Can Washington’s Gift Economy in Marijuana Work?
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Can Washington’s Gift Economy in Marijuana Work?
Posted by CN Staff on March 20, 2015 at 16:29:13 PT
By Josh Barro
Source: New York Times 
Washington, D.C. -- It sounds like an idea a stoner might come up with.In Washington, D.C., it’s now legal to possess marijuana, to grow it, to smoke it and to give it away. But you’re not allowed to trade in it. You can give your neighbor up to an ounce, but if he gives you money or even bakes you a pie in exchange, that’s illegal.
The District of Columbia has legalized marijuana — but is trying not to create a market in marijuana. It’s aiming for a gift economy, not unlike what you might experience at Burning Man, but permanently.Other legalizing jurisdictions are taking a more traditional approach. Colorado and Washington State have both established regulated markets in marijuana that look a lot like those many states have to regulate and tax alcohol. District of Columbia council members were expected to do the same until Congress passed a law barring them from spending money to regulate marijuana. That left the city with noncommercial legalization as its only option after voters repealed the law prohibiting marijuana in the district last November.The district’s lawmakers aren’t happy about the process, but maybe they should be pleased about the outcome. Mark Kleiman, a leading expert on drug policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been arguing for Washington’s “grow-and-give” approach for years. He is one of several researchers affiliated with the RAND Corporation who have been urging states to look for intermediate options between prohibition and commercial legalization. They have urged states to consider approaches like nonprofit cooperatives, a government monopoly on marijuana production or a grow-your-own rule like the one Washington has ended up with, essentially by accident.Drug prohibition imposes many costs. People go to jail for using and trading in drugs, causing major disruption to individuals’ lives and to communities. Illegal markets breed crime, including violent crime, because people in the drug business can’t use the courts to enforce contracts and settle disputes. And prohibition reduces access to a product that many people enjoy and use responsibly — though it’s not that hard to buy marijuana even where it’s illegal.But Mr. Kleiman warns that full-scale commercial legalization comes with costs of its own. The main risk is that marijuana businesses will — as alcohol and tobacco companies did — successfully market their products to heavy users who would be better off using less, and that they will resist regulations that discourage problem use.A recent RAND research brief says 80 percent of marijuana consumption is by daily and near-daily users. “So roughly 80 percent of marijuana companies’ profits would come from marketing to such heavy users, about half of whom currently meet clinical criteria for substance use disorders (either with marijuana itself or another substance, such as alcohol),” it concluded.Supporters of the Washington approach hope the city will enjoy the benefits of legalization without creating a well-organized commercial machine that encourages people to smoke marijuana. “It’s very elegant, and it does have a lot of merit,” said David Frum, the conservative political commentator and an adviser to Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization but favors other drug law reforms. “It does seek to thread a path between the evils of having an industry that creates a lot of dependency and, on the other hand, having a lot of people in jail for issues that are fundamentally of dependency and not moral failing.”Still, Mr. Frum opposes the Washington model, preferring to simply decriminalize it and continue to ban production and distribution of marijuana. He fears that a noncommercial model will not be sustainable: Local officials will fall under the sway of people in the marijuana business who want the opportunity to make profits in a commercial market. He notes that producers in Colorado have already been fiercely resisting restrictions on edible marijuana products, even though they may be attractive to children and lead some consumers (including New York Times columnists) to accidentally overindulge. Calls for commercial legalization are also likely to appeal to lawmakers because commercial legalization generates marijuana tax revenue.Mr. Kleiman shares Mr. Frum’s fear that commercial legalization advocates will win the day (they’ve won in the last few states where marijuana has been on the ballot, after all). But the question remains: What’s the alternative?“The only hope to beat commercial legalization is with a successful noncommercial legalization,” Mr. Kleiman says, “because prohibition is over.”While Mr. Frum objects to “grow-and-give” for opening a dangerous door, some libertarians object that it doesn’t go far enough. Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote in Reason that Washington, D.C., would continue to have a black market in marijuana, as most people would continue to buy illegally because growing your own was inconvenient. She also notes consumers won’t get the quality control that comes with a legalized market.Mr. Kleiman agrees with Ms. Mangu-Ward that Washington won’t have a true gift economy in marijuana. He expects small-scale illegal sales of the drug to continue, but he isn’t necessarily bothered by it.“I kind of distinguish between flagrant and discreet drug dealing,” he says. “Discreet drug dealing happens in multipurpose locations indoors. Flagrant drug dealing occurs outdoors or in dedicated locations” — think street corners and crack houses. “Discreet drug dealing doesn’t attract much crime, while a flagrant dealer is a target.”In other words, Washington’s reform isn’t about making the marijuana trade truly, totally noncommercial. It’s about making the commercial aspects of the marijuana trade mostly harmless, occurring discreetly inside people’s homes, without attendant violence or mass marketing. He compares the issue to gambling — your home poker game might be illegal, but isn’t likely to cause violent crime or draw government attention in the way a full-scale gambling operation might.That’s a theory — but it’s one we’ll get to test over the next few years. If Mr. Kleiman is right about noncommercial legalization, Washington should find success. “You really want to see decreased criminal justice involvement, you want to see an absence of flagrant public dealing and you want to not see the long supply chains and the marketing,” he said. Then, on the usage side, you want to see that problem use hasn’t risen. You can measure that through surveys, though he also proposes a couple of novel ways, including collecting samples from the city’s sewer system or of hair clippings from barbershops and salons, to measure the population-level amount of cannabis metabolites showing up in urine and hair.If the hair samples start showing a lot more T.H.C. metabolites, we’ll know Washington residents are smoking significantly more weed. Of course, most of those users aren’t problem users, but because the problem users have the highest usage, Mr. Kleiman argues the quantity of metabolites should be a good proxy for the total amount of problem use.We often hear that state and local governments are “laboratories of democracy,” but in this case, that will be more literally true than usual.Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Josh BarroPublished: March 20, 2015Copyright: 2015 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite:  -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #14 posted by FoM on March 23, 2015 at 19:30:17 PT
I agree!
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Comment #13 posted by Hope on March 23, 2015 at 19:26:44 PT
Those hippies and those hippie days...
That was one of the cool and remarkable things about it. The sharing. The trust. The caring. The appreciation.Beautiful. I hope the people of D. C. can pull this off and shine a positive light on themselves, while causing the the last of the glowering, scolding, and lip pursing prohibs to be vastly and deeply disappointed at not seeing any of the fearful things they are jabbering about happening.All good vibes, prayers, and hopes sent the way of the free people of D. C.. Go, D. C.! 
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Comment #12 posted by Sam Adams on March 23, 2015 at 12:19:10 PT
what a crock
this whole article is total BS! They are blaming the cannabis community for a crappy law.there's only ONE reason why commercial trade isn't allowed - the United States Congress! It's their sh**ty law, not ours
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Comment #11 posted by Sam Adams on March 23, 2015 at 12:17:15 PT
NY Times bigotry
thanks so much NY Times. Can't use the N-word anymore, but stoner and pothead are just fine! you boozing journalist drunks
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Comment #10 posted by FoM on March 22, 2015 at 09:03:12 PT
John Tyler
That is how it was and it is a shame it is all about big money for many now.
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Comment #9 posted by John Tyler on March 22, 2015 at 08:50:35 PT
gift economy
The gift economy is almost like karma. Decades ago when I/we were young hippies this was ideal. We just wanted to be left alone in our own communities. We were happy just to be able to grow our own (if possible) and share with our friends and neighbors. Here is the karmic part; the prohibitionists have given this to concept to D.C. We will see how this works out.Going back decades again, I took a (non hip) friend with me to a free concert in the park near the college campus. It was great. It was wall to wall hippies. (If you were a hippy it was great to be in a group of hundreds and thousands of other like-minded individuals. The vibrations were so mellow.) People were sitting on blankets and if you hadn’t brought a blanket people offered you a place on their blanket. Bottles of wine were passed around. The band was playing. When it got dark joints were passed around with the wine. My non hip friend had a great time but was totally astounded by what we considered normal.
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Comment #8 posted by Mr D on March 21, 2015 at 16:50:16 PT:
Oh, ok! :)
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on March 21, 2015 at 16:46:05 PT
Mr. D
I understood what you were saying. I was saying how I feel that's all. It isn't going to make much of a difference in my life personally. 
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Comment #6 posted by Mr D on March 21, 2015 at 16:00:05 PT:
Yes? I thought I clarified that legalization would in fact be huge for society and the world. That's why I took the extra time and typed an extra message to clarify. Soo, Yes I totally agree. (again)
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on March 21, 2015 at 15:15:49 PT
Mr. D
I learned a long time ago to do what I can and hope I live long enough to see marijuana fully legalized but if I don't I feel I did my part. Many good people involved in reform have passed on but their work was not in vain.
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Comment #4 posted by Mr D on March 21, 2015 at 10:46:09 PT:
Might have misspoke
" but I don't think it would make too much of a difference personally" I was speaking for me in my little bubble of a life. Of course it would make a huge difference in society and the world. (Just didn't want to be misunderstood)
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Comment #3 posted by Mr D on March 21, 2015 at 10:36:52 PT:
FoM too much insanity
This is just one issue of many that I don't know how much longer I can hang on to. I can't take this world. I don't have the strength to cope. I have this fantasy where weed is legal, I have friends again, I work, my hip doesn't hurt, my eyes worked right, my eustachian tubes worked right, the pressure in my chest from anxiety was gone, I feel alive, confident and hope for the future. But those things are gone. (yeah, I know, 'welcome to life kid'-you said it) It's wrong to live with constant nostalgia and even if cannabis becomes legal that's great, it truly is, but I don't think it would make too much of a difference personally. I normally say this isn't a therapy session or auto biography but this time I don't care. Anyways, yay, freedom it's almost here. [oh,brother]
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on March 21, 2015 at 04:58:07 PT
Mr. D
It is silly isn't it. When they decriminalized marijuana in Ohio back in the 70s they made paraphernalia illegal. They said something like we will let them have marijuana but they won't have any way to smoke it! 
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Comment #1 posted by Mr D on March 21, 2015 at 01:12:14 PT:
Couldn't resist
"but if he gives you money or even bakes you a pie in exchange, that’s illegal." Oh why do I keep reading these things? What if a person waits till the next day to bake someone a pie? "Put the pie down and get your hands in the air!" Sadly, I'm not being sarcastic. Just like you're allowed to grow x amount of plants in your home or on your property but you're not allowed to use the stalk of the plant for fiber; you're not allowed to make a cake out of the oils from the seeds. Why am I attracted to this(news)? Anyways, that's rhetorical. Yay freedom! (that one was sarcastic)
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