Imagine marijuana is legal — as in some states it already is, but at the federal level it is not — and you’re a newly minted MBA landing your first job. You’ve been hired by Altria, aka Philip Morris, to oversee one of their 15 marijuana brands. Your goal in life is to excel and get rich, which as a practical matter, given this particular job, means your goal is to have as many Americans stoned as much of the time as possible.
I’m not sure I like that.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t.
I’m as pro-pot as the next guy — prohibition just leads to crime (think Chicago in the Thirties) and marijuana is way less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and nonaddictive. Not to mention “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Or that for many suffering chronic pain or the nausea of chemotherapy, withholding this cure is truly cruel.
But if we had tobacco to do all over again, would we have allowed aggressive marketing?
We can always “go big” later if we decide it makes sense to spend billions marketing drug use. But once we do go big, if we ever do, it’s sure hard to pull back. Look how many decades it took to reign in Big Tobacco, or even just to keep them from marketing cigarettes to kids. (Remember the phallic Joe Camel ads?)
So here are the kinds of restrictions I’d like to see as we legalize marijuana, because, frankly, I don’t think marijuana needs a lot of promotion. It’s already quite popular with no marketing at all.
+ No color, graphics, or photography in any packaging, signage, advertising, or marketing, including social media, of any kind.
+ No “product placement” in TV, movies, or video games.
+ No one company (or affiliated group) exceeding $10 million in revenues.
Details to follow. (Should you, for example, be allowed to vape but not smoke in public venues?)
The goal would be to have anyone who wants to smoke weed free to do so; just not to promote getting stoned.
Which raises the very big issue of the First Amendment.
How can you restrict promotion of a legal product? Can’t be done! Shouldn’t be done!
If that’s the case, here’s the solution:
Let each state decide its own drug laws, as they are now, but keep drugs illegal at the federal level. Don’t legalize, decriminalize drug use. As illegal substances, it should be okay to impose the restrictions suggested above. The only criminal penalties (fines, not prison time!) would be for violating those restrictions.
Last Friday I posted a letter from more than 1,000 of us to the UN Secretary General regarding the world’s failed drug policies. (Since then, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have signed on. We already had Warren Buffett, Paul Volcker, George Shultz, Tom Brady, and Busta Rhymes.)
. . . The drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights. Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.
Governments devoted disproportionate resources to repression at the expense of efforts to better the human condition. Tens of millions of people, mostly poor and racial and ethnic minorities, were incarcerated, mostly for low-level and non-violent drug law violations, with little if any benefit to public security. Problematic drug use and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other infectious diseases spread rapidly as prohibitionist laws, agencies and attitudes impeded harm reduction and other effective health policies.
Humankind cannot afford a 21 st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s. A new global response to drugs is needed, grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. . . .
Portugal would seem to have it about right. From Wikipedia:
The drug policy of Portugal was put in place in 2001. The new law maintained the status of illegality for using or possessing any drug for personal use without authorization. However, the offense was changed from a criminal one, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the amount possessed was no more than a ten day supply of that substance.
In April 2009, the Cato Institute published a comprehensive case study of the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal. Empirical data from that report indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates. However, drug-related pathologies – such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage – have decreased dramatically. . . .
In short: Here’s an issue (like marriage equality) on which liberals and libertarians can agree. As can even quite a few Republicans who don’t like the fortune we taxpayers are forced to spend each year on mass incarceration.
And just as marriage equality reached a tipping point and then suddenly happened very fast, so may we be at a tipping point here. Might we see sanity in the drug laws over the next few years?
Will you help talk it up?
But also lean against empowering that newly-minted MBA to use all his creative skill and youthful energy to maximize drug use?
Just how nuts the current system is is clear from this item:
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of a mandatory life sentence without parole for possessing a small amount of marijuana.
Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran, is serving a life sentence in an Alabama prison for growing three dozen marijuana plants for his own medicinal use behind his son’s home in Dothan, Ala.
Really? Does this make sense to you? Join the movement! Forward this to your friends!