According to recent reports, there are now 12,000 stores in Thailand where customers can walk in off the street and buy ganja. Customers are greeted with a wide array of products sporting exotic names. Just a year and a half ago, ganja was illegal. If you were caught with even a couple of grams, the odds were high that you’d end up in prison. However, after the law changed in Thailand, those convicted of possessing small quantities were granted amnesty.
The question at hand is whether the legalization of ganja sales, purchasing, and use has led to an increase in the quality of the available products. Over the past year, there has been an explosion in the variety of products, ranging from gummies to edibles, tinctures, vapes, concentrates, and various accessories. In just about a year, a full-blown multifaceted industry has sprouted from what was once an illegal market. The pressing issue is whether the quality of these new products aligns with their widespread availability.
To clarify from the outset, the scarcity of some items may be attributed to their limited availability rather than their illegality. Items like a Gulfstream G700, a Benetti yacht, a castle in France, or an old masterpiece by Paul Gauguin aren’t mass consumer goods. Their pricing structures cater to a select few and are legally accessible to only a tiny fraction of the population. Quality, in these cases, is defined not by the average consumer but by competition confined to a narrow market of potential buyers. Ganja, on the other hand, falls into the mass market category. It is this product where we can examine the relationship between quality and availability in a market that has transitioned from illegal to legal.
For instance, prior to legalization, ganja was illicitly sold through a shadowy network of small-time dealers who constantly feared police entrapment. Their business was limited to known customers, people they trusted not to expose them to law enforcement. Consequently, the availability of ganja was severely restricted, and the street vendors often possessed limited knowledge about their product. Today, ganja is distributed legally, openly sold, and transactions involve no risk of imprisonment. As businesses swiftly emerged to capitalize on this new market, they began competing on quality in a realm where quality used to be secondary due to the product’s scarcity.
A quick refresher on the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, might be helpful here. This principle suggests that approximately 80% of effects stem from 20% of causes. Applied to quality and availability, it implies that focusing on enhancing the quality of key elements can lead to increased availability and overall system performance.
However, it’s crucial to remember a significant caveat. Applying the Pareto Principle to boost availability does not inherently guarantee a direct improvement in the quality of the output. While the principle indicates that concentrating on a smaller subset of causes (the vital few) can have a substantial impact, it doesn’t address the relationship between availability and quality in a direct or causal manner. The enhancement of quality relies on various factors, including resource allocation and specific actions taken. So, what other factors influence the interplay between quality and availability?
There isn’t a specific law or axiom that universally and directly correlates quality with availability. Nevertheless, various principles and concepts in different fields touch upon the relationship between these two aspects. In the case of ganja legalization, several points come into play:
1. Availability vs. Quality: When a previously illegal product, like ganja, becomes legal and regulated, the primary focus shifts from evading law enforcement to ensuring product quality and safety. Legalization typically involves quality control measures, product testing, and regulatory standards aimed at providing consumers with a safer and higher-quality product.
2. Market Competition: In a legal and regulated market, businesses have an incentive to compete based on quality, safety, and customer satisfaction. This competition can drive improvements in product quality, marketing strategies, store aesthetics, and brand development as businesses strive to distinguish themselves and meet consumer preferences.
3. Regulatory Framework: The regulatory framework established after legalization can directly impact product quality. In Thailand, criticism has arisen due to the legalization preceding the enactment of a comprehensive regulatory framework. Such a framework would include regulations specifying quality standards, testing requirements, age restrictions, and safety measures that businesses must adhere to, reinforcing the importance of quality.
4. Consumer Demand: As consumers gain access to legal sources of the product and can make informed choices, their demand for higher quality may rise. There will remain no doubt a market for the low-end product. But like the Benz on the Bangkok streets, there are many cheaper brands of cars and motorcycles. The ganja market will cater to all economic classes.
This demand can prompt some of the businesses to invest in enhancing the quality of their offerings. That will attract more affluent customers. Consumers have yet to find the price of their product hiked by regulations. That day will be coming. One can expect the government to impose constraints, such as limits on THC levels while driving, restrictions on public consumption, or workplace regulations, including opening and closing hours.
In this scenario, while the Pareto Principle may still apply in certain contexts (such as focusing resources on addressing critical quality issues), the transition from an illegal to a legal market fundamentally alters the dynamics. Legalization and regulation typically establish a framework where quality becomes a central concern. Businesses are incentivized to deliver higher-quality products to gain a competitive edge and meet consumer expectations.
While increasing availability plays a role, it’s the regulatory framework, market competition, and consumer demand that are more likely to drive improvements in product quality in a legalized and regulated market. By legalizing ganja and related products, Thailand has initiated a market experiment in its creation. How this narrative unfolds remains uncertain. Sooner or later, the Thai government will likely introduce rules and regulations, similar to those governing cigarettes, beer, wine, and alcohol. The transition from a criminal underground marketplace to a vibrant, above-ground, and mostly unregulated marketplace has just begun. Where this path leads, no one can predict with certainty.