That California is moving toward legal recreational pot is excellent news, it’s an advance in human freedom and a reduction in the absurdities of the war on drugs. Yet there’s still something about the process which is turning brains to mush. For they’ve managed to organise matters so that the legal market is going to be more expensive –as much as 50% more perhaps – than the illegal one they hope to replace. That’s not quite how markets do work, greater expense leading to the replacement of lower cost suppliers. No, really, that’s not the human experience.
How they’ve done this is fun, they’ve decided that there could be a huge tax bonanza so they’ve decided to tax at all levels. Growers pay per sq foot of land they use, there’re huge ($100k) costs just to be regulatory compliant, then the state, counties and so on take their share of ever rising excise taxes. At which point cue the standard jokes about dope, dopes, the consumption of by and so on. All of which is most fun but not actually the important point here.
Rather, this is what all markets would look like if we really did allow the bureaucrats to specify all such markets. For note again what they’re doing. We’ve a thriving black market in weed in California, vast acreages under production up in the hills and there’s not been a noted shortage in any ‘ville or ‘burb in living memory. Costs are high as everyone involved risks substantial jail time for being commercially so. Further, there’s no rule of law, property rights are enforced at gun point at best. This is Ayn Rand red in tooth and claw and without even the sensible things which government can and should do to make markets work better.
Add the bureaucracy and we manage to make it worse? We manage to make it, as it is claimed, 50% more expensive? What an advertisement for the joys of all those tax leeches protecting us from ourselves and the vicissitudes of free markets, eh?
That, fellow liberals (oh yes, we are indeed a liberals, see above about the legalisation decision, we're just from the classical arm of the movement) is the lesson we really should be taking from this. It is undoubtedly true, absolutely so, that government can make our lives better through judicious action. That’s why all societies have had the institution in some form or another. But that is not to say that judicious action insists that government must be doing something.
Rather more often what the government should be doing to make our lives better is simply one less damn fool thing that it does currently. California has an illegal and highly functional cannabis market right now. If we want to make that market legal then all that is needed is for us to proclaim it so. That is, stop government stating it’s illegal. And definitely, definitively, given their performance so far, absolutely forbid them from doing anything else like trying to plan or regulate that very efficiently functioning and extant market.
Better government can and often does mean less government.