On Saturday the pot prohibitionists at Project SAM took out a full-page ad in The New York Times in response to the paper's recent endorsement of marijuana legalization. See if you can figure out the group's message based on the illustration that dominates the ad:
The message seems to be that pot is not just for potheads anymore—that respectable, productive, mainstream people across America (including the sort who wear suits to work) enjoy marijuana. "As someone who has been working in the legalization movement for over a decade to smash unhelpful stereotypes about who uses marijuana," says Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell, "I actually love this ad. The vast majority of people who see it in the newspaper are going to think it's a pro-legalization ad making the point that not only hippies use marijuana, but successful businesspeople do too."
But judging from the text beneath the picture, that is not what Project SAM is getting at. Rather, its point is that once marijuana is legal, it will be sold not by some dude on the street but by suit-clad men in offices. Scary, no?
Project SAM, whose strategy for propping up prohibition consists mainly of inserting the word big in front of the word marijuana, thinks it is. After all, people hate Big Tobacco, so they will naturally flee in terror from the very notion of Big Marijuana, another evil industry bent on selling a dried psychoactive plant. That's the idea, anyway. But for antiprohibitionists, changing the marijuana business from a criminal enterprise into a legitimate industry counts as an advantage of legalization, not a drawback.
Among the reasons why that development should be welcomed (which include lower prices, higher quality, and better selection) is that the artificially high profits generated by prohibition tend to enrich and empower people a bit scarier than the friendly-looking pot dealer in the Project SAM ad. As the Drug Policy Alliance's Bill Piper observed in a recent debate with Project SAM co-founder Kevin Sabet, "We already have 'Big Marijuana.' They're called drug cartels, and they cut people's heads off….Why let these thugs keep billions of dollars a year if we don't have to?"
Angell adds: "Most people who bother to read the text are going to realize that legalization means that a professional, aboveground industry will be taking control of the marijuana trade once we take it out of the hands of the violent drug cartels and gangs that run the show in the prohibition-created black market. I'm a little sad that SAM didn't ask Marijuana Majority to help fund the ad."