Marijuana’s ability to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the AIDS epidemic created an opening for social movement activists and illegal marijuana sellers to construct a new conception of marijuana as a compassionate palliative for the seriously ill and dying. This discursive opportunity did not lead to the displacement of the recreational intoxicant conception of marijuana, but rather provided a platform for entrepreneurs and activists to append it, carving out (or layering on) an understanding of marijuana as a medical palliative for the sick and dying, even though the state did not recognize its medical use. Marijuana’s ongoing prohibition obstructed the development of formal market institutions, leading market pioneers in San Francisco, who were located at the intersection of the marijuana market and the city’s gay community, to build an interface between the illegal market and the legitimate needs of dying patients. These strategic and value-rational actors constructed the foundations of what would become a multi-billion dollar medical marijuana industry by openly defying the law and constructing informal institutions, such as organizational forms (the marijuana buyers’ club) and rules of exchange (proof of medical need), that were sanctioned by society, while remaining formally prohibited by the state.
As published in:
The Architecture of Illegal Markets: Towards an Economic Sociology of Illegality in the Economy