It’s almost as if big government and big business collude to write regulations to help themselves out, not us. The formerly counter-culture weed biz is no exception to the allure of regulatory capture, as Byron Tau writes for Politico. Why do they want all these up-and-comers trying to make their lives harder by actually competing on the free market?

Pot legalization activists are running into an unexpected and ironic opponent in their efforts to make cannabis legal: Big Marijuana.

Medical marijuana is a billion-dollar industry — legal in 18 states, including California, Nevada, Oregon and Maine — and like any entrenched business, it’s fighting to keep what it has and shut out competitors. Dispensary owners, trade associations and groups representing the industry are deeply concerned — and in some cases actively fighting — ballot initiatives and legislation that could wreck their business model.

That pits them against full legalization advocates, who have been hoping to play off wins at the ballot box last fall in Colorado and Washington state that established some of the most permissive pot laws in the world. Activists are hoping to pass full legalization measures in six more states by 2016.


This spring, the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine joined the usual coalition of anti-pot forces that includes active law-enforcement groups, social conservatives and public health advocates to oppose a state bill that would legalize possession of small quantities of the drug. The medical marijuana lobby argued that criminal organizations would start smuggling pot to neighboring states, and they complained that the bill’s tax plan was unworkable and unfair.

Regardless of how you feel about the pot-weed, this is a great object lesson on the forces at work in most regulation, which your liberal friends and acquaintances (or, sparring partners) might be more receptive to than others. It’s why Philip Morris happily backed 2009 tobacco regulation that was supposed to be so very detrimental to the tobacco industry. It’s why health insurers and Big Pharma got on board for Obamacare. Wal-Mart and Amazon—> Internet tax. The more complex the system, the more onerous the regulatory burdens, the fewer little guys can encroach on the turf of those who have the money and lawyers and lobbyists to abide by complex, onerous regulations. It’s a win-win for these giant entities who simultaneously corner markets and up profits while getting applauded for their “surprising” work in their own self interests by a disingenuous political class and an obtuse press.

I should say this kind of behavior doesn’t necessarily make such interests inherently dastardly. They’re often just acting rationally with the playing field before them. But if you want to actually keep the economy from being rigged in favor of the big guys while Main Street gets the shaft (ahem, President Obama), then you need to dismantle a system that pays out handsomely for protection money lobbying and collusion.

This kind of thing is the driver of Tim Carney’s great reporting on cronyism and the crux of what Ben Domenech has written about as a reform movement— libertarian populism. An extrication from the Bigs:

[I]t aims at breaking the Republican brand away from the concept of Big, a concept which the vast majority of young voters accept as truth.

It supports measures which leave people alone (Matt Kibbe’s dictum of don’t hurt them, don’t take their stuff) and protects civil society (the importance of religious liberty and the importance of localism) without falling into the “compassionate” embrace of big. Douthat cites a few of its aims from the Rand Paul approach – a balanced budget amendment, flatter and simpler taxes, and more – but there is also a stronger focus on issues which cut across party lines, including reform of higher education, prison and justice systems, civil liberty protections, and an assault on D.C. cronyism from green energy to Big Banks.

Libertarian populists understand that government has made the problems of debt worse on a national level and an individual one. They understand that government’s approach to education has hurt as well, with nationalized student loans and an educational system which rewards cronies and punishes innovation. They overlap with many across the right in seeking an open educational system that delivers real equal opportunity to every American, regardless of color. Here, the libertarian populists break thoroughly from the soft civic-minded technocrats: they believe that the government school systems are deplorable, and effective education reform has to break out of that system in ways that will inevitably lead to upheaval. And they are right.

As of now, marijuana activists remain united on fighting the feds.

In other pot news, the DEA is still busting medical marijuana dispensaries, even in states where marijuana was just recently legalized even more broadly, in violation of an Obama promise he, of course, claims he kept. You’re welcome, Millenials.

Front-page photo credit to Blind Nomad on Flickr.