Shared by: T.W. www.economist.com
Cannabis Becomes Legal in Alaska Today
SMOKING cannabis becomes legal today in Alaska, the latest state to lift its prohibition of the drug after Colorado and Washington, which took the plunge last year. Alaskans over 21 can now grow up to six of their own plants, share up to an ounce (28g) of harvested pot, and smoke as much as they like in private without breaking the law. Selling the stuff commercially will become legal next year, once the state authorities have hammered out a set of rules to regulate the business. Alaska’s 750,000 residents aren’t going to turn the pot business on its head. But two things about the state make it an interesting case study for weed-watchers.
One is that it currently has some of the most expensive marijuana in America. The price of pot is closely linked to proximity to Mexico, which has historically provided most of America’s cannabis. That is bad news for Alaskan tokers, who live a very long way from the Rio Grande. According to Narcotic News, a pharmacological journal, a pound of good marijuana costs between $2,500 and $4,000 in Alaska, making it the priciest place to get high after Hawaii. In El Paso, Texas, you can buy a pound of freshly imported Mexican stuff for as little as $200, though it probably won’t be as potent. (If these prices sound ridiculously cheap, remember that we are dealing with the wholesale market. By the time those pounds have been divided into ounces, and then eighths, prices are much higher.)
The high price of illegal pot in Alaska means that the legal market ought to be able to undercut the street dealers pretty easily. In Colorado, where illegal cannabis is much cheaper than in Alaska, licensed dispensaries sell a product that cannot quite beat the illegal sort in terms of price (though it eclipses it in terms of quality). This means that getting high is no cheaper than it was pre-legalisation, though it is much easier and less risky. We won’t know until next year exactly how much legal marijuana will cost in Alaska, but it seems likely that, unlike in Colorado, it may work out a fair bit cheaper than the illegal sort. This will make it a good case study on how price affects demand. If the price drops will Alaskans smoke more?
My bet is that demand for cannabis will prove to be inelastic. There doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation between price and consumption at the moment: in spite of its high prices, Alaska currently has some of the highest rates of marijuana usage in the country, with 13% of over-12s admitting to smoking the stuff in the past month (check out this nice map in the Washington Post). Opponents of the legalisation initiative worried that lower prices would make them smoke more still. Next year, we’ll find out who is right.
The second reason Alaska is interesting is that it is the first Republican state to legalise. Colorado and Washington, whose regimes took effect last year, both lean Democratic, as does Oregon, where legalisation will begin on July 1st. Washington, DC, which has voted to legalise possession, is overwhelmingly Democratic. Alaska, on the other hand, has a soft spot for the GOP.
For drug-law reformers, getting Republicans on board is crucial. America’s drug laws are a contradiction in which cannabis remains strictly illegal at the federal level, while it is increasingly tolerated at the state level, and in a few cases even commercialised and taxed. With more ballot initiatives on legalisation planned, it increasingly looks as if it is the federal laws, not the state ones, that will eventually have to change (as we have recommended). But altering them will require support from both political parties. As the first “red” state to legalise cannabis, Alaska will prove an important model—or, if it goes badly, a cautionary tale—of what happens when a Republican-leaning administration oversees the legalisation of narcotics.
Way to go Alaska! What state will be next? Let us know your thoughts below. Also, please subscribe to WeedTV.com HERE and receive even more exclusive content.