Non-commercial cannabis legalization

Uruguay has been taking some sensible advice.

If you believe, as I do, that the tension between the incentive for sellers in a licit cannabis market to create and maintain addiction with aggressive marketing and product design aimed at those most likely to overuse the drug and the public interest in having cannabis available to those who want to use it in moderation without the promotion of immoderate use is going to be very difficult to resolve, then there are three obvious alternatives: grow-your-own, consumer-owned co-ops, and state-monopoly stores whose managers and employees have nothing to gain from cranking up the sales effort.

State legalization in the context of federal prohibition complicates the problem; state stores are out of the question because state officials cannot be ordered to violate federal laws, while grow-your-own and co-op production and sale are invitations to diversion into interstate commerce. (A state could still give buyers some help in maintaining self-control by allowing them to set monthly purchase limits for themselves, but this rather obvious “nudge” approach doesn’t seem to have attracted any attention).

But those problems don’t arise in national-level legalization. Geoffrey Ramsey, who follows Latin American politics for OSI (and who blogs at the Pan American Post), reports in an email that Uruguay is moving ahead with cannabis legalization, and that the law will allow grow-your-own (up to 6 plants at a time/480 grams of product per month), small consumer co-ops, and retail sales through pharmacies (without prescription) with the state as the monopoly middleman between for-profit producers and the pharmacies. There’s no way of guessing how it will turn out, but it sounds as if the Uruguayan government has been getting some sensible advice.

Update And yes, I’d apply all of this to alcohol, and also to gambling.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

29 thoughts on “Non-commercial cannabis legalization”

  1. Can you explain why the term, “addiction,” was chosen to describe motivations by competitive sellers in the upcoming licit cannabis markets? Wouldn’t words such as “brand loyalty,” be more appropriate, even more accurate?

  2. We didn’t really need the update, you’ve made it clear enough that you’d expand the war on drugs to alcohol, given the power.

    I honestly do not understand your incredible hostility to business. The degree of animus you show towards normal commercial enterprises such as comprise almost our entire economy is just staggering. To be clear, if you had the power, would you extend this prohibition against commercial enterprises to other fields? Food production? Other pharmaceuticals? All sorts of manufacturing? Because the arguments you mount against allowing drugs and gambling to be fields for normal business do not seem limited to drugs and gambling.

    I suppose what you propose could be considered an improvement over the ghastly status quo, but I really do wonder if this animus against business extends more generally.

    1. This is either arguing in bad faith or being obtuse. This is not about business writ large, it’s about multi-national corporations along the lines of Big Tobacco, whose products will kill 6 million people this year alone. It’s not “normal commercial enterprise” by any standard.

      1. Now who is being obtuse? Are you suggesting legalizing marijuana will magically make it lethal so that six million people will die annually? Smh

        1. Yeah, that is exactly what I said, along with endorsing a return to the gold standard and a re-imposition of tariffs of Angolan wheat.

      2. There isn’t any magical dividing line between small business and “Big Tobacco”, other than that larger enterprises tend to deliver higher quality more consistent products at lower prices.

        You can’t repeal the laws of capitalism just because you don’t like being sold. Limiting enterprise size won’t stop anyone from using– it will just ensure more people get sick from bad product and more people have to steal to support drug habits due to higher prices.

        1. larger enterprises tend to deliver higher quality more consistent products at lower prices.

          Exactly. They don’t call Budweiser “The King of Beers” for nothing, after all.

          1. I am not sure if you are being sarcastic, but Budweiser is a consistent product that people like to drink. The quality control on it is high enough that there is virtually no chance that it might be adulterated or contaminated. Nor do you need to worry that the alcohol content will be different tomorrow than it is today.

            I know the policy wonks on this blog hate it when I look for motives, but I read Kleiman’s hatred of “Big Pot” to be basically a moral offense. He doesn’t like the idea of another big business springing up that makes billions of dollars by intoxicating people. His policy arguments against it are silly, though. If we hadn’t have had “Big Tobacco”, just as many people would have smoked cigarettes. But those cigarettes might well have delivered a less consistent high, leading to more consumption. And they might well have contained more contaminants in their tobacco, causing additional health problems. And they might have been more expensive, thereby costing people and their families additional money or leading to a black market.

            The issue of big versus small business is basically a side-show at best, and more likely is simply tilting at windmills. Any regime of non-prohibition other than socialism (i.e., state distributed marijuana) is going to involve a few large corporations, because a few large corporations can take advantage of economies of scale to serve the public better.

          2. As a not too snobbish beer drinker, I think Nick’s sarcasm was right on — and also makes a point.

            There’s no need to grease the skids for another industry to be concentrated and controlled by a handful of major players. There is a substantial difference between a small business whose economic nexus remains rooted in the communities it serves and the financial concentration that treats communities like extractive resources to be depleted at no gain to the local economy.

            One need not be a socialist to advocate such ideas. In fact, they are written into the alcohol laws of many states and other jurisdictions. People want a face to fix responsibility to in order to run an establishment that serves alcohol. It’s a quirk of history that the retail side of this business has this requirement and production does not — and is thus dominated by a few major players. Interestingly, wholesale alcohol distribution is a hybrid in between the two extremes in many states, but has also grown increasingly concentrated in recent years.

            For marijuana legalization, it’s a reasonable policy to try to extend the alcohol example at the retail level to the need for a local nexus to those licensed to produce marijuana, given it is not supposed to move in interstate commerce anyway. Providing a defined role for producer/consumer co-ops is another way to both encourage the kind of economic activity that builds communities, rather than exploits them. If that works for American farmers of conventional ag products, why not weed? Those would be better for consumers, communities, producers, retailers — everyone except the folks just trying to make a quick buck off mediocre product.

            Sort of like Budweiser. No one wants their bud to be called the Budweiser of Weed, believe me.

    2. We didn’t really need the update, you’ve made it clear enough that you’d expand the war on drugs to alcohol, given the power.

      This is so ridiculous I kind of can’t believe that you wrote it even after accounting for your, uh, idiosyncrasies.

      1. Well there you have the issue in a nutshell, don’t you?

        How do you negotiate sensible policy in the face of people who absolutely insist that there is no such thing as addition, that all human behavior under any circumstances is rational, and that it is meddling with god’s great plans to prevent other humans from exploiting, no, “facilitating”, that “rational” behavior. I mean, christ, we live in a society where someone with a Nobel Prize (yeah, yeah, not a “real” Nobel Prize) tells us precisely this, that heroin addiction is rational and chosen behavior.

        Theological arguments (and the absolute unwillingness to confront the evidence of one’s senses) never go away, they simply mutate from one generation to another. The libertarian of today is the predestinationist of 400 years ago — and as willing to burn down the earth if that’s what it takes to prove and defend his doctrine.

        1. How do you negotiate sensible policy in the face of people who absolutely insist that there is no such thing as addiction

          I am not Brett, but I sure do believe in drug addiction. I know some people very close to me who were/are addicts.

          My problem is the same problem I had with alcohol prohibition– that even though it probably stopped plenty of alcohol addiction, it did so at the cost of denying the non-addict the ability to get high and have fun, and I think the freedom to have fun by engaging in risky behavior is pretty fundamental. Otherwise, we should ban skydiving.

          There’s nothing wrong with saying that people should bear the cost of their risky activities, when the alternative requires stopping people who can handle the risks from taking them. That’s called human freedom.

          And since I think this issue isn’t any different than skydiving, I suspect the real reason why people support drug prohibition is because DFH’s use drugs. All the alleged concern with public health conceals a basic contempt that some people have for recreational drug users, as if their fun doesn’t count or is bad for them.

        2. What the hell does believing in addiction have to do with this? Is pot sold by a co-op somehow pharmacologically different, such that it doesn’t addict people?

          So, I get a headache on weekends, when I’m not drinking the Mt. Dew that helps me stay alert at work despite my family not quite accepting that I have to get to bed early. That’s an addiction, and I’m quite clear about it. Does that mean Pepsico ought to be ruthlessly destroyed, and if I want caffine, I should be required to grow my own coffee beans?

          What we’ve got here is an animus against business.

        3. I was thinking more of describing Mark Kleiman’s recommendations on alcohol as “expanding the war on drugs to alcohol”.

          Delusional stupidity.

  3. I’ll certainly agree that national-level legalization will solve a host of issues that bedevil efforts at the state-by-state marijuana reform. The problem is that our representatives in Congress are so well insulated from popular pressure they believe they can continue to thumb their noses at the public’s wishes, hoping we’ll just go away. We won’t.

    I think part of the problem is believing that “…grow-your-own and co-op production and sale are invitations to diversion into interstate commerce…” Well, maybe, but certainly substantially less so than allowing the cartels free rein under the current system. But we also need to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Given the inability of the government to control growing under the current system, it’s rather laughable to believe that it could do any better under a system where the substance itself is not illegal, but growing it is for ordinary consumer.

    As a medical user having extensive experience in both growing and proselytizing, I can tell you that most people don’t want the hassle of growing. Sure, my experience is colored by the fact that marijuana is illegal and many of those who asked about growing may have gotten cold feet after showing initial enthusiasm. I believe the outcomes nevertheless reflect the tendency of Americans to let someone else do the work and to simply want to put their money down and get what they want in a jiffy. Growing isn’t that.

    So what’s my point? I want to address the important role of home growing as a safety valve in support of reasonable, realistic marijuana reform. First, whatever form such home grow bans or limits would take, you’re even less likely to discourage those who already have the courage to grow under the current regime of illegality.

    Second, much of the trend in regulation seems to take off from the spot where government thinks it can monopolize profits that currently accrue to the blackmarket. In other words, keep the prices high through taxation and prevention of real price competition. While there is some substance to such an idea, it does little for the large number of users which are marginalized by the overall economy. Much better that people believe they have the safety valve of home grow to turn to than to other, more anti-social means to feed what has been characterized here as the problematic 20% who “abuse” marijuana. I’d rather some kid put seed down, than figure out where to get a gun to rob someone because they don’t have income to purchase in the legal market, even if their use is seen as “abuse.”

    Third — and from my point of view as a (currently) former grower most important — is that having the option of growing will actually strengthen the regulated market. Efforts that might have gone into continuing blackmarket operations will be undercut by the twin threats of regulated legal access and home grow. People may gripe about how marijuana isn’t that much cheaper under a regulated market, but are far less likely to engage in supporting illegal distribution if they have the outlet of home grow — even if that’s simply a theoretical notion for the vast majority of users.

    Having the grow option available will make users far more willing psychologically to accept relatively high tax rates on purchased marijuana. In that way, it’s sort of like that marvelous concept call “freedom and liberty.” Most of us actually experience relatively little of that in our everyday lives, but we nonetheless go along with the program because we can tell ourselves ourselves we’re free to quit that sucky job, even though most of us stick to it and don’t say the heck with it all and hit the road. It’s enough to simply have that option available, we don’t necessarily need to exercise it. But take that choice away and — well it’s a whole new ball game.

    Finally a word about things like the n-plant limits that we see in places that do allow home grow. Just three plants is ridiculous and six only slightly less so for the average home grower. Yes, under ideal conditions with the best equipment and a skilled workforce, yep, 3 plants could produce a pound or more of fine bud. That’s why I like the way the Uruguayan limit is set, 6 plants/480 grams per month. If that’s an either/or, then the 6 plant limit is less onerous. The fact of the matter is that most home grows rely in seed and dirt, not cuttings from a mother plant and hydroponics like commercial grows. That obviously could change under legalization, but currently that’s the way most home grows operate. To produce a pound of bud indoors under lights in dirt tends to require high plant counts and relatively low average bud production per plant, often called the “sea of green” method. A hundred flowering plants might produce around a pound of bud, but also can push things into federal jurisdiction in many cases, which is ridiculous, but the way it is under current law.

    So I personally have a lot of issues with such ridiculously low plant counts as the legal limit. They’re unrealistic and simply set up another tempting situation for both potential growers and law enforcement. Most such grows have nothing to do with interstate commerce; they barely supply their operators. These counts should also be of mature plants only, i.e. flowering females, and not male plants or unproductive females likely to be weeded out after first showing sex.

    So my pitch is that a viable legalization scheme MUST include a _realistic_ plant limit. Something in the range of 50 to 100 mature, female-flowering plants is much more appropriate for indoor grows. I presume all such growing will occur indoors and that could be a reasonable limitation on home grow in itself. Obviously, if outdoors growing is allowed, then something like 12 to 20 flowering females would realistic, as in most of the country such a crop would have to last all year through to the next harvest.

    As for the alcohol comment, well, you’re tilting at windmills, even as I share your sentiment. But one place where the alcohol model is relevant are the provisions for home beer production. They are not unduly restrictive and allow production well in excess of what most producers are able to consume themselves. The police seem to have no problem discriminating between legal mass producers, small producers and consumer producers. There’s hardly any market for bootleg beer at all or problems associated with it. I suspect that much the same would be the case if home grow marijuana were treated the same as home-brewed beer, which seems to produce close to zero issues.

    1. Given my reference to the legality of home brew beer, here’s a link to info on the federal statute.

      Note there are no forms to fill out and no taxes to pay. With beer, your government trusts you with a substance that makes many adults want to get into their cars and kill people.

      One should note that it took the better part of a half-century to legalize home brewing of beer without having to worry about the revenuers coming down on your yeast with the BATF, the local SWAT team, helicopters landing in your back yard, the bomb squad, and an armored car or two…

      Oh, wait, we’re talking about _alcohol_ here, so none of that happened for the most part. In contrast to the well over 1/2 a million arrests a year for marijuana.

      Yes, America’s record of dealing rationally with marijuana is not encouraging, but it is important to speak truth to power. Allowing Americans to exercise their rights through a limited, but reasonable form of home grow marijuana exemption is the right thing to do and good public policy.

  4. I’m simply fascinated that there is a link between ‘advertising’ and the number of people ‘addicted’ to a substance or activity. I see how advertising could raise use rates or increase the number of people consuming, but ‘addiction?’ Please share these studies.
    Can we see that correlation or causation in any other addiction? Alcohol, Oxycontin, gambling, coffee?
    Or is addiction potential merely related to those with metabolical tendencies coupled with addictiveness of a substance and availability?
    Mike makes excellent arguments.
    As far as the home-grow goes, “you can teach a man to fish, but he’ll still go to the supermarket and buy one…” I doubt it would make a huge impact on the commercial market, but it’s a wonderful for bartering on the local level, you’ll never stop that.

    1. You left out one very obvious example, cigarettes.
      You don’t think advertising (in all its forms, including the current method of paying to get cigarettes shown in movies) doesn’t create addiction in that case? It’s just money the tobacco industry spends for fun?

      Of course, if your starting point is that there is no such thing as marijuana addiction, then naturally you’re going to claim that advertising also can’t create it.
      Fine, whatever, let’s stick to “advertising will increase demand”. Are you unwilling to accept that also?
      (A good proxy for how this works, particularly in the sub-median-intelligence fraction of the community, would be to look at how e-cigarettes are marketed, and how that marketing has created demand, including new demand among people who, for whatever reason, did not smoke. This is a very under-the-radar campaign that is basically invisible to people who don’t spend their lives hanging out in 7-11 parking lots and gas stations.)

  5. And yes, I’d apply all of this to alcohol, and also to gambling.


    Government regulation and supervision has been the best possible thing for gamblers, including problem ones. It has ensured the games are fair, limited the takeout, given gamblers a recourse against fraud, barred cheaters from casinos, stopped fixes, and created and promoted treatment programs that got many gamblers out of the casinos and into treatment.

    You think any of that happened when the Mafia ran gambling?

    1. Yes, if only Mark Kleiman would advocate for goverment regulation and supervision instead of prohibition.

        1. He didn’t miss your point. He pointed out that your point is completely disconnected from anything Mark said. And he was right.

          1. Mark says he advocates against big corporations distributing gambling as well as pot. Read his post.. That’s a terrible position. Big corporations are the only way gamblers are protected.

          2. Technically speaking, Mark isn’t against big corporations being involved in drugs. He’s only against big corporations which don’t have the authority to shoot you being involved in drugs. The government is the biggest, baddest corporation around.

            I’ve never really understood the love of government among people who hate corporations. Government is everything bad about corporations, distilled, and freed from the discipline of the market.

  6. The idea of state monopoly in gambling is intriguing. What’s the casino equivalent of the disapproving stare and brown paper bag you can have in a Nordic liquor store? Do you replace showgirls with Mormon choirs?

    1. Most American states currently run lotteries. AKA a tax on people who can’t do arithmetic.

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