Marijuana legalization and decriminalization has vaulted weed into the realm of commodities like corn, pork bellies, tin, gold, and rubber.
In other words, now that people can buy pot almost everywhere, the market is expansive and uniform enough for New York stoners to know whether a dealer in Florida is overcharging them when they try to score on spring break.
Of course, there's no weed exchange like the Chicago Board of Trade, so figuring out how the national market operates requires groups like Price of Weed, a global index for marijuana sales. The Washington Post crunched numbers from the group's website, finding that $286.35 is now the average price for an ounce of marijuana in the US. An eighth would therefore go for around $36.
Unsurprisingly, weed was cheapest in Oregon, Washington, Colorado — states that have legalized the drug for recreational use — and California, which became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. In Oregon, an ounce sells for $190 on average.
The Post cited another website, Floating Sheep, that used Price of Weed's data in 2011 to show that the price of an ounce was about $314 at that time, suggesting that weed prices started dropping after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational pot in 2012.
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Many experts see the trend toward acceptance of weed as leading to more legalization and decriminalization that will further suppress prices — good news for cannabis aficionados but reason to worry for those concerned about the ill health effects of toking.
"When people purchase marijuana and other illegal drugs, they are largely compensating the dealer and everyone else along the supply chain for their risk of arrest and incarceration," RAND Drug Policy Research Center Co-Director Beau Kilmer told VICE News. "With legalization, those risks are eliminated. Legalizing marijuana and allowing it to be industrially farmed like any other agricultural commodity will cause the production and distribution costs to eventually plummet."
But Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who has long advocated for legalizing and taxing marijuana, wasn't so sanguine. Marijuana prices would likely go down if the federal government legalized weed, he said, but he didn't think they would plunge to bargain-basement rates.
The Price of Weed estimates that pot in Colorado sells at around 24 percent less than the national average. Miron noted, however, that Colorado growers and dispensaries still face lots of hurdles that hurt their bottom lines.
"The Colorado experience is not definitive because it's not full-scale legalization," Miron told VICE News. "They cannot use banks in the normal way. They can't advertise in the normal way."
'Allowing it to be industrially farmed like any other agricultural commodity will cause the production and distribution costs to eventually plummet.'
Miron doesn't necessarily see prices dropping further in part because he thinks it's unlikely that the number of marijuana users would increase if the drug becomes legal nationwide.
People who want to smoke weed now can do so if they want, he said. Maybe 10 percent more people might smoke regularly and a greater percentage would likely try it occasionally, but he doesn't see the market growing exponentially.
Full-scale legalization would likely make the national marijuana market a lot more complex, however, which could conceivably lead to very expensive high-end weed products, Miron said.
In Colorado, for example, an explosion of pot strains, marijuana edibles, and other goodies provides options to customers on both ends of the economic spectrum.
"How much is a cup of coffee?" asked Miron. "You can pay 75 cents at some local roadside stand or local diner. Or you can pay $15 for an espresso in a downtown New York Hotel. If you are willing to buy relatively crummy weed that maybe has a lot of twigs in it or it has a lot of stick and not much bud and you just want something that just gets you high, you can spend less."
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