Source: Steve Fox is the executive director of the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation and a co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

November 17, 2014

It seems that we as a society have basically concluded that marijuana use should be legal. The question now is the extent to which a commercial market will emerge to serve marijuana consumers who have a legal right to use it. While there are some people who would like to see marijuana possession made legal without a commercial market, that doesn’t seem to me to be a true long-term solution.

We must question the wisdom of any policy proposal that results in alcohol – the far more dangerous substance – having a marketing advantage over marijuana.

A regulated market provides great benefits to consumers. First and foremost, they are able to enter a safe and secure environment, where they can purchase products grown under controlled conditions with labels that convey THC content and other important information.

Moreover, in Colorado and elsewhere, you are seeing remarkable innovation in terms of methods for consuming cannabis. Perhaps most notable is the use of “vape pens” and hand-held vaporizers, which allow consumers to inhale cannabis vapor rather than combusted smoke. The vape pens, in particular, which contain cannabis extracts, would not be available as broadly – and in as safe a manner – without a commercial market.

But let’s push this discussion even further. In response to those who fear the prospect of “Big Marijuana” and call for severe restrictions on advertising, we must ask whether these individuals are thinking about the bigger picture. By that I mean the reality of having both marijuana and alcohol legal.

In an editorial published last year, The New York Times offered evidence supporting the idea that marijuana might be a “substitute” for alcohol, meaning that legal marijuana could lead to a reduction in alcohol use. As the editorial board noted, “assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are ‘substitutes’ bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous.”

Other prominent cannabis policy experts have concurred that marijuana legalization’s success will be in significant part judged by whether it leads to a reduction or an increase in alcohol use. With that important point in mind, we must seriously question the wisdom of any policy proposal that results in alcohol – the far more dangerous substance – having a marketing advantage over marijuana.

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