Second thoughts on “grow your own pot”

Allow cannabis-producing consumers’ co-ops?

People whose use of a drug becomes a problem to themselves and others are a minority of all users of any drug (save nicotine in the form of cigarettes) but account for the vast bulk of the volume consumed, and therefore of the revenues of the industry that produces and sells that drug. For example, half of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S. goes to the top 10% of the drinking distribution, which means to people who average at least four drinks per day, year-round.

That makes me reluctant to endorse outright commercial legalization of any more drugs, even of cannabis. A licit cannabis industry, like the licit alcohol industry, would be fundamentally in the business of creating and sustaining drug abuse. That led me to propose a “grow-your-own” option for cannabis policy, intended to eliminate the pains of prohibition without encouraging the development of a new industry that will use all of the ingenuity of its marketers and product innovators to create and sustain substance abuse and use all of the political power it can buy to lower taxes, weaken regulation, and prevent any effective abuse-prevention effort.

Under “grow-your-own,” cannabis users could produce cannabis and give it away, but not sell it. Admittedly, since not everyone has a green thumb or the patience it takes to grow plants, that would create a market for small-scale production for sale, but the illegality of the practice would prevent aggressive marketing.

This idea runs into two reasonable objections: It’s a bad idea to have one more law that is routinely broken and which can be enforced in an arbitrary way, and it would be an inconvenience to cannabis-smokers not to be have access to professionally-grown material. For example, an open market might lead to labeling various products according to the amounts and ratios of the several different psychoactive chemicals in cannabis. A less potent objection is that if there are no sales there can be no revenue to the government.

That then suggests yet another option: in addition to allowing production for one’s own use or for gift, perhaps the law could allow the formation of consumer-owned co-operatives, limited in size, barred from advertising and from selling other than by mail-order. Each co-op would be required to produce its own material rather than buying it from manufacturers or wholesalers. That system would provide much though not all of the convenience, choice, and potential tax revenue of the alcohol model, without creating an another addiction-promotion industry.

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: