The grow-your-own option

That’s my proposed law on cannabis: You can grow it, smoke it, or give it away, but not sell it.

The Czech Republic has the highest rate of cannabis use in Europe, but apparently very little in the way of organized pot-dealing. Instead, Czech users typically grow their own or get it from friends who grow it.

That seems to me to point the way toward a workable alternative to either current policies or full-scale commercial legalization. Today’s laws criminalize millions of otherwise law-abiding individuals and create a multi-billion-dollar illicit market. Commercializtion would give the marketing geniuses who have done such a fine job persuading children to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, and supersize themselves with junk food the opportunity to show what they could do with marijuana. Neither choice appeals to me.

My proposed law: It would be illegal to sell cannabis or to exchange it for anything of value, but not to grow it, possess it, use it, or give it away. I don’t imagine that the law would effectively prevent sales, any more than anti-gambling laws suppress private poker games. The goal would be to prevent marketing.

My bet would be that, in the short-to-medium run such a policy would have only slight impacts on use, mostly in the form of leading some users who now cease marijuana use as they enter the workforce to continue smoking. Longer-term, I’d expect some, probably modest, growth in use due to decreased social stigma and employment risk; how much of that growth in use would be among people who then got into trouble with the drug is harder to guess. Overall, a pretty small price to pay for eliminating a big illicit market and several hundred thousands of arrests for using, and tens of thousands of prison and jail terms for dealing, per year.

Footnote 1

“But what about kids?” What about them, indeed? I doubt the proposed law would matter much to juvenile initiation rates, one way or the other. Some parents would let their kids grow cannabis at home, thus increasing availability for those kids and the friends (even if he law forbade any transfer to a minor except by a parent). There would still be an illicit business in producing high-potency pot for kids whose parents wouldn’t let them grow, but the enforcement pressure on that business would be greater if much of the adult market had been diverted to home-growing, leaving the juvenile market to make up a growing share of the remaining illicit cannabis trade. Stigma reduction among adults might lead to longer-term attitudinal changes among juveniles, but there’s no reason to think that effect would be dramatic.

Footnote 2

Duke and Gross propose an alternative tack, which is certainly clever but which I doubt is workable: allow sales but refuse trademark protection. That seems likely just to turn the industry over to Avon- or Amway-style direct marketing firms. As long as money to be made selling a habit-forming drug, marketers will figure out how to induce and maintain drug habits.

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:

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