The Cannabis and Social Policy

Publisher Name: 
Giovanni Williams
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 06:00

The Cannabis and Social Policy mission is to promote public and private efforts to use cannabis legalization to end the war on drugs, or “prohibition.” We understand prohibition as a cultural, political and economic phenomenon that has been very useful to many different people in many different places as a means of social control, not protecting society.

There are two major audiences for our work. We seek to provide and disseminate objective information to guide institutional agendas — academic ones and policy ones. And we seek to provide and disseminate objective information about the whole plant to cannabis industry and markets that are significantly focused on maximizing profits by selling THC, which just one of the parts of the plant that shapes social contexts.

It is our position that State and National cannabis legalization frameworks have emerged with, rather than against, the continuity of prohibition. Thus the term “post-prohibition”: legalization with, rather than after, prohibition.

There are two ways in which cannabis prohibition continues within the legal context: the continuity of prohibition governance, for which legal frameworks are a tolerated exception; and new calls for prohibition in support of legal market actors.

First, all national efforts to legalize cannabis remain governed by global UN frameworks. Similarly, State and Province frameworks remain governed by Federal and National prohibition. Perhaps least obvious but most impactful, local jurisdictions — counties and cities — retain the right and practice of opting in or out to State and Provincial legal markets. This is both formal, in terms of law and punishment; and informal through zoning practices.

The second way in which cannabis prohibition is renewed is through the development of new public and private interests in retaining punishment as a mode of regulating cannabis markets. The legitimizing “frame” or “discourse” (in academic terms) is that legal markets require ongoing and renewed criminal sanctions to prop them up. New cannabis industry actors face many problems related to policy, but instead of focusing on optimizing policy for market success, they donate to and call for public actors to protect tax revenues and private revenue margins by policing unregulated markets.

We are quite sympathetic to industry sustainability, but more prohibition is not the answer. This is factually true from 40 years of criminal punishment that has stimulated, rather than eliminated, unregulated markets. It is our position that given sensible policy conditions, regulated markets would quickly and effectively out-compete unregulated ones. Instead, the public sector is addicted to taxes — Federal 280e taxes; and State, County and City taxes set a floor for prices that make it difficult to compete with unregulated products.

Cannabis is a plant. Its cost of production is extremely low, especially outdoor. If taxes were optimally designed, there is no reason at all why regulated market products could not “overgrow” unregulated cannabis the way unregulated cannabis has “overgrown” prohibition. It is our position that all cannabis markets can and should serve the social goal of overgrowing cannabis prohibition, which is a major flank of the genocidal, failed, racist, global war on drugs.