Thursday, October 22, 2015

My marijuana predictions coming true

Back in January of 2014 I published my first policy book, After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy. In the book I try to predict what is likely going to happen over the next 20 years in marijuana policy. I'm going to take a moment to look back at some of the big predictions I got right and those I got wrong. So far three of my larger predictions have already come to fruition.
  1.  That Alaska and Oregon would vote to legalize marijuana in November 2014 - While not the boldest prediction at the time, the success of these two legalization campaigns was in no way guaranteed. Midterm elections tend to see lower turnout among young voters, and in 2012 the voters of Oregon rejected a different legalization ballot measure.
  2. The Liberal Party would likely win the federal Canadian election and will push for marijuana legalization in 2016 - Earlier this week, the Liberal Party won a majority in parliament, giving them free rein to implement any policy they want. Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has promised to push for legalization "right away," and we should expect a bill in 2016 or 2017.
  3. That some states would require individuals to register and pay a small fee to grow marijuana at home for personal use - I thought this strategy would be appealing to policy makers because it would allow states to get revenue from home growers and make it easier to prosecute people who are abusing home growing provisions to produce bootleg marijuana. This is exactly what the ResponsibleOhio ballot measure will do if it is approved this November. It will require people to pay a $50 registration fee if they want to grow up to four plants at home.
I have gotten a few things wrong, though. I predicted there wouldn't be a legalization measure on the local ballot in D.C. until 2020, because I thought pro-legalization groups would be worried about congressional interference otherwise. This prediction was only half right. The voters of D.C. did vote overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana use in November 2014, but in response Congress adopted a budget rider that has prevented the city government from implementing a tax-and-regulate system.

I similarly didn't expect Ohio to vote for marijuana legalization until 2020, but Ohio may actually legalize marijuana much earlier. With just a few weeks until the election, polling currently shows Issue 3 is tied 46 percent yes to 46 percent no. If Issue 3 fails, there is a good chance different legalization measures might appear on the ballot in 2020 like I initially predicted, but I would prefer not to be proven right that way.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mars is also a harsh mistress

Warning: Spoiler alert for The Martian

I'm a big fan Andy Weir's book The Martian, and I recently saw the motion picture it inspired, which I think is one of the most faithful and enjoyable book adaptations in recent times.

For those who haven't read the book, it is the story of one astronaut who is accidentally left behind on Mars and the extraordinary efforts he needs to go through to survive. Since Earth is so far away it takes years to send help, so he needs to basically MacGyver everything in order to survive from only the supplies on hand.

One thing I love about the book is that it properly captures how Mars' distance from Earth, combined with its cold and completely inhospitable climate, make it a great setting for a dramatic story of survival. These factors also make it a really stupid place to colonize. The story really drives home that Mars has almost nothing to help a human survive besides some weak sunlight, rocks, and modest gravity.

While I strongly support limited manned missions to Mars for scientific purposes, the idea that it should become a second home to save our species from extinction is deeply misguided. If we are looking for a place to colonize, there are numerous asteroids which can be brought close to Earth, have better access to free solar power, and can be turned into rotating habitats to produce a more desirable level of artificial gravity.

*image of Martian landscape from NASA

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Have we found an alien ringworld?

In one of my earliest posts on this blog, I speculated that our best chance of ever detecting intelligent alien life in the universe would come from actually seeing signs of their truly massive stellar architecture. A new paper indicates we just might already have.

Around one mature star there appears to be a highly unusual mess of objects circling it, which is very difficult to explain. From the Atlantic:

Boyajian, the Yale Postdoc who oversees Planet Hunters, recently published a paper describing the star’s bizarre light pattern. Several of the citizen scientists are named as co-authors. The paper explores a number of scenarios that might explain the pattern—instrument defects; the shrapnel from an asteroid belt pileup; an impact of planetary scale, like the one that created our moon. [...]

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.
It is most likely this pattern was caused by an extremely rare set of natural phenomena, but the small possibility that it could be the result of some type of alien ringworld or Dyson sphere is extremely intriguing.

If follow-up research does indicate this pattern is caused by something artificial, it would carry two huge implications. The first is that we are not alone in the universe. The second is that there is alien civilization which possesses technology that is thousands or even millions of years more advanced than our own to be able to create something like this.

*image of Kepler from NASA