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The decades-long War on Drugs initiated by the Nixon administration could be a Prisoner’s Dilemma itself. Naturally, drug dealers and users will not stop their illicit activities merely because the government is cracking down on controlled substance sales. This fruitless and seemingly perpetual public health intuitive has generated a litany of negative externalities. Beyond fueling profligate government spending, it is also a quagmire that has flooded our prisons and tied up our courts (think of the US court system as commons) with individuals guilty of victimless crimes. However, one detrimental consequence that no one could have foreseen over fifty years ago was the development of gray market drugs, intoxicating compounds that are molecularly altered variants of banned illegal drugs. One particularly infamous example is synthetic cannabinoids. The active chemical of THC; is prohibited under federal law, but a slightly different derivative technically would be legal.

The attempts of eager drug users and innovative chemists to skirt US drug laws have resulted in its own Prisoner’s Dilemma. The government is the original defector by making drugs such as marijuana illegal. Individuals who enjoy the effects of cannabis do not want to stop using it just because it is Schedule I inebriant. Drug users, producers, and vendors defect by finding and creating similar substitutes for their illegal drugs of choice. In most instances, synthetic marijuana may only be a few molecules off from the real thing, but chemists have unwittingly created a more destructive recreational drug. The ingestion of synthetic cannabinoids is associated with serious physical and psychological complications never reported with the consumption of naturally occurring THC. There would have been no appetite for developing fake marijuana if state governments had started legalization and decriminalization efforts years before the “research chemical’ craze of the 2010s; this attempt to exploit legal loopholes only exacerbated the public health issues related to drug use. Fortunately, this was more problematic a decade ago; more states have legalized marijuana.

4 thoughts on “Prisoner’s Dilemmas: XIV- Synthetic Marijuana

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