Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 26, 2009

Legalization: Some intended and unintended consequences

Amidst turmoil in Mexico and despite President Obama doing his best “punch a hippie” impression to appease the Villagers, the issue of marijuana legalization is experiencing a bit of a surge in urgency and popularity.  Like man, I’m pretty much all for legalizing marijuana, for the following reasons:

* Legalization will ensure that fewer people are busted for a substance that’s arguable less dangerous than alcohol, and which is very nearly as widely consumed, anyway

* This is one more thing we can cross off the list of unnecessary expenditures in the drug war, and should help to reduce violent crime associated with its trafficking

* Legalization means we can tax and regulate it:  safe weed for people to consume (not cut with chemicals or laced with PCP), a cash crop that people can openly produce, and we can use the taxes to pay for expensive items like health care.

* Legal wrangling over health benefits is completely eliminated.

* Prices will probably come down, because part of the premium anyone pays on it now is of course related to keeping it away from the authorities.

* Law enforcement excuses about keeping hemp illegal because they have a hard time distinguishing it from weed will be rendered moot.  Therefore the real reason we cannot currently grow hemp, which is an astoundingly efficiently grown and highly useful plant, will come to the fore:  the intransigence of the cotton lobby.

And so on.  But let’s also be clear about some of the other potential consequences that are decidedly more mixed.  First of all, you can bet your ass that if marijuana is legalized, large companies are going to want in on the action, and they will be in a superb position to take advantage of their production facilities and distribution networks in order to bring their product to the market in a cheap, timely and apparently “safe” way that may undermine the efforts of Moonflower Rodriguez to hook you up.  Between efforts to regulate marijuana so as to ensure quality and safety (which will probably come under FDA guidelines), and the lobbying efforts of large companies to force out the “mom and pop” operations, I’d be willing to be that marijuana legalization would probably mean that your average grower/dealer will be out of a job, unless they wish to continue to do things illegally.  And of course, since marijuana itself would be legal, their illegal activity would now be about safety rules violations and the like, meaning probably lesser jail time but much higher fines.  It will come under the rubric of big business and back room deals, making it safer for the average consumer but also somewhat more impersonal and insidious.   

In short:  marijuana will become commodified and commercialized in pretty much the same way as liquor and tobacco.  Although this may be better for society as a whole, the downside is that in order to actually produce and sell the stuff in the future, it will probably take a fairly significant amount of capital, as well as the legal acumen to be able to fill out the necessary paper work (licensing will no doubt also become quite a racket).

This trend will undoubtedly affect ancillary businesses, too:  makers of hookahs, bongs, and various other smoking apparatuses will undoubtedly have to adhere to stricter regulations about how their products are constructed and what they’re made of, which may drive up prices, or at least may change the way that head shops do business.  This is particularly the case if head shops in general are unable to acquire licenses to sell marijuana itself, while tobacconists or possibly even supermarket chains probably will, meaning that privately owned head shops will be unable to compete.  This may be particularly so if the new regs on paraphernalia are written so as to favor bulk, mass produced items via economies of scale, and made/distributed by nationwide or international brands that produce cheap containers, like Glad, Ziploc, etc.  It will be in the interests of businesses who sell these items to secure exclusive contracts with their suppliers—which if successful would be the final nail in the coffin of individual head shops. This could be bad not only for the thousands of small businesses that thrive on these ancillary products, but it may also result in a bit of a cultural shift:  part of the charm of going to a head shop is the cultural associations with weed, a vibe that I don’t think King Soopers is likely to be able to reproduce.

Also, one can only imagine the crassness that comes with marketing all the new and exciting marijuana related products, and given the newness of regulation and potential for shenanigans that already transpires in the gaming of food labels (since undoubtedly people will be selling THC-laced snacks, gum, whatever, as well), there are bound to be a number of products on the market which will make us pray for the days of mild danger and small time transactions between “entrepreneurs.”  (Jesus, just imagining the bullshit-marketed, weak-ass crap that will show up at Whole Foods is enough to make me want to claw out my eyes already: “organic” marijuana energy bars with wheatgrass and vitamin fortification—kill me now.)

So let’s be clear about the future into which we tread if one day marijuana legalization actually happens:  our justice system will be better off, we’ll get more tax revenues, and in some other arcane ways society as a whole may be better off.  But the days of the counterculture of toking will be long gone, replaced by what could be the worst of the tobacco and food industries’ status quo.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: