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]