Have We Really Thought This Legal Weed Thing Through?
I guess we're going to do it. But there are some questions . . .
TNB: Last night was great. Right up until the point when Secret Guest Sarah Longwell showed up to report that a bunch of Trump-to-Biden voters in Georgia are ready to vote for Trump again in 2024.
You can watch the rewind here or listen to the podcast version here.
1. Weed Stuff
I am a square who has never done pot and who low-key resents people who did and got away with it.1 As a kid, I thought that breaking the law was serious, even if the law was dumb, and that if you got caught, it would Go On Your Permanent Record and keep you out of medical school. Or something.
It was only later in life that I realized rules were an abstract concept only selectively and arbitrarily enforced.
Anyway, I mention this merely as preamble to asking a question:
Are we sure we’ve thought this legal weed stuff all the way through?
I get that the large majority wants pot to be legal. Fair enough. But there are two downstream effects that seem problematic.
(1) Corporate Chronic. You legalize weed and you’re going to eventually have very large corporations profiting from the sale of marijuana. Large corporations (a) will do anything they can get away with to make an extra dollar of profit; and (b) are wildly resistant to government regulation.
For instance, if, in the future, Corporate Chronic found a way to induce some measure of addiction in their product, it seems to me that they would absolutely pursue it.
Ask yourself this: How would you feel about legal weed if you knew that the marijuana industry was eventually going to be run by people and corporate institutions with the same morals and incentives as Philip Morris?
Does that sound like a good thing? A thing that will always and forever be good?
If not, then what is the plan for preventing the marijuana industry from morphing into the tobacco industry?
Is there one?
And if not, maybe we should get that workshopped before we just turn the entire thing over to the free market?
2. Eat. Smoke. Love.
(2) Edibles. Delivery systems matter because they can either make access to the substance transparent or opaque.
It’s one thing to legalize pot that can be smoked, because smoking is easy to identify. No one is going to smoke pot by accident. If someone is smoking pot, everyone around them will know it. Smoking is a transparent delivery system.
So is drinking. If I have an environment in which people should not be consuming alcohol, it is reasonably easy to enforce a “no alcoholic beverages” policy. Sure, people can get around it if they’re really motivated. But in general, drinking alcohol is transparent. Nearly all of the time you can tell when someone is in the act of consuming it.
Edibles are an entirely opaque delivery system. By which I mean that in any setting in which any food can be consumed, edibles allow people to intake marijuana.
Let me give you just one use-case to illustrate the potential problems: School cafeterias.
Once edibles are legal and widespread, I doubt that many parents would intentionally pack a pot gummy off to school with their kids. But it might happen by accident. Many parents are careless with guns; it is not ridiculous to think many will be careless with legalized drugs.
So let’s pretend that edibles work their way into a lunchbox at school. Kids share food in the cafeteria. Happens all the time. A world of legal edibles makes it entirely possible not just that kids can consume pot in school, but that one kid can unknowingly pass pot to another kid.
Delivery systems matter. What’s the answer to this? Ban food sharing at school? Ban kids from bringing in any foods that aren’t in sealed packaging? Crossing your fingers and hoping that in a legal-weed environment, all parents will be responsible and maintain basic safety protocols?
And this doesn’t even get to the question of older kids who may intentionally try to get at their parents’ stashes.
Again: Smokable marijuana is relatively easy to police with minors. You can see them smoking it. Legal edibles unlock the gateway to a universe of underage-marijuana use America has never known—even in the ‘70s—purely because of the nature of the delivery system.
Is the law going to distinguish between smokable and edible MJ? Should it? If not, why not?
You can all discuss this in the comments. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, especially since more people aren’t control-freak Puritans like me.
And please understand that I’m not saying we shouldn’t legalize weed. The law should roughly follow popular opinion and criminalization has its own problems.
I’m just trying to make the point that these things are more complicated than they look and that the best time to think through adverse outcomes and try to solve for them is before you act.
3. Cancel Culture
I tend to downplay “cancel culture” because it seems like a second-order problem. I’m more concerned with the rule of law and survival of democracy. By an odd coincidence, many of the people who seem most agitated about cancel culture also seem to be ambivalent about the rule of law and/or democracy.