How not to legalize marijuana

I really ought to read Mark Kleiman more.  Always full of smart arguments.  Here he is on why we need to think very carefully about what a legalized marijuana regime would look like:

On the cannabis front, my plea is for a “grow-your-own” policy: consumers would be allowed to cultivate pot for their own use, to give it away, or to join small consumer-owned co-ops to produce the stuff for them. No commercial sales.

“Why not?” demanded several outraged commenters. Why allow use but not sale?

Two words provide the gist of the answer:  marketing and lobbying. A legal cannabis industry, like the legal beer industry, the legal tobacco industry, the legal fast-food and junk-food industries, and the legal gambling industry, would do everything in its power to expand its sales, including taking political action to weaken whatever regulations and minimize whatever taxes were imposed…

To the consumer, developing a bad habit is bad news. To the marketing executive, it’s the whole point of the exercise. For any potentially addictive commodity or activity, the minority that gets stuck with a bad habit consumes the majority of the product. So the entire marketing effort is devoted to cultivating and maintaining the people whose use is a problem to them and a gold mine to the industry…

So the prospect of a legal cannabis industry working hard to produce as many chronic stoners as possible, and fighting hard against any sort of effective regulation, fills me with fear.  I don’t believe that the actual tobacco companies would enter the cannabis market, but I don’t doubt that the cannabis companies that would emerge from full commercial legalization would have all of morals  the tobacco outfits morals, and a less tainted product to sell.

It’s a really smart post.  You really ought to read all of it.  And while I’m at it, can never hurt to have another plug for his terrific book: When Brute Force Fails.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to How not to legalize marijuana

  1. John says:

    Only a communist would think this was a smart argument! If you boil down capitalism to its essence it would be the creation of new markets. How else do you sell Clorox at a 100% premium over generic bleach? They’re both bleach!

    His argument fails because it assumes the chicken without the egg. Who is going to press for the legalization of marijuana if not the capitalist disguised as the earnest doctor searching for new markets? The pot heads??? They couldn’t organize a drum circle! Concerned citizens with a ballot initiative? Come on, most state processes for referendums are either non-existent or so formidable they almost depend upon insatiable capitalists in search of new markets to be successful.

    And furthermore, I don’t trust anyone who says that they “don’t believe that the actual tobacco companies would[n’t] enter the cannabis market.” WHAT??? Does that statement include hidden subsidaries of tobacco companies? Because I can’t imagine a better market for a tobacco company to enter! Let’s take a look at current tobacco industry conditions shall we? 1) your market for tobacco is dwindling due to punitive taxes and policies aligned against your product and your best customers are DYING 2) you main commodity is a weed that you grow 3) you have repeatedly demonstrated that your scruples are beyond the pale of most human comprehension and would sell cigs to your kids if they had their own income source. They would not enter the market, they’d utilize the same tactics that has killed millions of cig smokers by creating new marijuana markets. They’d have marijuana infused pacifiers if we let them!

    And that’s the whole crux of the argument that Kleiman fails to recognize. No matter what the merits of the argument, why would anyone vote for something where the only perceived pro is a “high” for the few who grow their own, yet society receives all the cons associated with its use. Without the advantage of the tax revenue to make the argument that we all benefit from legalization, who will vote for such a proposal? It stands to reason that only the limited few people who would “grow their own” would support such a policy.

    This is of course way beyond the naivete inherent in his argument which clearly fails to address the obviousness that “stoners” aren’t the most motivated group of folks and the opportunity costs of growing your own would be so high as to not remove the demand that feeds the industry. So the same illegal markets for its cultivation would still exist without the bump our GDP receives from the needless incarceration of the traffickers of a product that is legal to grow for personal use but not to sell. So not only would there be zero support from law enforcement for such a policy because they’d at a minimum still be faced with violence resulting from turf wars but it also stands to reason that criminal drug laws would become diffuse and ambiguous over time due to the widespread changes in public perception of consumption.

    I swear you post such things just to get me going!

    • Steve Greene says:

      Ummm, okay. Not sure I followed all of that, but you sure feel a lot more strongly about marijuana policy than I do. This strikes me as basically decriminalization plus. I suspect Kleiman would probably agree that this is a difficult political position to see succeed, but I think he’s on to something in terms of thinking about what policy would actually make the most sense for society. All that other stuff aside, the biggest reason to me to decriminalize marijuana is simply that law enforcement resources are zero sum and I think they’d be better spent pretty much anywhere else. Never had a joint nor any interest in one. I would just prefer police and the courts focus on crimes which are significantly more harmful to society.

  2. Peter Reynolds says:

    The drugs issue is gaining huge momentum. Government policy looks increasingly ridiculous. More and more people are “getting it”. Prohibition just doesn’t work. Cowardly politicans have failed to grasp this nettle for years. Change is coming.

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