- Recreational marijuana is now legal in California for people age 21 and older.
- 90 businesses received state licenses to open on New Year’s Day, and they are mainly located in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Palm Springs area.
- Venues that sell marijuana will eventually be subject to regulations requiring extensive testing for potency, pesticides and other contaminants.
- Those who advocated for legalization were “thrilled,” while others, like the California Police Chiefs Association, worry about the risks.
There are hundreds of strains of marijuana — each containing hundreds of different chemicals — but only one molecule makes much difference, scientists say.
It’s all about the THC.
Purveyors and boosters of marijuana — or cannabis — whether recreational or medicinal, counterclaim that the experience varies to great effect among all the amazing varieties cultivated over thousands of years.
Almost five millennia after the Chinese used medicinal cannabis, Colorado voters approved it in 2000, and they did the same for adult recreational use in 2012. A majority of the state’s voters have decreed cannabis is good medicine and good fun, but they might not know what the drug is doing to the body.
When a person smokes, inhales or ingests marijuana or pot — the green, brown or grayish dried and shredded leaves, stems, flowering buds or seeds of plants called cannabis sativa or cannabis indica — more than 200 different chemical compounds course through the body. About 60 of them are called cannabinoids.
“Everybody likes something different,” said Ean Seeb, co-owner of the Denver Relief Medical Marijuana Dispensary. “They can now pick what really works for them.”
Yet after some 75 years of scientific research, it has been found the concentration of the psychoactive compound, THC, is what really matters, said psychopharmacologist Kari Franson, an associate dean and professor with the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Franson worked at an institute that studied the effects of cannabinoids in healthy volunteers in the Netherlands, where it was easier to do research on it than in the U.S.
“You can study, study, study it, but it’s THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) — that is the active ingredient,” Franson said. “And there are certain things that happen to everyone who takes THC.”
These, she said, are a feeling of pleasure or high, motor instability, decreased reaction time, attention deficit and increased heart rate.
“People think it mellows them out, but it causes an average increase in heart rate of 16 beats per minute,” Franson said. “That’s why people who take high doses they are unaccustomed to can experience significant anxiety or paranoia.”
Other THC effects commonly experienced are increased appetite, decreased nausea, decreased motivation and decreased pain perception.
Additional typical effects are bloodshot eyes, decreased pressure inside the eye (it’s used to treat glaucoma), heightened sensory perception (intense colors and sounds), distorted sense of time and sometimes a dry mouth.
Some effects are felt as soon as THC enters the bloodstream — much more quickly if inhaled. Delivery is key — joint, blunt, water pipe or a volcano (in which vapor only is collected in an expandable bag). Effects typically last an hour to a few hours, but the fat-soluble chemicals stay in the body for much longer.
Absorption of ingested THC is much slower.
After the high is over, some users feel sleepy or depressed.
Whatever is happening, Franson said, it’s THC that’s doing it.
“I think it all has to do with dose. The rest is marketing,” Franson said. “It’s folklore.”
Users beg to differ.
Seeb and many others say the two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, produce very different effects. Marijuana strains range from pure sativas to pure indicas, but most are combinations or hybrids after thousands of years of cropping and recropping, he said.
Indica, nicknamed “in da couch,” provides a deep feeling of relaxation or sleepiness compared with sativa, “viva sativa,” which provides a more energetic or uplifting high, Seeb said.
Other users have strong preferences for different tastes and smells, which contribute to the subjective experience of pleasure.
“There are really pronounced differences across thousands of strains,” Seeb said. “Some smell very sweet, like oranges or grape Kool-Aid. Some people like the stinkiest cannabis they can find. It can smell like skunk, diesel fuel (Bio-Diesel) or a dirty diaper (Sour Diesel). Gumbo is a delicious, sweet and spicy indica strain with beautiful floral hints, but also strong and pungent.”
Seeb, who suffered a traumatic skiing accident that left him with chronic muscle spasms in one arm, said he is a big fan of Ultimate ’91 ChemDawg. It helps him relax his muscles and fall asleep after long workdays of 16 to 18 hours. No motivation problems here.
“I can’t make any claim one strain will have any one effect on everybody,” Seeb said. “What makes one person giggle will make someone else paranoid.”
For those who abstain and wonder about whether making their way through a haze of marijuana smoke can get them high, Franson says not to worry.
“It takes an absurd amount of marijuana secondhand smoke to cause a positive test in a nonsmoker,” Franson said.
A test 20 years ago showed that it required the smoke of 14 marijuana cigarettes in an unventilated 10-foot-square room before a nonsmoker had detectable amounts in his system.
“That’s pretty smoky,” Franson said.
Most of THC’s activity is in the brain and central nervous system, although there are receptors located in the heart and other cells, such as the body’s inflammatory-response cells.
Human bodies naturally manufacture chemicals similar to THC, which is why it works on us, Franson said. It hijacks receptors in the brain used by natural chemicals called neurotransmitters, specifically endogenous cannabinoids. One of them, anandamide, has been identified as regulating mood, memory, appetite, pain, learning and understanding.
These receptors are all over the brain — including the basal ganglia (which affects involuntary muscle movements), the hippocampus (used in short-term memory) and the cerebellum (which controls motor coordination).
“The cannabinoid receptor system is one of the biggest systems. Your brain is chock-full of them,” said Dr. Christian Hopfer, an associate professor of psychiatry at University of Colorado Hospital’s Center for Dependency, Addiction and Recovery.
“You need (the body’s natural cannabinoids), and it has an effect when you’re messing with those receptors,” Hopfer said.
THC mimics the body’s cannabinoids. Both interact with the same receptors. When THC binds to the receptor, it interferes with normal brain function, such as dopamine regulation.
Dopamine is part of the body’s natural reward system and a key molecule in many brain functions, such as attentiveness, motivation, learning, memorization and motor control. THC increases dopamine in the short term, but ultimately interferes with the body’s own reward circuit.
One of the body’s own cannabinoids’ purposes is to decrease the excitability of brain cells, or neurons, activated by adrenaline (or norepinephrine) in a fight-or-flight response to a perceived threat.
“But we eventually have to turn off this response or the neuron dies,” Franson said.
That’s the job of the body’s cannabinoids. But they jump on and jump off receptors much faster than THC, Franson said. The body’s cannabinoids don’t create a high.
“But THC jumps on and stays there,” she said. “It has a prolonged and pronounced effect.”
With chronic cannabis consumption, the body decreases the number of receptors for its cannabinoids. Researchers have found that this results in reduced blood flow — and glucose and oxygen — to the brain. This could manifest as attention-deficit, memory loss and other impaired mental abilities.
“There is evidence you don’t recover all your mental capacity when you quit using,” said Hopfer, who treats marijuana and other addictions. “It’s a very insidious addiction. It’s very hard to treat. Its effects are subtle, gradual and less dramatic. And it’s been trivialized.”
He said he thinks the media overall has been pro-marijuana in its coverage of legalization.
“People shouldn’t assume they know this drug based on Cheech and Chong movies,” Franson said.
Marijuana continues to be listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Schedule I drug — high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use — along with opiates and derivatives (heroin), stimulants (methamphetamine) and hallucinogenics (LSD) and depressants (methaqualone).
“There’s something crazy about the feds labeling cannabis Schedule I and states legalizing it,” Hopfer said. “It strikes me as a bad way of doing public policy. The truth is we don’t really know that much about marijuana. We need to sort it out. But we have declared it a medicine by popular vote. It’s a bad system. Now the popular view here is that it should be regulated like tobacco.”
When cannabis is smoked like a cigarette, the smoker’s lungs take in a horde of chemicals and particulates.
“Do I know that direct contact of these compounds doesn’t harm the lungs. I don’t know that. And nobody knows that,” Franson said.
Cannabis boosters and detractors offer conflicting evidence of whether it prevents or causes cancer, or does both.
“We just don’t have full understanding,” Franson said. “I think we ought to know what this stuff does before we (broadly) use it as medicine.”
Her main complaint about cannabis as medicine is that it’s not “pharmacological,” by which she means you can’t administer a consistent dose and predict a consistent response.
Nevertheless, she acknowledges cannabis is being used successfully to alleviate pain, lessen the bad side effects of chemotherapy and prevent blindness from glaucoma.
And, with much less scientific evidence behind it, it is also used to treat epileptic seizures, stop the spread of cancer (with a chemical called cannibidiol, not THC), slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and more. Franson said these claims are not well-supported.
Where cannabis is concerned, however, many voters and users are willing to rely on anecdotal evidence and personal experience — and are just trying it out as a cure for an increasing number of ailments.
“We have such a wide variety of patients who come,” Seeb said. “We’re really starting to see the plant is a miracle plant that heals many things.”
One of the strongest known strains of marijuana in the world is called Bruce Banner #3, a reference to the comic-book scientist whose alter ego is the Hulk. This is probably an appropriate nickname.
With a THC concentration of 28 percent—THC is one of the key chemicals in marijuana—Bruce Banner #3 packs a punch. It’s something like five times as potent as what federal researchers consider to be the norm, according to a 2010 Journal of Forensic Sciencespaper. High Times marveled in a review: “Who knows what you’ll turn into after getting down with Bruce?”
As marijuana goes increasingly mainstream—and, crucially, develops into big (and legal) business—more super-potent novelty strains are likely to crop up. Bruce Banner #3 is the marijuana industry’s answer to The End of History, an ultra-strong Belgian-style ale that the Scottish beer-maker Brewdog made in a specialty batch—which was then served in bottles inside taxidermied squirrels—in 2010.
Its alcohol by volume was 55 percent. That’s way, way stronger than most beers. “It’s the end of beer, no other beer we don’t think will be able to get that high,” James Watt, one of the founders of Brewdog, told me when I visited the Brewdog headquarters in Scotland in 2010.
Yet three years later, another Scottish brewery had whipped up a batch of barley wine called Snake Venom that boasted higher than 67 percent alcohol by volume.
This is human nature. Or maybe it’s just capitalism. One person makes a superlative product, which prompts the next person to best them. Given the opportunity to try something extreme—the biggest, the strongest, the best, the craziest—plenty of people will go for it. But most people don’t pick Snake Venom as their typical pint. And Bruce Banner #3 probably is not representative of the average joint.
But what is?
For years, people have talked about increasing marijuana potency. The idea that pot is getting stronger—much stronger than the stuff that got passed around at Woodstock, for instance—is treated like conventional wisdom these days. Maybe it shouldn’t be.
“It’s fair to be skeptical,” said Michael Kahn, the president of Massachusetts Cannabis Research, a marijuana testing and research lab in New England. “Back then the predominant method for quantitation was gas chromatography, which is not quite appropriate for cannabinoid quantitation. This is because [it] heats up the test material before analysis, which also alters the chemical profile—including breaking down the THC molecule.”
Kahn’s lab uses a technique called liquid chromatography instead. Another potency tester, Denver-based CannLabs, uses a similar method. “Depending on what the sample is—flower, hash oil, hundreds of edibles ranging from ice cream to pasta sauce to seeds—you use different solvents to do the extraction,” said Gennifer Murray, the CEO of CannLabs. “You mix it with a special solvent, basically shake it around, centrifuge it, and then it goes onto the instrument… That’s the liquid chromatograph.”
The federal government has been testing marijuana potency for more than 40 years, and has long acknowledged the limitations to its methodologies. Along with some of the issues with gas chromatography—which it was still using at least as recently as 2008—the National Institute on Drug Abuse potency testing has always depended on what researchers have been able to get their hands on.
Since 1972, tens of thousands of test samples for the Potency Monitoring Program have come from law enforcement seizures, which have varied dramatically in scope and type. A drop in THC concentration in the early 1980s, for instance, was attributed to the fact that most of the marijuana researchers analyzed came from weaker domestic crops.
In National Institute on Drug Abuse studies over the past several decades, the age of samples has varied from a few weeks old to a few years old—and researchers made no attempt to compensate for the loss of THC during prolonged storage, according to a 1984 paper. They also get different results when taking into account how the potency of a particularly large seizure could skew the overall sample.
For example, measured one way, researchers found what looked like a continuous and significant increase in potency in the late 1970s. But normalizing those findings showed there was “an increase up to 1977 with slight decline in 1978 and a significant decline in 1979,” according to a 1984 paper in the Journal of Forensic Science.
More recently, researchers found a THC concentration that “gradually increase[d]” from 1993 to 2008, according to a 2010 paper in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. And despite testing limitations, researchers have always maintained potency is likely trending upward. But they’ve also always been upfront about the limitations to their findings:
“The change in cannabis potency over the past 40 years has been the subject of much debate and controversy… The [Potency Monitoring] program has strived to answer this cannabis potency question, while realizing that the data collected in this and other programs have some scientific and statistical shortcomings.”
Ultimately, researchers have found a “large variation within categories and over time,” they wrote. That’s in part because sample sizes have fluctuated. (In the 1970s, researchers assessed anywhere from three to 18 seizures a year. In 2000, they analyzed more than 1,000 seizures.)
In other words, it’s difficult if not impossible to classify average potency in a way that can be tracked meaningfully over time. So while there’s almost certainly more super-strong pot available today—if only by the fact that it’s now legal to buy in multiple states—it doesn’t mean that all marijuana is ultra-potent today, which is how the narrative about potency is often framed.
There’s also a point at which most strains can’t get much stronger. “Anyone getting a reading over 25, it’s really hard to do,” said Murray of CannLabs. “And then it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to quote-unquote get higher. There’s a lot of things that go into the plant—over 500 constituents of the plant that play into this.”
Federal researchers, too, have characterized marijuana strains with THC concentrations above around 15 percent as unusual. “The question over the increase in potency of cannabis is complex and has evoked many opinions,” researchers at the University of Mississippi wrote in a National Institute on Drug Abuse analysis of marijuana potency between 1993 and 2008.
“It is however clear that cannabis has changed during the past four decades. It is now possible to mass produce plants with potencies inconceivable when concerted monitoring efforts started 40 years ago.”
Even without knowing reliably what potency was like in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s reasonable to guess it will increase, says Kahn, of Massachusetts Cannabis Research. “I think the mega-potent strains may soon represent the norm, if not already—the market selects for potency.”
But with customers clamoring for the strong stuff, there’s also a question of whether manufacturers are labeling accurately. A Denver Post investigation last year found wide discrepancies between labeling and THC content—in many cases, products advertised a much higher percentage of THC than an edible product actually contained.
Either way, a shift toward high potency has arguably more to do with contemporary market forces than with a younger generation of marijuana enthusiasts. “The Baby Boomers have been growing for 40 years,” Murray said. “And now they can grow without being worried about the police.”
New research shows that a compound in marijuana can cure Alzheimer’s disease.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychotic component in cannabis, reduced production of amyloid beta, the toxic proteins responsible for the brain disease, to slow and halt progression of the brain disease.
The compound also improved mitochondrial function and helped keep the brain healthy. Mitochondria are those parts of the cells that are responsible for converting sugar and oxygen into energy required for proper functioning of the cells.
Amyloid beta is a protein fragment produced during normal activity of the brain. It is found in the fatty membrane surrounding the nerve cells. In healthy individuals, these toxic proteins get cleared regularly, but as people age, due to various reasons, these proteins build up into plaques, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” lead author of the study Dr Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy, said in a news release.
Several studies on marijuana have linked regular use to cognitive decline, poor attention, memory and IQ. So for the new study, neuroscientists at the University of South Florida in US created a cellular model of Alzheimer’s disease and used low doses of the THC component so that adverse effects associated with the drug including THC toxicity and memory impairment, will be avoided.
At present there is no cure for the brain disease. Researchers revealed their plans to use their findings to develop a proper cure for Alzheimer’s.
“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future,” Dr Cao, added.
Legalization of medical marijuana has been a hot topic of discussion around the world from quite some time.
Previous research has shown marijuana was promising for treating several medical conditions including glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy and pregnancy morning sickness. In July, the same compound was found effective in shrinking tumours.
However, the researchers cautioned people against self-medicating the illegal drug. “It’s important to keep in mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn’t mean it can be safely used by anyone. However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” co-author of the study Neel Nabar, said.
Despite drastic punishments for drug dealing, up to and including death in many countries, the worldwide illegal drug trade continues to flourish. While governments invest vast sums of taxpayers’ money in fighting a so-called “war” on drugs, one glance at the size and scope of the drug business suggests it may always be unwinnable.
The drug trade accounts for almost 1% of the world’s financial revenue, with the cocaine trade alone boasting an annual turnover of around $85 billion — all tax free.
Republished with permission from Around the World: An Atlas for Today, this graph charts the path from production to consumer of cocaine, heroin, and Amphetamine-type stimulants — though it excludes the biggest of all: the cannabis business, whose dimensions would require a global graphic all to itself.
The following text is reprinted from the infographic:
Hard drugs are especially popular in the USA, Europe, and Asia. Crossing all borders, consumers are supplied with these illegal products by truck, ship, or small plane.
Opium originates primarily in Afghanistan or Myanmar, while cocaine comes mostly from Colombia, Peru, or Bolivia.
- Consumption: Worldwide largest cocaine consumption, Amphetamine-type stimulants use increasing.
- Trade: Mexican mafias are increasingly involved in smuggling drugs across the US border or via the Pacific.
- Production: Amphetamine-type stimulants are produced for the home market.
- Consumption: Tendency on the rise.
- Trade: One of the axes of the South American cocaine trade supplying Europe; small planes, couriers, and cargo ships transport the products.
- Production: Opium for North America.
- Consumption: Increasing amounts of cocaine and Amphetamine-type stimulants.
- Trade: In almost all the countries in the region; Venezuela and Brazil are stopovers before delivery on to Africa or Europe.
- Production: Almost all of the world’s cocaine comes from Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.
Western and Central Europe
- Consumption: Cocaine consumption remains at a high level, consumption of opiates and Amphetamine-type stimulants on the rise.
- Trade: Destination for thousand of tonnes of drugs; extensive inner-European smuggling; significant points of control in Amsterdam, Madrid, and along the German borders.
- Production: Large market for amphetamines, methamphetamines are mostly produced in small laboratories in the Czech Republic and less frequently in Slovakia and Germany.
Eastern and South-Eastern Europe
- Consumption: Greater consumption of opiates due to proximity to the trade routes.
- Trade: Delivery of opiates to Western Europe: cocaine is smuggled in from Africa to Central Europe via this region.
- Production: Amphetamine-type stimulants are produced in most countries.
Near and Middle East
- Consumption: High consumption of opiates due to proximity to source, consumption of Amphetamine-type stimulants on the rise.
- Trade: Main trade route for opium and heroin, cartels from almost 20 countries are involved.
- Production: Opium production primarily in Afghanistan; heroin is manufactured in almost all countries to meet European demand.
- Consumption: Largest worldwide consumption of Amphetamine-type stimulants and opium.
- Trade: Large internal Amphetamine-type stimulants market; some opiates from Myanmar and Laos are shipped over the Pacific.
- Production: Amphetamine-type stimulants are produced almost everywhere, Myanmar is the world’s second-largest producer of opiates.
- Consumption: Increasing consumption of Amphetamine-type stimulants.
- Trade: Insignificant.
- Production: Amphetamine-type stimulants for the internal market.
- Consumption: Increasing consumption of Amphetamine-type stimulants.
- Trade: Transport route to Europe, becoming however less relevant due to strengthened controls; powerful cartels in Nigeria regulate sale in the region and further trade to Europe.
- Production: Insignificant.
Farmers and chemists form the basis of the drug business as producers. They operate in the underground. The dealers work hand in hand with pilots, accountants, legal advisors, and financial experts.
Opium and Heroin
When the latex of the opium poppy dries, raw opium is produced. Further extensive chemical processing then yields opium, which can be smoked.
This is then partially further processed into the very powerful substance diamorphine (heroin), which can be smoked, sniffed, or injected.
Cocaine and Crack
The leaves of the lightly narcotic coca plant are processed into a white powder in illegal laboratories.
This cocaine hydrochloride can be sniffed in either pure or diluted form. When mixed with sodium bicarbonate and water and then heated, crack is produced, the vapors of which can be inhaled.
Synthetic stimulants such as amphetamines like “speed,” methamphetamines “crystal,” and MDMA like “ecstasy” are produced globally, often in kitchen laboratories.
Production is simple, the profits huge. Amphetamines and methamphetamines are colorless oils, which are processed into pastes or salts, often diluted and mixed. They appear in the market in the form of powders, pill, or liquids.
Alongside classic facts about nature, history, population, culture, and politics, Around the World’s compelling information graphics thoroughly explain complex processes that impact our lives such as global trade and changing demographics.
The book gives added insight into our modern world through its visual exploration of subjects such as eating habits, overfishing, and internet providers, as well as events that have left indelible marks on our collective conscience including September 11, the Olympic Games, Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and the sinking of the Titanic.
Nelson figures it this way: If there are name-your-price websites for airline tickets, hotel rooms and vacation packages, why not for weed?
“We’re the first site in the marijuana industry to do a price-comparison model,” Nelson said of his site, Wikileaf.com, which launched earlier this year but has just started to hit critical mass. After building the site for close to two years, “it’s nice to finally get some traction,” Nelson said. “We’re like the Priceline of pot.”
Hmmm. The people at Priceline probably wouldn’t want that phrase catching on.
Nevertheless, Nelson’s analogy is a good one. Let’s say you happen to live in a state where pot (medical or recreational) is legal. Chances are you’ve noticed that dispensary prices vary widely, or you’ve suspected there’s a better deal on the other side of town. Wikileaf’s reverse-auction model makes it easy to comparison shop.
Cannabis consumers select what kind of weed they want (a nice Banana Kush, say), then name their price ($20-$350) and enter how far they’re willing to travel to get it (50 miles is the limit). In a split second, Wikileaf trawls through its database of legal cannabis vendors and spits out the best deal.
While dollar-volume figures weren’t immediately available, Nelson said Wikileaf features over 1,100 dispensaries in six states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington)—numbers almost certain to grow as the legalization wave continues.
Nelson’s other job is blogging about the banking industry, which is where, oddly enough, he got the idea for his pot-price site.
When interest rates were high, banks used to compete to finance consumers’ home purchases via so-called reverse-auction sites like MoneyAisle.com. The financial meltdown of 2008 killed that business in a hurry, but a seed had been planted.
“It got me thinking about the price-comparison model for the marijuana industry,” Nelson said.
Thus far, Wikileaf.com makes no money, but Nelson hopes that selling exclusive sponsorships triggered by ZIP code—more or less what Google does right now—will eventually give him a revenue stream.
Until then, he’s got a cool idea, and one that competitors will probably try to break into. “Yeah, there will be other sites that’ll try to do this,” he said. “But we have what’s called the first-mover advantage.”
He’s also got a pretty good price on Alien Dawg and Alaskan Ice.
Regulation of the drug will have health and social benefits and reduce crime, says Howard Marks
It is not immediately obvious what a boy from a small south Wales mining village and the government of Uruguay have in common. But there is at least one thing: we both want to end the war on drugs.
A vote in the Montevideo senate this week made Uruguay the world’s first country to legalise the production, sale and consumption of cannabis. In my case, having left Oxford with first-class honours in nuclear physics and several postgraduate degrees, ethical and financial considerations persuaded me to abandon academia and pursue a business career: the export and import of beneficial herbs. Law enforcement caught up with me and sentenced me to 25 years in prison, of which I served seven. I am now a writer and comedian with an agenda of doing whatever I can to legalise cannabis.
There are three main advantages to legalisation. Besides the health benefits to sufferers of conditions from asthma to Aids, it will free consumers from the need to acquire drugs from illegal sources; and crime caused directly by prohibition (including murder, violence, kidnap, theft and fraud) will disappear.
Most proposals for legalisation share the assumption that the trade cannot be repressed. This is reflected in their insistence on state-approved health warnings and a ban on sales to children – curbs with which I concur. Disagreement tends to focus on the degree of regulation.
Some models propose a state monopoly on supply, with all advertising illegal. This will lead to a relatively stable but hopelessly bureaucratic structure. An oligopoly, with a handful of enterprises operating as a cartel, seems prone to similar paralysis. A third option – which I prefer – is for production and distribution to be undertaken by small competing private enterprises subject to government regulation.
Any regulations should be aimed at avoiding mistakes made in the trade before regulation, rather than moralistic reasoning. Governments should be allowed to intervene only if doing so will increase consumer satisfaction. Eventually, cannabis should be available in the same way as tea, coffee or medicinal herbs. Unfortunately, it is more likely to be regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco – implying, wrongly, that it is equally dangerous.
I think it most efficient and fair for the legalised supply of cannabis to be operated by some of those with experience. Different skills might well be required for importing and retail distribution (commercial freight and retail expertise rather than street wisdom and deviousness); but the production process will remain more or less the same. In terms of export, in countries where cannabis has been grown for millennia, there will be little difference between illegal and legal commodities: officials are paid, and the job is done. It would be a pity not to salvage the many established, honourable and fruitful relationships between growers and other participants in the countries of origin. I would dearly love to apply for such employment but am increasingly resigned to not being around for the day widespread legalisation finally happens.
Generally, the cannabis trade is run not by criminal gangs one would call “organised” but by loose-knit groups of people from a variety of professions who collaborate occasionally. It bears a heavy cost in terms of state confiscations and preventing infiltration by law enforcement. Significant funds are spent on protecting one level of distribution from the impact of a bust at another. The costs and prices of illegal cannabis are therefore greater than those of any moderately taxed legal market.
Some opponents of legalisation envisage it putting a burden on the public health services, and may well demand tax and regulation measures that reflect this. There will also be resistance from unexpected quarters. The hardened cannabis smoker is convinced that legalisation will wreck the quality and quantity of the product. Many will continue to prefer to buy cannabis in the manner to which they are accustomed. Commercialism might turn the product into an ineffectual, manufactured nonentity, like non-alcoholic beer: make it legal then stop it from getting one high.
Adopting such outmoded trappings of puritanism would be farcical. Getting high is OK.