As marijuana legalization sweeps the country, our prohibitionist opposition sounds the alarm about “Big Marijuana” – how it will become a predatory industry, mendaciously marketing super-potent gummy bears to the kids and promoting marijuana addiction among young adults.
But some public policy wonks, even long-time supporters of ending prohibition, agree with the Kevin Sabets of the world that a for-profit commercial marijuana industry should be rejected, due to the public health costs of increased marijuana dependence and skyrocketing use.
Oh, so now when we’re legalizing the safest drug, we’re all concerned about the public health ramifications of selling drugs with a profit motive?
The United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the industrialized world that allow the advertising of pharmaceutical drugs directly to consumers over the television. We are bombarded with cartoon images of depression, sleeplessness, mucus, and toenail fungus used to sell us pills with side effects disclaimer monologues longer than the ad itself, which sometime include “anal leakage”, “suicidal ideation”, and (my favorite), “fatal episodes” (as if you could have more than one).
But now when we’re legalizing the safest drug, we’ve got to insist there be no TV ads and no cartoon marketing for it?
In almost any town in America, you can find multiple examples of businesses located in buildings designated for the express purpose of getting high on drugs. These buildings usually have parking lots, where adults can drive their car and park it while they go into the building to get high on drugs. Afterward, we even trust these adults to self-evaluate whether they’re too high on drugs for the task of driving that car back home. These buildings are called bars, clubs, taverns, pubs, and roadhouses and we know with statistical certainty that their existence will contribute to assaults, rapes, car crashes, and death.
But now when we’re legalizing the safest drug, we’d better make laws forbidding people from getting high anywhere but their own home?
Huge multinational corporations run hundreds of thousands of fast-food restaurants from coast to coast. The fats, sugars, and calories distributed for profit by these entities is directly related to the epidemic of obesity in this country. They are allowed to air TV ads directly aimed at children and entice them to eat their products with indoor playgrounds at their restaurants and colorful meal packages with a child’s toy inside related to their favorite cartoons and movies.
But now that we’re legalizing the safest drug, we can’t put it anywhere near a playground and our products have to be dull and shapeless to protect the children?
The excesses of the alcohol, tobacco, sugar, caffeine, and fat industry are being used by wonks as the evidence proving how addiction-for-profit harms the public health. But knowing those powerful established industries have political muscle means the policy wonks turn their attention toward the fledgling marijuana industry, too new and small to fight back, for a policy victory.
We’ve already capitulated far more than any other legal industry. We’ve accepted purchase limits, possession limits, and ad restrictions. But now some observers want to crush the profit motive, with talk of non-profit requirements or state-run monopolies (like the liquor store model being abandoned by some states) or more examples like Washington DC’s no-commerce grow-and-give legalization.
When we lobbied to “treat marijuana like alcohol”, it wasn’t just a comparison used to soften acceptance of regulation over prohibition. It was a cry for equality by pot smokers wishing to enjoy the same liberty as their beer-drinking friends. It was a marginalized “criminal” caste demanding respect and dignity for making a safer choice to alter their consciousness.
It wasn’t “treat marijuana like we should’ve treated alcohol”.
So I propose for these policy wonks a little challenge I call “Treat Alcohol Like Marijuana.” The next time you get the idea that the dangers of commercial marijuana are so great we need to enact tight restrictions on it, propose the same regulations for beer and solicit some public input on that. If you’re not willing to do that for a recreational mind-altering adult substance that causes far more public harm, then you’re a hypocritical bully just picking on the weakest legal drug pusher because you can.