Today is the day that sweet smell in the air becomes legal. Truthfully, it doesn't concern me much. I was one of those people who made it through the '60's without becoming a smoker of any kind. I do not say that with pride. It just didn't make much sense to me. At one point, I wanted to cultivate an the image of an English professor. So I bought myself a meerschaum pipe. But I spilled the tobacco on my knee, and I never got the hang of the thing. It hit me that what mattered was what was between my ears, not between my teeth.
And, as a high school teacher, bud was always a problem -- out in the schoolyard or out in the street. There were always kids who smelled of the stuff. I sent more than my share of students to the principal's office. In short, I always found marijuana to be a nuisance.
Today it is no longer a nuisance. But, as Tom Walkom points out, it is big business:
Legalization is about big business. Or, to be more accurate, it’s about shifting cannabis production and distribution from illegal big businesses to legal ones.
As the tobacco and alcohol industries have shown, mood-altering substances can be immensely profitable. They are cheap to produce (it’s easy to make wine in your basement) yet face what economists call an inelastic demand curve.
Simply put, that means people will continue to buy these mood-altering substances even as their cost rises.
Industries such as tobacco and alcohol also tend to be dominated by a few big players. That’s because they rely on advertising and product differentiation, both of which are subject to economies of scale.
For instance, it’s cheaper on a per bottle basis to advertise beer if the cost can be spread over a large production run. Think Coors.
Canada’s cannabis companies are only starting and their advertising remains rudimentary. It’s not clear who will be left after the market shakes itself out. But the most obvious beneficiaries of marijuana legalization are Big Tobacco and Big Pharma.
Big Tobacco has experience in the field of inhalants and the ability to produce high-quality marijuana cigarettes. Big Pharma has the capacity to isolate the active ingredients in cannabis and market them as either pills or edibles.
And that concerns me. I suspect that, once again, big business is calling the tune.
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