Stoner Nation

I was listening to a Boston sports radio station over the internet today and I heard an ad for the New England Cannabis Convention. It’s possible that this is an internet-only ad, but lots of people listen on-line these days so I’m not sure that matters. That means these ads are hitting a broad audience, even if it is not over the public airwaves. Apparently, the station thought it was OK to run ads for this thing, since it is legal in the state. Why not?

Imagine a parent on the way home with their pre-teen kids, listening to the radio. This ad comes on and there’s not much the parent can do about it. Turn off the radio and the kids will take note. Leave it on and the kids have to hear about the exciting new world of weed dealing. Parents have been talking about drugs and alcohol with their kids for a couple of generations now, I would assume. By the early 70’s parents knew their kids would be exposed to street drugs, in addition to booze. Their natural ally was the fact drugs were illegal. Now, they are cautioning against something that is celebrated.

That’s always been the issue with drug legalization that gets ignored. Prohibition does not reduce use only by raising prices and reducing supply. When you ban something, a stigma is associated with it. After all, why ban something that is morally good?  When you legalize something, the stigma is lifted. Anti-smoking campaigns took decades to stigmatize smoking. Even so, they needed the law to step in and ban the practice from most public places. In some jurisdictions, smoking is allowed only in your own home.

The legalization of cannabis will come with all sorts of surprises like that advertisement I heard on the radio. Half a century of prohibition means all sorts of customs and institutions have grown up expecting drugs to be illegal. Pull the pin of legalization and all sorts of unexpected things get damaged in the explosion. The pro-legalization people only see the potential upside of legalization. The big important stuff, however, is always the stuff you don’t see.

What that ad for the convention makes quite clear is that the goal of the weed community to to attract more weed users. If you tried to have a tobacco convention, using Joe Camel to pitch your show, the cops would throw you in jail. The weed crowd is, so far, immune from these laws, so they are doing what any business does. They are advertising and trying to increase their customer base. That means we will have a lot more pot smoking and that means more of the problems that come from pot smoking.

Sensible people, who have argued for legalization, have also acknowledged that it would bring an increase in drug use. Forty years ago when Milton Friedman was making that case, we had three TV channels, analog phones tethered to the wall and AM/FM radios. Advertising, marketing and “socializing” a product was greatly limited relative to today. Imagine your kids getting text message from the local pot dispensary with the daily specials aimed at a more youthful audience.

I think the data from Colorado is pretty clear that legalizing cannabis will result in an explosion of cannabis use. The power of science and modern business techniques means many more people are going to be high in the workplace, school, at the mall, etc. Doing bong hits requires privacy while munching on a THC-laced candy can be done at your kid’s soccer game – by the coaches. I’m not imagining reefer madness, but I’m thinking we better get used to dealing with stoners in our every day life.

11 thoughts on “Stoner Nation

  1. Well, it seems obvious that anyone with an occupation subject to drug testing, such as patient care, child care, or equipment operation, would find themselves in demand in states which have legalized weed. There will arise in these states a stratified, caste – ridden society of potheads, and those who abstain for the sake of providing for their families. The potheads will call this unfair, and blame anyone but themselves.

  2. At the turn of the twentieth century a number of counties around the country were dry. Opium was illegal in San Francisco; it had been quite the problem there. That didn’t affect mom in the rest of the country, and the middle aged housewife was the typical addict. Cocaine was $2.50 an ounce at the pharmacy. You could blend the one with the other and call it Tonic.

    But the war between the Old Republic and Progressivism was hot. Our first Progressive President emerged. 1905, the last year in which the Republic had no drug law. The Federal Reserve was on the way. Senators by popular vote. Universal suffrage. Prohibition. Woody and Franklin. The New Deal, the Great Society.

    Then the Progressives changed their minds, but only about mind altering substances out of a bottle or bag. The other mind altering stuff stays. Only an altered mind could watch the SOTU.

  3. Oh, “legal…”. I always wondered how a plant could be illegal, kind of like a child being illegitimate.

  4. Cannabis, cocoa leaves, peyote, mescaline, *mushrooms, maybe “He” did put it there for you to get high. I don’t know, just saying.

    • “He” is so cysgendered. S/he also put venomous snakes out there too. Yet, we don’t try and get bit by snakes.

      Legal intoxicants are fine as long as you have other methods to curb excess and punish abuse. In the welfare state, excess is encouraged and abuse is rewarded.

  5. It ain’t necessarily so. According to Forbes, 2011, Spiegel, 2013 & many others, Portugal’s decriminalization is an overall net plus with fewer medical problems, OD’s, drug users, etc. A 2014 report by UK Charity, Transform, titled “Drug decriminalisation [their spelling] in Portugal: setting the record strait,” notes:

    “The Reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly…while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialize…such improvements are not solely the result of decriminalisation, but also a more health centered approach…”

    Further, personal experience with smoking doesn’t jive.

    By HS in the 50’s nearly all kids smoked and you are right – advertising promoted it, probably the most influential being the movies where pretty girls displayed interest by leaning forward for a light and the handsome male stars did so with elegance. Boys learned to strike matches in all kinds of “cool” ways including on their teeth. Zippo lighters could be sprung open with a 1-hand trick & the little lighting wheel spun with a finger click – boys learned all sorts of cig lighting tricks to impress.

    During the 60s my friends were accepting that it was really bad for you and started quitting which nearly all did over the following decade or two and long before public smoking was banned. At HS reunions of hundreds, people had long ago quit.

    As I understand it, huge numbers of US soldiers had heroin habits during the Vietnam war and quit on their own when returning.

    Legalize the drugs and tell people the truth about them, though government doesn’t have much credibility for such job.

  6. Then there’s the “other” legal state, Washingon. We finally got the state out of the liquor business. So, to make sure that no bureaucrats were harmed, they put them in charge of the new pot business. Several counties have passed laws preventing pot from being sold in their area, so it really is a patchwork. And, they didn’t get around to licensing growers until late in the game, so demand outstrips supply. No one talks about legal pot in WA, because it’s easy to get the illegal stuff.

    • I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the the availability of weed. I hear middle-class people say, “You can get pot anywhere. May as well make it legal.” I often ask, “where do you buy your pot?” The response is always to dodge the question, but the fact is most people don’t smoke pot nor do they know anyone who does smoke pot. Getting started would be a lot tougher than going down to Walmart and buying a bag of weed.

      Reading up on Colorado’s experiment, the first take away is that the increase in usage is vastly higher than expected. Maybe that’s the novelty, tourism or some other short term cause. Maybe it is simply the result of better supply, better marketing and the lack of cultural taboos to tamp down usage. The other lesson so far is that it has not eliminated the black market. There’s are fewer arrests for possession, obviously, but the black market remains in place. At some point, policing will adjust and arrests will climb back up. Maybe not to previous levels, but we will still have weed dealers in the court system.

      I’m open minded on legalizing cannabis. I just think we are in for a long period of discovery with lots of unpleasant surprises. Public policy is about trade-offs. We’re about to find out what the other side of the legalization ledger will hold.

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