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Saturday, June 08, 2013

How can/should I cover drug markets — black, gray, and white — in my marijuana seminar?

Marijuana-industry-infographic-620In my first post here last week in my new summer series discussing my plans for my law school semester titled "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform," I raised some questions about how law professors should think about covering legal history topics in courses not dedicated to legal history.  I am deeply grateful for all the helpful feedback I received via this blog and elsewhere, and I am starting to slowly develop a working game plan for how I will cover and discuss Prohibition and related legal and social history during the first part of my law school seminar to be taught at OSU this coming Fall semester.

As the title of this new post highlights, today's topic on which I seek feedback concerns how I should think about covering drug markets and related economic issues in this seminar.  As I mentioned when talking about how to cover legal history, I sometimes worry that teaching "poor legal history" may be worse than no legal history.  Candidly, I am even more concerned about the prospect of teaching "poor economics" in my seminar — especially concerning modern drug markets, both legal and illegal.

The graphic reprinted here, despite being dated and hard-to-read, provides just a window into the range of challenging market/economic issues that surround just the topic of so-called "medical marijuana."  (For the record, and as I plan to discuss at length in my seminar, I am generally suspicious of any and all uses of the term "medical marijuana" because so many concepts, both valid and not-so-valid, can be and have been rolled into this phrase.)   The graphic draws some data from (biased?) reports like this one, titled "The State of the Medical Marijuana Markets," which is produced by a company trying to market its marijuana market analysis through this website titled Legal Marijuana Markets.

Specifically, one of my chief concerns here is that most, if not all, of those persons and groups likely to assemble information and analyses on modern marijuana markets are likely doing so with a specific advocacy agenda.  More broadly, what necessarily defines a black or gray market is a need or desire not to be transparant about how the market operates and its various economic inputs and outputs.  Indeed, public policy groups like Rand doing sustained reasearch concerning marijuana markets are quick to note that "variation in assumptions such as grams per joint and extent of underreporting can cause substantial variation in estimates of market size."

In addition, I am eager in my seminar to integrate stories about the various historic and modern market/economic realities of marijuana with the various historic and modern market/economic realities of various other licit and illicit drugs — ranging from alcohol to oxycodone to tobacco to valium.  Knowing simply that the national marijuana market might reach up to $10 billion in coming years does not mean much if one does not also know, for example, that the national alcohol market may be well over $250 billion and that tobacco companies spend about $10 billion each year on advertising alone.

So, dear readers, any clear thoughts about how I can and should cover opaque drug market realities?  In particular, I would be eager to get advice on essential dos and dont's: are there certain drug market dynamics I must be sure to cover and/or certain market myths or economic falacies I must be sure not to perpetuate in my marijuana seminar?

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

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Posted by Douglas A. Berman on June 8, 2013 at 02:20 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink

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How will this course help OSU graduates become practicing attorneys in Ohio? Does it have ant practical value?

Posted by: Anon | Jun 9, 2013 12:19:54 AM

There has been significant discussion of a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio, and there have also been legalization bills introduced in the Ohio General Assembly. Students interesting in going into Ohio government lawyering positions ought to get a lot of practical value as these issues move forward on policy fronts in the Buckeye state.

In addition, we will be covering many tax, employment, local government, zoning, federalism, regulatory and constitutional issues that ought to help future lawyers understand evolving legal doctrines in a variety of fields.

And, of course, we have a number of student at OSU with an interest in practicing in states like California and Colorado and Illinois which already have legalized marijuana use in some manner.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 9, 2013 7:32:06 AM

Market-based ideas permeate discussions of drug law and policy, so it’s hard not to discuss them in a course like yours. You could cover market-related theories and assumptions, without necessarily diving into (let alone endorsing) empirical claims. For example, you could examine and unpack the idea that imposing legal sanctions will reduce drug use. Or you could examine what a regulated market for marijuana might look like (e.g., licensed vendors, limits on advertising, etc.) and what barriers exist to successful regulation (ease of entry, federal prohibition, etc.). Some understanding of how markets work is important for understanding drug policy.

But I think you should also wade into the empirical literature. There are so many interesting empirical studies on drug policy, for example: the drug war’s impact on prices, including what the cost of marijuana would be if it were legalized (very low, apparently); the cost of prohibition, including the cost of violence associated with criminalizing drug transactions; and so on. To be sure, students need to be wary of many of the claims made in the empirical literature. But I believe they can think critically about these studies. And I think it’s important for them to be exposed to all of the uncertainty and contrasting claims now being made about drug policy and to think about how we should proceed in the face of such uncertainty.

Posted by: Rob Mikos | Jun 10, 2013 11:17:41 AM

Maybe this will be interesting to dig into in your class? It suggests that many more non-whites are arrested for marijuana use than whites, even though they appear to use in similar numbers. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/opinion/sunday/racially-biased-arrests-for-pot.html?src=rechp

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Jun 18, 2013 10:11:35 AM

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