Marijuana: From “Acceptable” to a Protected Commodity

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

The Canadian The Lethbridge Herald published the article “Marijuana Smoking will Become Acceptable” on December 3, 1970, as a means to lay down the foundations for the future legalization of marijuana.[1]  Forty-nine years later, the federal legalization of marijuana, for both medical and recreational purposes, is a reality in countries such as Canada and Uruguay. 

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The policy in the South American country was designed to deal with criminal organizations, but the policy in Canada was designed to build a lucrative global capitalist market. Canada’s highly regulated and government-driven sale of cannabis showed that federal and provincial governments envisioned legalization as a lucrative means of taxation, building protectionist measures around the commodity in order to secure the inflow of corporate and personal taxes.  In comparison, the 1970s’ vision of legalization did not include a fiscal agenda, and much less a protectionist agenda.

In Europe, the most recent Dutch policy on cannabis reinforces the idea of protectionism, forcing cannabis coffeeshops “to buy cannabis only from legal, city-approved growers,” instead of relying on the informal market as well as imported cannabis from Morocco, Nepal, Kashmir, and other parts of the world.[2]  After forty years of deregulation, the “buy local” policy of the Dutch policy makers once again shows that protectionist measures are being implemented by markets that have legalized the commodity, in anticipation of a global cannabis market that is predicted to take off within the next two decades.  

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It is fascinating to see what a world of “acceptable” cannabis looked like from the eyes of those making predictions on the commodity back in 1970.  Perhaps they were wrong in their timing, but the visionaries of the time did see, through their crystal ball, a world where marijuana smoking would become as socially acceptable “as tobacco or alcohol.”[3] At the end, modern societies wanted a new “socially-acceptable way to relax,” and this soft drug was the answer.[4] Plus, it was clear that the legalization and regulation of marijuana would solve the social and fiscal problems that came with the dependency on an informal supply market.  

The article predicted that Britain would be the first country to decriminalize recreational marijuana, with no mention about the Dutch, Canadians or Uruguayans.  They were off the radar in 1970, yet they have become the pioneers in the industry. What is more surprising was that there was no mention of a medical marijuana market, the advocates’ lobbying weapon to fast-track and incrementally move marijuana through the policy process.

Moreover, there was no mention of cannabis as a global profit-making commodity.  Social and health agendas dominated the debate. It is ironic that back then cannabis was seen as a potential gateway to harder drugs, and that today its medical use has distanced it from this popular myth.  Other nations saw cannabis as an opportunity to enforce social control policies, as in the case of the United States that saw the rates of incarceration of minority groups rise after the 1970s, while other nations such as Colombia and Denmark quickly decriminalized pot in order to avoid “bigger social problems.”[5]

Only those traffickers in the informal market saw the capitalist profit-generating potential of cannabis.  It took more than forty years, and a generational change or two, before government-business partnerships were consolidated in order to change the negative propaganda against the commodity, and begin to lay down the foundation for legalization.  Now the commodity is traded in the stock market; it is integral part of trade agreements between those nations that have legalized it; it is part of the retail industry; part of the “socially-acceptable” ways to “relax”; part of the small business and agricultural sectors of the world; and an integral part of scientific research and pop culture.  

Consumer societies have embraced marijuana and governments have begun to value its fiscal capabilities — so much so that the Canadian governments, at the federal and provincial levels, have designed the legalization of the market around its fiscal potential.  The recent Dutch protectionist measure reemphasizes this new reality, advancing a “buy local” campaign in order to secure profits for the Dutch economy and not the global market.  This is the beginning of a new era of cannabis, one that is slowly becoming more contested as other nations strategize in order to cash in on the new legal commodity.

Will it once again divide the world into the traditional Global North and Global South dynamics of other globally traded commodities?  The protectionist measures of the Dutch and the Canadians seem to indicate that this is the trajectory.

NOTES:

  1. Reuter, “Marijuana Smoking will Become Acceptable,” The Lethbridge Herald, December 3, 1970, p. 20.
  2. Amel Brahmi, “The Netherlands: In Cannabis Coffee Shops, a Change is Coming,” CannabisWire, November 14, 2019, accessed November 30, 2019, https://cannabiswire.com/2019/11/14/the-netherlands-in-cannabis-coffee-shops-a-change-is-coming/
  3. Reuter, Marijuana Smoking will Become Acceptable,” p. 20.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.

2 Comments

  1. The prospect of a profitable industry and opened floodgates of new tax revenue for government were of course important considerations in the repeal of national alcohol prohibition in the U.S. I noted in an opinion piece three years ago that marijuana’s and alcohol’s post-repeal paths toward domestication appeared to differ — and interestingly — with respect to the crisis created in education about alcohol in public schools in the 1930s and Repeal’s wake (see: https://ronroizen.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/marijuanas-and-alcohols-differing-paths-toward-domestication/). I’ve tried to keep an eye on news reports about marijuana education’s responses to legalization in states where that change has happened. But, and so far at least, the issue seems to be a good deal quieter than it was respecting alcohol.

    1. Ron, thank you for your comment. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that the temperance movement was a bottom up movement while the anti-marijuana movement is a top bottom initiative

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