What Else Should DC Legalize?

When I first moved to DC, about a decade ago, I was sorely disappointed at how culturally conservative the city was:  bars were deserted after happy hour, everyone dressed like their parents still laid their outfits for them, and you couldn’t even buy beer after 10PM.  (This hasn’t changed, unfortunately;  it’s the worst alcohol cutoff time outside of Utah.)  But in the intervening decade, DC has somehow become one of the most progressive cities in the country.  It was in the first wave of gay marriage, pot is legal, bike lanes are everywhere, and they’re about to authorize the country’s best family leave policy.  Not coincidentally, the city’s fortunes have risen as it’s loosened up.  Who would’ve thought that more people would want to live in a city that didn’t suck?  Crazy.

At any rate, if there is indeed a correlation between legalizing stuff and a city’s success – and there is – what else should we start allowing?  Luckily, this being America, we have lots of prohibitions to choose from.

Have you ever been to the red light district in Amsterdam? It’s packed, all the time. But only a small fraction of people there are actually there to, er, “partake.” I’d say that 95% of the people there are just gawkers who just want to tell their friends back in Topeka that they saw some “real-life harlots.” And what do these tourists do after their fevered awkward speed-walk through the red light district? They go buy pot-leaf socks and an $11 falafel. The red light district is the biggest tourist draw since Epcot Center. Any city that opens an Amsterdam-style red light district will be drowning in tourist dollars. The bars around the one in Amsterdam are filled around the clock with red-faced sweaty men savoring cigarettes and staring off into the distance with a dumb grin on their faces. Why are they so relaxed and endorphin-y? I guess we’ll never know. But they don’t hesitate to pay $20 for a beer. The Dutch are too classy to really take advantage of these loopy, post-coital dudes, but imagine what America could squeeze out of them! If you think going to a red light district is immoral, there’s your instant karma right there. (“You have grievously sinned, I sentence you to be subject to late-stage consumer capitalism.” “Noooooo!!!”)

I mean, whatever you think about prostitution, the general logic is the same as pot legalization: people are doing it already (there’s a reason it’s called the world’s oldest profession), so why not legalize it, regulate and clean it up, and give Uncle Sam his cut? God bless America.

Not only is the drinking age unfair – why can you die for your country at 18 but blah blah blah – it’s arbitrary and illogical too. Plenty of other places let people drink at 18 or even younger, and they’re not overrun by mobs of drunken hooligans. Quite the opposite – in places like Germany, when even high school students can legally drink, there’s very little of the alcohol poisoning, house-trashing, and driving into trees that we associate with “underage” drinking here. That’s because, like most of the other things on this list, a lot of the allure of underage drinking is the fact that it’s prohibited, which naturally leads to overindulgence and extreme behavior.

So really, if you abolished the drinking age in, say, Adams Morgan, all the curb puking and stumbling into traffic would go away (after an initial surge of it). But at the same time, alcohol sales would go through the roof. Every high schooler in the tri-state area would flock there to guzzle $9 Bananaberry wine spritzers and nod their heads to top 40 hits. Not only would bar owners be making money by the wheelbarrow load (look at the French Quarter!), by the time all these high schoolers reached 21, alcohol would just be a normal part of their lives and there wouldn’t be any more beer bongs/stomach pumping/waking up in a different city dressed like Elsa from “Frozen.” It’s a win-win.

Let’s be honest, people are misinterpreting this whole pot legalization thing. The takeaway isn’t “pot isn’t like other drugs, it’s harmless!” The takeaway is, “drugs are harmless!” I mean yeah, not totally harmless, but what is? I could tell you various anecdotes about burn-speckled bedsheets from people falling asleep while smoking, people passing out drunk face-first and knocking out all their front teeth, or that time I drove home after eating pot brownies and the highway became this sort of cosmic tunnel of pure light leading directly to my house, and I didn’t even have to steer (and to prove this point I took my hands off the wheel for extended periods of time). The majority of drugs are no worse than alcohol or weed. Speed/meth is just a bathtub version of the pills you give your seven year old for ADD, hallucinogenics are basically religion in pill form, and even heroin, well – have you ever known a junkie? A junkie is the most regular, industrious, stable person you’ll ever meet. They have to be, to satisfy their habit. They are literally transformed into the embodiment of the American work ethic. Give them a clean, affordable product and they’ll be model citizens.

But that’s not why some city, somewhere, will eventually legalize the rest of it; the reason they’ll legalize it is money. And there is a tremendous amount of money to be made from legal drugs. States are already reaping millions of dollars from the pot trade, and will start making even more when banks agree to start handling pot money. (Running a cash-only business is basically a license to evade taxes.) I know it sounds crazy, but ten years ago so did pot legalization. Why not be the first city to take the plunge?

Yes, there’s a world-class park opening up over the Anacostia, which is supposedly going to be clean enough to swim in by 2025, but does anyone really believe all that? Not really. Perceptions are powerful, and right now the perception of the Anacostia River is of a hyper-polluted toilet river so disgusting that even the fish there have tumors and DNA damage. If the city really wants to turn the Anacostia into some kind of East Coast version of the French Riviera, they’re going to have to do something dramatic. And what’s more dramatic than a European-style nude beach?! People would flock from all over the country, and the social media campaign takes care of itself. Admit it, you’d go at least once, just out of curiosity.

Ha ha, just kidding.

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