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Tony Dokoupil is a senior writer for NBC News and the author of The Last Pirate (Doubleday, April 2014), a book about a father, his son, and the golden age[…]

America has been undergoing a marijuana revolution of sorts. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and now it’s sold in Colorado and Washington, with around a dozen more states likely to follow. A recent study by the University of Texas at Dallas found that legalized medical marijuana actually lowered crime rates. This is all good news for advocates for legalization, but author Tony Dokoupil warns of a coming backlash. What will be the impact once marijuana is mainstream and industrialized? Dokoupil, the author of The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and the Golden Age of Marijuana, raises important arguments that should be of concern to people on both sides of the issue.

Tony Dokoupil:  I think legalization will continue to spread around the country and I think at a certain point there’ll be a very strong liberal backlash because the pot market that is emerging is gonna get bigger and more professionalized.  And it’s only a matter of time before the advocates for legalization realize that hey, we didn’t used to like the guy who’s on the cover of Fortune magazine or Forbes.  And it’s kind of cool now that that’s a marijuana guy.  Actual examples Fortune and Forbes.  But we weren’t really about big business before and we never really liked genetically modified anything.  If it was a mango we’d fight it.  And it’s all genetically modified in Colorado.  It’s hard to find what they call land raised strain of marijuana, something they grew naturally and has not been modified by man.

There’s a second part of legalization that doesn’t yet concern a lot of people but concerns me.  And I think will eventually become a liberal issue and that is the reach of the emerging marijuana industry.  So if you want to unleash this tremendous market worth billions which I think is true, you create entities, organizations who have a very strong incentive to create as much marijuana use as possible.  And not only that, but to create as much problematic marijuana use as possible.  If we really mean to sell marijuana like alcohol, then we mean to create a market where most of the revenue comes from people who have a problem.

That is the business model of alcohol.  Eighty percent of the revenues comes from a tiny sliver of the users.  It’s not the guy who has a drink after work.  It’s the guy who has six and misses his kid’s bedtime, his marriage is in shambles.  That’s the kind of guy who supports the industry.  There’s going to be more and more money in mainstream marijuana, in big marijuana behind optimizing the experience and delivering it in a way that just totally bypasses the senses like you see in food.  We’ve become more sensitive and liberals in particular have become more sensitive today to what Kraft food does and what Nestle does and what Coca-Cola does to corner us into a set of choices that involve processed, highly profitable food.  And then when we try that food it just electrifies us.  It just blows us away.

The food that these companies are producing today, I mean, it is meant to just overwhelm the senses, right.  They talk about the bliss point.  I think there’s every reason to believe that the science of processed food delivery will overlap in the future with the science of marijuana.  It’s already in edibles.  And that’s troubling.  I mean that’s creating a potential monster.  The joke in the 1970s when my father was big in the marijuana world was well, we don’t really want them to legalize it because if they legalize it, it won’t be fun and it won’t work anymore.

There was some believed connection between the illegality and the thrill of doing wrong and sneaking and breaking the government’s rules.  That was kind of the high, right.  It wasn’t only the THC.  It was the idea that we’re flicking off Uncle Sam who doesn’t know.  And when that’s gone well you have to create something else to make it work.  And that something else is a lot of THC and more use than we currently see and potentially a problem.  So it’s a concern.

 Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton