The New Stoned Age: Bill Maher on the Greening of America

Economic incentive to legalize weed and the failure of the War on Drugs have produced a sea change in America that's here to stay

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It's a brave new pothead world. Until fairly recently, even a year ago, I would not have guessed that we would be at the place we are now – with 18 states legalizing medical marijuana and, according to one recent poll, a whopping 85 percent of the nation supporting medical use. For all our political rancor, it turns out, what ultimately unites us is pot. Weed is one of the few things that both hillbillies and hippies like. Rappers smoke pot, and country artists smoke pot. There's just as much pot on Willie Nelson's tour bus as there is on Snoop Dogg's tour bus. Marijuana is bridging the red and blue divide and becoming a purple issue.

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For those who worry that we will become a nation that sits on the couch eating Cheetos all day, relax. Smoking pot does not equal laziness. Weed was something I could always justify because it excited my brain. Some people it puts to sleep, others it turns paranoid. Some it makes creative, and we're the lucky ones, because if it has done any damage to us, at least we have a receipt. I've gotten a lot of good ideas from pot. Including smoke more pot.

Legalization is another one of those issues, like gay marriage, that drives the Tea Bag people crazy. That Leave It to Beaver black-and-white 1950s image that Mitt Romney fit into so well is going away, and one big reason is marijuana. Bill Clinton once said, "If you look back on the Sixties and think there was more good than harm, you're probably a Democrat. If you think there was more harm than good, you're probably a Republican." Well, for those people who loved the Fifties, pot played a huge role in the cultural revolution that they detest.

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Republicans have always been an uneasy alliance of Jesus freaks, gun nuts, generic obese suburbanites and the super-rich, but what binds them is this idea that life was perfect in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1958. As soon as President Obama was elected, this visual of a black guy who liked smoking pot walking into the White House was too much. Whenever you hear them say, "I want my country back" – from what? Did Blackmanistan invade us? They may want it back, but that America is gone forever.

Of course, there's a big economic incentive to legalizing marijuana. More than a decade ago, there was a county in Georgia where the people fired the sheriff because he was busting pot farmers. The crop was their lifeblood, so they got rid of the hardass and elected a sheriff who pledged to look the other way. That's the kind of sea change that's happening in America right now. If 40 years of abject failure of the War on Drugs has taught us anything, it's that the customer base is large, strong and loyal. So as in everything, money talks. And money is there to be made. There's no going back. We've reached the tipping point, legal marijuana is here to stay – it's just a matter of how fast it will happen across the country.

This story is from the June 20th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 1185: June 20, 2013