Monday, May 20, 2013


Bill Keller has an op-ed in The New York Times today titled "How to Legalize Pot," in which he looks at the questions faced by Washington State and Colorado as they tries to create an aboveground marijuana market. Keller talks to Mark Kleiman, a policy expert who's offering Washington State legal advice on this. What strikes me about Keller's description is how non-laissez-faire the thinking is there:
One practical challenge facing the legalization pioneers is how to keep the marijuana market from being swallowed by a few big profiteers -- the pot equivalent of Big Tobacco, or even the actual tobacco industry -- a powerful oligopoly with every incentive to turn us into a nation of stoners. There is nothing inherently evil about the profit motive, but there is evidence that pot dealers, like purveyors of alcohol, get the bulk of their profit from those who use the product to excess. "When you get a for-profit producer or distributor industry going, their incentives are to increase sales," said Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon, another member of the Washington consulting team. "And the vast majority of sales go to people who are daily or near-daily consumers."

What Kleiman and his colleagues (speaking for themselves, not Washington State) imagine as the likely best model is something resembling the wine industry -- a fragmented market, many producers, none dominant. This could be done by limiting the size of licensed purveyors.
I bring this up because, in the print edition of today's Times, the Keller op-ed sits right above an "advertorial" (PDF) from the Washington Legal Foundation, a wingnut-welfare group funded by right-wing foundations. The ad complains about the targeting of certain foods as unhealthy:
We are constantly barraged with preachy messages and bad news about our food and drink choices. Advocacy-tinged studies accuse salt, sugar, and other essential food ingredients of causing countless "preventable" deaths. Quotable chefs and talk-show doctors implore us to absolutely avoid this snack or that beverage.

Such condescending demonization is not only intended to shame us into "healthier" diets, it's also aimed at building support for government policies like sin taxes, advertising restrictions, and even bans or limits on food. To advance their regulatory agenda, activists have also sharpened their accusations that Big Food and Big Soda, and not overeating consumers, are directly responsible for a fatter America.
See why I'm linking the two? In Washington State, according to Keller, the regulators want to make sure weed isn't taken over by "Big Pot," which will target, and rely on, excessive users. But what do you think is going to happen as more and more Americans accept the notion of legalized weed? The right is going to get on the libertarian side of this, especially in purple and red states (or, for that matter, any state with GOP control), and "Big Pot" is precisely what we're going to get: lower-quality mass-produced weed marketed to heavy smokers, and a regulatory mechanism as limited as lobbyists can make it.

What they're trying to do in Washington State right now will be denounced as intolerable nanny-state-ism. It will be fought vigorously, until Big Pot dominates the market.

Oh, I suppose, after the small growers are driven out of business, we might have a comeback of high-priced, niche-market "artisanal" weed. But in the meantime it'll be Miller-and-Bud-level weed dominating the market for a few decades. Because: freedom.


Victor said...

IMO - the only reason pot isn't legal yet, is that, basically anyone can safely grow it themselves, thus circumventing, Big Pot.

And sure, people had stills, and made their own "corn (whiskey)," but if you didn't do it right, you could blind or kill someone - including yourself.

The real question to me is, if it is legalized, what do we do with drug-testing?

Will it continue to be something screened for, to get, or keep, a job?

Or, will there be certain established levels of THC you can acceptably have in your system - like with alcohol, where, 1 shot of booze = roughly 1 12 oz of beer = roughly 5 ounces of wine.

And, how do you do that?

I think you still need to test people.
I mean, just like drunk-drivers, I don't what high-drivers, on the road - or, impaired people using dangerous equipment.

But if you legalize it, and keep the drug-testing, then what have you really legalized, and for whom?

brad said...

No disrespect, but you're not a pot smoker, clearly.

That's not how it will work, the market for Miller and Bud level schwag almost won't exist, for a simple reason; comparative cost.
Cheap beer is made with cheap ingredients. Marijuana is a plant. Yes, some strains produce more than others per plant, but when it's legal and you're growing acres outside the difference is minimal.
There will be stronger and weaker commercial strains, higher end growers who do wacky things and charge a premium for it, but in the end the market will determine a basic per gram cost and that will be pretty standard.

It's possible some tobacco company is sitting on a monsanto (sp?) gmo strain which will blow everything else out of the water, but there's one other thing to consider; the market.
People don't want schwag, even high school kids won't buy seeded mexican bulk crap anymore. Its's not Bud vs an IPA, it's any wine of any kind vs Thunderbird.

brad said...

To clarify a little more, of course there will be bigger and smaller players, and some will become or be bought out by large corporations over time.
But for "Big Pot" to emerge, based on catering to heavy smokers, the idea that it will be with a "Miller and Bud" level of produce is simply wrong. Heavy smokers are much more discriminating than you think, and be they left or right they're still much more likely than the average consumer to go out of their way to avoid major corporate businesses.

The real fear as far as big pot is how and to what end growing marijuana is regulated. If it requires extensive licensing and bureaucracy hurdling then only corporations and a few connected types will be able to produce enough to determine the market.

Ten Bears said...

Some time before the end of this session (this week) the Oregon House will vote on a bill that just weeks ago came quite literally out of right field: legalize and turn the distribution of "medical" marijuana over to the, as the name implies, state run prohibition era Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

This is disturbing on a number of levels, notably with the stroke of a pen we turn a court system over-run by low level "substance abusers" into courts over-run with violations of the Public Drunkenness, Minor in Possession by Consumption and Driving Under the Influence laws, and by extension over to the thriving "treatment" industry. A classic example (and we got a bunch of 'em - think studded tires) of big business giving the locals a blow job and walking away with legislation to their profit.

Out of right-field as this White Christian Nationalist (NAZI) is totally out there. Tried to run against Peter DeFazio last round... from his heavily fortified compound at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Portland suburbs. Seriously folks, Oregon is a lot bigger than just Portland, and were I to build a heavily fortified compound (oh, wait! I have!) somewhere in the wilds of Oregon it would be, well, in the wilds of Oregon. Couple hundred miles from Portland. A Tea-Totaling birther with a bunch of money from the Pete Petersen astroturf types and a long history of introducing sin taxes to balance the budget. The notion being that as OLCC is about the only thing around here that's breaking even, not unsurprising as we are now the world's largest per capita producer of beer, then why not balance the budget on the backs of Those Other People - you know, pot smokers.

With that, I'm off for a puff buy the river and a cold glass of high-quality hand-crafted locally micro-brewed ale.

No fear.

brad said...

Not to mention, also and of course, how and by whom it's sold.

Ten Bears said...

True that. One wonders where one would such a supply, given that with a few exceptions Oregon's "medical" supply industry is, like craft brewing, very much both a cultural thing and a backyard operation.

No fear.