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Posted: January 14, 2010

Legalized marijuana is right around the corner

It just needs an extreme makeover

Thomas Frey

With the hippie generation moving into the seat of power, many of the hard-line arguments for keeping marijuana on the same banned substance lists as heroin and cocaine are fading into the history books.

The challenge all along for those wishing for outright legalization of pot has been that it doesn't exactly fall into the "good for you" category, parents raising small kids are afraid of it, and it would remove a substantial income stream from the very powerful justice system.

With local, state, and federal governments at odds over how to classify it, marijuana has become a rather confusing issue on many levels. Even though marijuana remains banned federally, the Obama administration has decided to end federal raids on pot-sellers in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Indicators clearly point to an outright legalization of marijuana in the near future, but there will be some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Consider the following data points that are now forming clear signposts towards legalization:

•13 states now allow for the legal use of medical marijuana with a doctor's prescription and several others are considering it.
•Attitudes are changing. A recent Gallup poll showed 44 percent of the population supports legalizing marijuana, up from 25 percent in 1995.
•With groups collecting over 200,000 signatures for upcoming ballot issues in 2010, California will be voting on marijuana becoming a taxed and regulated substance similar to cigarettes and alcohol.
•On July 22, 2009, Oakland, CA became the first city in the US to approve a tax on marijuana.
•Pro-legalization groups such as NORML argue that the U.S. has been squandering vast amounts of money and manpower chasing and locking up marijuana users, both of which could be used for more important things.
•Many other consumer groups have begun to side with legalization. In 1997, Consumer Reports issued a statement saying that, "for patients with advanced AIDS and terminal cancer, the apparent benefits some derive from smoking marijuana outweigh any substantiated or even suspected risks."

Marijuana is an industry with proven demand waiting to spring to life. However, the vast majority of people cannot envision it as a respectable industry with most conjuring up images of raucous teen parties, dealing with unsavory drug dealers and smoking reefers. The fact is that most stoners are terrible writers, so the biggest advocates are the worst communicators.

For marijuana to become legal on all levels, the fledgling industry will have to go through an extensive makeover with professional advertising and PR people entering the mix. One person will need to emerge as the voice of the industry, the rock star of pot, a credible authority who makes it onto the TV talk shows and leads the movement. In the end, it will be less about the legalization and much more about the framework established to unleash the opportunity.


•Within 10 years, marijuana will emerge as a staple at most night clubs and parties.
•As part of a rebranding effort, it will no longer be called marijuana, but some other name invented by Madison Avenue.
•After all the hype wears down, it will prove to be a much smaller industry than most have feared or anticipated. While still a lucrative field, the majority of money will be made on ancillary services.


The early-stage opportunity will be to reinvent the industry. The people who shape the industry will also help define the kinds of opportunities that it creates.

With a growing aversion to "smoking," the style and form of marijuana will need to be shifted into edible and drinkable products. The resulting industry will create thousands of new jobs in agriculture, processing plants, transportation, distribution, marketing, advertising, training, certification, regulators and more.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

Hi Tom. Great article. I see that marijuana will likely first gain legalization as a pharmaceutical. It has far fewer side effects than most of the drugs that are considered "safe" these days. It also has the highest effectiveness on certain kinds of pain, glaucoma, neuropathy, and several other conditions. Many people who could gain relief from certain maladies are, however, afraid to try it because it is illegal. I also see that marijuana will morph in form to an inhaler (similar to asthma rescue inhalers), and an ingested substance. Recreationally: if pot overtakes alcohol as the recreational drug of choice, there will be less domestic violence and fewer bar fights, as alcohol tends to increase aggressive impulses, while those using marijuana see a massive decrease in aggressive impulses. This would be a good thing. The history of the criminalization of this largely harmless weed in America is a study in the typical abuse of government power, and the desire of Linear Thinkers to control and regulate everything. The "war on drugs" is simply another excuse to have people in other people's lives. As a Libertarian, I'm for free choice on everything. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2010 01 24
For someone who misuses the language in this manner ('..the same banned substance lists as heroine and cocaine ..') to pass judgement on the writing abilities of others is more than a little arrogant. Maybe we can have a corollary : all business journalists are poor spellers. Was Kerouac a bad writer? Ken Kesey? William Buroughs? Byron? I think marijuana legalization will be its own velvet revolution. Not with a bang, but a whimper. So to speak. By skylab on 2010 01 19
Frey says that Oakland was the first city to tax marijuana, but I think Denver had a stamp tax on it ($100 an ounce) back in the days of Federico Pena's mayoral term. It was mostly a way to impose financial penalties on people who were busted selling pot. By Dave Lucia on 2010 01 14
I think of myself as a writer. Back in highschool I was high, wrote something, then read it a few days later... I have to agree with the article - it wasn't good. By Bj on 2010 01 14
What a biased, backwards article! Mine is not a hippie generation, nor are stoners "bad writers". What if I lumped the writer of this article into the "all journalists are right-wing idiots" category? Some of the most capable people we know smoke pot behind closed doors. Sometimes cancer patients can't eat any other way. Grow up and look at it from a modern perspective or don't write about it at all. By Misty on 2010 01 14
Even the author of this article has a bias about the "stoner's writing ability"! I think you'll soon discover quite the opposite sir. By Craig Buehler on 2010 01 14
I thought this was a great article up until the wild claim that all stoners are bad writers. You should check out NORML's site. There is plenty of well written material from a variety of stoners. Overall a great article. By D Faul on 2010 01 14

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