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Last Word: Want a Good Look Into Marijuana’s Future? Here’s One Vision That Seems Pretty Sharp and Focused

Was last November’s Ohio election a wake-up call for those looking to legalize marijuana?

Two researchers from the Brookings Institution say it was, and their paper — titled Bootleggers, Baptists, bureaucrats, and bongs: How special interests will shape marijuana legalizationdigs into how special interest groups will continue to help to mold the future of the Cannabis Industry.

It’s an interesting take on things, because researchers Philip Wallach and Jonathan Rauch do a great job of detailing just how we have arrived at our current state of marijuana legalization, and, where they see things going from here.

Here’s a little bit of what they say:

Last November, the campaign for a state constitutional amendment in Ohio provided a glimpse of one possible future of marijuana legalization. Four other states and the District of Columbia had already passed legalization initiatives, but Ohio’s was different. Its terms would have restricted marijuana production to 10 sites — all of which were in the hands of the initiative’s financial backers, who had put up more than $20 million to pass the initiative.

Voters and even many legalization advocates, offended by the nakedly self-serving terms of the proposal, rejected it, but the effort amounted to a wake-up call. Where there are markets, regulations, and money, special interests and self-serving behavior will not be far away. However desirable technocratic regulation might (or might not) seem in principle, interest-group politics and bureaucratic priorities will shape the way marijuana is legalized and regulated—probably increasingly over time.

In and of itself, that fact is neither good nor bad; it is inevitable. But it calls for some careful thinking about how interest-group politics and the search for economic rents (as economists call protections favoring certain market participants over others) may inflect or infect one of the most important and challenging policy reforms of the modern era.”

Yes, this study offers some great insights into where the legal Cannabis Industry is today, and more importantly, where it is likely headed tomorrow.

And, researchers Wallach and Rauch also give some great predictions, based on their research of what may happen next. They say that:

  • “The rise of commercial marijuana interests and a potentially controversial “marijuana lobby” may impede legalization’s momentum as its opponents change the subject once again, from harms of criminalization to harms of corporate predation” (This is one of the big lessons from last November’s referendum in Ohio that went down to defeat).
  • “The present disrupted regulatory environment is unlikely to last. Old prohibitionist interests are discombobulated and new commercial-marijuana interests are still getting organized, giving legalizing states a degree of regulatory freedom which is exceptional but probably not durable. Over time, multiple interests will coalesce and colonize the regulatory process.” (The regulatory process needs to be streamlined to help avoid situations like what is currently going on in Washington state, where far too many long-time players in the state’s Cannabis Industry feel they are being treated unfairly).
  • “Despite widely touted concern that one or more disproportionately powerful players will dominate the regulatory system, regulatory incoherence should be a greater concern than regulatory capture. As policymakers increasingly need to navigate complex and conflicting interest-group politics, the result is at least as likely to be overregulation and misregulation as it is to be systematic under regulation.” (This is a great example of what is happening in the state of Washington).

Is there a bottom line here? Well yes, there seems to be. Researchers Wallach and Rauch come to the conclusion that “the emerging model of state-level regulation provides valuable insulation against interest-group depredations in the marijuana industry. Even if the federal government eventually legalizes marijuana, they argue, it should leave marijuana regulation primarily to the states.”

Yes, you read that right — these researchers feel that state regulation for marijuana makes the most sense. And, that feels right in a great many ways, particularly if you consider the regulatory successes for marijuana in Colorado, the ongoing adjustments in the process in Oregon, and the slow but measured regulatory approach that is unfolding in Alaska.

In fact, you can make a great case that the regulatory environment in each of the four legal cannabis states closely reflect their unique regulatory situation — even down to the regulatory dysfunction in Washington state that we have reported here at CBE.

Want a good look into marijuana’s future here in America? Then take a good read of Bootleggers, Baptists, bureaucrats, and bongs: How special interests will shape marijuana legalization, because it gives you a sobering and realistic look at just what our legal marijuana future may hold.

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