Marketing Legalization

Yesterday was “Earth Day,” and we found ourselves in an appropriately unambitious state, so we’ve decided to recycle a script that we wrote for the recent “Gridiron” show. The script was cut from the show, which we took as a grievous insult given the utter witlessness of much of the material that was included, but we found it amusing nonetheless. The vast majority of readers residing outside Wichita should know that it’s pegged to a recent city-wide referendum to lessen the penalties for possession of marijuana, and that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is notorious among the state’s liberals for his strange insistence that voting in Kansas elections should be restricted to eligible voters.
(Scene opens with three hippies seated at a table.)
HIPPIE ONE: Okay, dudes, this meeting of the Committee for the Legalization of Marijuana in Kansas is now, like, you know, in order.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, “order.” What a concept.
HIPPIE ONE: As you know, our campaign to get weed free and legal here in Kansas isn’t going well. We had a hard enough time getting Wichita to just reduce the penalty for possession, and that’s in Wichita, where if you ain’t smokin’ weed I don’t know what the hell you’re doing.
HIPPIE THREE: That’s a bummer, man, but what are we going to do about it?
HIPPIE ONE:  figured I’d call in a consultant to see if he has any ideas. This guy is a big deal in public relations and marketing and lobbying and all that stuff, so maybe he knows what to do.
HIPPIE TWO: Maybe you’re right. I mean, I’ve had relations in public, and I go to the market when I get the munchies, and I hang out in the lobby with this old wino dude, but I don’t claim to be any big deal about it, so maybe he can help us out.
(A professional-looking CONSULTANT enters.)
CONSULTANT: Hello, I’m Chip Wilson, from the Chip Wilson Public Relations, Marketing, Lobbying, and Pizza Delivery Group. Thank you so much for your time.
HIPPIE ONE: That’s cool, we’ve got plenty of it.
CONSULTANT: It’s an interesting little cause you’ve got going here, I must say, and I’m eager to help with your noble efforts. I’ve been taking a look at the strategy you’ve been employing thus far, and I think I’ve identified your main problem, public image-wise.
HIPPIE ONE: What’s that?
CONSULTANT: Well, basically, the problem is that you’re a bunch of dirty hippies.
HIPPIE THREE: Oh, man, that’s harsh.
CONSULTANT: I mean that with all due respect. Some of my best friends are dirty hippies. My dear mother was a dirty hippie. I’m just saying that it’s not the image that’s going to drive a successful public relations campaign.
HIPPIE TWO: So what do we want?
CONSULTANT: What you want is that white collar, middle class, mostly law-abiding pothoead next door. You want that engineer who’s designing safety systems for Cessna all week and unwinding with a bowl on the weekends, or that winning criminal defense attorney with all the good connections. You want a more upscale, wholesome, mass appeal pothead. Our slogan will be, “Pot — It’s Not Just for Dirty Hippies Any More.”
HIPPIE TWO: Where do we find these people?
CONSULTANT: That’s where we run into a problem. The people you want to be out front on this issue are reluctant to publicly confess their marijuana use.
HIPPIE THREE: What’s the deal with that?
CONSULTANT: They’d be confessing to a crime that involve a potential prison sentence, for one thing. Worse yet, they’re afraid people will regard them as dirty hippies.
HIPPIE ONE: I can dig that, man. I guess I’ll still have to be the spokesman, but hey, at least I’m all articulate and well-spoken and shit.
CONSULTANT: I wouldn’t recommend that. Again, I say this with all due respect, but you’re really not very articulate and well-spoken and … such. In your case, it does seem that marijuana use has impaired your verbal abilities.
HIPPIE ONE: I’m not even high, man. I happen to take this committee seriously, so I’m not indulging until 4:20.
CONSULTANT: That just proves my point. Even when you’re straight, you’re still a dirty hippie. Now, look at me. I took two monster bong hits of Hindu Kush out in the parking lot before I came in here, I’m high as a proverbial kite, and still this presentation has been polished and professional and in the Queen’s friggin’ English.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, man, you can really handle your weed. Maybe you’re the guy we’re looking for.
CONSULTANT: Sorry, but I’m strictly a behind-the-scenes consultant, and I’m afraid my more lucrative clients in the pharmaceutical field wouldn’t like that. Besides, I like my weed untaxed and unregulated, and it’s not like the cops are profiling a middle-aged white guy in a suit and tie, so what do I care if it’s legal or not?
HIPPIE ONE: So what good are you?
CONSULTANT: We’re still in negotiations, mind you, but I think we’re about to line up a perfect spokesman for your cause. I don’t want to mention any names at this point, but let’s just say he’s a former Choom Gang member and current president of the United States who still takes a puff of that righteous Hawaiian bud to deal with having his mother-in-law living at the White House.
(The hippies look at one another quizzically, unable to guess who the CONSULTANT is talking about.)
CONSULTANT: For crying out loud, you dirty hippies, I’m talking about Obama.
HIPPIE TWO: Oh yeah, Obama. I know that dude. He’s cool. I saw him slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. Do you think he’d do it?
CONSULTANT: Term limits, baby. He’s coming up against them, and at this point he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He’s vetoing pipelines, making deals with the Iranians, inviting in illegal immigrants, and to hell with the polls or his party’s next presidential election. He’ll be racking up speakers fees and book deals, the press and the Europeans will start being polite, Hillary or some Republican can deal with the Iranian bomb and the rest of it, but he’ll still have that mother-in-law in the house and he figures some legal weed might come in handy.
HIPPIE ONE: All right, then, It looks like we’ll finally get weed legalized here in Kansas.
CONSULTANT: Oh, wait, you’re right, this is Kansas. I’m afraid Obama doesn’t poll well here. In fact, in the latest numbers I saw, about 63 percent of the state thinks he’s a dirty hippie. What was I thinking? And why am I suddenly craving chips and salsa? Would any of you guys like to get a beer and maybe some tamales at this Mexican place I know up on North Broadway? Which reminds me, we should be able to get the Mexican vote on our side, and if that damned Kobach guy doesn’t get in the way I know how to round up a lot more of them …
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

Two Holidays in One

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, of course, but this year it coincided with the far more secular holiday of 4-20. For the sake of the squares among you we will explain that “4-20” is a sub-cultural slang term for marijuana. Some marijuana enthusiasts make a ritual of indulging each day at 4:20, although we’re not sure if it’s supposed to be A.M. or P.M, or perhaps both, if your sleep schedule is accommodating, and the 20th day of the fourth month of the year has become an unofficial national 24 hours of marijuana celebration. Easter didn’t prove a distraction for the large crowds that gathered in various cities across the country, and in The Mile High City of Denver 4-20 pushed the holiest day in Christendom right off the front page.
Tens of thousands gathered in a Denver park, according to the Associated Press, to smoke enough marijuana to make the nearby buildings look quite hazy in the news photographs. The state of Colorado has recently legalized the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana, and although it remains in violation of federal laws and it is still illegal to smoke marijuana in public there seems to be a considerable degree of tolerance regarding the drug. Reports indicated that only 103 of those tends of thousands were cited, and only 92 of them marijuana violations. The rest were presumably handed a more expensive ticket for consuming tobacco in one of the nearby taverns. There seems to have been no violence or other problems associated with the party, and it can be assumed that the nearby fast-food outlets and convenience stores did a brisk business, so the event might become an annual tradition if anyone can remember the location. Most years it won’t fall on Easter, and a few more pious potheads might join in.
A bunch of grubby neo-hippies littering a park and giving a contact high to an entire neighborhood might not seem the most persuasive image that the pro-legalization movement might send to a wary non-pot-smoking public, which thus far retains a political majority in the country, and would probably be more sympathetic to the respectable Saab-driving suburban pothead who tries to hide it from the kids, but they do seem to be on a roll lately. Polling shows public sentiment moving toward legalization with the dizzying speed of same-sex marriage, legislation and referenda are being considered in several states, prominent politicians from both parties have offered their endorsements, and a certain sweet scent of inevitably is wafting across the land like the smoke from that rally in the park. It’s partly the Baby Boomer’s dominance of the Democratic party, and partly the increasing influence of libertarians and libertarianism in the Republic Party, but we suspect it’s mainly because everybody in government at every level is increasingly desperate for more and more revenues. Just as the Great Depression brought and end to the prohibition of alcohol, the current never-ending recession will prompt the government to cut itself in on the enormous trade in marijuana.
When it does happen, all those 4-20 types around the country won’t necessarily be celebrating. They’ve been smoking tax-free so far, and will be surprised to find how very expensive is the government’s fair share. Pot has previously been free of regulatory oversight, as well, and bureaucrats are notorious buzz-kills. In our newspaper days checking the fly-sheets at the local jail we noticed that the only people who ever got arrested for marijuana were selling large amounts in a careless way or had small amounts in their pockets while they were being arrested for something else, but we’re sure law enforcement will take a more active interest in the matter when state funds are stake. They’ll miss that slight outlaw frisson, too, and some will consider take up tobacco to regain that rebel stand.
State governments are all in the numbers racket already, with their lotteries and casinos ruthlessly protected monopolies, and government itself can be understood as sanctified protection racket. In Puerto Rico they’re considering getting in on the prostitution to trade to erase a debilitating debt, along with other ideas ranging from legalizing weed to reviving the country’s once-great coffee trade, and the more indebted states will be tempted to do the same after they’ve taxed all their rich people into other jurisdictions. State-sanctioned marijuana, which would be far more palatable to those aging Baby Boomer Democrats and their haranguing feminist wives as well those libertarian Republicans and their religious friends, will soon be an easy sell to a cash-strapped public.
A better way to fill the public coffers would be to expand the broader economy with tax and regulatory incentives to create more productive goods and services, but that’s a harder sell. There are good arguments against putting someone in prison at taxpayer cost for smoking marijuana, and good arguments for taking small cut on that marijuana to keep someone in prison for something more detrimental to the society, but parks full of grubby neo-hippies and agencies full of rapacious bureaucrats is not going to be a successful combination.

— Bud Norman

The News on a Cold and Rainy Day

On a dreary and drizzly Wednesday, with the winds rattling the windows and winter still clinging bitterly to the gray-and-brown landscape, we dipped into the warmth and brightness of the Drudge Report. There was nothing particularly earth-shaking to be found there, unless you’re heavily invested in Twitter stock, but a few items provided the needed distraction.
We noted with some interest that the Democrats are contemplating using marijuana to improve their seemingly poor chances in the mid-term elections. It’s not that they plan to get everyone stoned on the way the polls, although we’ve long suspected a similar plot was involved in the last two presidential elections, but rather that they hope to bring out otherwise unenthused younger voters by putting various sorts of marijuana legalization referenda on the ballots. This seems a plausible plan, as marijuana is polling much better than the president these days, but hardly sure-fire. Even the most addled youngsters showing up to vote for legal weed might be inclined to ignore the Democratic congressional candidates intent on retaining an Obamacare law that redistributes what little wealth the young have acquired to well-to-do baby boomers in need of erectile dysfunction remedies, and a lot of pot-smokers tend to be libertarian types who also insist on gun rights and free speech and low taxes on everything. If the Democrats promise to make medical marijuana available to everyone through Obamacare the ploy would prove very effective, but thus far the Democrats aren’t so desperate.
The big headline of the was that President Barack Obama will be seeking the blessing of Pope Francis. Drudge’s waggish headline writers meant that figuratively, as we read the article, but we suppose an actual blessing from the Pope wouldn’t do any harm and would probably work better than one from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The two apparently plan to talk about income inequality, a topic they unfortunately agree upon, but we hope the conversation will eventually get around to why Obama is forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptive coverage. For all his misguided liberation theology about economic issues the Pope is steadfastly conservative on abortion and promiscuity and other causes dear to Democratic hearts, so he should be of limited usefulness to the efforts to bring out those pot-smoking hipsters the party is counting on.
In a sort of sports story, we read that Northwestern University’s football will be allowed to form a labor union. The team’s sluggish and inefficient play over the past several decades had led us to believe they’d been unionized all along, but it appears this is a new development. Sports journalists are speculating that the union movement could sweep across college athletics, and of course they tend to be enthusiastic about the possibility, but we have our doubts. The best football schools tend to be in right-to-work states, which is probably not a coincidence, and we expect that the best players there will simply opt to forgo paying union dues and keep taking their pay under-the-table. Time-outs are already long and frequent enough in college football games, too, and we dread the interminable work stoppages that will no doubt occur in unionized games.
That missing Malyasian airliner seems to have gone missing from the news, and without any definitive answers, and there’s yet another round of strange Obamacare delays and the frightening prospect of immigration reform and any number of other looming disasters, but they’re not fit for comment on such a dreary and drizzly day.

— Bud Norman

Politics Goes to Pot

A while back we were at a local coffee house, enjoying an amiable chat about politics with a bohemian but rather conservative pal of ours, when one of the young hipsters who inhabit the joint interjected himself into the conversation to assure us that President Obama would be re-elected. We didn’t bother to dispute his prophecy, but we were curious to know why he seemed so ardently desirous of that outcome.

“Because,” the young man said, seemingly annoyed that he had to explain something so plainly obvious, “when he gets into a second term and can’t run again he’s going to do all kinds of crazy shit, like legalizing weed.”

One hardly knows where to begin to rebutting such scatological nonsense, but we endeavored to point out that a president cannot legalize marijuana, that Obama has shown no inclination to do so even if he could, and that even if he did young hipsters wouldn’t be able to afford marijuana after four more years of Obamanomics. We then dismissed the young hipster with a wave of the hand and immediately put him out of mind, regarding him as a statistical outlier as well as an empty-headed whippersnapper, but the conversation was brought back to mind Wednesday by a headline at the venerable Atlantic Monthly’s web site asking “Is Legalizing Weed Obama’s Secret Weapon?”

Cleverly illustrated with an air-brushed portrait of a doobie-puffing Obama beneath the slogan “Yes We Cannabis” in psychedelic script, the accompanying article by Elspeth Reeve contends that several swing state ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana to one extent or another could bolster the president’s chances by drawing large numbers of youthful voters to the polls. Reeves reasons that young people are “weed’s biggest fans,” that young people are also more inclined than their elders to vote for Obama, and then without pausing to wonder if there might be a cause and effect between the two phenomena she concludes that Obama will benefit to some extent from an increased turnout by the president’s pot-smoking admirers.

Perhaps, but we expect the marijuana initiatives are unlikely to decisive effect on the election. A high unemployment rate that has most affected the youngest workers has disillusioned many of Obama’s former supporters, Ron Paul and several other prominent pro-legalization Republicans have softened the party’s buzz-killing image, and the Democrats can no longer count on all of the pot-smoking votes. There’s also a large number of anti-marijuana voters, as demonstrated by the failure of legalization efforts even in such seemingly pot-friendly states as California, and one assumes they’ll largely be inclined to vote for the teetotaling Mitt Romney over the “Choom Gang” alumna Obama. The anti-marijuana faction is also more likely to find its way to the polling place, and to remember when the election is being held, so there might even be a slight benefit to Romney.

The Atlantic’s report makes clear that the Obama campaign has not been involved in putting the initiatives on the ballot in any state, and that he has always stated his opposition to legalization, but that the Democrats are nonetheless hoping to “cultivate the pot vote.” To the extent the Democrats do associate themselves with marijuana, they’re going to lose the confidence of many Americans who are far more worried about weightier matters.

— Bud Norman