Saturday, June 29, 2013

What the State Cannot Do

What the State Cannot Do


The states have made remarkable strides toward marijuana law reform, but because of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, many essential moves are beyond the states’ powers to change.  Some of these obstructive federal powers limit the states’ abilities to regulate the marijuana industry, while others apply directly to individuals and corporations involved in the marijuana trade.  The three most powerful of these are the federal income tax, federal regulation of banking, and federal power to forfeit private property.

The federal taxing power presents two hazards to the state-legal marijuana business.  First, the business must report and pay income taxes on all income, even if it is illegal.  Second, the tax law forbids deduction of business expenses related to illegal income.

Everyone must report all income from any source, including illegal income (and under federal law any income from marijuana sales is illegal).  Remember, Al Capone was never convicted of murder or bootlegging; he was sent to Alcatraz for tax evasion (whatever happened to all of the Chicago cops and politicians he bribed – did they pay income tax on the loot?).  But if filing a return and paying were the only problem, Joe’s Weed Works could simply become Joseph’s Herbal Boutique and list its business as botanic specialties – at least until the audit.  The real problem is the amount he would not be allowed to deduct.

Illegal businesses are not allowed to deduct the expenses of conducting an illegal business (John Dillinger cannot claim his bullets as a cost of robbing banks) and the Internal Revenue Code specifically disallows these deductions for anyone in the illegal drug trade.  A marijuana seller would have to pay tax at the full rate on gross receipts without deductions for costs of goods sold, lease payments, salaries, security, or any other business cost.  In a similar situation, a grocer would be taxed on the $2.50 for which he sells a loaf of bread, not on the two or three cent profit he earns.  No business could operate under these rules.

Federal regulation of the banking system prevents a marijuana business from having a bank account or using bank services to process financial transactions like transmitting or redeeming payment documents.  Under current federal law, if a federally chartered or insured bank (which because of the insurance provision, includes state banks, savings and loans, and credit unions) accepts deposits or makes payments that further a criminal enterprise, that bank will be guilty of money-laundering and subject to criminal fines or even forfeiture of its banking charter.  In many instances, the bank could even be construed to be a co-conspirator or part of a continuing criminal enterprise, which could subject all of the bank’s assets to civil forfeiture.

As a result of these pressures and threats, few, if any, banks, are allowing marijuana businesses to open or maintain accounts.  These businesses are forced to revert to the seventeenth century methods of operating cash-only businesses: cash for goods purchased and wages paid; cash for leases and insurances; cash for taxes.  With no bank account and no credit history, these businesses cannot get credit or loans.  And handling all that cash makes them prime targets for robbery.  No successful modern enterprise can operate this way.

The most pernicious federal weapon is civil asset forfeiture.  Forfeiture is destructive in two ways: it lacks the protections provided to defendants in criminal proceedings and it can attack outsiders who simply have routine dealings with the marijuana businessman.  A common target, as shown in many recent California actions, is the property owner who leases commercial buildings to be used for dispensaries.

The asset forfeiture program was designed to combat organized crime bosses who were hard to convict because they rarely got their hands dirty by personally actin in the crimes they ordered.  The idea was to remove the profit motive from criminal enterprises.  The government can seize and forfeit any property that it has probable cause to believe either was used in the commission of a crime or was acquired with criminal proceeds.  (Remember Don Johnson's Ferrari from the old Miami Vice television series?)  Once the property has been seized, the owner may only recover it by timely filing a civil lawsuit to get it back.  As plaintiff, the owner has the burden of proof to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he is an innocent owner.  Being an innocent owner means more than just showing that he did not commit a crime; the owner must show that he did not even know that a crime had been committed and that he had taken necessary steps to make sure his property was not being used illegally.  Innocent ownership is almost impossible to prove, and the owner must bear (usually in advance) all the costs of suit, including attorneys’ fees for a complex federal law suit.  No wonder landlords get scared when they get a letter from the U. S. Attorney informing them that the building in which they had leased out one room could be subject to forfeiture.

Taxes, bank regulation, and asset forfeiture are only three of the scores of non-criminal actions the federal government can use against marijuana enterprises authorized by state law.  Even if a state is doing its best to foster marijuana development, federal actors can reduce that enterprise to a street-corner seller furtively trying to avoid The Man while selling a small bag of indifferent product.  A state – and its residents – hoping to reform marijuana laws must focus as much effort as possible on reforming Washington.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mr. Spock and Homer Simpson

Mr. Spock and Homer Simpson


In The Upside of Irrationality, social economist Dan Ariely points out that society contains both Mr. Spock and Homer Simpson.  Spock and Homer are, of course, both fictional.  Mr. Spock is the hyperlogical, nonemotional alien in Star Trek.  The drama around him springs from his inability to understand the emotional drives of the humans around him and their failure to accept his reasoned conclusions.  Homer Simpson, the father on The Simpsons, is all emotion and impulse.  He is neither learned nor logical.  His flighty impulsiveness and lack of foresight are the sources of much of the show’s comedy.

Many intangible products are Spockian.  Computer programs are all logic and algorithms.  Tangible products tend to be Homerish.  Pants are stain resistant and may have a fifty-inch waistband.  However, many products are a mixture.  Cars have engines and drivetrains designed by logical engineers; but they are sold to Homers, who need the lap belts and airbags, by sex appeal.  As the car example suggests, people are all mixtures of Spock and Homer in varying degrees (and in everyone, that ratio changes from minute to minute).

The world of government and politics is also a mixture of the two.  Government is expected to be Spockian, with rational rules designed to achieve reasonable ends (unfortunately by using staffs that include many Homers).  But those reasonable rules are supposed to be enacted by Congress – largely composed of Homers and elected by means of utterly Homeresque election campaigns.

Political debates, including those on drug reform, show this same Spock versus Homer conflict.  However, they can be quite asymmetric.  Those proposing change or reform can be so Spockian that they sound like a graduate school seminar.  They have numbers and statistics, usually accompanied by charts and graphs.  They speak of goals and make projections.  They may even bring in experts, complete with jargon-laced theories.  Their audiences are soon asleep.

The defenders of the status quo, on the other hand, often wax Homeric.  They spread fear, promise paradise, bemoan degeneracy, and warn of slippery slopes (just imagine Homer on a snow board).  Sometimes they even bring donuts. When they use facts, those are outdated, cherry-picked, or out of context.  Their sound bites are carefully honed to fit on the evening news.  Ironically, these Homerish deliveries are frequently crafted by Spockian deliberation.

The result of this difference in argument style is that Homers, and those catering to Homers, usually win in public forums and political arenas.  If Spocks want their carefully derived plans to be adopted, they must coolly apply their logic to the art of persuasion.

As far as drug laws are concerned, first, use lots of concrete examples of both individuals hurt by drug laws or helped by drug – put a human face on it.  Then counter fears with hopes: street corners without drug dealers and violence, prisons replaced with college campuses, police forces without snitches or SWAT teams, derelicts replaced by productive citizens.  Highlight current costs and compare to future savings.

And don’t forget the donuts.

Drug law reformers must continue to apply Spockian methods to prove both the need for change and what changes would be most beneficial, but they must work with Homerish desires and impulses to make it so.  Thank Vulcan and act Springfield.

(P.S.: Pick up one of Dan Ariely’s books and give it a read.  It will enlighten, educate, and entertain you.  They are truly Spockian with a Homerish flair.  Find out what you do every day and why you do it and why your friends do the silly things they do.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If Heroin Were Legal: Part II

If Heroin Were Legal: Part II

(This is a continuation of the previous “If Heroin Were Legal: Part I)

Legalizing heroin is, paradoxically, both the least risky and the most frightening approach to drug law reform.   Part I of this essay, looking at the drug and its users, showed that almost no risk, personal or social, would be incurred by legalizing access to heroin.  Part II, in examining the supply business, regulation and control, and law enforcement, will show that the changes resulting from legalization will be minimal and, on the whole, beneficial.

Heroin Business:  For all practical purposes, the heroin business would disappear under a legal regime.  Doctors would continue to prescribe opiates as they do today, and in approximately the same ratios.  Heroin would have a few specialized uses: it can often be administered to patients allergic to morphine, and British experience indicates it better in palliative uses in some terminal patients.  Although a comparatively small amount would be needed to supply compulsive users, it would be virtually impossible to detect in the larger market for medicinal opiates.  Street and black market sales would disappear, just as they have for alcohol since Repeal.

Legal heroin would be ridiculously cheap.  The opium poppy can grow almost anywhere.  In the U. S., opium was previously grown commercially in Florida, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Arizona, and California; and the Confederate States grew all they needed for both civilian and military use during the Civil War.  The production of heroin from poppies involves rather simple techniques using cheap chemicals.  While heroin was legal, the Bayer Company (which invented both) sold heroin and aspirin for the same price.  The rate of return would be too small for criminal enterprises to support themselves in a heroin market, just as the bootleggers could not compete with legal alcohol sellers when Prohibition ended.  The remaining sellers of illegal marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines might occasionally supply small amounts of opiates, but their presence in this market would be minimal.

David Musto was the first to demonstrate that, on a percentage basis, the number of opiate addicts in the U. S. remained constant, or even lowered slightly, from before the Harrison Act to the present.  These figures did not vary appreciably even when price, availability, or risk of arrest changed greatly.  His work is supported by Prof. Nickolas Rasmussen’s findings on amphetamine use.  While the number of experimental users might increase slightly, the number of compulsive users should remain about the same.

Regulation and Control:  Opiates will probably remain prescription drugs and remain under something similar to the current scheduling scheme for the near future, and heroin would be subsumed into this broad class of prescription drugs.  The major change would be some provision for drug access by compulsive users without the necessity of frequent, repetitive doctors’ visits.  American views on health care make free distribution of heroin to addicts on the Swiss or British methods unlikely.  However, some kind of periodic certification (perhaps annually) by either a medical specialist or government agency that would allow supply by pharmacists could be instituted economically.  Some opiates would still go to experimental and casual users, but historically this has been a very small amount and can be expected to remain so.  Normal, minimal leakage from prescription opiates should meet this demand as it does for many other drugs.  In fact, legal maintenance of compulsive users should significantly reduce the amount of opiates now diverted from the prescription market.

 Three new programs could result from legalized heroin, two of which should be funded in large part by a small tax on maintenance opiates. 

First, legalization should enable research on the most effective maintenance drug and on the best ways to deliver it.  Methadone has been used as a replacement for heroin for forty years, but its use has been empirical and opportunistic rather than experimentally based.  Fentanyl or oxycodone, among other possibilities, may prove better, and transdermal patches or implants may be more effective means of administration.  Research can sort out these issues.

A small consumption tax on maintenance opiates could fund two other important programs.  The first would be providing rehabilitation facilities for compulsive users desiring to moderate or stop their use.  The other would be to develop and employ scientifically based drug education as part of normal health education in elementary and high schools.  Both of these programs could provide excellent returns on investment.

Law Enforcement:  Legalization of heroin should lead to substantial savings both in law enforcement and lower social costs from criminal activities.  Since opiate use itself has never been shown to lead to criminal activities, most of these savings will be indirect, coming from the reduced criminality of the underground heroin market.

Most drug law enforcement efforts are not directed at heroin offenses.  Marijuana offenses comprise over half of all drug law arrests and seizures.  Cocaine enforcement is the next largest chunk, followed by amphetamines.  Even diverted prescription opiates receive more attention than does heroin.  If all heroin investigations and arrests stopped, the total amount devoted to drug law enforcement would remain at nearly the same level.

The savings would result from the drastic decrease in crimes committed to procure heroin in the grotesquely inflated black market.  Illegal heroin is so expensive and hard to find that being an addict becomes a full-time career.  As a consequence, most addicts are unemployed and support themselves and their habit with non-violent property crimes – usually shoplifting, car burglary, and construction thefts.  Over a hundred dollars a day is needed for this life style, and stolen property can normally be sold for only about a tenth of its value.  If each of 500,000 addicts steals an average of $1,000 a day, then the overall economy loses $500 Million per day, all because of refusal to make available a drug that could be supplied for pennies a dose.

This unbelievable number is supported by several studies that interviewed long-time addicts in several cities over an extended time.  Most of those interviewed each claimed to have committed several thousand crimes per year. 

All of those crimes have to be investigated (even if not solved) by the police.  They could be better employed on murders, rapes, and robberies – or even directing traffic.

Legalizing heroin would be virtually risk-free.  Failure to do so subjects everyone to risk and high costs.  Now is the time for Congress to act sensibly and repeal this expensive failure.


Friday, June 14, 2013

If Heroin Were Legal: Part I

If Heroin Were Legal: Part I


One of the goals of many drug law reformers is to legalize – that is, remove criminal penalties for -- the manufacture, distribution, and possession of heroin.  Likewise, one of the often expressed fears of Drug Warriors is that heroin will be legalized.  These conflicting views raise the question: what would happen if heroin were legal?  The answer is two-fold.  First, the changes would be very small.  Second, almost all of those changes would be beneficial.

Answering this question requires looking at five different aspects: the drugs, the users, the supply business, regulation and control, and law enforcement.  Part I of this essay will examine the drugs and the users, and Part II will look at the other three issues.

The Drug:  Heroin is not a unique drug; in fact it is not even unusual.  It is a member of the group known as “opiates”, derived from the opium alkaloids, morphine, codeine, and thebaine.  This group, in addition to morphine and heroin, includes oxycodone and hydrocodone.  The last two are the basis of most modern prescription painkillers, including OxyCotin, Vicodin, and Percoset.  The opiates are closely related to the opioids, synthetic compounds designed to act like the opiates, which include fentanyl, methadone[1], Dilaudid, and Dilantin.  The body treats these drugs as virtually interchangeable.  Habitual users move easily among those drugs, substituting one for another.  Experiments at the Federal Narcotic Farm showed that even the most experienced users could not distinguish between shots of heroin and morphine.  In fact, the body converts heroin (diacetyl morphine) back into morphine in order for it to be effective.

The opiates and opioids together comprise most of medicine’s armentarium against pain.  They are employed for everything from Vicodin for a toothache to morphine for trauma or surgery to fentanyl and OxyCotin for intractable chronic pain.  If heroin loses its legal mark of Cain, it will simply become a minor, undistinguishable part of that large group.  On the other hand, if heroin were to magically disappear tomorrow, its users would simply switch to other opiates.  Or worse, as they did when heroin and morphine almost disappeared when World War II disrupted world trade, they would change to much more dangerous and deadly drugs like alcohol or barbiturates.

Users:  Opiate users[2] can be placed in several categories: medical users, experimental or casual users, dependent users, and compulsive users.  Medical users are the largest group and, under modern medical supervision developed over the last thirty years, very rarely become problematic users.  The next largest group, but still well under ten percent of the population are the casual and experimental users.  These people will experiment with opiates out of curiosity or continue modest, occasional use for years without becoming problematic, and fewer than ten percent of them become compulsive users, or “addicts”.

Anyone using opiates regularly for more than a few days, even under medical supervision, will develop a physical dependency to the drugs.  The body will not function properly without the drug, and its absence will cause withdrawal, a condition much like a severe case of the flu, that lasts for about seven days.  It is much less severe than withdrawal from alcohol, benzodiazepines, or barbiturates, which can be fatal.  After withdrawal ends, the body returns to normal without the drug.  Much of today’s confusion about opiates stems from the 1920s, before doctors learned to distinguish between dependency and addiction.  Many medical opiate users develop dependency, but modern practice includes supervised withdrawal as part of the treatment.

Compulsive users (a term without the historical and cultural baggage that has accumulated around the more common “addict”) are those who continue to use the drug in spite of knowledge that continued use will be harmful to themselves or others and who cannot resist the impulse to use.  The number of these users is small, probably less than one million in the U. S. – less than one-third of one per cent of the population.

The popular view of a drug addict is a street derelict supporting himself by petty theft, shoplifting, car burglary, or prostitution.  However, this addict only appeared in the 1920s and is a creation of drug Prohibition, not of drug use.

Evidence before passage of the Harrison Act (1914) does not clearly distinguish between dependent users and compulsive users, but by the early 1920s, the major features of compulsive use were becoming obvious.  First, long-term opiate use has no major medical consequences; the only significant sequaliae are constipation and the risk of withdrawal if use stops.  Second, even compulsive users can maintain normal, productive lives if an adequate, regulated dose is available to them (see the earlier posting on Dr. William Halsted for an early, well-documented example).

The impressive sets of evidence support this conclusion.  For almost twenty years, the Swiss have maintained documented addicts on free heroin, with no overdose deaths and a large decrease in street crime.  In the U. S. methadone maintenance has been used since the mid-1979s with few problems, although these limited programs have been complicated by having to exist within a wider regime of blackmarket illegal drugs.  England has used heroin maintenance since the end of World War I except for an interval starting during the Thatcher regime in the 1970s.  This program has had few problems, but during the time it was suspended, all of the ills of street drugs – deaths, crime, corruption, violence – emerged only to disappear when maintenance was resumed.

One key feature of these programs is that overdose deaths have virtually disappeared among the participants.

This discussion of the drugs and their users has set the stage.  Part II will examine the effects of legalization on the supply business, regulation and control, and law enforcement.

[1] Methadone was developed in Germany in the 1930s where the government feared that a war would prevent the importation of morphine for both civilian and military use.
[2] As the preceding section of drugs demonstrates, limiting the discussion to only heroin users would be misleading, or even mistaken.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Democracy, Demographics, and Drugs

Democracy, Demographics and Drugs


Almost every news show on tv shows a map of Red States and Blue States, and those maps have been roughly the same for more than twenty years.  These maps purport to show whether the state voted Republican or Democratic in national and state elections.

But the division shown in these maps is deeper than merely showing the results in recent elections.  It shows, in general, a strong demographic divide within the United States.

These maps, in general, show Democratic strength (blue) in New England, the Middle Atlantic States, and the West Coast.  The red states (Republican) consist of the Confederate South, the plains states, and the intermountain West.  The Midwest is somewhat indeterminate.

Interesting parallels show up between these maps and many social issues, some dating back more than a century.  A deeper look suggests that strong demographic identities underlie this distinction.

The most recent, and so far the weakest, of these links is between Blue states and same-sex marriage.  The eight states approving these marriages to date are all in New England and the Pacific Northwest.  The Supreme Court could add California to this group later this month, making the analogy stronger.

A stronger match exists between the Blue states and the Green states (those that have decriminalized marijuana or approved it for medical use).  New England and the Pacific Coast, with some of the mid-Atlantic states make up this group.  The exceptions in this grouping is instructive.  In addition to the coastal areas, Michigan, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado have medical marijuana (Colorado has also legalized possession).  Michigan is one of those Midwestern states not firmly in either group, but a large part of its population is in large urban areas.  Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado were originally part of Mexico and have larger Latino populations than do the other Red States.  They each also have a dominant large city and depend on a large tourist and recreation economy.  Nevada also fits this category.

The source of this divide is rooted deep in history.  While the vote for alcohol Prohibition was widespread, its origins and leadership was in the South and the plains states, and most of that area remained dry long after appeal[1].  At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a national political force, based in the same regions.  The Klan was strongly Prohibitionist, viewing alcohol as a European perversion that would destroy American culture.  In southern Illinois, it even organized Prohibition patrols, arresting (not gently) bootleggers and maintaining concentration camps in which they were imprisoned.

The division grew from the earliest days of American settlement.  The earliest settlers were English and Scots Protestants, joined by a few German Protestants; and many of these became evangelicals in the revivalist movement of the 1800s.  They were farmers, artisans, and small merchants who gathered in small towns.  They, in turn, provided the emigrants who settled the South, the Midwest prairies, and the Great Plains.  They are still a large majority in the Red States.

This demographic structure changed dramatically and permanently beginning in the 1840s.  Successive waves of immigration hit the country: Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Southern Germans.  Most of these were Roman Catholic and the rest were Jews.  Freed African-Americans started an accelerating move from South to North.  These people concentrated in the booming cities of the Northeast and Midwest, taking jobs for wages in the new large industries and businesses.  They were joined by discouraged but ambitious youths who left the stifling farms and small towns for the lure of the cities and by millions fleeing the revolutions beginning in Mexico after 1910.  By 1900, only half of the population was rural, and by 1920 over a third were immigrants.  A xenophobic Republican Congress slammed the door on future immigration in the 1920s, closing the American borders for the first time.

At the height of their powers, the Red States introduced laws against prostitution, established Jim Crow laws, created alcohol Prohibition, banned heroin, and shut down immigration.  The remnants of their domain includes laws against same-sex marriage, opposition to and restriction of abortion, drug Prohibition, and restrictive immigration laws.

But the change from rural to urban had happened and would accelerate.  Today only about one per cent of the population live on farms, and the Plains states are stagnant or even losing people.  The fate of the Red States can be seen by looking at their kingpin: Texas (to some extent, this analysis also applies to North Carolina, Colorado, and Georgia).

Texas is deep red; no Democrat has won a state-wide election in the last twenty years.  But demographics is destiny, and Texas is no longer the agricultural feudalism of the nineteenth century; it no longer consists of the oil baronies of the twentieth.  It has become a minority majority state, with an approximately forty percent Latino population and large Asian and African populations.  The Houston School District has over one hundred languages natively spoken by its students.  Texas has also become an urban state.  Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city, rapidly overtaking Chicago as the third.  Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso are all over a million people.  Soon these metropolitan areas will outnumber the rest of the state; and they bring with them the urban attitudes and beliefs common to other large cities.  These blue, blue blotches will overshadow the paling rural hinderlands in the immediate future.  When Texas goes Blue, the remaining Red Lands will fade into obscurity.

Demographics is destiny; and the future is not Red.  While an immediate change in drug laws and in other historically imposed cultural restraints may be beneficial, within a decade demography will accomplish what obstructionism has prevented what democracy can do today.

[1] When I was a college student in the 1960s, the part of Texas in which I lived was still dry – although bootleggers were easy to find.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Big Green

Big Green


As the momentum for legalized marijuana picks up, many old time reformers either express fear of or fulminate against Big Green.  What’s so wrong about Big Green?

The goal of marijuana legalization is to turn the plant into an ordinary commodity, possibly with some age limitations on possession.  As such, it would have a customer base in the tens of millions.  Big Green will certainly enter that market.  The economics of scale from large volume production and sales and the power of mass marketing will be irresistible.  Lucky Puffs will be on the shelf next to Millers Lite or Wonder Bread, depending on the model chosen.

In general, Big Green would be mainly good.  One can eat in a McDonald’s or Burger King anywhere in the world, and the meal will be safe and satisfactory, even if neither delicious nor nutritious.  Picky cooks often prefer canned tomatoes to fresh for better flavor and more consistency.  Big Green would certainly better than most of the street-corner weed sold today.  Pot found in Smallville would be as good and as safe as that in a city smoke shop.  And it would surely do to give to the brother-in-law at the Labor Day barbeque.

Big Green would give good value for the money.  People shop at Big Boxes, not to get top quality, but for serviceable clothing at low – or at least reasonable – prices.

The Big is egalitarian; a worker in North Dakota can enjoy orange juice in January without having a king’s resources to maintain his own orangerie.  .  Pineapples in Pennsylvania are a reality, not just ornaments carved on stairway posts.

Big is not an enemy of Best: they coexist.  People buy clothes at Targets just down the street from an exclusive boutique featuring haute coiffure.  New Orleans po’ boy shops are open within smelling distance of some of the world’s leading restaurants.  Most people drive Chevrolets or Toyotas, but Porsche, Ferrari, and Tesla do well also.

Big and Best are not mutually exclusive.  One enjoying a craft ale in an independent brewhouse tonight may buy a case of Bud for a football watching party tomorrow.  A taste for prime rib does not preclude a Whataburger lunch.

Even Organic has profited from Big.  Many supermarkets, thriving on Big, have added extensive selections of organic foods.  While Big still pays their bills, Organic attracts an additional group of shoppers, and provides a greater profit margin from those it attracts.

What will Big Green do to the marijuana market?  Will it become just another commodity?

Varieties are already available to suit climate and soil conditions anywhere in the United States.  As farmers adopt marijuana as a crop, growing methods will approximate those used for other crops: large fields, computerized irrigation, mechanical (even GPS-controlled tillage, and current fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide methods.  Mechanical means for harvesting, trimming, and drying should soon follow.  Big Green should be everywhere and at a price (excluding taxes) in the range of those of tomatoes or broccoli.

Lovers of fine bud or those who need a particular mix of active components should also thrive in a Big Green world.  The best predictive analogy is the market for drinking alcohol.  In the worlds of malt beverages, wines, and distilled spirits, Big and Best both thrive.

Big Whiskey has always thrived on uniformity and consistency.  One bottle of Jim Beam looks and tastes just like any other and is exactly as strong.  But contrast Jim Beam or random vodka to single malt scotch or fine brandies.  These small-batch, craft-made drinks succeed by being different and individual.  And their prices reflect their individuality.  More recently, boutique distillers have appeared in this country.  Texas (with limestone-infused waters like Kentucky) now has at least three small premium bourbon distillers.

Wine probably shows the Big/Best distinction most clearly.  Supermarket shelves are full of Two-buck Chuck and Yellowtail Shiraz, but even the smallest wine shop will baffle even the knowledgeable by the variety of its choices and the subtleties between them.  My brother-in-law drank zinfandel in a box, but I have friends who argue about which bottle to spend a thousand dollars on.

Big Beer has dominated since the repeal of Prohibition.  Budweiser and Millers have dominated the tongues and stomachs of Americans for eighty years.  But home brewing has a long tradition: Obama is not the first President to make his own beer in the White House.  Over the last thirty years or so, craft brewers and stand-alone ale houses have sprung up all across the country.  Some, like Sam Adams and Anchor Steam have gotten large, but most remain small and develop devoted followings.

Big Green is sure to follow legalization, but it will be accompanied by Best Green.  In the supermarket, Lucky Puffs will share shelves with organic varietals.  GNC will sell generic MedaGreen, but the pharmacies will have specific medical breeds and blends with individual ratios of cannabanoids, even those made to order.

In the near future, as you walk down the street to your specialty Bud Botique, take time to give a friendly wave to Joe’s Pot Shop as you pass.