Friday, September 13, 2013

Legal Changes Everything

Legal Changes Everything


Within a few weeks, people in Colorado and Washington will be able to enjoy their first legal (as far as the state is concerned) taste of marijuana.  After the federal capitulation to those laws, several more states will probably follow by the time the 2014 election ends.  The question facing those in these states – and those jealous onlookers outside their borders – is what legalization will mean.

The first meaning is obvious: no longer will a cop be looking over your shoulder when you light up.  But everything in society is connected, so legalization will have many more effects, some wide-removed and indirect.

One of the first, and most dramatic, changes will be a precipitous plunge in prices.  The combination of removal of the risk premium charged by dealers facing prison terms or death in the streets, improved efficiencies in overt cultivation, and competitive markets will quickly lead to prices comparable to other agricultural commodities.  Even the imperfect medical marijuana market in California has seen prices fall by at least a half.  Expect marijuana prices in the range of those for cigarettes or beer.

Ease of access will completely change.  Street dealers will disappear, as will most medical marijuana dispensaries.  Depending on local laws, marijuana can appear in drug stores, liquor stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and even farmers’ markets.  High end specialty shops and boutiques may appear.  Growers may even emulate their older cousins with vineyards and open tasting rooms.  Some medical users may be disappointed; most of their dispensaries will fade into more general retail outlets, and their fragrant buds will be replaced by brown plastic bottles and inhalers from a white-coated pharmacist.  (See my earlier posting “The End of Medical Marijuana”.)

Legal marijuana will bring with it almost bewildering variety.  Those states with developed medical marijuana systems already have dispensaries with displays of great numbers of varietals as well as derivatives like resins and oils as well as edibles.  These will only blossom with legality.  Means of ingestion will diversify too. Pipes (including simple glass, wood, metal and ceramic ones, along with chillums, hookahs, and bongs) will compete with vaporizers and inhalers.  Salves and sublingual methods will spread.  Edibles will be both more diverse and more common – anyone care for a latte made with Cannabis-infused milk and whipped cream?  

User demographics will also change (or at least look like they are changing).  Part of that change will be a lot of secret current users coming out of the closet.  Aging beats, flower children, and hippies will reveal they never stopped.  Arthritic Grannies will ease their pain in front of the kids.  Software engineers will indulge away from work.  The NBA and NFL well return to their old ways from the ‘80s, and cops will show why their unions have worked so hard to keep them from being drug-tested.  Soon, even if total usage does not increase very much, the demographic will spread all across the social and economic spectrum.

Social activities and relationships will change as pot becomes available.  For some, the after-work happy hour will take place in a “teahouse”, not in a bar.  Of course, local no-smoking ordinances will need to be modified to allow those teahouses just as they now allow cigar bars.  Sports crowds will be less rowdy as bud replaces some of the Bud at ballgames.  Vaping will be more common as nightclubs, music concerts, and movies welcome marijuana users while avoiding second-hand smoke that annoys other attendees.  And all of these enterprises will scramble, trying to replace the large profits they now receive from alcohol.  Date nights and college parties can be more enjoyable and amorous while lessening the fears of rapes, fights, and car wrecks.  Brand names and advertising will be ubiquitous facts of life.

My crystal ball is not telling me much – it seems clouded with greenish smoke.  None of these guesses should be taken as actual predictions.  But I can say that the future will be more different than any of us now imagine.

So lean back, inhale deeply, and enjoy the ride.

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