The Rules of the Game: The cannabis industry is busy crafting the rules they will live by. The question is whether those rules will benefit the few or the many

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The idea that the “market knows best” is about on par with the idea that “Father Knows Best.” “Few ideas have more profoundly poisoned the minds of more people than the notion of a ‘free market,’” writes Robert Reich in his book (and Netflix film) Saving Capitalism: For the many, not the few.

His point is that viewing the so-called ‘free market’ as some naturally evolved neutral construct is not just pure fiction, it obscures what’s really going in shaping market structure, namely: A government-driven rulemaking process in collaboration with industry players that reflects society’s norms and values and, crucially, determines who gets to participate in the market and to what degree; i.e., it’s about choosing winners and losers.

And that’s exactly what’s taking place right now in the fastest growing market in the United States – medical & recreational cannabis.

The rulemaking discussion (above) between author & antitrust expert Matt Stoller and attorney Shaleen Title, a cannabis policy expert at the Ohio State University School of Law, focuses on what rules they think should be written in order to create a fair and inclusive cannabis market.

Title, for instance, says the number one trick corporations use to monopolize the cannabis market is to get states to limit the total number of business licenses they issue. That favors the already established players as they have the resources and connections to persuade authorities to grant them the limited number of licenses. The proper way to do it, she says, is to create a rule that limits the number of licenses per company, that way the large cap firm doesn’t get a leg up on small business, especially ones trying to enter the market.

Rules ensuring fair competition also affect our health. Just look at the track record, says Title, of the all too familiar transnationals whose self-interest has always trumped the public interest:

But the concern is when you look at tobacco or alcohol or pharma. When you have profits that are a primary concern and you have companies that are so big that it becomes difficult to regulate them then you see an incentive to make more people use your products and to worry more about your own profits than their health. And so there’s nothing unique about cannabis that could prevent, for example, the products from being manipulated to be more addictive or advertising that’s targeted to children.

As these large cap companies ready themselves to enter the fastest growing market in the country, the crucial question is whether we write the rules of the game for the benefit of the few or for the many. The answer will serve both as a window – into the nature of the industry we’re creating; and perhaps more telling, as a mirror – since the industry will show us what we value as a society it will also show us what kind of creatures we are.

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