If you believe, as I do, that the tension between the incentive for sellers in a licit cannabis market to create and maintain addiction with aggressive marketing and product design aimed at those most likely to overuse the drug and the public interest in having cannabis available to those who want to use it in moderation without the promotion of immoderate use is going to be very difficult to resolve, then there are three obvious alternatives: grow-your-own, consumer-owned co-ops, and state-monopoly stores whose managers and employees have nothing to gain from cranking up the sales effort.

State legalization in the context of federal prohibition complicates the problem; state stores are out of the question because state officials cannot be ordered to violate federal laws, while grow-your-own and co-op production and sale are invitations to diversion into interstate commerce. (A state could still give buyers some help in maintaining self-control by allowing them to set monthly purchase limits for themselves, but this rather obvious “nudge” approach doesn’t seem to have attracted any attention).

But those problems don’t arise in national-level legalization. Geoffrey Ramsey, who follows Latin American politics for OSI (and who blogs at the Pan American Post), reports in an email that Uruguay is moving ahead with cannabis legalization, and that the law will allow grow-your-own (up to 6 plants at a time/480 grams of product per month), small consumer co-ops, and retail sales through pharmacies (without prescription) with the state as the monopoly middleman between for-profit producers and the pharmacies. There’s no way of guessing how it will turn out, but it sounds as if the Uruguayan government has been getting some sensible advice.

Update And yes, I’d apply all of this to alcohol, and also to gambling.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.