How can marijuana be legalized safely? What steps should governments take, and what should they avoid?
There are four crucial steps for voters and lawmakers to take:
Require testing and labeling for chemical content. Telling consumers precisely what they’re taking will reduce some of the risks. THC is the substance that gives marijuana its intoxicating power, but other chemicals also matter. For instance, cannabidiol (CBD) can help to temper potency by protecting users from anxiety and panic attacks.
Require testing for microbes, pesticides and heavy metals. Legal marijuana could be made safer than the illegal product by keeping it free of contaminants.
Keep the price right. If the legal price is too high, the illegal market will remain. If the legal price is too low, there will be increased drug abuse and perhaps exports across state lines. Taxation needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Monitor, measure and modify. A regulated commercial market in marijuana is a new thing. There’s much to be learned. It’s vital to monitor the process, measure the results and modify the rules (including tax rates) as needed.
And there are three mistakes that officials should avoid:
Don’t allow marketing. The legal marijuana industry, like the alcohol, tobacco and gambling industries, will have a financial interest directly opposite to the public interest. Responsible use is the goal, but dependent use generates sales volume. A public monopoly would probably work best; short of that, tight limits on advertising (the Supreme Court permitting) and keeping the industry fragmented to minimize its lobbying power might limit some of the damage.
Don’t get greedy. Taxation should aim at raising prices to reduce heavy use. Resist the temptation to treat marijuana as just one more revenue source. Don’t let the states become financially dependent on consumers who are chemically dependent.
Don’t expect miracles. Prohibition didn’t abolish the drug problem. Neither will legalization. Be satisfied if criminal revenues go down a lot, fewer dealers wind up behind bars, and the numbers of dependent users and underage users don’t increase dramatically.
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