Hayek on Medical Marijuana
By David Henderson
Yesterday, as co-blogger Art Carden noted, was the late Friedrich Hayek’s birthday. I want to honor him by pointing out his insight about medical marijuana. Really? Medical marijuana? But, you’re probably saying, Hayek never discussed marijuana, medical or otherwise.
That’s true. But what he did discuss in what is probably his best article, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” is why economic freedom is the only way to get much of people’s information used. Hayek called this information that is specific to the individual “the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.” Modern economists in the Hayekian tradition use the shorthand, “local knowledge.”
Hayek contrasted this kind of knowledge with “scientific knowledge.” But here’s where I would apply Hayek to “out-Hayek” Hayek: scientific knowledge is, itself, largely the product of decentralized activity. We do better at science when the government does not centralize it and does not get to say which leads should be followed and which ones should not.
Which brings me to medical marijuana. In a May 1 article in Wired, “Study: cannabis compound might have use as an HIV drug,” Ian Steadman reports on a research article in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. Here’s the lead paragraph:
The chemical compound in cannabis, THC, appears to be able to damage and weaken the most common strain of the HIV virus.
Of course, as Steadman points out, we won’t know until further research is done, whether these results will pan out. But the point is that by letting researchers test various chemicals, we raise the odds of their finding cures for diseases. Gordon Tullock, in his underappreciated book, The Organization of Inquiry, made similar points to mine about the value of allowing decentralized research.
The ultimate centralization is prohibition. Under which system will we get more testing for the possibly-beneficial effects of medical marijuana: one where marijuana is allowed or one where it is prohibited?
HT to Scott Shackford.