Is it possible that we're on a brink of such a major change? That, within our lifetime, and sooner than you could ever imagine, cigarettes will be made illegal, and marijuana will be legalized?
Tobacco is the deadliest drug out there: "more than 400,000 Americans now die of tobacco-related illness per year, making it the leading cause of preventeable death in the US. More than 8 million Americans suffer from at least one serious illeness caused by smoking" (1).
However, unlike many much less deadly drugs, this one is legal!
Just this last month, FDA has received authority over tobacco, a huge change in tobacco regulation.
The first thing the FDA did was ban flavored cigarettes from the market (2).
Now that the FDA has control over such a deadly substance, will they dare keep it on the market for much longer?
Cities and states have begun legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.
Thirteen states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) have legalized medial marijuana (3).
Cities, such as Denver, have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana (4)
In 2003, Seattle pioneered a "lowest priority" initiative, which makes possession of small amounts of marijuana the lowest priority of the police. Today, similar initiatives are found in Oakland, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California; as well as Columbia, Missouri; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; ...Missoula, Montana"; Hailey, Idaho; as well as my personal favorites, Boulder and Denver, Colorado ( 5, 6, 7).
Tobacco companies have caught on to the trend and have designated land, time, money, and have even created brand names and marketing campaigns for marijuana products (8).
Without a backup plan, making cigarettes illegal would create a huge dent in the economy. Powerful, wealthy corporations would instantly collapse. The FDA would never dare do that.
However, marijuana could be that backup plan. Tobacco companies would remain strong if marijuana was made legal. They'd be the first ones on the scene, and they are ready to take advantage of marijuana's inevitable legalization.
But what would that change entail?
Which would happen first, would tobacco be made illegal or would marijuana be legalized, or would that happen instantaneously?
Would marijuana sales be enough to keep tobacco companies on top? While the legalization of marijuana would eventually mean a collapse of smaller drug dealers, initially, those drug dealers might actually thrive, especially those that get their pot from sources within the country instead of smuggling them internationally. Pot smokers who never grew before might give it a try. Unlike tobacco, marijuana can be grown in someone's home or in someone's backyard. Additionally, marijuana would become big in the food industry, and perhaps even more popular in that form than as a smoked substance. Though the current structure of marijuana sales will definitely change, would it ever be handed over entirely to large corporations?
Is society ready for such a change? Anti-drug crusaders remain strong, and, despite the popularity of marijuana reform, many Americans remain opposed to its legalization and use, especially for recreational purposes.
Additionally, marijuana is a much different drug from tobacco. Even though cigarette use has recently dropped significantly, it still remains a big part of some aspects of American culture. What will happen to groups of co-workers from all walks of life smoking outside their place of work? How about other types of tobacco use, such as cigars and cigar bars and sheesha and hookah bars? It would be used at different times, in different places, by different people. It will be used more like alcohol than like tobacco, though not exactly like either.
What would the legal age for marijuana consumption, possession, and purchase be? Most places that've legalized marijuana or with lowest priority laws define adult consumption as 21, and that's likely to be the minimum age if marijuana is legalized. Tobacco is the drug that become legal when you turn 18, so, if tobacco is made illegal, no new substance will be permitted until you turn 21. If marijuana is legalized, it's likely to be less available to underage users, similar to how alcohol is difficult to come by in highschool. However, unlike alcohol, marijuana can be grown at home, and can even spread like a weed, so it would probably be more available underage than alcohol is now. How would teenagers react to such a change? Would consumption of more dangerous, illegal drugs go up because those drugs will be easier to find?
Where would we be allowed to smoke pot? Would there be designated pot smoking areas? How about the laws that now concern cigarette smoking in public places? Would pot bars open up, and what would it's culture be like?
Would legalizing marijuana open up the way for legalizing other drugs?
We just might find out within our lifetime, and sooner than we could ever imagine.
(1) FDA authority over tobacco: http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/fda/
(2) Ban on flavored cigarettes: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/health/policy/23fda.html
(3) States that legalized medical marijuana: http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=3391
(4) Denver legalized marijuana: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-11-03-pot_x.htm
Lowest priority laws (5) in Maine with a list of cities where it's in effect: http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/463/maine_marijuana_lowest_law_enforcement_priority_initiatives (6) in Denver with more cities listed: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/denver-voters-set-lowest-priority-for-cops-pot/?scp=1-b&sq=denver+and+marijuana&st=nyt (7) in Boulder: http://www.dailycamera.com/boulder-county-news/ci_13450163
(8) Tobacco companies and marijuana: http://www.drugwatch.org/Tobacco_Marijuana_Media.htm (scroll down to "The Tobacco-Marijuana Link")