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Marijuana Gift Economy

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.


  1. oliver2 oliver2

    The idea of a gift economy is a bit perverse to me. There are of course likely still going to be illicit sales, and some tall tales are likely to be told in court.

    The war on drugs is a miserable farce and attitudes on alcohol aren’t what they should be either. We ought just nationally decriminalize it.

  2. Stephen Moore Stephen Moore

    The “gift economy” will probably have little effect on the black market for the sale of marijuana. It just appears to be political phrasing to appease both sides of the debate.

  3. sandersm15 sandersm15

    I agree with what Oliver has said in that the idea of a “gift economy” can be construed rather vaguely, especially if it is defended in a court of law. Like Stephen said, this is likely just a step in the process of decriminalization that (for the moment) appeases both sides of the debate.

  4. moorem15 moorem15

    It should be interesting to see if this “gift economy” has an impact similar as has been seen in other states that have decriminalized pot, namely Colorado. Obviously, DC won’t collect any tax revenue because it can’t be legally sold, but maybe they’ll see some form of “pot tourism” anyway.

  5. deplautt deplautt

    The gift economy does not make much sense to me. A lot of the legalization argument has to do with sales revenue that the state will be able to collect. In this way they are essentially allowing for growing and turning their heads the other ways in terms of sales? This may end up hurting the situation rather than allowing for regulation of sales.

  6. winn winn

    Along the lines of Oliver’s and Stephen’s comments, this act kind of seems to be a way to reallocate police enforcement’s resources. The city won’t be reaping any direct revenues from sales, but frees up tax money to combat more pressing concerns. This may also be a kind of ‘stepping-stone’ law. D.C. may be testing the waters and getting a feel for its population’s perspective on marijuana laws. If the political climate is more welcoming, politicians won’t risk losing their jobs for legalizing the plant’s sale.

  7. grieve grieve

    I agree with Oliver, as I think this idea of a “gift economy” is unrealistic and really won’t change much besides reduced issues from possession. Selling will of course still occur, as nobody is going to stop selling Marijuana now that it is legal to give it away and not turn a profit – it makes no sense.

  8. The gift economy, if I understand the framework sketched above, mandates a price p = 0. That is not an equilibrium…. However, what will be the attitude of Federal law enforcement officials? Will we see the ATF pressured to patrol streets throwing people with a joint into the joint? or National Park rangers and Capitol Police, as presumably they will have the power to arrest anyone on Federal property, which is fairly plentiful in DC. Will their bosses threaten to demote them if they don’t make their arrest quota [yes, I know, quotas “don’t exist”…as we can observe in Ferguson, MO], or fire them if they are observed walking past someone toking up without stopping to enforce that particular law?

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