Why the Marijuana and Tobacco Policy Camps Are on Very Different Paths

According to researchers from both Australia and the USA, the regulatory policies governing marijuana and tobacco are in no way similar. A paper published in the Addiction Journalcame to the conclusion that:

“The two policy communities have shown very little interest in each other’s policy debates”

The paper looked at the regulatory policies of the two substances and concluded that there were very little similarities between them, aside from the fact that both are very similar in terms of how they are ingested. The difference in regulatory policy is attributed to the fact that there seems to be two different types of ideologies at play behind the two substances. And there is also the fact that these two substances are at different stages. Marijuana is illegal in most states and advocates are pushing for its legalization. Tobacco has always been legal and a balance needs to be found between advertising, nicotine content and public health and awareness.

Different Ideologies

In terms of tobacco, there is a kind of prohibition policy geared towards controlling of the level of nicotine. The health hazards of tobacco and the chemicals in cigarettes are well known. So, the regulatory policy is concerned with what conditions merchants are allowed to sell cartons of cigarettes and for what price. Tobacco industries are also forced to put labels on the cartons warning how dangerous cigarettes can be.

The perception and ideology around marijuanais the complete opposite. Marijuana legalization is by and large a push from advocates who are aware of the health benefits of the most versatile plant on the planet. It is about regulating a health product so that it is cultivated effectively. The regulatory requirements are completely different, given that people can grow marijuana in their own homes in many states. Marijuana policy is also further complicated. One group believes that marijuana should be allowed for medical purposes only, and the other believes that both medical and recreational use should be acceptable. In the words of the study author Lynn Kozlowski:

One group perceives the downside of banning products and accepts an inevitability of some recreational use…and the other does not accept recreational use and seeks a kind of prohibition.

Other Considerations

There are also going to be a number of other factors which have a huge influence on the policy and regulatory framework. The tobacco control community includes tobacco researchers, non-governmental organizations and government officials. The marijuana community is much more grass roots and diverse, including civil lawyers, civil rights activists and supports of drug law reform, the paper points out. Also, the fact that marijuana has been divided into medical marijuana and recreational marijuana is going to have a huge influence on the policies.

Tobacco is a huge and well-established industry. It is well known and there are a few big brand Tobacco companies who are pulling a lot of strings and are well entrenched. This is not quite the case for marijuana, which is much more decentralized. There are no (major) corporate interests at play as marijuana was always illegal. And because it is possible to grow marijuana in residential houses in many states, these companies do not have any form of stranglehold or monopoly. If the prices of marijuana rise too high then people will simply grow their own.

What this means is that at present, there has been little corporate interference as they do not have as much vested interest. Thus, the policies are not geared towards helping monopolies make more money at the expense of public health. This is not the case in every state. In Pennsylvania, there are a very limited number of permits and licenses for cultivators and marijuana dispensaries. Which means that large companies now own the marijuana trade in Pennsylvania, as there is no option to grow residential marijuana. Consumers are forced to take corporate medical marijuana or nothing at all. A tough decision.

But thankfully marijuana is by and large decentralized and left up to each state and each county, meaning it is more or less a free for all policy wise. It is up to small time communities to establish how they want to regulate their marijuana, which is a wonderful thing to witness.

A Final Thought

The main difference in terms of policies is that people actually need marijuana for medical purposes which softens recreational legalization. The opposite is the case with tobacco, which has nothing but negative effects yet is for some reason legal. Can recreational marijuana really be banned when tobacco is not? Should there be a vote on whether or not to ban corporate tobacco? All scientific evidence seems to say that one substance is harmful and another is not, yet the harmful substance is legal for recreational use and the beneficial one is not. By any logical deduction, the situation is the exact opposite of what it should be.

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