There isn’t a week that goes by where I’m not reading some article, blog or comment from someone in the cannabis community who hates how the process of legalizing marijuana is proceeding.
“It’s destroyed medical marijuana!”
“It’s wiping out the mom-and-pops!”
“It’s all a bunch of white guys getting rich!”
Those comments largely come from the production and distribution side of what’s been called “the black market.” I don’t think there are too many of us on the consumer side who are longing for a return to the days of visiting the ATM at odd hours, so we can then wait in the parking lot for the guy who’s 30 minutes late with the overpriced baggie of “Got Some[*]” that’s a gram short, followed by the trepidation of driving home carefully with the smell of an arrest in our pocket.
[*] I’m from Idaho, where we had two strains back in the day: “Got Some” and “Don’t”.
How Legalizing Marijuana Has Progressed
Indeed, every state that has provided an exception to criminal prosecution for the production and sale of cannabis for medical purposes has scaled back those programs now that the production and sale of cannabis for any purpose is legal.
Yes, the states that have legalized have established difficult-to-insurmountable barriers to entry for those who have already been producing and distributing in the cannabis economy.
As is the case with almost everything capitalism touches, its face is a white male.
The problem is that we legalized marijuana. We didn’t legalize what people were already doing with marijuana.
Too many people believed “legalizing marijuana” meant “everything we’re already doing with marijuana stays exactly the same, except the cops are out of the picture.”
Sorry, that’s never been what “legalizing marijuana” meant, or could possibly mean.
First of all, even if we could have just magically erased the cops from the picture, what we were already doing with marijuana was going to change.
Those “mom-and-pops” we wax nostalgic about are, in reality, unlicensed, unregulated small businesses, artificially supported by a prohibition price subsidy and artificially protected from big-box-store competition by a prosecution tariff.
With the cops out of the picture, there would have been nothing restricting anybody—especially well-capitalized white guys—from growing more and more cannabis, flooding the market to the point where no mom-and-pop cannabis farmer could compete.
In other words, like now, but only faster.
At least now in the states legalizing marijuana, there are limits on how many retailers there can be (license counts) and how much marijuana they can sell (sale limit times potential customers).
No-Limits Legalization of Marijuana
Weed’s already down to $79/ounce specials here in Portland. That’s with about 200 retail stores and a sale limit of one ounce per customer in a city of roughly 80,000 tokers. Imagine how low it would get if unlimited growers could grow as much cannabis as they wanted for sale to people who could buy (and hoard) as much as they wanted?
Take a second to imagine the vision of hauling out a $100 bale of cannabis on a cart from the Costco. Mmmmm!
Second, if marijuana were completely no-limits legal, as magically erasing the cops would make it, then there is no need whatsoever for a medical marijuana program. What would the program be protecting patients from when there are no cops to worry about?
I’m for that, by the way, this idea of no-limits legalization. No patient would ever have to suffer. No toker would ever have to go to jail.
But don’t for a second think you could make a living growing a few plants in the closet and selling them for $300 an ounce under that paradigm.
Third, consider what the effect would have been on the whole nation if a state or states passed no-limits legalization. If you think the cops in cross-state border counties are complaining now about the flow of weed from legal states, imagine that times the $100 Costco bale I mentioned earlier.
There’s no way we would’ve had an Obama administration turning a blind eye to legalization in that scenario, much less a Trump administration and Jeff Sessions sitting on the sidelines.
Final Hit: Legalize (What People Are Doing With) Marijuana!
So, the way legalization is unfolding now is pretty much the way legalization had to proceed.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it.
Remove those barriers to entry for previously convicted people. Create microbusiness licenses that essentially legalize being a one-man weed grower/dealer. Prioritize licensing for people who’ve been previously convicted; this works to address the disproportionate impact the drug war has had on people of color, without being an explicitly racial affirmative action program that might face more opposition.
The days of the $2,000 pound and the $300 ounce are history. No matter how shakily we’re taking the first steps into legalizing marijuana, legalization is still a far better place than prohibition… unless you were profiting from it.