Marijuana is going to be legal in our lifetimes. If the Quinnipiac Poll is good enough to predict collective forgiveness of Jim Calhoun, then surely, the Q-Poll saying that 58 percent of Connecticut voters want to decriminalize marijuana can't be wrong.
And from this poll, we have an answer to one of the more trying questions of public policy right now: how to create wealth. While I think decrim is okay, we need to take it a step further and legalize it outright.
Legalizing the underground drug economy would bring hundreds of millions of dollars above the table, taxable, where now, millions of dollars pass through our state without regulation or taxation. I had an old friend tell me 15 years ago that marijuana would be legal the day that the government could make more money and advantage on it from taxation and regulation than from criminalization.
So, it appears that day has arrived, or is certainly around the corner. This pot of gold awaits the first American city and state that make this policy change. For the first city that creates a three or four block red light district like Amsterdam, the value of being a pioneer is tantamount, and worth the equivalent of billions.
In our capitalistic culture, the sloppy second city that makes the change won't have the prize. Hartford is in a position to be first. And the red light district doesn't have to be the whole city. It need only be one small three block area.
People already think Hartford is a sink hole. But if the city, and the state do something radical and thought provoking, if we stands on the cutting edge of drug policy reform, we will be seen as a beacon. The value lies in breaking the ground, in being the first.
The Q-Poll is a stunning development from the inhabitants of the land of steady habits. We Nutmeggers should capitalize on this courage, and blaze the trail in the green economy. Connecticut can set the agenda for the policy, and invent the American model. The dollars and prestige from research and innovation that will come this way are unimaginable.
Not one state has legalized weed outright yet. California is close, because it sees the hemp dollars pumping into its economy, one of the world's largest. Marijuana increases real estate prices in farm country, it creates jobs, not just at urban dispensaries, but at rural farms, too.
Connecticut must leapfrog ahead of California and be the first among the 50 to create a policy for weed like alcohol. If people tour wineries - couldn't we have pot farms as tourist attractions. Think of the farms in the northwest and northeast corner into hemp growing boutiques.
Cannabis and its culture is a major tourist attraction in Amsterdam. We can do the same thing, and take business away from them over there. People who shell out thousands of dollars for Phish reunion concerts are likely pot smokers, and they will shell out thousands of dollars to come to Hartford to smoke their beloved herb without fear.
Some people won't like the culture. That's fine. Our economy is sovast and so diverse that it is a subculture - once we get used to it, no one will even notice the change. America accepted the decriminalization of alcohol without much fanfare.
People drank before it was illegal. People drank while it was illegal. People still drink. And it was no big deal. Same thing for weed.
So the Amsterdam model of licensed coffeeshops seems like the way to go. Make a red light district out of underutilized real estate in cities like Hartford, and then allow a few choice shops sprinkled across the city for tourist value. But keep them away from schools.
Perhaps put a coffeeshop in the stainless steel diner on Farmington Avenue, and maybe another in the hip Parkville section. Or perhaps put the entire red light area in the industrialized section of Parkville, where Spaghetti Warehouse is. It presents intriguing development ideas, which call for larger visions of what the city should look like.
Or perhaps putting legal drug stores in the areas where the illegal drug trade thrives could deter that trade and its accompanying violence.
Furthermore, this policy could fund serious harm reduction and medicalization efforts that would have to be ushered in with it.
An above-ground weed market could finance badly-needed needle exchange programs, shooting rooms and social services and counseling for those who are mired in the addictions of harder drugs.
In Hartford, our approach could be an international identity point. We can be seen not as those in the land of steady habits, but as risk takers, as courageous policy makers. It is not about liking or disliking drugs, it is about creating solid public policy models.
We are a laboratory of democracy. If the experiment fails, then we can find another path. We may learn that this is the wrong solution, that legal marijuana use just a white privilege thing, where people from the suburbs smoke for fun, and that is the wrong message to send to children in the city, where every day is a fight, and one toke is being one step away from rock bottom.
Perhaps we will learn that. But what we are doing now does not work, and the people of Connecticut are ready for a change. The all-knowing Q-Poll says so. And if we are the first state and city to act on it, then the prize that comes with being first is ours, too.