Welcome Jonathan P. Caulkins (NationalAffairs.com), Mark A. R. Kleiman (UCLA) (RealityBasedCommunity),  Angela Hawken (PepperdineUniversity), and Host Pete Guither (DrugWarRant)

Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know

Marijuana legalization is going to be an actual voting option for many people in this election cycle, and despite attempts by most politicians to avoid the topic, it has already become harder to do so. We have Presidential candidates this year openly calling for legalization, and President Obama has had to transition from laughing off legalization questions in a Town Hall to seriously acknowledging Latin American leaders calling for a real discussion about “market alternatives.” Regardless of how voting turns out this year, it seems inevitable that marijuana is heading inexorably toward some kind of legalization.

It is, perhaps, perfect timing for a book like: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. Joining us today are co-authors Jonathan P. Caulkins, Stever Professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at UCLA, and Angela Hawken, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. (One of the co-authors unable to join us today is Beau Kilmer, Co-Director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.)

On my blog I’ve often (and sometimes vociferously) opposed the views of one or more of the authors on drug policy issues. However, I was quite pleased to find loads of useful factual information in this book presented in a clear and easy-to-read manner. Perhaps that is why I was asked to host. I greatly admire much of the work the authors have done here, yet still find areas of disagreement calling out for discussion.

The book starts with a basic primer on marijuana itself with questions like “How does it feel to get high?” and “How is marijuana consumed?” answered with a thorough frankness that would greatly discomfit the D.A.R.E. or “Just Say No” crowd. I daresay that even some experienced casual users will be surprised to find themselves learning new information about their herb of choice.

The authors discuss everything from whether you can fatally overdose (you can’t) or non-fatally overdose (you can) to whether marijuana use enhances creativity (their answer: “Maybe. Maybe not.”)

They then proceed to examine pretty much every aspect of the topic, including how marijuana is produced, how the laws are enforced, the risks and benefits of using marijuana, the medical and recreational value, the definition of legalization, the range of options between prohibition and commercial production, the legal issues ranging from state to federal to international, and how the debate is framed in this country.

The authors conclude by each giving their own personal views on legalization and what they would like to see… and they don’t all agree (I’m not giving it away here — you’ll have to ask them in the discussion… or perhaps buy the book).

When it comes to the critical legalization sections, while each chapter is started with a question, you’re rarely given a definitive answer. Although legal marijuana in the history of the world has never been as serious a problem as prohibition, there have been no examples of legalized marijuana anywhere in recent history (i.e., legal and regulated for adults to produce, possess, and consume recreationally). Therefore, many of the direct and indirect results of legalization are scientifically unknowable with absolute certainty.

So the authors provide possible outcomes and options, often leaving the decision of which outcome to assign higher probability up to the reader. Some readers may feel that the authors took the even-handed presentation of opposite options too far, avoiding judgments as to whether the evidence appears to lean one way or the other. An example is the section on whether increased marijuana use will cause reductions in alcohol abuse (through substitution behavior… which would be good) or increases in alcohol abuse (through complementary behavior… which would be bad). While studies showing both sides are presented, it’s left to the reader to evaluate their relative strengths or weaknesses.

Regardless, the authors have concentrated on conveying the uncertainties of legalization issues. This leaves the reader feeling about legalization exactly as the authors intend — with more questions than answers.

The book is the beginning of a discussion, not an ending.

Because of this, the book is unlikely to satisfy either the advocate looking for the one argument that will convince everyone to support legalization, or the career prohibitionist hoping for evidence that legalization will turn everyone into face-eating zombies.

Where it is likely to be most useful is for the average consumer of political discourse, who may know a bit about pot, but would like to become more informed about the issues involved, all neatly organized in one location.

This book lends itself to talking about a wide variety of topics, and I expect we should have a robust chat. Some possible discussion items include the value of marijuana to the individual and to society, the liberty argument versus protecting the abuser and society from his/her actions, how to get the government to talk more frankly about marijuana in general, when (and to what degree) to trust “facts” about illicit substances, how to balance certain costs of prohibition with uncertain costs of legalization, and how uncertainty fits in the process of making and changing public policy.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

149 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jonathan Caulkins, Mark Kleiman, and Angela Hawken, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know”

BevW August 11th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Welcome Jon, Mark, Angela, and Pete.

Pete, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

To follow along, you will have to refresh your browser:
PC = F5 key, MAC = Command+R keys

If you want to ask a question – just type it in the Leave Your Response box & Submit Comment.

If you are responding to a comment – use the Reply button under the number,
then type your response in the box, Submit Comment.

Please keep questions and comments focused on the discussion with our guests and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Thanks, Bev. Welcome to authors Mark, Jonathan, and Angela, plus everyone else joining the discussion. I’m looking forward to a fascinating and spirited discussion.

To get things rolling, it might be good to start out with some definitions so we understand each other. Mark, Jonathan, and Angela – can you define some of the basics such as legalization, decriminalization, depenalization, prohibition as you use them in the book. Does legalization, for example, mean unrestricted?

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Thanks to Bev Wright and the rest of the Firedoglake crew for setting up this salon, and to Pete Guither for hosting it.

Pete’s opening post provides a very fair summary of the book. And I’m sure he won’t be alone in being a little frustrated by our reluctance to make magisterial pronouncements that come down on one side or the other of close empirical controversies. Pete cites as an example the effect of marijuana legalization on heavy drinking, which we point out as a key uncertainty that could easily shift a reasonable person from favoring to opposing legalization or from opposing it to favoring it, simply because the alcohol problem is so much larger than the marijuana problem on every dimension (including incarceration).

Now it’s true that there are studies of the cross-elasticity of demand between the two drugs, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the weight of the evidence tilts somewhat toward substitution rather than complementarity, which is the way Pete would like it to point. But our assertion is that even if those studies were univocal – which is far from being the case – they wouldn’t deserve much total weight, because the effect on alcohol use of a moderate-sized change in marijuana prices while marijuana remains illegal (or the effect on marijuana use of a moderate-sized change in alcohol price, still with marijuana illegal) simply isn’t a strong predictor of the effect on heavy drinking of marijuana legalization and the massive price drop likely to result from it. And the effects might depend on policy details: Would it be legal to add alcohol to cannabis-infused drinks, or cannabinoids to beer? Could bars provide marijuana, along with alcohol, for on-premises consumption?

Nor are the short-run effects – which is all the studies can get at – necessarily similar to, or even in the same direction as, the long-run effects. (Over a period of decades, would having two legal intoxicants rather than one change attitudes toward intoxication? Would the legal marijuana industry ally with the legal alcohol industry to oppose tax and regulatory changes hostile to either, as the industries producing beer, wine, and distilled spirits now ally with one another? There’s simply no way of knowing the answers to such questions.)

So what we say in the book is what we still believe:

1. The effect of marijuana policy on heavy drinking deserves great weight in considering which marijuana policy to choose;

2. The effect could be substantial, but it could go either way;

3. Currently available information doesn’t resolve the question either of magnitude or of direction; and

4. No research performed under prohibition can give us much insight about the effects of legalization.

As a result, the decision to legalize or not, and if so under what rules, will have to be made in the dark. That’s not where we wanted to be, but that’s where we are. We. Just. Don’t. Know.

dakine01 August 11th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon Jon, Mark, Angela, and Pete and welcome all to FDL this afternoon.

Jon, Mark, and Angela, I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but aren’t the international treaties declaring marijuana illegal directly resulting from US pressure?

I know that in the ’70s, I and many other folks were sure that grass would be legal within a couple of decades, helped along by the states at the time such as Oregon and Ohio decriminalizing and going to “toking tickets” then Reagan came into office, “Just say no” became the fave slogan and legalization pushes regressed significantly.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:02 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 2

There are international treaties that include marijuana among the banned substances. They came from international conventions in which the US played a lead role. That doesn’t mean, though, that the US could just say “We changed our mind. We want the treaties to all disappear.” Eliminating them would require some sort of joint international effort.

A country, US or otherwise, can withdraw from a treaty though.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

It seems telling that you word it as “large scale commercial production and distribution.” Can you imagine a model that only legalized small-scale commercial production? Why or why not?

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Right. And no, legalization doesn’t have to mean “no restrictions.” Taxes and regulations are always possible. But they aren’t self-enforcing; if you make the taxes high enough and the regulations tight enough, the black market comes back.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 6

Sure. In terms of definitions I’d like to call such variants “legalization of ____” filling in the blank appropriately. E.g., legalization small scale production. Or legalization small scale production and gifting but not sale.

It is worth noting that all three of the state-level propositions that will be voted on this November (CO, WA, and OR) are about legalizing more generally — including large scale commercial production — not just small scale production.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Yes, the treaties were largely a U.S. project. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. is the sole, or the most passionate, supporter of prohibition today. Sweden, Russia, Singapore, and most of Africa are now noticeably more hawkish than the U.S. is.

dakine01 August 11th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing “Reply” pre-fills the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note: some browsers do not like to let the Reply function correctly if it is pressed after a page refresh but before the page has completed loading

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

One of the questions that I always get about drug policy involves some variant of this:

Although people who drive recklessly are extremely dangerous to society, we don’t say “nobody is allowed to drive.”  Instead, we use laws to target people who drive dangerously.  How can we use public policy to target the small minority who abuse drugs, without penalizing the vast majority who use them responsibly?

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Definitions are often confused, and this is often the heart of misunderstandings surrounding conversation about marijuana policy. This is why we often hear of “legalized marijuana” in Amsterdam or “legalized marijuana” in Portugal. Neither place has legalized. So an attempt at true legalization, would be a first. And this is why we are mostly in the dark when trying to figure out what the implications of marijuana legalization would be.

rapier51 August 11th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I have always maintained, without a thread of solid evidence, that marijuana will never be legalized or decriminalized because it is an hallucinogen. That makes it, somehow, a threat to any established cultural order.


Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

If you are looking for a Devil’s Advocate counter, there would be two points.
First, it’s a lot harder to function in society (getting to work, etc.) without driving than it is to function without recreational use of a particular drug.
Second, the allowing everyone to drive but only punishing those who mess up only works middling well in the sense that quite a few people are killed in traffic crashes each year (something like 30,000; don’t remember the exact number).

magilla August 11th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Any policy must deal realistically with whatever issue the policy is to address.
In the real world, marijuana is widely available and consumed by millions for avariety of reasons. Sometimes its medical, sometimes its for pure relaxation and enjoyment. Current Federal policy was based on sheer fiction, hysterical propaganda, and a good dose of bigotry.
A sensible policy will deal with the whole range of issues from cultivation to sales, to treating those with real abuse problems.
When do we grow up enough to deal realistically with a plant?

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I’d appreciate any comment the authors may have about Uruguay’s current legalization project. Could that provide some of the evidence you say we need to help us evaluate the costs and benefits of regulated production of cannabis?

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Well, then, Jonathan, let’s forget the driving metaphor, and go back to the core question.

Can we as a society find a policy that will deal with those who abuse marijuana, without penalizing those who do not? Shouldn’t this be a core mission of any drug policy effort?

mac August 11th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to rapier51 @ 13

Marijuana is a mild hallucinogen. It’s nowhere near the same level as LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, or any other true hallucinogen.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to Matthew Meyer @ 16

Yes, it could. Or, more specifically, it would give us good insight into how a government monopoly system might work.

In terms of the proposals for this fall, the Oregon proposition would give the government a monopoly on retail sales (via state stores), although how exactly that plays out in the face of the ongoing federal prohibition is hard to say. So it’s more like, Uruguay might give us insight into how Oregon’s system would play out if there were not a simultaneous federal prohibition.

dakine01 August 11th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to rapier51 @ 13

As someone who has taken LSD and magic mushrooms and smoked a LOT of marijuana over the years, from wild rag weed off the side of the road to the finest Hawai’ian sensimillia, I would definitely contest the idea it is a hallucinogen.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to rapier51 @ 13

No doubt opposition to what Andy Weil calls “stoned thinking” undlies some of the opposition to marijuana. But “never” is a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington State voted to legalize this year.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Good evening, everyone.

Why, Mark, are Sweden, Russia, Singapore,”…and most of Africa” … now more “hawkish” than the US?

Further, what is your collective purpose in writing this book?

I ask because the blubs I’ve seen, so far, here at FDL, seem mostly to be “We.don’t.know. or Maybe.Maybe not …”

If your purpose is to enlighten, then whom do you propose to enlighten?

The public?


Or …

… everyone?

We do know that “Prohibition” did not “work” with alcohol and it certainly is not “working” with marijuana, even if the endless “war on drugs” was the “trial run” for the endless war mentality, and even if this prohibition is immensely “profitable” for the political class as a whole, launching many a “career” and for the “private prison” network.

If you are not in “agreement”, then what do you all actually “agree” upon?


Stone Reed August 11th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

In regards to the opening remarks about possible topics in Pete’s summary about ‘how to get the government to talk more frankly about marijuana in general’ I wanted to ask a question to all three authors.

What sort of super majority tipping point is necessary for politicians to recognize recent polling (50% Gallup and 56% Rasmussen) showing popular public support for legalization at the national level?

In other words how are politicians (Obama and Romney both) able to keep this topic a ‘third-rale issue’ this election season despite polling to suggest they are deeply both out of touch with the American voting public?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 17

Can and should.

As to “Should”, I would hope that if marijuana is legalized, there will be some effort to mitigate the ill effects of abuse and dependence. Indeed, many of the state-level legalization propositions do try to deal at least with drugged driving. The Massachusetts Assembly Bill struck me as particular detailed in terms of paying attention to harms.

As to “could” — I think it would be quite a bit harder to figure out how to do that with meth or with cocaine/crack than with MJ.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

The same way we have DUI laws that are aimed at correcting negative behavior of alcohol users, we could control marijuana use of those who drive recklessly. We have ways to monitor and control behavior through our current criminal justice system. If someone’s behavior is causing harm, and they fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system, we can test and monitor them and make sure that their use is curtailed. It is actually easier to do this for marijuana than for alcohol. Because detection is easier.

But, of course, there will still be problems. Detection of past use is easier, but detection of current impairment is harder.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I’d like to send one up. Many pages are expended in this book speaking of a “Middle Ground” between outright legalization and regulation and our current system of criminalizing possession. It seems to me a little odd to speak of a “middle ground”. Either possessing an item is criminal, or it is not. Perhaps one of the Authors would like to elaborate on what this would look like. And how exactly could the Justice system (being geared as it is toward crime and punishment, not treatment or rehabilitation) function in this scenario? And how ould our current system cope without adding massive new bureaocracy?

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I wonder if any of you is willing to go on record as agreeing (or not) that cannabis prohibition was based on intentional deception of the American people?

And I’d be interested to know whether you think the issue of the initial impetus being dishonest is relevant at this point.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to Matthew Meyer @ 16

This question intrigues me. I wonder how differently it play out in South America? Would a sinsemilla industry establish there as quickly or easily as it would in a US state that legalized? And would Uruguay be well-positioned to become a marijuana exporter if it does develop a legal industry and another country legalizes later?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 20

I think you are right. Marijuana is in a class by itself. Not a stimulant. Not a depressant. Not exactly a hallucinogen. But would you say it has some hallucinogenic effects? If so, maybe that’s behind some of the confusion — folks thinking in terms of effects not precise scientific terms.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Thanks, Jonathan. I’d really like to see a lot more focus in general on dealing with the problems of drug use without the sledge hammer of penalizing everyone.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 25

Don’t we have roadside tests for that? Or is that just a funny game police play with motorists?

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 22

The goal of the book is to inform the debate, not to dictate an answer. We think that voters and other policy-makers ought to be able to make their choices with as many facts as possible, rather than having to base them on duelling soundbites. As Socrates pointed out a long time ago, the beginning of wisdom is knowing what you don’t know. And that’s what we agree on: that facts and not prejudices ought to drive decisions.

Alcohol prohibition didn’t abolish problem drinking, but it cut back on it substantially (as shown by declining death rates from liver disease). It also caused the rise of an illicit market, which eventually led the country to get rid of it. Marijuana may be on the same course. If so, some problems will decrease and other problems will decrease. That’s life in the big city.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to Matthew Meyer @ 27

Superb question, Matthew.

What of Anslinger’s deliberate racial deceits and outright assault upon reason?

Are these issues relevant to understanding the history and affects of THIS prohibition?


Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to darkcycle @ 26

Indeed. We sometimes talk about both metaphors being useful. That is, on the one hand one can draw a pretty bright line between whether a substance is legal or not. And on the other hand, it can be useful to think of legal regimes as existing on a continuum between a severely enforced prohibition with very severe sentences and at the far other end a pure free market no regulation scenario.

RE how can the police accommodate a middle of the road path —

Police have quite a bit of discretion (in most countries). So, for example, in countries that embrace harm reduction, the police can simply decide not to arrest a user and instead refer them to a treatment program. Or the police can look the other way when users are in a supervised injection facility.

But more generally, there are options for reforming from the current US position, which is quite strict, and legalizing production.

rapier51 August 11th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

It has always been officially classified as a hallucination. If that’s right, well I think sort of. We do know there a specific receptors in the brain for THC and that it does not effect, like virtually all other non hallucinogenic drugs, dopamine production.

dakine01 August 11th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I never felt there were any hallucinogenic effects for me but I know it does effect everyone quite differently

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to darkcycle @ 31

Road side tests for alcohol are easy. Because it is easy to detect and the levels (more or less) relate to impairment. With Marijuana, we don’t have a reliable road side test for impairment. If someone tests positive (say on a saliva swab), that might be detecting old use. This is going to be a big challenge. We’ll have to find good (fair) ways of assessment impairment, because the standard tests would be unfair.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Isn’t arrest and compulsion the only tool the police possess? They don’t have training as counselors and their directions short of penalization are no more authoritative than my Aunt Minnie’s.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 37

Ma’am, those tests (the “touch your nose” test) is for impairment. They test balance and attentiveness. Both are reliable outward indicators of impairment, and they are not drug specific. So that arguably makes them a better standard to apply.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

At this point, on far too many levels our knowledge compares to our ignorance as a mud-puddle compares to the ocean, Mark.

However, much of the “confusion” surround this particular topic and the consequences suffered, by individuals and civil society, for decades is deliberate, intentional, and politically self-serving as I implied @33.

Anslinger behaved very much as did J. Edgar Hoover, in seizing and “securing” what he considered to be his “turf” …


Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 23

Stone raises a really interesting question.

There is no question that the public as a whole is much more supportive of legalization than is Congress, or presidential candidates.

One of the things that the four of us authors wonder about a lot is whether we are getting close to a tipping point, with further and faster increases in general public support and also national politicians starting to support. Certainly possible.

One (of many) other scenarios is that another country, perhaps Uruguay acts first, and that action makes legalization easier to imagine for people in the US, and then the US changes policy.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to darkcycle @ 26

The criminal justice system (in many states) is becoming increasingly comfortable with treatment approaches, or alternatives to standard sentencing. The pendulum swings (punitive v rehabilitative) are not as big as they used to be. Some problem users, will run into trouble with the law (especially if they pick up property of violent crimes). In some cases, those drug problems can be managed well with a partnership between the courts and treatment providers. Drug Courts and HOPE Courts are good examples of this.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Yes, but it gets tricky. A breathalyzer test (for alcohol) is a useful indicator of intoxication. A saliva swab (for marijuana) is less helpful. We’ll have to rely on impairment tests.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to darkcycle @ 38

No, the police have a lot more tools than arrest, for dealing with all sorts of law breaking, not just drug offenses. Ride around with them some times and you’ll see that a good chunk of policing is problem solving, not just chasing criminals.

Now, it may well be true that the police can so successful at getting people to “cooperate” with their problem solving strategies because it is ultimately backed by the power of arrest.

And there isn’t a lot of discretion when it comes to people suspected of murder, rape, robbery, etc. But with drug users and a host of other offenses, they retain quite a bit of discretion.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

It seems that the old saying that you can’t get re-elected by supporting legalization may be going away (there is some talk that Obama’s resistance to marijuana could cost him Colorado, for example). On the other hand, there are still a lot of money interests that provide campaign contributions that want to see marijuana remain illegal.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

The spectrum of potential policies is really quite wide.

1. Prohibition with stiff enforcement against sellers and users.
2. Prohibition with stiff enforcement against sellers but not against users.
3. Formal decriminalization, where possession for use isn’t a crime at all, with or without stiff enforcement against sellers.
4. Prohibition with minimal enforcement, as currently applies to non-commercial gambling, or prohibition with enforcement directed mostly at preserving public order, as currently applies to commercial sex in most big cities.
5. Legalization of production for personal use or in non-profit cooperatives.
6. Legalization of production and commercial sale through a state monopoly.
7. Legalization of production and commercial sale through private enterprise.

Under 6 or 7, prices could be set by law or forced up by taxation (with the current illicit price a practical upper limit) and regulations could cover such things as minimum age for purchase, maximum purchase quantity, potency or ratio of THC to CBD, and marketing activity.

So it doesn’t make much sense to be for or against “legalization” until you specify what sort of legalization you’re for or against.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 45

It would be fun to have a historian who could tell us what presidential candidates said about gambling during the time (not so long ago) when gambling made its transition from taboo outside Vegas to something actively promoted by the states (in the form of state lotteries).

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 37

Often, alcohol-related driving impairment is fairly apparent, Angela.

If marijuana “impairment” is not obvious or evident, then how may it be determined to actually exist?

Those impaired by alcohol seem oblivious to how fast they are going, for example, while many police officers have noted that those “impaired” by marijuana are often driving very slowly.

As well, belligerency is often marked in those impaired by alcohol, while it is rarely noted in those who have partaken of weed.

Alcohol is measured by percentage, above and be,low a certain “point”, which varies, state to state.

What “point” is presumed to be the “measure” when it comes to marijuana?


Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Jonathan, looking at Gallup’s poll results over four decades makes “certainly possible” seem like an understatement. Support was never this high before it receded in the Reagan years, and the curve is steepening.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Okay, so I surmise you are endorsing what some call “The Drug Court Model” am I correct? In that case, how are you going to address the fact the majority of users are not “problem users”? Isn’t compulsory treatment for people who do not need it a form of punishment? And What of the VERY high percentage of people who fail at treatment and relapse?

August 11th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

“Now, it may well be true that the police can so successful at getting people to “cooperate” with their problem solving strategies because it is ultimately backed by the power of arrest.” You have answered my question. But why the obfuscation? Arrest is the tool in their box.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

The LA City Council recently voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. LA seems to be a place where support for relaxing marijuana policy would be higher, yet even there politicians are not responsive to the public. Perhaps this is because fewer people pay attention to local politics.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

That would be quite interesting as well as “fun”, Jonathan. It might even be very funny, indeed.


Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Matthew Meyer @ 49

Yes, I have seen the polls. Actually just published a paper on those trends.
I’ll confess to being understated some times; it’s the curse of being an academic.
However, it you look at trends in support for legalization in Australia about 10 years back (don’t quote me on exactly 10), it rose to right around the level it is in the US now, and then fell back very sharply.
So while I’ll agree that continuation of the current trend is the better bet, a reversal wouldn’t be unprecedented, so the scientist in me wants to hedge.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Sorry. Still a case of criminalization vs. non-criminalization. There are a whole lot of ways to do either. But that doesn’t change the distinction.

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

The Google Historian anecdotally supports the notion that presidential candidates were wary of embracing gambling because of its valence as a moral issue, even when polls showed strong public support:


Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

That’s new info on Australia for me, Jonathan, thanks for that.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

For our authors: there are literally thousands of studies on marijuana that have been done all over the world. How do you find and select your data for the book? Obviously, you can’t include it all.

I’m curious as to why, for example, when discussing marijuana and cancer (and you listed several studies), you chose to include the extremely small (79 cancer cases, and 324 controls) New Zealand study that is often touted by our government, yet didn’t reference the 2006 NIDA-funded UCLA study by Donald Tashkin (1,200 cancer cases, 1,400 controls) showing no evidence of a lung cancer connection, even among heavy smokers. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729.html

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Matthew Meyer @ 57

Francis Matthew-Simmons (maybe Matthews-Simmons) is a young scholar who has done a lot of work on trends in Australian public opinion. He is at Uni New South Wales with their (excellent) Drug Policy Modeling Program.

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to mac @ 52

Well, I think the other thing that is happening, in California especially, is an attempt to use “tough on pot” as a conservative honor badge. (It is really a classic example of Szasz’s scapegoating.)

Certain pockets of Southern California are quite conservative, and these politicians would not be crusading if they didn’t think they’d reap some benefit at the ballot box.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to mac @ 52

Perhaps the LA City Council was reflecting public opinion rather than defying it. You don’t have to be a drug-war hawk to doubt that LA needed to have more medical dispensaries than the Netherlands has coffeeshops, or to think that some of those dispensaries were very bad neighbors. Virtually none of them were actually in compliance with state law, which permits only “cooperatives;” the dispensaries are almost all organized as for-profit businesses.

The history of medical marijuana in California is a history of deception by advocates and complete failure in administration: a warning to everyone.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Most marijuana users (number of users) are not problem users. They use socially and it doesn’t interfere with their daily lives (outside of the risk of running into the law..). But a sizable share of marijuana is consumed by people who do have problems. If their problem use causes problems for others (e.g., impaired driving or other criminal activity) then the criminal justice system will intervene. I don’t support treatment for people who don’t need it. It can do more harm than good (and it really, really hurts the people who are in treatment and really do have problems). The idea is to preserve supervision and treatment resources for people with real problems. Drug courts used to focus on people who were relatively small fish in system, and there was net widening. Some people ended up with relatively close supervision who didn’t need it (and they were forced into treatment). Many drug courts are now starting to focus on tougher cases. HOPE Courts, from the beginning, focused on high-risk cases. Under that model, failing out of treatment isn’t an option (if you don’t go to outpatient, the court mandates you to residential). In this case, the pressure of the judges has helped many people with serious drug-use issues follow through with their treatment plans (the regular random drug tests also help some overcome denial). These courts aren’t perfect. But they’re much, much better than long stints of incarceration (which the high-risk folk are often facing). I’m talking high-risk cases here (people who are drug-involved and go on to commit property crimes and/or violent crimes).

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 62

I think this is a very good point (not supporting treatment for those who don’t need it). Unfortunately, today many treatment spots are taken up by people who got caught with marijuana rather than those who abuse marijuana. Most people entering treatment for marijuana have not used in the past 30 days, which says something rather dramatic about the misuse of treatment under the current system.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

No doubt their motive to act may have been geared toward placating public opinion and not toward rejecting it, but BANNING dispensaries altogether is a long way from limiting the number of dispensaries and regulating them more. There might be a sizable portion of the public that would have favored a strict limit of a very small number with tight regulation enforcement.

August 11th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I’m afraid I disagree, there were no official guidelines. And every attempt to make common sense regulations was thwarted. It left a “Wild West” cavalier system that invited the abuses we’ve seen. Yet, the Administration is going after the COMPLIANT dispensaries as well as the non-compliant. You can’t block regulation and yell about the results of their lack.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Matthew Meyer @ 56

One possibility is that voters – and not just conservative voters – use a politician’s stance on “moral” issues (i.e., purity issues such as sex and drugs) as a measure of the politician’s personal moral soundness. If that’s right, some voters who vote for a medical marijuana initiative might vote against a politician who voted for the same law in the legislature, after being told that the politician supported “drug legalization.” That would explain why the campaign for liberalizing marijuana laws has had so much more success at the ballot box than in the legislative halls.

Stone Reed August 11th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Can federal prohibition of cannabis withstand up to 3 states (or even just 1 state) passing state legalization laws this November?

Is there any indication that the federal response will have an ‘easing up’ effect to allow experimentation or a ‘doubling down’ effort to punish these pioneering states?

These questions are to be considered through the lens of the recent massive crackdown and ‘low-hanging fruit’ pick off that US Attorneys from the Obama Administration have initiated starting last fall to go after the Medical Marijuana Industry indiscriminate of local and state licensing throughout California.

How will state level legalization efforts change or affect the use of Federal enforcement tools (Asset Forfeiture, IRS 280e tax issues, etc)?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 62

To complement what Angela wrote –

One of the things we came across over and over in research behind the book is the extent to which the “Pareto Law” applies to MJ use, which isn’t really a surprise because it applies to all sorts of life activities, including alcohol use.

But the upshot is that problem users are not a majority of people who have used in the last year, but they are a much larger share of total demand and total consumption. So problem users are not a trivial share of the MJ market, even if they are a small proportion of past-year users.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Well, that certainly does not “balance” the American national history of thedeceptions of those who have sought to prohibit marijuana use, a history, as I said, replete with racism, outright untruths, and political opportunism.

Your caution is well-founded, Mark, yet its “balance” is equally true …


magilla August 11th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

What is your prediction on the votes for the ballot initiatives in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon? Just your gut feeling..

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to mac @ 64

LA has been trying to limit the number and behavior of the dispensaries for years, and the dispensaries simply defied those limits. So the City Council decided to shut everything down and start over.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 2:54 pm

So they intend to lift the ban later?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 67

Stone you asked a bunch of really great questions.

When we’ve briefed results from this book and related research in DC, we’re always nudging people, saying, in effect, “So what will you do if one of these state propositions passes?” It’s really striking how folks on Capitol Hill are really focused on front burner issues, and for them state propositions to be voted on in November is a beyond their current horizon. Surprising. A little depressing in a way.

It is clear that the federal enforcement agencies (notably DEA) will retain their right to enforce the CSA even in those states. One guess is that the DEA would enforce fairly aggressively against (1) Folks transporting across state lines from the state that legalized to other states (‘exports’) and (2) Maybe organizations that are big and brazen. (E.g., imagine a resort that advertises marijuana tours for people from all over the country).

On the other side, I would doubt the DEA would get involved in arresting people with smallish amount (unless it was incidental to another investigation). But those are just guesses.

When a state releases projections of tax revenues, as WA did yesterday, they should (and in that case did) add a big asterisk that says “But it’s really hard to project what will happen for many reasons, including not knowing what the federal govt will do.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

What has been the reaction on Capitol Hill to your book?

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to mac @ 72

My understanding is that the Council wants to allow the original 160-something dispensries – the ones the pre-existed the failed moratorium – to re-open. But I’m not following that closely.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to magilla @ 70

None of the three states is polling over 50% in favor (some polls get to just around 50). The undecided typically vote against. But even though the odds of a particular state voting in favor of legalizing isn’t great, the likelihood that ONE of them will vote for legalizing is pretty good. And one is all it takes, it would launch a major natural experiment of the effects of legalization.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

We interrupt this intellectual discussion with important late breaking news –

The U.S. women’s b-ball team won gold with an 86-50 win over the French team.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Was there any doubt?

mac August 11th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

In addition to voting to ban dispensaries, the LA City Council “also voted to instruct city staff to draw up an ordinance that would allow a group of about 170 dispensaries that registered with the city several years ago to remain open.” http://tinyurl.com/c5zyk54

Curious if they just wanted to reduce the number, which makes the “ban” seem a little less extreme.

August 11th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 62

So, under a “third way” that still criminalizes pot possession, the majority of users would still be subject to jail time because their use does not rise to problematic levels? Or is there still ANOTHER way to deal with marijuana arrestees?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 74

Whenever we talk to folks on Capitol Hill or elsewhere the federal government, folks are very interested. So person by person you get a reaction. But fairly often it is “Thanks. I didn’t know all that.” I’ve never had anyone say, “And now let me tell you our game plan if this passes.”
My sense is that they don’t have a game plan.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 78

No. As one of the players (Parker maybe???) said, “It’ll only be news if we lose.”

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 67

Any prediction about what the federal government would do is pretty much a guess. (Depending partly on who gets elected President, which makes it pretty perverse for the marijuana advocates in Colorado to threaten to swing the state to Romney.)

One question is how much of the marijuana grown and sold in a state that legalized would wind up crossing state lines. Without tight controls, Washington or Colorado or Oregon could wind up supplying the whole continent. If that happens, the pressure on the feds to crack down would be very strong. If not, they might decide to give the experiment a good leaving-alone.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

You have knowledge or evidence to support that statement?

That the City Council has already determined and “decided” to “start over”?

One hopes that you are correct and, if you are, then why has the Council not already made clear its intent. Would that not be the appropriate thing to do in a putative democracy?

As it stands, their “policy”, such as it is now, seems dictatorial and even tyrannical, certainly neither compassionate nor understanding.


Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

That aspect is quite fascinating to me.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 84

See Mac @78.

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Mark, I find it ironic that you took this opportunity, but I’ve never seen you write what I think would be equally true: “The history of cannabis prohibition is a history of deception and complete failure as public policy.”

To see and acknowledge the perfidy of medical marijuana entrepreneurs, while avoiding the same recognition of government policy, seems to me an intellectual blind spot.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

It depends on the state(s) that legalize too, yes? All three passing would be one heck of a conundrum for the federal gov.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

For the LA dispensaries, you might want to check out

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to mac @ 88

It does really depend. One aspect of that is Oregon vs. either of the other two vis a vis “pre-emption” by the Controlled Substance Act. Let me explain as best I can (not being a lawyer)

The CO and WA propositions would have the state government basically playing the role of licensing and regulating and that’s it.

The Oregon Proposition would have retail sales handled by state stores. I.e. state employees would be selling MJ, which would seem to “actively conflict” with the CSA and so, perhaps, leave the OR proposition, or that part of it, null.

On the 3rd hand, the CSA does allow for state employees to possess MJ in the course of their official duties, so … So maybe it has to go to a judge.

But the Oregon proposition is much more “in your face” than the WA or CO propositions. (E.g., it builds in regulatory capture with its Oregon Cannabis Commission dominated by the growers it is supposed to regulate).

So long winded way of saying, “yes” it might depend on which one — and how many — pass.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

This book focuses extensively on the fact that we cannot know for certain what will happen with legalization. And yet, all public policy (and, in fact, all of human endeavor) involves uncertainty. Every day we act without knowing all the consequences with certainty.

Henry N. Pollack, author of “Uncertain Science… Uncertain World,” said: “Frequently, ‘scientific uncertainty’ is offered as an excuse to avoid making important policy decisions. We must recognize, however, that delaying decisions because of uncertainty is an implicit endorsement of the status quo and often a thinly veiled excuse for maintaining it. It is a bulwark of the take-no-action policy popularly known as ‘business as usual.’”

Couldn’t the book be considered a ringing endorsement for inaction?

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Ah, yes, thank you, Mark.


Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Mark, that’s an intriguing notion that sounds truthy to me. It also reminds me of psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s take on the moral foundations of the Occupy movement, where he retails the same universal moral dichotomies that inform a lot of his work.

I find Haidt’s take on conservatives useful for understanding the way some people frame drug issues, and especially marijuana legalization.

Here’s the article: http://reason.com/archives/2011/12/30/the-moral-foundations-of-occupy-wall-str

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 91

That does seem a reasonable question, Pete.


Stone Reed August 11th, 2012 at 3:16 pm


Is there any sense in the scientific community that research opportunities may be vastly different in CO, WA, and/or OR following this November’s election?

I ask the question in light of the creation of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) as part of the University of California system to study Medical Marijuana via a state grant because of the legal groundwork laid out by Prop 215 and SB 420 and the state’s interest in learning more about Cannabis than existed in the literature due to federal schedule 1 restrictions.

Is it possible that certain members of the scientific community will want to ‘flock’ to one of the three above mentioned states to potentially research cannabis in an unprecedented legalized environment?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 91

Well, we’re trying to inform, not to endorse or lobby for any action, so we’re not trying to endorse inaction.
You are right that there is always uncertainty.
But it is also true that legalization — meaning allowing commercial production, not just decrim or depenalization — is unprecedented in the modern era. (Even the Netherlands only de facto legalizes retail sale of up to 5 grams.)
And although lots of money is spent on drug-related research, the great bulk is research on treatment and prevention interventions, not macro-level policy research, so there may be more than the average amount of uncertainty in this case.
(And I would note there is much more uncertainty about how legalization of meth, cocaine/crack, etc. would play out than for legalization of MJ)

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 91

If you believe in the precautionary principle, yes, uncertainty is a reason for inaction. But you could equally say that the costs of the current policy are known and not small, while the costs of legalization are to some extent speculative, so why take a certain hit to avoid an uncertain risk? It seems to me that Beau Kilmer’s point is the central one: since we’re uncertain, we should try to act in ways that (1) allow us to observe the consequences and (2) are easy to reverse if things go sideways.

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I don’t see if any of the authors have responded to the question about why they chose not to cite the largest study of cannabis and cancer, done by Donald Tashkin and funded by NIDA.

I thought Pete asked a great question about an important piece of science, and I think it deserves an answer by the only people who know the answer.

tjbs August 11th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

And the pursuit of HAPPINESS how dare we !!!!

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 91

Our intention was not to endorse any specific action (the four authors don’t agree on a course of action, that’s one of the book’s strengths). There were many un-truths out there. We hoped to dispel some of those. And we want to encourage reasonable expectations. And we wanted to present reasonable expectations about what the options are and what those options might mean.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 95

I’ll let Mark give the main answer, but just as an aside, the WA Proposition does set aside some funding for the WA State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to do a policy evaluation. (WSIPP is a really good shop.)

I just looked up in the WA state budget estimate — they’re projecting that WSIPP would get $950K over FY2014-2018 for their studies.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Thanks, Jonathan. And I’m not at all trying to say that you’re purposefully endorsing inaction. Rather that you should be aware that the continual reinforcement in public policy of the unknowability of consequences (in any field) can have an unanticipated result of endorsing inaction.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to tjbs @ 99

In the book (in the section on benefits of marijuana), we actually address the issue of happiness. And that value should be assigned to it.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 103

Yes, and that was a really important aspect of this book that is missing in so many others. As well as the brief discussion of the liberty argument.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

WSIPP is the correct name, and I agree it’s a good outfit, though its specialty is research reviews rather than original work. As to a legalized state becoming a research Mecca, it would depend heavily on funding. There’s much more money around for biomedicine than for policy work, and finding funders for policy work who don’t want to dictate the answers before the research is done is never easy.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Would that not have been the reasonable “appraoch” long ago?

Instead, what at beast may be call “ignorance” dictated policy.

If caution is necessary one un-reason and prohibition not always be most “efficacious” to those who would seek to have and maintain power over others?

In this case, Mark, the far greater social and civil damage has been done by excessive and unconsidered repression than might be imagined were other, more sane and humane approaches considered.

Consider what is now happening in Mexico … and the moral burden the US MUST acknowledge as “owning”, there.


Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 95

I would be stunned if there wasn’t a great deal of research interest. Funding will be an issue. Research costs money. The federal government is an important source of funding for drug research — and they are unlikely to fund (at least on the front end). But there are well-funded private foundations that are very interested in this issue. There will be research…

sander August 11th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hi. I’m a little late to the party. What would you say is the main reason that marijuana was classified, and remains classified as a schedule one drug. I don’t believe that impairment, possible addiction, or harm to society (though claimed) has much to do with it. I haven’t read through all the comments yet, and so apologize if this has already been covered.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 106

DWBartoo –
RE Mexico. That turns out to be a really interesting point/topic.
I was involved in the RAND DPRC analysis of CA Prop 19 in 2010, for which there was a follow on project trying to figure out effects on Mexico. I think that more or less the same findings would apply this time around.
First, MJ accounts for about 20% of Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) drug export revenue. There was a 60% figure floating around, but that’s certainly too high. Maybe 15%. Maybe 25%. But not 60%.
So if you want to defang the DTO’s, you really need to legalize the expensive illegal drugs (cocaine, heroin, and meth, esp cocaine).
Second, DTO’s aren’t only in the drug business. They also kidnap, extort, etc. So share of total rev is a bit smaller yet.
Third, we tried very hard to figure out whether a 20% reduction in their revenues would lead to a 20% reduction in violence. Pete will hate my saying this, but (yet again) we weren’t sure. Maybe. But you can imagine other outcomes. Laying off DTO soldiers might not turn those soldiers into folks working in the legal economy.
But main point is — legalization of all drugs would make a huge difference to Mexico. Legalizing MJ only, some certaintly. But probably not decisive.

Stone Reed August 11th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

To all three authors.

Why does science take such a backseat on the cannabis issue?

I mean this on both a public policy front (as Mark mentioned often implies forgone conclusions) and also on the biomedical advancement front.
The lead scientist Igor Grant of CMCR recently was published in the peer reviewed ‘Open Neurology’ that the scientific basis for the Federal Government’s position on cannabis as a schedule 1 substance is ‘untenable’. He recommended rescheduling to schedule 3.

How is this modern, cutting edge science ignored so easily or met with a collective yawn by the media and politicians like?

mac August 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I’d like to hear more about the effect of legalization on alcohol consumption. I know the authors make the point that marijuana as a substitute for alcohol is better than marijuana as a complement or alcohol. Given the Pareto law’s application to marijuana users, it does seem like marijuana will substitute more than complement alcohol. So are we really worried more about how infrequent users will respond?

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

It is nice that there is money for research, but you would hope there would be a longer study period than 4 years. It usually takes 3 years for a policy to settle in. That would give only 1 year of study of the established policy. Not to mention the longer-term effects that would need to be considered. I hope there are researchers out there (and research funders) who are patient enough to do these assessments well.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 110

The federal government has gotten in the way of the science. It is very difficult to obtain marijuana for research purposes. Mark will have lots to say about this no doubt….

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

True. The uncertainties again. And yes, legalizing marijuana won’t put the DTO’s out of business. But if you take away 20% of their revenue, that’s a good step. And no, tax revenue won’t be in the billions. But you cut costs of law enforcement and gain some revenue, that’s a good step. No, we don’t know for sure how many treatment spots we’ll open up by taking unnecessary marijuana patients out, but even some is a good step. And on. And on. You start adding up all the values (even with their uncertainties), not to mention the big one of presumption of liberty, and that’s how you come to a cost-benefit analysis that makes regulated legalization a slam-dunk.

Of course, that never translates well into sound-bites or ballot initiatives.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to sander @ 108

When the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1969, marijuana was already banned by federal law, and the new statute simply maintained the status quo. The formal definition of a Schedule I drug is (1) high abuse potential and (2) no currently accepted medical use. The courts have upheld the DEA’s claim that “currently accepted medical use” means FDA approval, or at least enough evidence to support FDA approval. Note that the law is incoherent: the other schedules all involve drugs with accepted medical use. So there’s no place to put a drug that’s not a prescription medicine but has only moderate abuse potential. Any drug not in medical use that has any abuse potential at all is automatically Schedule I.

That could be changed (1) by changing the law or (2) by developing a specific strain or blend of marijuana with a reproducible profile of active agents, and then running that material through the process of showing safety and efficacy in two large-scale clinical trials. That would be a difficult process, but not impossible; GW Pharma is likely to succeed with Sativex, a THC/CBD blend designed for sublingual administration rather than smoking. But it costs money.

That’s the formal story. The political story is different.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 110

Stone you ask the best questions. Would love to have you hanging around the policy school.
One does need to put this in perspective. Science is often ignored. Global warming is the obvious example these days, but there are others.
But I don’t want to leave it at that; it’d be something of a cop out.
I imagine some of it is inertia. I am not a poly sci guy, but I know there is a conventional wisdom that science is most influential in the middle stages of the policy process. Science rarely puts an issue into play and it rarely is what determines the final choice. it is most influential in framing a new issue that has been put in play, and that framing time is long since past. Folks have their frames.
Mark has also made a point about the structure of the CSA schedules in the past. There is no schedule category for “not a medicine. Not safe for just general use. But also not really all that dangerous.” On the side of the schedule structure for medicines, there are distinctions made between classes II, III, IV, and V, but if you’re on the not-a-medicine side, there is only schedule I. That may be part of the problem.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 114

well when you only list the positives it certainly sounds convincing.

normanb August 11th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 114

Who would be an “unnecessary marijuana patient”?

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to mac @ 117

I think that’s what we need to do more. Detailed lists of knowns and likely options on the positive side and the negative side. Again, that doesn’t work well with sound bites, but there are some working on this, like the organization Count the Costs http://www.countthecosts.org/

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 114

Yes, a slam dunk: as long as you ignore the risks.
Right now, something more than 2 million people self-report that their marijuana use is interfering with their lives. How much that figure would go up if marijuana were legal is unknown, and would party depend on the details of legalization policy.
Would you still regard the question as a slam dunk if that number doubled? Tripled? Quadrupled? And is there any reason to think that quadrupling is not among the possible outcomes of flat-out legalization?

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 114

Well I don’t think it makes the benefit-cost analysis a slam dunk.
We’ve already talked about how if MJ legalization leads to an even 10% increase in alcohol use, that would more than offset any MJ related gains (from a social welfare, BC perspective).
Same holds in spades for tobacco. Suppose that MJ legalization leads to a 1% increase in tobacco smoking. Smoking kills about 400,000 people per year (I say 433,000 in particular as the figure the other day, not sure if that’s the official #). 1% * 400,000 = 4,000 — and 4,000 more premature deaths would be huge compared to MJ related wins.
So I think it is a lot easier to be confident on the direct MJ outcomes. (Even there, it is not possible to rule out a doubling in the # of people who are dependent — now around 2.7 M plus another 1.5 M or so who abuse MJ). but the indirect effects really complicate things.
Can go through a similar exercise with respect to hard drugs.
If we get an extra 2.7M who are dependent on MJ because of legalization, and that additional dependence leads to even 20% of them to abuse hard drugs, that’s a pretty big deal outcome.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to normanb @ 118

Those in treatment for marijuana who were referred by criminal justice system, or self-referred to get out of a fine or jail time, who aren’t, in fact, in need of treatment (a very large percentage of those in treatment today).

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to mac @ 111

Among the biggest unknowns is the likely impact on alcohol. We don’t really know which way this will go. If marijuana legalization led to reduced alcohol consumption, that would be a very good outcome (alcohol causes a great deal more harm than marijuana), but if it leads to increased alcohol use (even a slight increase), that would be a bad trade. We might also hope that some users of the heavy drugs trade “down” to marijuana. This might be true for users who are under criminal justice supervision. It is easier to detect marijuana than the harder drugs. But if marijuana was legal (and they were allowed to use), they might make that trade. I interviewed an inmate as part of my research who had traded up from marijuana to methamphetamine (in a hope to escape detection).

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Those first two are some mighty big “ifs.”

Stone Reed August 11th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

If this is a tangent I apologize.

Very simply how do the Tobacco and Alcohol industries evade or bypass the necessity for FDA approval?

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Thank you, Jonathan, for your considered and thoughtful response.

Difficult as SOME of these issues may well be, it is well past time for reason and science to prevail.

Good, healthy dollops of humanity and tolerance, as well as understanding, would also be of considerable value. To continue as we are, is to invite more destruction to civil society and to the Rule of Law itself, which is already, as we may readily see, under extreme duress.


Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 123

I know about studies that show complementary use of drugs, but is there any evidence of increased marijuana availability leading to additional people abusing alcohol?

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to normanb @ 118

An unnecessary patient would be any of the majority of “medical” marijuana buyers who are simply long-time pot-smokers pretending to have some non-specific ailment to get a card.

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

You’re right. Legalization would cause a reduction in those, as well.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to Stone Reed @ 125

Alcohol and tobacco are both specifically exempted in the law. Otherwise they’d both be Schedule I, since both are abusable and neither is used medically. (Nicotine use used medically to treat tobacco addiction, but tobacco itself is not.)

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 126

Good that you mention the undermining of Rule of Law or faith in the justice system. As an aside, entirely separate from the book and what I have professional expertise about, I am troubled by how cynical the US public is getting in general toward its government.

But back on point — The usual statement is that legalization would put 30M people on the right side of the law (that’s the # of people who used MJ in the last year) or 17M (that’s the past-month users). Of course some of them break other laws, e.g., by using other drugs, or drive while impaired, etc.

We took a stab at figuring out for how many people MJ use is their only criminal violation. Guess is that it’s closer to 10M, but that’s still a lot of people.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 127

We don’t know, and won’t know because we’ve never gotten anywhere close to outright legalization. A lot will be learned if one of the three initiatives pass. Of the four authors, I may be the most optimistic about the direction of the relationship. But I can’t support this position based on evidence, because it doesn’t exist.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

There has been a not-so-minor hubbub about the gateway effect of marijuana leading to abuse of harder drugs. Do any of you think there has been a bias to focus on marijuana in this regard simply because it is the mostly widely used illicit drug? Sure, marijuana use very often predates use of harder drugs. But what about alcohol use? Does that predate use of other drugs, including marijuana, more often?

Marijuana is a user’s introduction to the underground market, so if it gets legalized, would the next most widely used illegal drug takes its place as “the gateway drug?”

sander August 11th, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Under the criteria listed in your first paragraph tobacco and alcohol would seem be a perfect fit, though I suppose there could be found some medicinal purpose for alcohol. The difference is that there is no powerful business lobby behind marijuana. As to Sativex, the complaints I’ve heard from medicinal users is they cannot self regulate dosage.

BevW August 11th, 2012 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon discussion,

Jon, Mark, Angela, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and marijuana legalization.

Pete, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Jon’s website (CarnegieMellonUniversity)

Mark’s website (UCLA)

Angela’s website (PepperdineUniversity)

Pete’s website (DrugWarRant)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Thanks, Bev and all!

sander August 11th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Sorry for repeating Stone. I had not gotten that far down in the replies.

Matthew Meyer August 11th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Angela Hawken @ 132

We actually have had outright legalization until 1937, or at least until 1914.

That’s over 300 years after Jamestown.

And unless you believe Anslinger’s gore files, there were not serious public health problems directly attributable to cannabis.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

My appreciation to all, this has been a very interesting Book Salon.

It is my hope that we may move beyond fear-mongering and repression, that we may come to see marijuana in honest perspective.

To suggest that marijuana must be lumped in with alcohol use, misuse, or non-use is somewhat less than reasonable … in my opinion, they are two rather separate issues, except that legalizing or decriminalizing the use of marijuana might lead to lesser use of alcohol … Even so, they not the same thing … and it might just as well be said that some of the most vociferous objectors to marijuana use are not even willing to admit their own hypocritical use, even over-use of alcohol and or tobacco products.

Indeed, hypocrisy, from the very beginning has characterized marijuana prohibition in this nation and I note that the history of that blatant hypocrisy has yet to be fully addressed in this discussion. Unless we understand how we got to this point, then the discussion is neither complete nor able to place the issue in fully honest perspective.

My appreciation, nonetheless, to all, for the opportunity of such discussion as has been made possible, here, today.


Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to mac @ 133

When the Dutch developed their coffee shop policy back in the 1970s, an important argument for it was the hope that when MJ sales were normalized, that would break the connection with hard drugs, i.e., that there wouldn’t just be another drug to step in.
RE larger point. Correlation and pre-dating of hard drug use definitely do not imply any causal connection. Andrew Morral, Dan McCaffrey and co-authors have a great paper on that.
What I worry about (as Pete has figured out, I’m the worrier) is not that there is any gateway effect just from use, but that there might be from dependence. Get dependent on MJ, maybe that actually does cause greater use of other substances, since polydryg use is so common for folks who are dependent. That version of the gateway story doesn’t get talked about or studied much.

Jonathan P. Caulkins August 11th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

And thanks to all for your good questions.

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to mac @ 133

Good question. There’s no research-based answer.

Marijuana use correlates with, and statistically predicts, use of other drugs, as alcohol and tobacco correlate with and statistically predict marijuana use. The data are consistent with the claim that making marijuana more available would increase use of other drugs, but equally consistent with the idea that people who want to use one drug are simply more likely to want to use another.

Yes, it’s possible that making marijuana legally available would prevent some use of cocaine by keeping some people from establishing the habit of illicit purchase and connections with black-market dealers. But the probability of cocaine use conditional on marijuana use is 33% in the U.S.; in the Netherlands, where you don’t need a drug dealer to supply your pot, the comparable rate is 22%, and cocaine is much more expensive there than it is here.

So I’d rule all claims “not proven.”

Pete Guither August 11th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

As a final note, although I often disagree with the authors, I highly recommend getting their book. Lots of useful information.

Just don’t let the uncertainty get you down.

- Pete

Mark Kleiman August 11th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks, everyone!

Stone Reed August 11th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thank you Jon, Mark, and Angela (and also Beau) for ‘writing this book’.

It and many more like it are needed now more than ever with the coming sea-change we may all very well see with regards to cannabis policy within the next decade.

Thank you as well for taking the time to be here and answer questions.

Also I really appreciate FDL Book Salon and Pete for hosting this event.

Til next time.

Angela Hawken August 11th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Thank you!

mac August 11th, 2012 at 4:03 pm

My other question has to less with the veracity of the gateway theory, and more to do with how it frames drug policy questions. I am curious if researchers were biased to look for statistical correlations between marijuana use and later use of harder drugs just because they are all under the class of illicit drugs. This prevented the development of what would seem an equally sound gateway theory for alcohol use. So, reclassify marijuana as a licit drug and what would researchers do? Would the gateway theory reposition so that the gateway drug that leads to harder drug use becomes ecstasy or cocaine? Of course cocaine (and crack, but considering only cocaine here) is a hard drug itself, but it’s no meth or heroin.

mac August 11th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Aww, guess we are done. It was a pleasure hearing from you. Thank you.

bilejones August 11th, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Now that the Olympics are over and we’ve seen Phelps and Bolt’s performances I assume we’ll see an add campaign featuring them stressing the dangers of marijuana:
1. There’s a danger you may be the fastest man on earth.
2. There’s a danger you may be the faster man in the water.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post