A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Once again, the world has survived 4/20. Despite dire warnings, our civilization didn’t collapse in a hail of exhaled smoke last Saturday, Bob Marley didn’t rise from the dead and Satan isn’t rolling a FatBoy (or whatever they’re called these days) on a throne of broken skulls and pure evil. However, even as the suburban kids and the 60s-going-on-70s grey hairs are putting away their inner Jesse James for another year, I’m struck by just how bourgeois the once mighty marijuana counterculture has become. The telling feature is the 4/20 inner circle password isn’t exactly secret anymore. It’s so seriously mainstream, it wears Mom jeans, drives a Prius and has a bad boy Celtic knot tattoo. There’s something just a little sorry about the gangstas at the annual 4/20 rally covering their faces with bandanas to avoid corporate disapproval rather than prosecution. Of course, these days, smoking dope is tantamount to breaking Dad’s ten o’clock curfew rule. The cops really don’t care who smokes what anymore (tobacco has more prohibitions) and unless you combine your recreational drug use with kidnapping and/or arson it’s practically impossible to get arrested.
There’s no real harm in the solid middle class playing one-day-a-year outlaw on April 20th: knock yourself out! However, ever since high school, I’ve thought it was hilarious that these bad-to-the-bone counterculturists are missing the one great irony. The world of marijuana is, in fact, the last bastion of radical right-wing laissez-faire capitalism — and it works.
I don’t think anybody needs a primer on capitalism; it’s been the bogeyman since Western youth got the two Lennons (Lenin?) mixed up — back in 1965. It’s the system that sophomores love to hate. However, many of the same people who wouldn’t be caught dead endorsing the free market have been indulging in it up to their rolling papers for at least three generations now. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Marijuana is a huge international commodity. Yet unlike all other agricultural products on this planet, it is devoid of government interference, intervention and/or regulation. There are simply no governmental rules set up for the cultivation and sale of marijuana. Therefore, there are no agricultural subsidies, no marketing boards, no tariff barriers, no packaging regulation and no other bureaucratic etceteras getting in the way of the dedicated business person. In fact, as a commodity, the marijuana industry is governed, in its entirety, by the free market forces of supply and demand. Not only that, but the price and profits of the industry are completely controlled by how efficiently the marijuana entrepreneur brings his product to market and how effectively he handles his (or her) competition. But wait: there’s more! Taxation, the Holy Grail of all left-wing social planners and the bane of all free marketers is – OMG! — nonexistent. The marijuana entrepreneur is not forced to share his profits with anyone. If all this isn’t greedy bastard capitalism at its very best, I don’t know what is!
Now, here’s the kicker: not only has the marijuana industry survived for these many decades without government intervention, it has thrived. The retail price has remained relatively low, the profit margins have remained relatively high and the market is stable. Plus, at a time when the entire world is playing chicken with economic collapse, marijuana remains a growth industry. Looks to me as if there’s some pretty convincing empirical evidence that, in fact, capitalism works.
So for all those “capitalism is worse than crap” wannabe economists out there: you might want to take a closer look before you run your mouth. And for all those “I’m so baaad” middle-class muffins praying for the legalization of marijuana: careful what you wish for. Once the government gets a hold of 4/20, the price will go up, the quality will go down and they’ll probably turn it into (3X – 2)/(6X + 8) — just to complicate things!