Suppose you lived in an alternative universe, and you needed toothpaste, so you could brush your alternative teeth and look hygienic. Unfortunately, in this imaginary world, toothpaste is a controlled substance, tightly regulated by the government for reasons (“It’s a gateway drug that leads to flossing and eventually to fluoridated water”) that are exceptionally stupid.

To get a tube of the stuff, you have three choices:

You can ask your doctor for a letter recommending you be allowed to possess small amounts of toothpaste to alleviate the symptoms of certain diseases, such as terminal halitosis. You can then apply to the state for a license, which will cost you a hundred bucks, allowing you to make purchases at government-sanctioned dispensaries, located in obscure corners of the countryside, for an exorbitant amount of money.

Or you can make your own toothpaste, although the equipment to squeeze it into the tube is expensive, difficult for a person suffering from bacterial growth in the mouth to operate and subject to frequent unannounced inspections by law enforcement officials. By the time you pay for the set up plus the extra electricity and lawyer fees, the price is nearly as outrageous as at the dispensary.

Or you can purchase excellent quality toothpaste, for a lot less money, illegally.

I suspect the gleam in your eye and the gleam in your grin indicate your alternative-universe self decided on the third option. As a result, you’ve saved a mint and your breath is minty-fresh. The fact that you broke an exceedingly dopey law to accomplish your goal and accommodate your budget shouldn’t bother your alternative conscience at all.

Back in the real world, there is, of course, no ridiculous governmental ban on toothpaste. The state does control the prices of some commodities, such as liquor, milk and health-insurance premiums, but to date, that hasn’t resulted in black markets in Blue Cross-Blue Shield policies or dairy products (“Hey, this isn’t powdered milk you tried to sell me, it’s cocaine”).

I suppose there’d probably be more booze bootlegging if New Hampshire wasn’t so cheap and convenient. In general, though, the marketplace forces of supply and demand determine prices.

Unless you happen to need medical marijuana. In which case, things suddenly go all alternative universe.

Under Maine’s complicated new regulations for dispensing pot to sick people, the state has allowed private nonprofit companies to open just eight dispensaries. But those dispensaries will not necessarily be located where most patients who might benefit from a doobie or two actually live.

For instance, the facility that’s supposed to serve all of Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties could end up in Wilton or Poland, while the population is centered in Lewiston and Auburn. They say they’ll offer home delivery. I wonder if they’ll take orders for munchies, too.

Need a toke in Presque Isle or Houlton? You could be driving over 100 miles to Fort Kent. Waterville residents may have to visit Augusta, and the entire Midcoast is expected to descend on Thomaston for its weed needs.

Why not allow more dispensaries and in more convenient locations?

As one anonymous state official didn’t tell me, “That’s not the way they do it with toothpaste in the alternative dimensions we visited.”

Then, there’s the issue of price.

It costs less than $50 to grow an ounce of pot, according to folks I’ve met who engage in that practice for fun and profit. Street prices are inflated because of the associated legal consequences. Since dispensaries won’t face that expense, they ought to be able to offer cancer patients and people living with AIDS a little relief for no more than $75 to $100 an ounce and still cover their overhead.

But government bureaucrats are concerned that if the dispensaries price their pot that cheaply, those sneaky sick people won’t smoke it themselves. Instead, they’ll sell it on the black market, where they could allegedly receive as much as $450 an ounce. So to prevent diversion, these forward-thinking officials made sure the dispensaries set the price of their grass at levels equal to or above the street value.

It apparently never occurred to them that if people in need of medical marijuana (who already have to purchase a $100 license just to be allowed to shop at the dispensaries) could buy the drug at a reasonable cost, they’d stop doing business with illegal suppliers, which is how many of them currently get their medication.

To compete, the street would have to cut its prices (Rebates! Newspaper coupons! Discounts for ordering online!). But there’s no danger of that happening, because the alternative-universe clunkheads in charge have crafted what amounts to price guarantees for illegal marijuana producers.

You have to wonder what they’re smoking.

Angry? Take a deep breath. Hold it. Hold it. OK, exhale. There, don’t you feel calmer? Now, tell me all about what’s harshing your mellow by e-mailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.