The marijuana legalization debate has gained a whole new momentum ever since the economy took a dip. Cities, counties, and states are cash strapped, and see their budgets dwindled with every revenue report. This has obviously been horrible for the job market, but it has been a big factor in converting citizen's and politician's opinions towards marijuana legalization. I remember when it was just consumers and sympathizers that were calling for legalization. Now, even some staunch conservatives are looking into the idea. They don't consume marijuana at all, but are all about taxing the S out of it. I hope it doesn't result in marijuana being taxed to death before it gets off the ground, but hopefully we can win that battle after we win legalization.
A question that has been popping up on TWB lately is whether or not marijuana should be regulated like the tobacco industry, or the alcohol industry. I just posted an article this week about regulating marijuana like wine, which is a revolutionary idea, but I am still waiting to see how much traction it gets. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea, but I'm just not sure about the logistics of the campaign strategy. More will obviously be known as 2012 approaches. But for the sake of this article, we will look at the alcohol industry, and the tobacco industry.
When most people think about marijuana legalization, they picture the regulations being like that of the tobacco industry. After all, you smoke both tobacco and marijuana, right? Just as someone goes to the local corner market to get a pack of cigs, they would be able to get a pack of Camel greens or Marlboro danks. I have long pointed out the difficulties of such a business model. For starters, marijuana is not like the tobacco plant. Tobacco can grow from the Carolinas to the Caribbean and for the most part, the quality will only variate slightly. A tobacco farmer would argue that there is distinct differences, but let's get serious, it's not nearly on the same level as marijuana cultivation.
Cultivating and selling marijuana on the same scale as tobacco is nearly impossible, unless it was grown entirely indoors by a large company, which is unrealistic. All of the football stadiums in the country couldn't house the amount of marijuana plants that the market would require if it were legal and sold by a big tobacco company. It would have to be cultivated outside, year round, on a very large scale if it were done by just a handful of large companies. This is also unrealistic. Marijuana can vary from room to room inside of a house, let alone outdoors.
Outdoor marijuana plants that grow in the State of Jefferson (Southern Oregon, Northern California) are going to be starkly different than plants that are grown in Pennsylvania. For that matter, even outdoor grow ops in the State of Jefferson are not all created equal. It would be too hard, if not impossible, to market so many kinds of marijuana the same way as cigarettes. Right now you go into a store and there are just a handful of types of cigarettes. There are different brands, but the type of actual cigarette you can buy is fairly limited. Compare that with a dispensary, that has in some cases hundreds of strains. That's a big reason why corporate America hasn't harnessed the cannabis market; it's just too hard to get a consistency that it would take to launch the industry on a huge scale.
And with all of that being said, would we really want those blood sucking bastards in charge of the marijuana industry? Look at what they have done to society with their research and development already. Can you imagine what they would do to marijuana to make it super addictive? It wouldn't even be marijuana anymore; the product would be some Frankenstein herb that is meant to take your dollars instead of providing comfort, recreation, and relief. Marijuana is a cottage industry, and I really hope it stays that way forever. I love going to different areas and seeing what their stuff is like. If it was just bland budget weed sold across the nation, it would really make me sad.
I picture some slick talking tobacco executives sitting down with members of Congress. The executives explain that they can grow marijuana on an enormous scale, that it would all be under the close watch of the government, and that they can provide tax dollars out the wazoo. They give the politicians large sums of money in exchange for marijuana becoming legal. On the surface, marijuana consumers are stoked because the marijuana plant is finally free. They don't care how it happened, they just know that they have been waiting for this for a long time. It will only be after they see what big tobacco has done to the beloved marijuana plant that they realize the whole thing was f'd since jump street.
The alcohol industry is a better representation of what I think marijuana regulations will look like after legalization. There will still be large companies trying to corner the industry, much like Budweiser and Coors do today. However, there will also be a large cottage community producing marijuana, like the micro brew industry. Large companies will produce massive quantities of low grade product, much like Coors and Budweiser do with their beer. But, people that actually like flavor and quality will go for the cottage industry products, much like people go for a micro brew. Instead of making regulations to cater to the top companies, regulations will be more flexible to accommodate the small businesses. There will be more wiggle room for entrepreneurs to enter into the market as a result, and consumers will benefit from the buffet of deliciousness that will result.
I think the big debate that people run into when they get into this conversation is not necessarily the regulation structure for large and small businesses, so much as the age requirement. If marijuana is regulated like tobacco, it would have an 18 or older age requirement. Of course, if marijuana is regulated like alcohol, it would have an age requirement of 21 or older. Again, marijuana is smoked, so people naturally gravitate toward the 18 year old requirement. However, marijuana is an intoxicating substance, so this has to be considered. Marijuana doesn't impair a person nearly as much as alcohol (unless they are a total rookie), so I personally think that an 'in-between' age would be sufficient. Whether that is 19 or 20, I will let the policy makers decide. Somewhere there is a recently graduated high school student praying that it is 19 instead of 20 — my prayers are will you buddy! I remember what it was like to be too young before I got too old to be hip ha ha.
What do TWB readers think? I know there will be a bunch of you that say 'it should have NO regulations!' That would be great in a perfect world, but politics is an incremental game, and getting a grand slam straight out the gate might be asking for two much. We are going to have to give a little in order to get what we want in return. With that in mind, what is an appropriate age to start consuming marijuana legally? Would you prefer that large companies get into the movement in order to speed up legalization? Or do we want to keep those fascists out in order to keep things pure, even though it might take an extra election or two as a result? Do you want marijuana to be regulated more like tobacco, or alcohol, or something else, like grapes!? I look forward to the discussion.