There is yet another interesting article published a few days ago in the New York Times, “Can Washington’s Gift Economy in Marijuana Work?” That is the question on many minds as DC has decided to legalize marijuana. Unlike Colorado or Washington State, DC has decided that you cannot sell/trade it. You may possess, grow, smoke, and give it away (up to an ounce) but you may not receive anything in exchange for it. DC has decided to create a gift economy, unlike every other approach to the legalization processes of other states.
Colorado and Washington State have created a market much like the regulation and taxation of alcohol. DC was on the same path until Congress passed a law barring council members from spending money to regulate marijuana. Clearly the lawmakers were upset about this obstacle in their path, but experts on drug policy have been pushing for this “grow-and-give” approach. Mark Kleiman, from UCLA and a researcher affiliated with RAND Corporation, has been insisting to use options between prohibition and commercial legalization. They want other states to consider approaches such as “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, mainly incarceration of those charged with the crime. Illegal markets breed crime simply due to the fact that those within the drug business cannot use the courts to enforce contracts or settle disputes. Finally prohibitions reduce access to a product that people enjoy using and use responsibly (even though it is not hard to get in the states where it still remains illegal). Mr. Kleiman is worried about the full-scale commercial legalization of marijuana. He is worried that these businesses will follow the alcohol and tobacco companies by marketing their products to the heaviest users, who should be using less. RAND believes that almost 80 percent of marijuana consumption is by daily or near-daily users.
The opposition, David Frum, opposed legalization but favors decriminalization. His main fear is that the noncommercial model will be unsustainable. He notes that producers in Colorado have resisted restrictions on edible products, which are attractive to the younger crowd and can lead to overindulgence. Is the “grow-and-give” system a good idea, if not what is best? Katherine Mangu-Ward believes that the black market would still play a huge role in the drug trade simply because people would rather buy than grow their own marijuana. Without commercial legalization there is no quality control or tax revenue. Clearly there is still going to be some sale of the drug in DC, but Mr. Kleiman believes that the gift economy will take off. My main question is can a gift economy work in modern times? Its seems like a good idea in theory, but not necessarily in practice.