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Do you know why economists are likely to be in favor of Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana use? Not because they care much about freedom or even that they think it is welfare improving. No, not at all. Remember, “we” economists are self-interested creatures. And this change in the law will be a very useful “natural experiment” that economists will be sure to exploit in future research.

What the heck does that mean? Remember when it comes to social policy it is almost impossible to run controlled experiments. For example, how to run experiments of the impact of complete poverty on health outcomes? Do you randomly take people’s incomes away and compare their life outcomes to everyone else? Not exactly. So what economists try to do is examine “natural” changes to the human condition that are unpredictable or unplanned that can mimic the set-up of what a controlled experiment can do. I won’t bore you with the details of what we do from here. But this change in law in both CO and WA will surely be useful to study many topics, including ones for which you may never guess at the outset a change on pot-smoking laws would be useful for.


3 Responses to “Sunday Morning Ponderance: Weed Edition”

  1. Harry says:

    Yes, WC. An experiment where there is at least some control, even though the test tubes have been washed with tap water and there are a few grams of an unwashed unknown on the scale.

    I can see how this can yield some research that actually means something beyond the usual a priori speculation.

  2. Sanket says:

    “ones for which you may never guess at the outset a change on pot-smoking laws would be useful for”… Can you please give some examples? I’d be interested to know….


    • Common Sense says:

      Your mssing the point. When WC writes “you,” he is not referring to you, Sanket, “you” is used here to represent any hypothetical person. The point he is trying to make is that this experiment, the legalization of marijuana, may have unforseen consequences – for better or worse – that no one could have anticipated.

      If there are bad results, aw shucks, at least we have 48 or so states left that are still safe, and we can learn from the mistake. If there are unexpected good results, great! we can learn from them and build upon these.

      The reason WC provides no specific examples is because he, nor anyone, knows exactly what will come of this experiment – because this experiment has never been performed before.

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