The Ill-Fated Bud Boycott

by Patrick Appel

DiA returns to the idea of American pot smokers not buying weed unless they know if is not from nefarious Mexican drug cartels:

[Is] my suggestion unrealistic? Maybe (some of our commenters objected on those grounds). But consumers make lots of decisions based on incentives that are fairly abstractI want to support local business, I want a car that minimizes my petrol use, etc, etc. Clearly these abstract decisions motivate actual decisions, at least some of the time. As these abstract incentives go I don't think avoiding moral guilt is particularly esoteric. And it seems like a number of our commenters have already taken steps in this direction (those of you who said, don't buy drugs on street corners, I'm glad I live in Canada, and so on).

Megan wrote yesterday that most boycotts fail because the customers don't care. I'd tweak it somewhat: most boycotts fail because customers are not aware of the boycott and because customers don't care enough, two reasons why both the Whole Foods boycott and a Mexican weed boycott are not likely to win the day. Let's construct a simple equation for a successful boycott: Media Exposure X How Intolerable Business Practices Are X Ability Of Customers To Impact Business Sales = Boycott Effectiveness.

It's impossible to conduct a pot boycott, first and foremost, because it would be impossible to drum up the necessary media exposure, even though the business activities of Mexican drug cartels rate near the top of the intolerable scale. You can't get a celebrity spokesman to proudly proclaim he only smokes US-grown pot, you can't picket the establishments that sell Mexican pot, and you can't be sure you are succeeding because drug cartel revenues are not public knowledge. Illegality impedes organizing. Many of the "moral guilt" decisions are also opportunities for individuals to signal virtuousness and earn social accolades. Again, the illegality of the product makes this sort of signaling much more difficult. The comparisons to shopping at local business and buying a car with a high MPG are not equivalent because close substitutes and credible consumer information exists in those marketplaces.

I can't think of a single example of a sucessful consumer boycott of a black market.