BY JON GETTMAN · WED OCT 28, 2015
Young adults of the current generation are often referred to as Millennials, and they are a key demographic group in the emerging social and political consensus to legalize cannabis in the United States. They are tech-savvy, practical, introspective, optimistic and nice.
Millennials are also the reason why advocates of legalization have the edge when it comes to creating the policies and regulations for the new cannabis market. Or, in other words, why reformers and cannabis users have the leverage to create the cannabis laws of the future.
The first part of this series discussed the need for thinking about legalization in fresh terms, about looking at it as more than just ending arrests for cannabis use. This does not mean, however, that reform should reject the art of compromise.
Compromise is an essential part of politics and integral to social change. But one of the driving forces that shape compromise is leverage. Right now, when it comes to legalizing cannabis, the leverage belongs to cannabis users. The legalization of cannabis isn’t a benevolent gesture on the part of the political establishment, it’s a concession—a concession given in recognition of changes in the political landscape.
When it comes to evaluating proposals for cannabis legalization, it shouldn’t be a matter of obsequiously accepting whatever the establishment condescendingly offers, for the political reality is that the establishment needs the support of cannabis users more than cannabis users need them.
To be blunt, this has to do with the legalization proposal in Ohio put before the voters by a small cartel of investors trying to monopolize cannabis cultivation in the state at the expense of a free market and the public interest (and about similar proposals that may surface in the future). Something is not better than nothing, bad deals are not better than good deals, especially when cannabis users have the upper hand in this conflict. Why sell out when you have the ability to get what you really want?
It's just not the political support of millennials that gives the reform movement the upper hand.
Politically and socially, everything is trending in favor of legalization. Public opinion in support of legalization continues to grow, as does marijuana use, tax revenue in states that have already legalized and opportunities to spread legalization to other states.
Furthermore, these gains expose the underlying weakness of prohibition—it is unenforceable.
Even in states that aren’t legalizing cannabis, the authorities are reluctant to fund prohibition. States have been opting out of prohibition since the decriminalization era began in the 1970s. Decriminalization, conditional discharge, increased use of plea-bargaining to resolve possession cases, rapid increase in alternative sentencing, the adoption of medical marijuana laws, the advent of state-authorized hemp research—all of these developments and more are proof of state-level departures from the federal policy framework of treating marijuana the same way the criminal justice system treats heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
In short, political and social trends in the age of the Millennials all head toward cannabis legalization.
Here is the important point.
Successful cannabis legalization depends on the voluntary cooperation of cannabis users.
Public objectives in legalization are to eliminate the illegal market, raise tax revenue and enact successful regulations that protect public interests, such as age restrictions and consumer protections (i.e. labeling and safe packaging). These objectives can only be achieved if cannabis users leave the illicit market and participate in the legal market. The prevailing lesson from the failure of prohibition is that criminal law, and the dictates of the establishment, cannot force cannabis users to abandon cannabis use and cannabis markets.
So, like it or not, cannabis users will continue to grow cannabis, trade it among themselves and use it as they please. Legal markets must please them in order to succeed. That’s leverage.
This is why there is an important difference between regulatory proposals that emerge from the public policy process, with input and consideration of the interests of cannabis users, and proposals advanced by private interests without input and consideration of consumer values. It’s also why it is important that restrictions on changing cannabis laws not be accepted as a condition of legalization.
The ResponsibleOhio proposal sets a costly precedent.
If passed, no one can ever enter the cultivation business in Ohio, short of a constitutional amendment, as long as their collective monopoly can supply sufficient cannabis for the Ohio market. Worse, this creates a powerful commercial entity with an interest in preventing legalization at the national level—as the legalization of interstate commerce in cannabis would effectively end their monopoly.
State-by-state legalization has a risk, a risk that the resulting commercial entities will effectively oppose national legalization and deny its benefits to cannabis consumers in states where local legislation is not enacted.
Cannabis in the new millennium is about cannabis in the age of the Millennial generation. It’s a time to be optimistic, practical and confident. It’s time to consider radical proposals for the legalization of cannabis, radical in the sense of both politically sensible and in the sense of practical and acceptable solutions. Radical really means getting at the root causes of problems.
This means not only ending prohibition, but also ending the practice of having cannabis policy benefit a few powerful interests at the expense of cannabis consumers and their interests. The radical solution to ending cannabis prohibition is a free and open market, with intermediate steps created with consumer input and through a process that allows for reasonable adjustments without restrictions to protect cartels or inflated prices.
Why? Because this is the right thing to do.
It’s time to do the right thing, and cannabis consumers finally have the power and influence to get it done the right way.
(Photo Courtesy of Hemp Beach)
Jon Gettman is the Cannabis Policy Director for HIGH TIMES. Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy, teaching undergraduate criminal justice and graduate level management courses. A long-time contributor to HIGH TIMES, his research and analytical work has been used by NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, American’s for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. Jon’s research contributions to the topic of marijuana law reform have included findings on the economic value of domestic marijuana cultivation, attempts to have marijuana rescheduled under federal law and racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. Serving as NORML’s National Director in the late 1980s, he was instrumental in creating NORML’s activist program.