On cannabis legalization and regulation: Q&A with Economist editor Daniel Franklin

The Economist wrote in 2016 that the argument for the legalization of marijuana had been won.

“Now for the difficult bit,” the influential global business magazine stated at the time, “the start of complex arguments about how to regulate cannabis.”

Three years later, those debates are playing out in more parliaments, civil services and societies than ever – although mostly for medical.

Those issues were front and center as the magazine held its inaugural Cannabis Summit in Toronto last week, bringing together a broad range of participants, including industry players, regulators, statisticians and health-care professionals.

Hard questions involving policy and investment opportunities were asked at the daylong event.

“There’s a lot of policy implications, business opportunities and social effects to be thought through,” said Daniel Franklin, The Economist’s executive and diplomatic editor. “So, I think it’s an ideal intersection of issues where we can help to bring people together to puzzle this out, and also to bring a certain cross-fertilization of ideas from different parts of the world that had been grappling with similar issues.”

The Economist, based in London, is a long-standing backer of cannabis legalization.

“We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think it was both an important issue and an important business potentially,” Franklin said about the conference. “And all the signs are that there is serious investment going into the industry.”

Marijuana Business Daily sat down with Franklin to talk about cannabis legalization, policy and global trends.

How do you see this playing out in the months and years ahead? 

We have long been advocates of legalization, well before it started to happen in a serious way. But we’re also very mindful that it’s complicated territory, and it needs to be done thoughtfully. There are lots of tricky policy issues to be grappled with. And it’s also potentially big business.

More broadly, in The Economist, we’ve been critical of prohibition. So, legalizing and regulating has been a long-standing editorial policy line.

But at the same time, recognizing that it’s not something you do in a cavalier way. It’s something that needs to be done in as thoughtful an approach as possible, in a way that tackles consequences which may not be instantly obvious. And drawing on all the experience that you can from places that are starting to experiment with it.

And every country is going to proceed at its own pace, in its own way, correct? 

One of the things that we’re hearing about today at this conference is that this is complicated stuff. This is difficult stuff.

It’s probably a good thing that it doesn’t happen all at the same time, all in the same way, (instead) with a degree of experimentation and drawing on lessons from places that are further ahead than others.

How does the cannabis industry get more mainstream?

One of the things that struck me today is that there’s clearly a big sense of opportunity.

Big numbers are put around, and that’s clearly true. A lot of people, a lot of major companies are moving in, and there’s also a certain amount of celebrity investing going on. There’s also a lot of innovation happening in the industry.

But one of the things that struck me was that there is also still quite a high degree of risk in the industry. One shouldn’t play down the barriers and the potential problems that could arise from a regulatory backlash.

So, there’s investment risk, and that weighs on the industry at the same time.

Is there a little too much hype involved?

There’s typically in a newly legalized industry a hype cycle. You get people very excited, and then there’s bound to be some disappointment, compared with the initial hype.

But quite often it turns out that it’s actually underplayed, and it might even bigger than people imagined. I don’t know if that’s going to repeat here, but I think it’s almost inevitable that some of the hype will prove to be excessive, but I think there’s something very real as well.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]

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