than they're good for now.
The vast majority of that Sugar Kush is still in our house, mostly because Cassandra found an even more effective solution to menstruation called pregnancy. But also because shopping for pot in California is more fun than using it. So when Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the Federal Government would quit busting dispensaries, removing even the hint of consequences for medical-marijuana use, my heart ached for small-time American pot dealers. They can't compete on price, selection, customer service, quality control or not-getting-arrestedness, and they have no skills that translate into another industry. They're almost as bad off as journalists.
Of all the potheads I know — did I mention I live in Los Angeles? — only one still uses a dealer. He hasn't made the logical switch from purchasing illegal drugs to committing medical fraud partly because he doesn't want his name on a dispensary list for professional reasons, partly out of loyalty to his dealer and partly because to motivate a stoner, the invisible hand of capitalism first has to endure a long, boring conversation about how cool it would be to have an invisible hand.
But competition, it turns out, improves capitalism, even among the members of society least capable of doing math. "The dispensaries have really made my drug dealer step up," my friend told me. Not only is the dealer now charging $100 for a quarter ounce, compared with the $120 he'd charged for decades, but he has also started offering home delivery instead of shady parking-lot meetings. "He got more reliable. He used to be, 'Yeah, I can't do it today. Maybe tomorrow.' Sometimes you'd page him, and he'd never call you back. Now I'm like, 'I'm going to be at my house at 4 p.m.,' and he's like, 'I'll be there.'"
Still, the dime baggers don't stand a chance. So it is the Federal Government's responsibility to help with some sort of bailout. They need seed money. They need a WPA's worth of pastry chefs to make pot brownies. They need Snoop Dogg to pass on his genes to even more children. They need to get the 3-D version of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on DVD right away.
The drug warriors were right that medical marijuana would lead to pro forma legalization. But they were wrong about every other consequence, like the coming wave of donations from pot dealers to the next presidential candidate willing to criminalize medical marijuana. Also, legitimizing pot hasn't created more users; it has just produced more annoying ones, who now apply Whole Foods-ian levels of snobbiness to the differences between Hawaiian Sativa and Humboldt Indica.
As always, federal decisions have lots of unintended consequences, and many of them are good. As dispensaries wipe out pot dealers, teen drug use will fall dramatically. Instead of buying pot from a dealer, teenagers will have to struggle with the same imperfect methods they use to get alcohol: begging older siblings, stealing from their parents and waiting outside a dispensary until they find a guy creepy enough to accept a $20 bribe.
The bad part is that without any business to do, the last remaining pot dealers will now have absolutely no reason to stop talking and leave your apartment.
By Joel Stein
November 16, 2009