A Nudge Toward Temperance: User-Set Consumption Limits as an Element of Cannabis Policy

21 Pages Posted: 21 May 2018

See all articles by Jonathan Iwry

Jonathan Iwry

Harvard Law School

Mark A.R. Kleiman

BOTEC Analysis, LLC; New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management

Date Written: October 23, 2017


Approximately four million people in the United States currently report that they have difficulty controlling their own cannabis use. That number has multiplied by approximately a factor of seven over the past quarter-century. The move toward legal availability of cannabis risks a continuation of rising trends in the rate of cannabis use disorder.

Cannabis, like other “temptation goods” (Banerjee & Mullainathan, 2010; Caulkins, 2017), can generate problems because of the challenges it creates for individual decision-making. One approach to limiting such risks is to provide “nudges toward temperance”: designing the supply system with an eye to helping consumers align their daily choices with their long-term interests. A user-determined cap on purchases – a user-set quota system, or USQS – could form an element of such an approach.

Under a USQS, cannabis would be sold only to registered users, each of whom would be asked to establish a personal monthly quantity limit. Vendors would deny sales exceeding any user’s stated quota. This approach to regulation would – to an extent not easily determined in advance – reduce the incidence of diagnosable cannabis problems while respecting personal autonomy: even, in a sense, enhancing it.

If such a system were to succeed in the case of cannabis, it would lay a foundation for considering whether a USQS might be usefully added to the current array of alcohol-control measures, and in particular whether a user-set quota could substitute for the current prohibition of alcohol for those between 18 and 21. The same idea might be extended to some other currently-illicit drugs, with the goal of eliminating illicit markets without the upsurge in problem use that would otherwise be an expected result of legalization.

Keywords: cannabis, user-set quotas, cannabis-use disorder, alcohol, alcoholism, temptation goods

Suggested Citation

Iwry, Jonathan and Kleiman, Mark A.R., A Nudge Toward Temperance: User-Set Consumption Limits as an Element of Cannabis Policy (October 23, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3166307 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3166307

Jonathan Iwry

Harvard Law School ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Mark A.R. Kleiman (Contact Author)

BOTEC Analysis, LLC ( email )

322 N. Mansfield Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management ( email )

196 Mercer St.
New York, NY 10012
United States

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