What do “alcohol inhalers” — devices that allow individuals to inhale alcohol vapor, and thereby get drunk without experiencing any hangover — have to do with the much-toutedincreasing strength of marijuana?

Just this: that our society has been able to draw a distinction between the legal and responsible use of alcohol, which we think is just fine for adults, and the use of alcohol inhalers, which are illegal in many states, including California. In other words, just because our society makes the use of a drug “legal” under some circumstances, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be legal under every circumstance or in any concentration. We can and we do permit different things under different circumstances, which is a wonderful flexibility that comes from using the regulated market, rather than the criminal justice system, as the primary mode of controlling alcohol.

That’s why the hand-wringing over marijuana strength is particularly weird. It’s not just — as everybody has already pointed out — that people use less of a strong drug than they do of a weak drug. It’s also that we could radically undercut the market on potent marijuana if we simply decriminalized the use of weaker varieties of the same plant. If “your parents’ marijuana” really wasn’t that big of a deal — as the ONDCP appears to concede in much of its current marketing materials — then “your parents’ marijuana”  doesn’t need to be kept off the street and would in fact go a long way toward keeping stronger varieties of marijuana from becoming the norm. A regulated market in marijuana of low to moderate THC content would wipe out the black market in strong marijuana so quickly it would reveal our criminal “war” on marijuana for the ineffectual enterprise that it largely is.

We don’t need alcohol inhalers because beer, wine and liquor already give most people more than enough ways to alter their consciousness and are a little bit less risky than an inhaler in terms of the possibility of ingesting too much alcohol too quickly. We wouldn’t need strong marijuana, either, if people weren’t continually worried about trying to hide the stuff from law enforcement and could simply be given the opportunity to use a relatively safe drug in a responsible manner.