Keith Humphreys has a thoughtful post below on the likely distribution of marijuana potencies post-legalization. His argument goes as follows:
1. Right now, more prosperous people tend to buy more expensive and potent pot, while less prosperous people tend to buy cheaper, weaker stuff.
2. Post-legalization, pot of all kinds would be dirt-cheap.
3. Therefore, almost everyone would wind up smoking hi-test rather than regular grade.
That makes sense. But I’d be cautious. The actual distribution of potencies would depend both on unknowns about consumer tastes, market structure, and branding/marketing strategies and on policy details yet to be specified.
* The range of potencies offered in a licit market could be restricted by law. Insofar as licit pot competes with illicit pot, and lower-potency licit pot becomes more available, you’d expect a decrease in the consumption of higher-potency illicit pot. The market for extra-potent stuff might be so thin as to make it effectively unavailable to most consumers.
* Even if high-potency product were legal, it could be heavily taxed, as whiskey is heavily taxed compared to beer.
* In the current illicit market, “quality” and “potency” are conflated in consumers’ minds. Post-legalization, potency will be unconstrained; in a mechanized farming/manufacturing operation like today’s tobacco industry, THC could be extracted from the vegetable matter and used to “fortify” pot to any desired potency. That may push consumers’ ideas of “quality” away from potency and toward other factors.
* Unlike alcoholic beverages, which mostly contain only a single psychoactive, cannabis contains a mix. Some consumers will want lower-THC, higher-CBD product.
* Once the product is clearly labeled with its chemical content, potency matters less. Today, high-potency pot tends to get users more stoned because they don’t completely adjust how much they smoke for the strength of the material. Taking one puff of 15%-THC pot isn’t quite the same as taking three puffs of 5%-THC pot – the speed of onset matters – but it’s a reasonable approximation. And the whole inhaling-deeply-and-holding-your-breath-to-extract-all-the-THC ritual will probably disappear once consumers don’t have to worry about the cost.
Alcohol remains our one experiment with legalization of an intoxicant. Two-thirds of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is taken in the form of beer rather than higher-potency forms.
As is so often the case, the answer here is “Hard to say; it depends.”