Marijuana: A Long, Strange Trip

Retailers in states with legal marijuana discover the highs and bummers of selling pot

Published in CSP Daily News

Bob Phillips, Freelance Writer

From the time members of the baby-boom generation were young and idealistic, marching in the streets to protest the Vietnam War with long hair and torn bell-bottom jeans, marijuana has been a part of mainstream American culture—albeit often in the background and unspoken.

Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the Woodstock generation was coming of age, several common threads united the 77.3 million baby boomers—the largest demographic group in history. Opposition to the war in Vietnam was widespread among these young adults. Tie-dyed T-shirts and torn jeans became the uniform of choice, with the Grateful Dead providing the soundtrack.

And while Timothy Leary may have been the patron saint of the counterculture, marijuana became the recreational product of choice for the “Turn on, tune in, drop out” generation—particularly in college dorms.

How many boomers continued to smoke pot is a matter of conjecture. However, the fact that marijuana moved from the outer fringes of society into the American mainstream is no longer open to debate.

A recent CNN survey found that 55% of those polled supported legalization of marijuana. It has been legal for medicinal purposes since 1978, and 27 states now permit the sale of medicinal marijuana to help alleviate a wide variety of conditions, including chronic pain, insomnia, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), glaucoma, nausea and migraine headaches.

Evil Weed

Still, marijuana hasn’t always been thought of in such a positive light. Who can forget Hot Fingers Maloney, the bug-eyed piano player in the 1936 anti-drug propaganda movie “Reefer Madness,” which became a cult classic in the ’70s when the baby boom generation discovered it and watched it, while … smoking pot, of course? While Hot Fingers and the entire film devolved into archetypal caricatures, they were taken very seriously by a significant portion of the American population throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

And while some may think societal condemnation of marijuana use ebbed in the 1960s, such wasn’t necessarily the case among the majority of Americans. Indeed, in 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with many other substances, including LSD, mescaline, heroin and crack cocaine.

A key factor in landing a substance on the Schedule 1 list is that it cannot be considered legitimate, nor prescribed by a doctor or registered nurse for medical use.

In 2012, the U.S. cultural landscape shifted in seismic proportions when citizens in two states—Colorado and Washington—passed referendums allowing for legal recreational marijuana usage. Since then, Oregon and Alaska have followed suit, and a recent report published in Time magazine predicts recreational marijuana will be legal in 18 states within the next five years—even while officially prohibited federally.

Though the popular notion may be that aging hippies are the primary target market for newly legalized marijuana, in reality the consumer base goes far beyond that.

“Just as some people are smokers and some prefer to drink, [those who prefer marijuana] are already there,” says Lara Bowman, manager of University Market, a convenience store on the campus of Portland State University in downtown Portland, Ore. “We just don’t know [who they are] because we haven’t been advertising the product. It hasn’t been talked about openly.”

According to Bowman, it’s only a matter of time before corporations move in to take over the legal marijuana market. “I can’t believe that big business isn’t going to create big [marijuana] farms, and start mass-producing it” once tax issues are settled, she says.

“Look at alcohol,” she continues. “First craft beer came to market, then craft alcohol. We’ll bring craft marijuana products as well.”

Bowman anticipates heavy branding at that point. “We all know it’s about the brand.”

CONTINUED: Tight Reins