Can't Marijuana Be a Business Instead of an Issue?

The New York Times is vaguely troubled by innovation and investment in the cannabis industry.


Juju Joints

A recent New York Times story calls attention to Juju Joints, disposable cannabis-oil vaporizers made by a company in Seattle. These e-joints, which are designed to deliver about 150 hits before you throw them out, resemble the rechargeable pens sold by Open Vape in Colorado, but they reportedly can be used even more discreetly, because the vapor they produce is odorless. The Colorado vape pens, by contrast, produce a faint, quickly dissipating cannabis smell that someone close to the consumer might notice. The Stranger, the Seattle weekly, calls Juju "the joint for people who don't like to smoke joints."

Unobtrusiveness is an important feature even in states where marijuana is legal, since restrictions on consumption outside the home are vague and potentially sweeping. "I wanted to eliminate every hassle that has to do with smoking marijuana," the Juju Joint's inventor, Rick Stevens, tells the Times. "I wanted it to be discreet and easy for people to handle. There's no odor, matches, or mess."

What could have been an interesting story about innovation in an emerging market takes a sinister turn in the seventh paragraph, where the Times harshes the Juju Joint's buzz:

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Many addiction researchers fear that e-cigarettes will pave the way to reliance on actual cigarettes, especially in teenagers. And THC adversely affects the developing brain, some studies have found, impairing attention and memory in adolescents and exacerbating psychiatric problems.

"In some ways, e-joints are a perfect storm of a problematic delivery system, the e-cigarette, and in addition a problematic substance, cannabis oil," said Dr. Petros Levounis, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

So Juju Joints are bad because they might lead to Marlboros? There is no evidence that nicotine vaping promotes cigarette smoking, and it is even less plausible that THC vaping would. Since products like Juju Joints enable consumers to avoid smoke inhalation (just as e-cigarettes do), they should be welcomed by anyone worried about potential health effects. Levounis' insinuation to the contrary consists of nothing more than a clich√© combined with the repeated use of a disparaging adjective. 

"Law enforcement agencies are concerned that discreet vapor pens filled with cannabis oil are already being abused by teenagers," the Times reports, "and that many are sure to lay hands on JuJu Joints." In other words, discreet forms of cannabis consumption are scary because they might appeal to teenagers. The same concern would indict colorless, odorless vodka as "a perfect storm of a problematic delivery system…in addition a problematic substance." It looks just like water, but it still gets you drunk! Outrageous!

A similar cannabis-induced anxiety afflicts a recent column by New York Times business writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, who notes Peter Thiel's investment in the marijuana industry and wonders, "Is cannabis socially responsible or ethically objectionable?" I dunno. Are potatoes socially responsible? What about cars or computers?

Sorkin's question is meaningless, since any product can be used excessively or inappropriately. A sound ethical judgment depends on context. And even if a certain pattern of consumption is dangerous to the consumer, that does not necessarily mean it is socially irresponsible, unless you take it for granted that every individual has a social duty to be as healthy and productive as possible.

But Sorkin still wants to know: "Is marijuana closer to the health care industry, given its benefits for certain ailments, or should it be lumped into the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, guns and, in some quarters, fossil fuels and sugary soda?" He argues that "questions about whether the industry is sinful or virtuous will continue to hang over it." If so, that's only because superficial, fashion-driven commentators insist on raising them.