Question of the Day: Is Pot Smoke a Good Signal?

From a reader named Ben Doty:

Quick question that may benefit from an economist’s perspective, possibly relating to complimentary goods, signaling, expertise, and education:

If you walk into a surf shop and the stench of marijuana nearly knocks you over, does that make you more or less likely to purchase surfing lessons there?

What do you say, readers? I have never been in a surf shop myself; I have, however, been in the pro shop at various golf courses and I can tell you that I have never once smelled marijuana there.

Don Fagen


Why did you pick a surf shop? Stereotyping surfers as weed users? Would YOU want to take a surfing lesson from a guy who was stoned at the time, in a sport where you can easily do serious damage to your body? Perhaps you should ask the same of taking...say....guitar lessons. Imho the stench of week as an influence in purchasing a good or service would depend a lot on the attitude about pot of the potential customer.


I dont think it makes a difference it smells like pot, if they smoke pot, or not. I think if they know the sport they will be able to give adequate lessons either way. Maybe even more focused lessons and you may get bonus time out of it.


Marijuana does not make one a good surfer, nor bad surfer (or good/bad teacher for that matter). I would look for personal recommendations for lessons and rely on that rather than the smell of a surf shop. I think ultimately it would come down to the type of person you are and what you look for in a teacher. If you have a negative opinion of the drug, then it would probably be a good indicator that you would not want to buy lessons at a store (any store) that smelled like pot. This question just seems so ridiculous to me, perhaps I just don't get it.


that's why it's freakonomics you know, ridiculous questions and ridiculous answers but eventually make sense


I don't see why it would have an effect on purchasing. But smoking it might help you learn better, that is if you already smoke marijuana.


Back in the days of my youthful indiscretions, it probably would encourage me to be more open and friendly with them. Now, it wouldn't have any influence on whether to buy or not.

Also, funny you mention pro shops - I work at one of the most prestigious country clubs in the United States, and while what you're said is true, I have noticed that peculiar stench on our golf courses many, many times.


The smell adds authenticity to the surf shop: if they smoke there, regardless that it's a place of business, then they are the real deal as far as surfers go. Kind of like being able to see where the goods are made in a bakery so you know they are fresh and not shipped in.

Eric M. Jones

I think pot is a good idea socially, but not in a place of business, driving, school, or wherever one is expected to pay attention and get a job done.


Years back when I smoked regularly, there were many cases where my focus was intensified because I was high. Granted there were times where my mind would drift, but I don't think marijuana should be the blame, more so a person's personality.


The reader who sent in this question wasn't asking if smoking marijuana causes person to become a better surfer or teacher. If the amount of pot the average surfer smokes correlates with how often they surf, then a shop smelling of marijuana could signal that the surfers are more capable.

Jun Sorioso

I don't believe I've ever seen a study out there measuring pro surfers' performance against pot intake. But I'd imagine moderate users would have better flow and heavy users would probably be dead.


I think there is a higher probability that the lessons would be sub-par if I smelled pot upon entering, as compared to a clean, pot-free store. However, if there are very high reviews on Yelp that say otherwise, I would be indifferent to the smell of pot if the end result is a good lesson.


Smoking pot might help you surf better, but unlikely it will help you teach better. Learn to surf sober, then lighten up with a smoke when you have trouble blocking out distractions.


Far less likely! I'd walk out!

I want responsible instructors, not people who are high, drunk, or stayed out too late to stay awake. If I'm paying for lessons, value for my money dictates I want focus to be on me, not their current stake of intoxication.

Being intoxicated is no way to run a business. If they're going to be irresponsible with their own responsibilities, how will they be with my needs?

Steve C.

I spent a summer working in the pro shop at a local muni, and smelled weed on everyone from fire fighters, to lawyers, to retirees my grandfather's age. This usually occurred on multiple occasions a week, and often times it was in the early morning.

Paul in VA

I think pot is a bit of a red herring here. Revise the question to say if when you entered the store there was a pile of empty vodka bottles on the counter. Do you want a lesson of any sort from someone who is drunk?

EVERYBODY who Drinks, or smokes pot thinks that they handle it just fine. The same way everybody thinks they are an above average driver. The comment about "it makes me sharper" is just plain baloney, and people looking to justify their vices. Drunk driving statistics are clear that even a small / social amount of alcohol has a huge impact on driving ability. But everybody who drinks and gets home safe thinks that they handle alcohol better than others.

If it smells like Pot, or booze, or whatever, I am outta there, and you should be too.


This question was only published because of the 1980s surfer stereotype.

Mike M

As a surfer I sort of take offense to the question. Surfers today are athletes. The ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals, the sports governing body) drug tests their athletes on the pro tour. This isn't the 60's or 70's where the question wouldn't have been so off base, but we have had enormous growth over the last 30 years in our sport.

The greatest surfer of all time (and arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time) Kelly Slater with 11 world titles under his belt has is pretty anti-drugs and was a vocal supporter of drug testing in Surfing. Sure there are are some surfers who smoke weed, but the sport itself has worked very hard to shed this stereotype and you are just helping it continue. To answer your insulting question, no, I would not buy anything from a surf shop that smelled like weed.


I've had a similar experience in Hawaii. Took a lesson from some kid who was a complete meathead. Was a small family operation and clearly only the matriarch had any interest in running a business. The kid sure knew how to surf but he sucked at teaching.
I don't care for weed but I also don't care who smokes it. That said anyone who would allow their business to smell of it isn't a place I would support.
Finally Ben, what a lame assumption you've made here. Surfers today are doctors, lawyers, yoga instructors, students, finance-douches, and yes, Jeff Spicoli types.
Maybe the better question is; if you enjoy weed, would you be more inclined to take a lesson from a fellow smoker?


Shouldn't the word be "complementary" rather than "complimentary"?