a great scene in Bruce Barcott’s new book, "Weed
the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in
America," in which after months of researching the
issue with a smart and sober eye, the author walks to
the side of an abandoned Denny’s in Denver and fires
up a joint.
it "smolders down to a nub," he returns to his
room at the Quality Inn and opens his laptop to
chronicle what happens.
would be the most beautiful type font?" is how
Barcott begins a stream-of-consciousness riff worthy of
Thelonious Monk, involving pretzel crisps and sexy
is far past high. This is stoned. And it is quite
pleasurable," he typed.
wonder it’s the Barcott kids’ favorite section of
the book. The geeky dad with all the answers uncoils
into a mass of random thoughts before falling asleep
with his clothes on.
"Weed the People," Barcott serves as the
self-described "canary in the coal mine" of
the cannabis crusade. He had no skin in the game when he
started two years ago. Just a journalist’s curiosity
(he is a contributing editor at Outside and has written
for The New York Times Magazine and National
Geographic), an investigative reporter’s skill and an
ability to put history, culture and economics together
in an easy, conversational style.
of the challenge was figuring out my own
preconceptions," he said recently.
— who lives on Bainbridge Island with his wife, the
writer Claire Dederer and their two kids — grew up a
child of the ’70s, when marijuana was for hippies. He
was in high school when Nancy Reagan was urging everyone
to Just Say No.
was the square," Barcott said recently of his high
school days. "I was arriving late and leaving
early. Pretty straight. I was having a beer and that’s
saw marijuana as "a bit of a trap." He didn’t
want his future derailed because he got caught with the
changed in college, when he found that marijuana
"was not an unpleasant experience."
smoked a lot of it, but his grades started to suffer and
forward to a dinner party a few years ago, when the
topic at the table was Initiative 502 — the measure to
legalize marijuana sales in Washington state. Barcott
planned to vote against it. He didn’t want his kids to
have such easy access to pot.
a friend made an impassioned and constructive argument
in favor of legalization (your kids can get pot at
school, thousands in jail for minor offenses), Barcott
found himself sitting on the proverbial fence.
seemed the perfect place from which to start a book,
especially after Barcott scanned store shelves and saw
only books written by marijuana advocates or anti-drug
people. Some were clinical, others legalistic.
was nothing current or fun to read," he said.
"And I felt like there was this huge space to
experience and observe."
approach was exactly the one he took when writing 2007’s
"The Measure of a Mountain," about Mount
Rainier: "I told people that I am not a mountain
climber, I am not Ed Viesturs. I am just a geeky guy
obsessed with Mount Rainier right now."
time, that guy was obsessed with marijuana legalization,
and took readers along for the lesson.
did research and found that every year between 2005 and
2010, around 800,000 Americans were arrested on
marijuana charges, most for small-time possession.
started going to Denver about once a month. He sat in
boardrooms where Wall Street and Silicon Valley
investors were seeding, ahem, marijuana enterprises. He
toured giant grow operations. He researched the history
of marijuana, spoke with patients and artists whose
lives have been sustained by cannabis. He attended
festivals and rallies, got his own medical-marijuana
when the votes were counted, he stood in line to make a
pot purchase on the first day of legal sales in Colorado
— a scene with more tension than a John Le Carre
novel. But funnier.
believes that Colorado "embraced" the
legalization of marijuana, while Washington state
had a certain amount of pride about its system," he
said. "That they passed their law over the
objections of the powers-that-be, and Washington did it
by collaborating with the powers-that-be."
— with the governor’s approval — set up a
regulated medical-marijuana system and used that as the
foundation for its retail applications and sales, which
started six months before those in Washington state.
had the chance to regulate medical marijuana in 2009,
but then-Gov. Chris Gregoire wouldn’t sign the
legislation. So when pot was legalized, "We left it
up to the Liquor Control Board and then the good
intentions of a lottery system," Barcott said,
adding that some who received licenses couldn’t find
money or approved locations to follow through.
set up a system that was hobbled at the start,"
think we’re doing OK," he said. "I don’t
think we’re doing great and I don’t think we’re
doing a terrible job. The system was set up to be slow
and overly careful."
all this knowledge, has Barcott invested in the
beyond a vape, he reported.
if I had the money, I would invest in ancillary
businesses. Packing companies, security and video
systems. Just plain, old slip-and-fall business
the end, what Barcott feared the most — his kidshaving
access to marijuana — has been turned on its head.
Lucy, 16, and Willie, 13, are well-versed and
loves the cultural context of it all, and Willie is much
more of a philosopher," he said. "He loves to
get into the ethics and morals of things."
what about smoking the stuff?
am advising against the use of marijuana," Barcott
said. "But I am saying that and saying, ‘Here’s
why, here’s what I found, here are the top three
reasons why you shouldn’t do it now. And if you’re
going to do it, wait until your early 20s.’"