Over at the Reality Based Community, Mark Kleiman makes his case for his own version of legalized cannabis: Against commercial cannabis
In the cannabis front, my plea is for a â€œgrow-your-ownâ€ 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.
â€œWhy not?â€ 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.
Well, again, why not? Whatâ€™s wrong with persuading someone to engage in what would be a perfectly lawful behavior?
Nothing, if the behavior is harmless as well as lawful. Everything, if the behavior predictably inflicts harm on the person being persuaded.
But cannabis use (like drinking, eating, and gambling) is harmless to most of the people who engage in it. Is it wrong to suggest that someone start a potentially benign activity simply because it might turn into a bad habit?
Might. â€œAye, thereâ€™s the rub.â€ To the consumer, developing a bad habit is bad news. To the marketing executive, itâ€™s the whole point of the exercise.
The commenters there have addressed this argument somewhat, but there are some important points that I believe need to be made.
The whole concept behind this paternalistic and nanny-statist argument is that, because some individuals might not be able to handle a free market system, everyone should be kept from participating in a free market system.
It is an argument that says that we should decide things based on what is often erroneously referred to as the “least common denominator” (when what people really mean is the greatest common divisor). In other words, the idea is that policy for everyone should be based on that which is best for the least capable.
It’s a philosophy that says that fast food places should not be allowed to serve bacon, because some people can’t control their appetites and may end up with heart disease. Sure, you can have bacon at home as long as you’re not an abuser, but no more bacon cheeseburgers at Wendy’s for any of us, even if we’re in good health and eat them responsibly. (In fact, it sounds above like Mark Kleiman might support such a move.)
It’s the belief that the internet should only contain material that isn’t “harmful to minors.” (Fortunately, our First Amendment has prevented that kind of odious suppression of speech.)
We are not a Greatest Common Divisor country. It really goes against everything about us. We are a country of diverse ideas, diverse options, diverse freedoms. And that means that we need responsibility, not uniformity.
Mark Kleiman notes that only a small portion of marijuana users have a problem with over-use and even then, it’s for a relatively short time, yet the idea of a free market system with marketing, he says “fills me with fear.”
Fine. Get over it. If you’re worried about the portion of those who cannot handle the seductive marketing and will fall victim to pot advertising, then let’s use our resources and ingenuity to help those individuals who abuse. But we don’t dramatically restrict the options of everyone else in some kind of desperate attempt to prevent a few from making mistakes. That, in fact, is what prohibition is all about.
We are the country that proudly proclaimed
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Not “Some of you may just be here to make anchor babies, so we’re not going to count your children born here.”
We are not a Greatest Common Divisor country.
But wait, you may say â€” what’s wrong with a grow-your-own policy? You can still have pot legally.
Lagavulin 16 neat. Tanqueray and Tonic. Cu-Avana, Robusto. Kalamata olives.
In a brew-your-own world, I could probably make a beer of some kind (or find a neighbor who could). But where would I get a quality single-malt aged scotch that had been influenced by the peat in Islay? In a grow-your-own world, I might be able to achieve a usable tobacco for a cigarette, but the mildness of a Dominican cigar made by experts for generations? Unlikely. In a grow-your-own produce world, I might be able to come up with some green beans and tomatoes, but Kalamata olives? No way.
In a legal Cannabis regime, I should be able to get the Cannabis version of Lagavulin 16, not just Schlitz. That requires a market. And I shouldn’t be prevented from doing that because Mark fears that some people will succumb to the advertising and get stoned on Pete’s couch.
There’s one additional challenge to this fear of the free market that I’d like to mention.
We don’t know that it really would produce the results that Kleiman fears. First of all, it is possible to regulate commercial advertising. Second, those who are likely to have problems with abusing drugs are likely to find them regardless of the marketing. Third, any advertising that promotes marijuana is likely to end up getting some people to consume pot rather than some more harmful drug.
For sure, what we don’t want is to dumb down this country to the level of those least able to participate responsibly. Nor to give that power to paternalists.