Marijuana is a gateway drug. But only because we made it one

Marijuana is a gateway drug. But only because we’ve made it one.

By understanding the somewhat boring art of basic retail shopper marketing we can learn how this has happened.

Last month the South Africa’s Constitutional Court passed down a judgment that makes it legal for adults to cultivate or smoke marijuana in their homes. The outrage this caused was remarkable. The uproar continues online, on-air and on TV.

The examples used to bolster arguments of various kinds around the issue are generally from foreign countries where narcotic-use has (with good or less-than-good results) been legalized. But perhaps instead of looking around the globe for facts that can inform our opinion, we should be looking back in time.

The prohibition was a funny time in America. A panic about moral decline due to urbanization had gripped much of the English speaking world. Religeosity of various kinds was rampant, and this fed a fervent feeling that the government needed to step in.

Ferocious women of various backgrounds were involved in the temperance movement and women in general were (understandably) very keen on the idea of laws preventing their husbands from blowing their monthly wages on booze and arriving home on Saturday morning hungover and broke.

We all know that the Prohibition was a failure, but the reasons WHY it was a failure are instructive. 

When alcohol was declared illegal, people didn’t stop drinking. As we know, they just obtained their booze from another source. And that source happened to be criminals who brewed it, distilled it and smuggled it into the hands of the consumer.

All the outlawing of booze had done was drive whisky off the shelves of America’s bars and bottle stores and into the sphere of criminals. And there’s the problem. The person who sold me my whisky now ALSO sold hookers, stolen goods, narcotics and ran an illegal casino. As the "point of purchase" for the consumer changed and from a public bar to a den of ill repute in a dingy cellar with blacked-out windows and a funny smell, the consumer now had access to a range of goods they would not normally have come into contact with. Instead of impulse-purchasing a case of over-priced wine when buying his whisky, our consumer was now likely to purchase a couple of hookers, some heroin and gamble away the grocery money when doing so.

By changing the point of purchase, whisky had become a gateway drug. And a crime-wave or rather tsunami, was caused.

It was a bit like selling automatic rifles, cyanide and tastefully-packaged portable nuclear weapons in the check-out queue at the 7-Eleven. An idea which certain elaborately-coiffured US Presidents may not be averse to...

Anyway, in the same way, when Marijuana is outlawed, it is supplied to consumers by a person who ALSO happens to be enthusiastically selling everything from heroin to cocaine to ketamine to crack and crystal-meth etc etc etc etc etc etc.

So if your child was going to buy a joint of Swazi finest (as they tend to) would you rather he or she did so at a nice shop in a mall with a friendly sales assistant named Troy or from a man in an alley who offered them the above smorgasbord of death and horror?
The choice is, of course, entirely yours.

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