I recently posted an article about the importance of alternative currencies. After posting it, I began to think about other alternatives in this day and age. What could be used as a currency if cash and precious metals werent readily available? A currency needs to be portable, divisible, durable, rare, and fungible. What might arise naturally as a currency temporarily or permanently?
Often, a currency is something that is somewhat useful and somewhat valuable. Prisons have often provided a great was to case study the development of currency. Prior to smoking bans, cigarettes were the de facto currency. You might exchange several smokes for a haircut or some other good or service. Prisoners usually get prepared meals with no choices. If Frank doesnt like ham, and Bubba doesnt like apples, they can also trade. Perhaps one day, Bubba wants to keep his apple, but Frank still doesnt want his ham. He can trade the ham for some cigarettes, which store better than apples and ham anyway. He doesnt smoke, but he can exchange them for something else later.
Eventually, the smoking ban snuffed this out. The market abhors a vacuum and soon dried fish packets arose as a currency. They tasted awful, but fulfilled all the requirements, and were used by bodybuilders as a good lean source of protein. The prisons have also tried hard to stamp this out. There is a point when things go too far. Its one thing to isolate criminals from society, but after that, locking them in physical and psychological cages is ridiculous.
With the general disapproval of smoking, cigarettes would not make a good currency in society. However, they do approach the right idea. Dried fish doesnt offer much when better bodybuilder supplements are available to free individuals. What is out there that is reasonably common, but not too common, recognizable, and fits all the other requirements? It helps if a significant number of people strongly value it, but others dont care for it. Marijuana might just fit the bill.
Marijuana is portable. People move it around all the time. It is divisible; one often hears about grams and ounces and other units. It is fairly durable, degrading somewhat over time, but not rapidly enough to be a bad store of value. The fact that people keep jars of it around is proof of this. It is reasonably rare. It requires effort to collect and isnt a necessity, Even when legal, it is not as easy to get ahold of as water or air. And it is somewhat fungible. There are various strains and grades, but for most people there is a general standard that is par for par. Does this mean it could serve as a currency?
In fact, it already has. I am sure most who are involved in the culture have at one time or another traded a gram for something or other. At PorcFest, there was a vendor who was accepting grams as worth $10. He even joked how he traded a cheeseburger for a joint. I dont know what the going price was there; it was probably higher, but according to a few websites, an average gram goes for $10-13 normally in New Hampshire.
A gram, we know the weight of, is very light. In terms of size, it can easily fit in a small bag in a pocket. People do this all the time. Practicality allows for up to about an ounce of carry, which varies in value from $280 to $350 here. Thats also about the top end of Federal Reserve currency someone would carry. It looks like the wonder plant might just have strong potential as a currency. Legality is a concern, but its tolerated in enough areas to not worry.
To facilitate use and secure storage, enterprising individuals (or heavy tokers) could issue paper promissory notes against marijuana. I can foresee the passing around of colored notes denominated 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 grams; and possibly 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 ounce (apparently the dram has been forgotten), and possibly higher. These might circulate around to add some security, especially in more legally troublesome areas. It also helps with storage of larger quantities, which someone might not be willing to do. Or for someone like me, who doesnt smoke, and doesnt really want it around (whether legal or not), it would be useful.
Marijuana already does serve as a currency to some extent. It could gain wider acceptance if there was a need for it. While libertarians are the main target interest of alternative currencies (localist hippies to a lesser, but significant, extent), there are many disparate groups who are interested in the marijuana industry. They would likely be open to trading in it or using the paper currency. Marijuana can be grown locally, is desired by enough people, and fulfills all the requirements of a currency; it could arise as one during an economic or societal disaster.