Vice Squad
Saturday, March 26, 2005
The WTO and Marijuana

Back to Chicago and blogging, both one day later than planned. I can't possibly catch up with blogospheric activity, but I will try to note today a couple of items that registered particularly deeply. First, this St. Patrick's Day offering from Slate, suggesting that the WTO's commitment to free trade might one day provide a lever to marijuana legalization in the US. Among the reasons offered is the course of the internet gambling case between the US and Antigua and Barbuda. I think that the internet gambling case will not prove to be a relevant precedent (at least for a loooong time), because both the production and consumption of internet gambling is legal in much of the world, while marijuana is prohibited globally -- even in the Netherlands, despite the official toleration of coffee shops. And I find overstated the observation that "Local marijuana-growing enjoys quasi-legal status in the United States...", as would, I think, just about anyone who tried to openly and notoriously engage in such growing for recreational use, or if not part of a state-sponsored medical marijuana program.

Though I am opposed to drug prohibition, I am also quite leery of using free trade principles to drive vice policy. I believe that such a route ultimately will undermine the (always rather tepid) political commitment to free trade (witness the reaction of some Congressmen to the WTO decision) and also lead to undesirable vice policies. But I also expect that it is the social view of the vice at issue that chiefly determines the extent to which free trade is enlisted into the service of vice policy regulation. On free trade (and probably also on harm reduction) grounds, the European Union should embrace snus, which is a form of a legal product, tobacco. But instead it bans it, outside of Sweden. The EU also hectors the Netherlands on cannabis policy, requiring the Dutch to show that their relatively liberal approach does not undermine the more restrictive regimes of neighboring countries. Meanwhile, as Vice Squad frequently points out, EU policies, this time under the banner of free trade, have rendered unsustainable strict alcohol control regimes in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.

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