Vermont is a cool place in more ways than one. Gorgeous eye-candy in the fall foliage…wintertime skiing in the Green Mountains…great maple syrup and teddy bears…and it’s gearing up to be the first state in the northeast to legalize cannabis for adult discretionary (a.k.a. recreational) consumption.
When they do, the system will probably look similar to those already succeeding out west in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, where small businesses produce and sell cannabis for profit, with competition keeping quality up and prices down. Seems like a triple win for the state, for businesses, and for consumers…right?
Not so fast. Some policymakers are very worried about all this happiness. Especially the profit part. They want to amputate that from the equation entirely if possible. (For individual private citizens, that is, not for the state.) But if Vermont won’t depart from the path set by other states, the experts fret, “does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?”
The horror. To those of us outside Vermont (state motto: Freedom and Unity) who are proponents of freedom in general and cannabis freedom in particular, it’s hard to understand this baffling brand of “libertiphobia”. Helpfully, International Business Times outlined three key reasons why the “experts” want you to believe a state-run cannabis system would just be the coolest. It’s no small slice of irony that these reasons serve as convenient illustrations of why it would actually suck.
Drive to deprive
Reason No. 1: They already have a state-run system for alcohol. The drive to deprive was grafted seamlessly onto the tail end of Prohibition 1.0 in 1933, and it’s been in place ever since. So, policymakers figure, because Vermonters are now fully conditioned to being told how much of one mood-altering alcohol molecule they can buy, they won’t mind another. (See, tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, and many other chemical compounds in cannabis are actually alcohol molecules, as is ethanol. As a result, the multi-billion-dollar failed drug war as it relates to cannabis reduces to a puerile, tedious tantrum over what type of alcohol molecule law-abiding adults should be allowed to access. And the citizens pay politicians for the privilege of having their choices controlled down to this level of minutiae.)
This reason sucks because one Prohibition shouldn’t beget another, and another, and another. People don’t need their options limited just because, well, they’ve always had their options limited, so they’re used to it! This line of reasoning comes across as highly cynical toward the voters of Vermont.
All alcohols are not created equal
It also sucks because creating an imagined equivalency between the effects of alcohol and THC on the individual (and hence on society at large) is willful ignorance as comedy. Nearly everyone living above ground knows cannabinoids and ethanol do not affect the brain and body in an even remotely similar manner or degree. For example, with excessive drinking, people can become unable to walk, talk, or keep from hitting things and people; they may even die from it. All this is untrue of cannabis.
More false equivalency with alcohol is advocated in the proposed policy for traffic stops; for example, measuring blood “active THC content” (as opposed to lazy, apathetic THC?) to determine whether a driver is impaired. The only trouble with this—assuming we accept the extraction of bodily fluids under threat of punishment as not being an invasion of privacy—is that the mere presence of THC in the blood does not correlate with motor impairment or even being high. Conversely, Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) directly correlates with the impairment caused by alcohol intoxication. So, law enforcement should simply use the field sobriety test: If someone can’t pass that test, regardless of the reason, they can’t safely drive. If someone can pass that test, then forcing them to submit to a blood test is unnecessary, because they are not impaired, meaning they can safely drive.
Even if there are cannabinoids in the bloodstream, they simply don’t act on neurons in the cerebellum in the way ethanol molecules do, for example, killing 10,000 Americans each year via drunk driving. Though no one should ever toke and drive, the stark difference in mode of chemical action on the brain is another clear benefit of opting for cannabis over alcohol. Every person who chooses to relax with bud instead of beer or booze is one fewer drunk driver potentially endangering our roadways.
This is a reason?
Another purported reason why socialized cannabis would supposedly be super is that Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), an advocate of federal cannabis legalization who is running for president, labels himself a socialist.
To most people familiar with history or logic, that’s an invalid reason to do something. But to those unaware or choosing to ignore what actually happens to people’s lives under socialism—who may prefer to believe that in socialist countries everything they’re used to having is just as high-quality and just as available, only it’s cheaper or free, and since incomes are equal everyone is pacified and there’s no crime, so there’s no need for a police state—to them this progression may seem logical: socialist, socialized, social media, long as I get my weed, what can possibly go wrong?
May they never find out first-hand.
Regardless, during Sanders’s decade in the Senate, he has sponsored two bills that became law. One boosted compensation for disabled veterans and their families, and the other renamed a post office. Noble and important efforts, to be sure. (The first one, anyway.) But by that standard of influence, the relationship between this politician’s provocative label of socialist and his state’s implementation and administration of a socialized cannabis system is primarily one of spelling.
Did you know you need protection from cannabis?
Lastly, government-run cannabis outlets allegedly would be totally righteous because they would lack a financial incentive to push “excessive consumption” of scary Mary Jane the way alcohol companies market to heavy drinkers. “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University “marijuana policy expert” Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.”
So, the “experts” want you to believe a state monopoly is better for you because every time you go out to pick up some bud, deep down, here’s what you really want and need: scrutiny by a friendly government operative, who is there in part to analyze your potentially problematic drug use…carefully track your purchasing behavior, amount, and frequency…and decide for you how much herb you want. You may have planned to buy extra for the future, but this decision is for your own good.
That would have to be a leading contender for official definition of buzzkill. If they think the only thing missing from the cannabis buying experience so far is that consumers just haven’t been getting a sufficient serving of scrutiny, control, and guilt with their herb, they should think again. Legalization is supposed to be about squashing the black market, but illicit bud vendors in a socialized system would have little cause to lose sleep about losing business.
The Community Preventive Services Task Force openly discourages private alcohol sales. This position is based on “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption.”
So, who gets to decide what constitutes the “overuse” of cannabis? To a lot of people, many of whom are in government, it’s any use at all, by anyone. But purchase or possession of what they might consider a large amount (a vague, arbitrary concept) does not necessarily equate to overuse or intent to distribute: Is a guy with 5,000 bottles of wine in his cellar automatically assumed to be overusing wine or stockpiling it for illegal distribution?
In reality overuse of anything is subjective; it varies with the individual and the circumstances. This is nowhere more true than with cannabis, so mild are its effects in comparison to other substances.
Those so inclined will always find a way to overdo anything. But punishing with arbitrary purchasing limits those individuals who don’t overindulge is indefensible. In fairness, though, government—particularly the socialist kind—can’t afford to treat citizens as individual, complete, unique organisms. That would make far too many units to control. Instead, “persons” are viewed as “the people”, one single, easily controlled mass of similar cells within a larger organism. In this model the state acts as the all-knowing brain. Get in line, share and share alike, everybody is equal, meaning the same, so everybody gets (note the singular) to buy the same amount of this and that. But equality doesn’t equal sameness.
Please think responsibly
Way back in the 20th century, in a land called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—the grizzly (and grisly) grandpappy of authoritarian systems—everything was state-run. They took iron-fisted control of citizens’ lives to a level of detail that Vermont policymakers today can only envy. Yet, supplying even the people’s basic needs presented the central planners with more than they could handle. Consumer goods were in chronically short supply, and waiting in endless lines for common sundries was an expected part of the daily grind. Perhaps not by coincidence, excessive consumption of vodka by the populace was and is the national pastime, one of the chief identifying characteristics of the culture in the former Soviet bloc even to this day.
And speaking of overconsumption, Vermont is the state with the highest number of microbreweries per capita. Guzzlers of wine and beer pay at most 2.1 and 2.5¢ tax respectively per drink, making Vermont one of the cheapest places to get drunk. It’s hard to think of a more effective way to promote overconsumption of something people like than to make it super inexpensive.
But what about the majority of individuals, who don’t consume excessive amounts of alcohol? Regardless of how LITTLE they are allowed to buy, they could still binge-drink and kill themselves and/or other people; and regardless of how MUCH they are allowed to buy, they still won’t do that destructive behavior. The majority does it right. Why are they not the standard?
Regardless, applying the principle of protection from “heavy use” to cannabis as if it were alcohol requires faulty logic. In nearly every way imaginable, a “heavy user” of alcohol has a far more critically dangerous problem in life than a non-drinker who consumes cannabis daily. For example, according to a 2011 World Health Organization report, every year alcohol kills 2.5 million people worldwide. Cannabis, with zero confirmed deaths in 10,000 years, is so innocuous by comparison that it doesn’t even belong in the same paragraph with alcohol. The two can’t be treated the same, because one is so many orders of magnitude more potentially devastating and deadly than the other.
That’s hardly news. More surprising is that, like everything toxic or lethal, common sugar is more deadly than cannabis. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. Maybe instead of worrying about non-toxic cannabis, legislators in the state of Vermont would do better to monopolize and tightly control soft drink and candy rations so that people, especially children, don’t learn to OD on sugar and develop a deadly disease.
Wait, don’t tell them we said that.
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About the authour
Garyn Angel is an inventor, entrepreneur, award-winning financial consultant, and CEO of MagicalButter.com, which manufactures the appliance he invented for converting cannabis to an edible form. Angel is committed to cannabis law reform and was named to the CNBC NEXT List of global business leaders for his work on legal marijuana. He is also founder of the Cheers to Goodness Foundation, a charity that helps “medical refugees”—veterans and children who need cannabis therapy when traditional treatment options have failed. Angel’s charity helps families relocate to states where cannabis medicine is legally accessible.