Sunday, December 7, 2014

Someone actually wrote this: Big Tobacco and Big Marijuana

In response to the movement to legalize marijuana, Dr. Samuel Wilkinson writes,
We should not overlook ... valuable lessons from our experience with another legal drug: tobacco.

[parade of horribles about tobacco]

The formula for success in profiting from a legal drug is simple and has been clearly outlined by Big Tobacco: Identify a product with addictive potential, aggressively market it to as large an audience as possible, develop technical innovations to allow for and promote increased consumption, and deny or minimize potential costs to human health. The marijuana industry is poised to copy this formula, with dire consequences.

He offers the following solution:
If we are intent on legalizing marijuana for recreational use, lessons from the tobacco industry and the Dutch marijuana experiment suggest that we do so in a way that does not pit corporate incentives against the interests of public health. Similar to efforts in Uruguay, production and distribution should be done solely by the government so as to ensure that there is no corporate incentive to entice more people to consume marijuana in larger quantities.
In doing so, Dr. Wilkinson commits the nirvana fallacy by comparing the private sector in practice to government as it works only on paper. Anyone who thinks that corporations have incentives to do undesirable things, but that government does not, has to assume away not only the examples of state ABC stores, state lotteries, and state dependence on tobacco revenue, but also just about all of human history. As an aside, people have accused me of attacking a straw man for mocking exactly the argument that Dr. Wilkinson actually makes.

Dr. Wilkinson closes:

While the health effects of marijuana are generally not as severe as those of cigarette smoking, the consequences — including addiction, psychosis and impaired cognitive abilities — are nonetheless real. Notably, these effects are most pronounced in children and adolescents. Claims that marijuana legalization will make it easier to prevent use by minors are not backed by scientific or historical evidence. The most prevalent drugs consumed by teenagers are those that are legal: alcohol and tobacco. This should give us pause to consider the optimal way to legalize marijuana — and indeed whether other states should consider legalization at all.
The concern over "whether other states should consider legalization at all" is the perfect-solution fallacy, as the author's own example of teenage consumption of alcohol and tobacco shows.