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High time: introducing the Guardian’s new cannabis column for grownups

Cannabis has long been shrouded in misinformation and stoner stereotypes. But with California now the worlds largest legal market, and others likely to follow suit, its time to start talking like adults. In a new column, Alex Halperin kicks off a conversation and invites your questions

Today, California becomes the worlds largest legal marijuana market. Its not the first American state to go fully legal, but with its outsized cultural influence and economy larger than France, its about to do for cannabis what Hollywood did for celluloid and Silicon Valley did for the semi-conductor.

Already, 30 US states have legalized medical marijuana (Med). Next year, Canada is likely to become the first large industrialized nation to legalize recreational (Rec), with support from prime minister Justin Trudeau. Germany, Israel and Australia have the beginnings of Med industries. Legal marijuana is coming to your neighborhood, maybe a lot sooner than you think.

For decades the plant has been stigmatized, at best, as a time waster for malodorous and unproductive men, with the disapproval factor steepening after age 30. But here in Los Angeles, the worlds most important cannabis market, a rebranding is underway. Marketers are positioning marijuana as a mainstream wellness product, a calorie-free alternative to an after-work cocktail. In short, its on the brink of global conquest.

Theres much to celebrate in that. Among other things, cannabis can be fun, and in some patients it relieves certain kinds of suffering. In the US, legalization is an important victory for criminal justice reform, and racist war on drugs tactics which continue to ruin many lives.

For that reason and many more, marijuana needs to be taken seriously, even though it can make people act goofy.

With legalization, many more people will spend much more of their time high. It will have profound consequences for how adults relax, yes, but also how they date, parent and work. Already, seniors are the fastest growing group of users in the US.

Legalization supporters often say cannabis is safer than alcohol, and this view has gained mainstream credibility. As Barack Obama said, it was no more dangerous than alcohol.

A bag of cannabis seen in Toronto. Canada is likely to become the first large industrialized nation to legalize recreational use. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

Its true that you cant fatally overdose on cannabis. And the drug is less likely than booze to presage a car accident, an assault or another life shattering event. But legalization may give rise to unforeseen problems. (Some doctors have expressed concern about use during pregnancy.)

No one knows how mass-market weed will change how we live and relate to each other. Its safe to guess it will alter daily life as irrevocably and intimately as landmark products like cars, smartphones and reliable birth control.

Society has embarked on these kinds of mass experiments before. More than a decade into the social media age were only beginning to appreciate the implications for our brains and for our world.

Cannabis, at least, is a familiar entity. The plant has been known as both a psychoactive and a medicine for millennia. But much of the existing information and superstition is anecdotal, since for a lifetime its been almost impossible to study this chemically complex plant.

Due to marijuanas outlaw past, and its most famous property, a fog of misinformation and bullshit envelops the plant and everything it touches. As a reporter, Ive been listening to it for three years.

Now that world-class marketers have arrived on the scene, the fog has, if anything, thickened. The shelves of California pot shops abound with products implying medical benefits. Several brands of cannabis lubes claim to heighten female orgasms. In stores, they sit alongside tempting gourmet chocolates and infused breath mints, discrete enough for work.

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Mary JaneHigh time: introducing the Guardian’s new cannabis column for grownups

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