Capitalism at Work
On Point with Chris Papst
Earlier this year, Governor Corbett signed a bill banning products known as synthetic marijuana. When the law was being debated, opponents tried to explain what would happen if it passed. Now that the ban has taken affect, we see how right they were - and it's all thanks to capitalism.
Synthetic marijuana is better known by its generic name: K-2 or Spice. It's been around for decades. But only lately has it exploded in popularity. The product is sold and marketed as a sweet smelling potpourri that's not for human consumption. But when people smoke it, it mimics the effects of marijuana (some say it's even stronger). Basically, it's a bunch of chopped up herbs that are sprayed with a chemical. That chemical is largely what was banned. And since the product contains no THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, it does not show up on drug tests. Naturally, when word spread of this product's availability, sales soared.
“It comes down to personal choice. I think adults should be able to make their own decisions.” Brian Edmondson owns Hemps Above, a shop in Camp Hill that sells glass pipes, hemp products, synthetic marijuana and the like. For him, K2 or Spice is big business. It accounts for up to $40,000 in monthly sales, or 75% of his entire business.
Edmondson does tell his customers that the product is not for human consumption, but he knows why they buy it. And it doesn't bother him at all. He equates his sale of synthetic marijuana (potpourri) to a grocery store's sale of Ready Whip, which can also get you high if inhaled. Plus, he says he only sells to adults. If kids get a hold of it later, that's not his fault.
When the state banned the product, Edmondson says his clients panicked. But all their worries are now gone because a new “legal” product has emerged to take its place. This new product will be a mixture of herbs that lack the chemical which largely made K-2 and Spice illegal. But apparently the effects of smoking it are still the same.
Said Edmondson, “Something was created that a lot of people really liked and they are going to take it away. Something has to fill that void. You can't take something away and expect people to just walk away from it.”
Pennsylvania is not taking synthetic marijuana lightly. Under the law, a first offense for selling it will carry a heavy penalty; up to five years in jail and a $15,000 fine. If someone is caught in possession, they could go to jail for one year or face a $5,000 fine. But why would someone sell it, or even use it, when there's a legal replacement?
Synthetic marijuana was hurting people. I, alone, covered stories where kids were rushed to the hospital after smoking it. Subsequently, the state had a moral obligation to protect its citizenry from a potentially dangerous and unstudied product that could be abused by our young people. But the state can only do so much with good intentions.
The reality is as long as there is someone who wishes to obtain a product, there will be a merchant who will seek out that product and sell it. In our capitalistic society, it's supply and demand. This simple philosophy has lifted billions out of poverty and created more wealth and a better quality of life than any other economic concept in human civilization. It helped forge the prosperous trail that made America, America. However, in this particular instance, the product is what many would call a drug and the merchant is what many would call a drug dealer.
Chris Papst is a two-time Emmy Award winning reporter for CBS-21 news. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @chrispapst.