Two Ominous Side Effects Of Cannabis Legalization

By Terry Gotham

A caveat: things are heading in the right direction in places where cannabis has been legalized for recreational use for adults. We can all agree that Colorado, Washington, Alaska & the District of Columbia didn’t become the pot-drenched “Beyond Thunderdome” dystopias that pearl clutchers & puritans envisioned. My aim is not to deride legalization efforts, nor question the dedication or motives of anyone associated with the fight to get America’s head out of its ass. Because Burning Man can be seen as a laboratory for progressive thinking & ways of living, and because a lot of Burners live in states that are currently grappling with the “how” instead of the “if” of legalization, medicalization or decrmininalization, I felt compelled to mention them. We’re legalizing in uneven steps across the country, which has brought us into unknown economic, cultural & law enforcement territory and produced some worrying side effects.

Firstly, despite all of our hopes, mad people are still getting cuffed for weed yo. In Seattle, delivery servers have been going down in sting operations and in CO, when growers or suppliers decide they don’t want to (or can’t) pay the pot tax, it seeps into the streets where the same people are going to jail just like before. And of course, those people are usually poor and usually black. There is something deeply depressing about hearing cops make the same patrols and arrest/incarcerate the same kids on the same corners, both before and after legalization. When you’re already 4x as likely to be arrested for possession as your competitor and you add another 2x multiplier on being arrested inside of a legal state (paywall)? It gets better for some, but not all, and that is exactly the thing we need to be fighting.

Of course, this is the problem with uneven prosecution & state-based drug frameworks. However, there are a couple of things that could be done to alleviate some of these hardships. When it comes to reform, there must be plenty of opportunity for people previously incarcerated for cannabis, in the cannabis industry. I’m talking job training, networking and tax breaks for cannabis businesses that hire previously convicted individuals. I can’t think of a single reason that this pipeline shouldn’t exist, save pearl clutching and the vagaries of sin. The fact that we’re incarcerating people for this stuff at all is idiotic, but of course, very few politicians want to grant carte blanche reprieves to the “scourge” of many communities. We need to start thinking about how to use profits from taxes on cannabis (and alcohol and tobacco if you ask me, but I’m not trying to get into a “which vice is best” fight) to directly benefit those who cost society the most money. The more recreational drug users or dealers that spend time in jail, the more they’re not participating in society or paying taxes. I think getting the long-term prison population down as far as we reasonably can, saves time & money, not just for the cop, but for the entire legal system. There’s stacks of data about how most courts are clogged with non-violent drug offenses. Might as well get these all off the books in CO, WA & AK right? Let the courts deal with real crime.

While this is one of the effects of uneven progress in the legalization movement from the policy perspective, this isn’t the only segment of American life that is feeling problematic consequences from cannabis legalization. The Tech sector + liberalizing drug laws tend to be associated with spikes in rent/property values. This makes sense of course, when you work for Google, you can afford a bunch of pot and a 3 bedroom downtown in whatever city you’re in. However, one aspect of the discussion that gets left out is how this interfaces with the greater obliterating gentrification that occurs in a lot of liberal leaning cities. Brooklyn may not have legal pot, but if you’re white, you’re probably not going to jail for it. In San Francisco, it’s decriminalized to the point where you can throw parties without a cash bar & still pay your DJs. The market force pressures being applied by the tech sector in a lot of cities around the country seem to be similar to how the financial district & real estate industry essentially dictate terms to the Mayor’s Office here in NYC.

This ambient cost of living explosion pushed many of my friends out of Brooklyn, and I know more than one who recently left Denver for cheaper parts West. The formula is almost boring at this point, but the accelerant of cannabis legalization changes a lot of things. We need to think hard about who we want to be able to afford to live in our communities, and how Radically Inclusive a lot of these cities are becoming. As Burning Man’s average income seems to steadily increase, we are seeing the places burners live approach prohibitive expense. Some of us can shake these hikes off like it ain’t no thing, and to them much respect is given. NYC is getting so bad that short order cooks can’t afford to live less than a 60min commute from the Michelin starred restaurants they’re working in. Artists are shipping out to Philly, Baltimore, DC, Asheville & plenty of other places that don’t smell of Dubai.

If you don’t think these things affect the quality, diversity & caliber of both the art and your fellow Burners, both in perspective and culture, I don’t know what to tell you. Even if we’re just a lowly front-end designer, hooping performer, or mechanic who loves to Burn, we still agree that a better tomorrow is possible and we want to help bring it to life. Some of us spend months building what we believe to be a better world might look like. I think this problem deserves our attention. These issues of uneven enforcement & escalating living costs that surround progressive cultures are staring down the barrel at your city, and if they’re not, they will be in 5-10 years. Especially with the global recognition of Burning Man, the gifting economy and our willingness to tackle complex problems, even the smallest amount of mindshare from any of you still reading, on a local or national level, will better us all.

24 comments on “Two Ominous Side Effects Of Cannabis Legalization

  1. Pingback: Cannabis and Kratom: A Light in the Opiate Dark | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. “Legalize pot, tax it, and we’ll all live in paradise.” And there lies the problem. When the cash comes in from the weed, it’ll never be enough to satisfy the tax collectors, and they eventually make common cause with the tax producers to corner the market. Remember, Eric Garner was accosted by the police and died over cigarette taxes. Marijuana and freedom should go hand in hand. Marijuana and progressive tax, spend and borrow government may be the devil’s own corporation.

  3. To stevia and burnersxxx who think im lying about being homeless… i will invite you to live my life for a week. Dont insult me personally like that. Its bad enough i have to live it. Its bad enough ive had depression over it, but im trying to be optimistic. But to have people say im lying…. what the hell.
    Did you read my post? I said im for all states to legalize so the pressure will be off my state and i can afford to live here.
    Do you want a list of all the people i know who have left here or are in the process of moving out because of the high cost of living????

    • To stevia and burnersxxx, i could get a place and spend all my money on it, paycheck to paycheck, and not be able to pay **any** other bills. I’d end up like my friend who maxed all her cards, got a gofund me site to pay rent, and still ended up bankrupt. Would you like her name and email to freaking verify?
      Dont have the audacity to call me a liar just because you dont inhabit my life.

      • I have a car and its easier to live in that and pay to keep it running/in good shape and accept a couch or something temporary from a friend. And help them pay their* rent.

    • And stevia and burnersxxx, i **could** afford a *shithole* but i won’t do it. The last place i lived had bed bugs come thru the electrical sockets in the bedroom. I lost most of my stuff because of it. Im not doing that again. Id rather live someplace decent and newer than an older shithole.
      So dont freaking presume to know.

    • 1. I don’t doubt that you are homeless.
      2. I agree that Denver area is expensive.
      3. I don’t agree that the only reason it is booming is pot. Alaska has legal weed and is an economic mess.
      4. I do call “BS” on your claim to have a “high-paying job and great career”.

      Just want to be clear about that…

  4. Weed needs to be treated just like alcohol. These half-asses legalizations, especially the bullshit medicinal angle, keep it on the fringes where it remains relatively unregulated. You can’t sell beer from your truck on the street, you shouldn’t be able to do the same with weed. I live in CA, I fucking hate the dispensaries. They immediately lower the quality of life in the area, most of the time you don’t really know what you’re getting because there’s zero quality control. It’s bullshit.

    I totally agree with on the, again, bullshit libertarian thrust within the tech and Burning Man communities. It’s almost solely espoused by young people whose lives have gone just swimmingly so far, and so have no perspective.

  5. “If you don’t think these things affect the quality, diversity & caliber of both the art and your fellow Burners, both in perspective and culture, I don’t know what to tell you. ”

    -Why does it make a difference if Burning Man art is made/built in SF or Vallejo, Sac, Boise, SLC, Memphis, etc? The smart artists I know in the Bay have bailed to cheaper climes. I suggest you do the same.

    Here’s some economic ideas from the LIbertarian types Burners are so in love with:

    1. Eliminate rent control in SF.
    2. Eliminate environmental/zoning laws in SF
    3. Eliminate subsidized affordable housing.
    4. Eliminate controls on landlords in terms of evictions.

    Do those sound like what the progressive plebes (I mean that as a matter of fact, not an insult) who give their hard-earned money to the Bmorg LIbertarian elites every year have in mind for “fixing SF?” Probably not.

    And yet, Terry, I bet you already bought your tickets for this year….

      • Good for you! I mean that sincerely and appreciate most of your posts. And that is an important topic for sure, adulterants. Getting tired of hearing the complaining from people who still give Bmorg their money every year….

  6. With all due respect, as someone who has lived in CO for decades: yes, CO has turned into a dystopia. So many people moved here for pot that rents have reached San Fran levels in some areas, and have surpassed Manhatten in some areas (some areasareas of SF and NYC and Denver). I know people in San Fran and NYC, and I’ve double-checked with them.
    Rents are so high, people who have lived here for decades are homeless, packed into shared housing, and leaving the state.
    Not to mention the insane New Jersey turnpike-like traffic, and that the mountains are getting freaking trashed by people who nothing about being in nature. And bed bugs, and losers from other states.
    It freaking sucks donkey balls.
    I used to smoke pot, but cant bring myself to do it because of what its done to the state I love but barely recognize anymore.
    Please our only hope is that other states legalize it so people lose interest in CO.
    Its killing our state.

    • Just to add…. i actually have a great career that is well-paying, but i still cant afford to get an apt or buy in the denver/wider denver/front range area.

      • I call B.S. Things are expensive in Denver, but anyone with a “great career that is well-paying” can still find a place to live there. And, Denver is booming for multiple reasons, weed being just one of them.

        Also, as to the OP (terry), why would you have EVER expected “radical social change” to fix things like Affordable Housing issues to come out of a group of Libertarians? The Libertarian thing is not new to Burning Man, unfortunately, it’s just that more rich folks go there now. But the writing has been on the wall for a long time, if you think THAT group is going to somehow save SF, you got another thing comin’

        • No, this is my life. For real. And my friends. One of my friends just declared bankruotcy bevause of the cost of living.
          Please dont freaking insult me because this is my fucking reality.
          Not only do i live this, you have the freaking ego to tell me im lying. Dont. Just freaking dont. Do you know ive gone thru deep depression over my situation?

        • To stevia, see my newer posts above in response to you thinking im lying. Again, dont presume to know. Wth.
          Also, yes, pot is the top reason the population here freaking exploded. Just *ask* people here. Ask them!
          Again, in my post i said id rather all states (and feds) legalize to take the pressure off here.
          Wanna see my budget? Ive done my budget. Id rather be homeless than end up like my friend in bankruptcy. Id rather keep my car running. Id rather not** live in an affordable bed bug ridden rundown shithole.
          Dont tell me im lying

    • Bullshit.
      I’ve been in the Denver Metro for 10 years.
      The rent spike wasn’t caused by Amendment 64 it was caused by the Piceance Basin shale oil boom (and it was going on years before we passed 64). It was also caused by construction companies who refuse to build high capacity units under an excuse of trying to wring protections against being sued out of the legislature. Sure, some people moved to Colorado for the pot business but that wasn’t anywhere near the main factor of migration in the last few years.

      Also, unless you’re Ute, Arapahoe , Apache, Cheyenne, Pueblo, Shoshone you’re an interloper her yourself. There’s nothing I can stand less than a Coloradan who wants to kick the ladder out from anyone else trying to get here.

  7. I’m not a moralist, the kind of person who wants to tell other people what to do… but legalizing eating other humans is where I draw the line. There are so many reason why this is wrong, including getting intestinal parasites.

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