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November 13, 2012 4:51 PM Legalization of Pot: Let’s Find Out What Works

By Ed Kilgore

In the wake of successful ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana production and consumption, the rest of the country—and the federal government—need to decide what to do. In a web-exclusive at Ten Miles Square, UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, one of the country’s most distinguished experts on drug policy, suggests we take advantage of the new situation by making these states true laboratories of democracy:”

Ideologues on both sides are claim to know with certainty what the results of legalization would be; all good in the view of the legalization advocates, all bad in the view of those who support the current laws.
But those of us who try to study the issue scientifically find ourselves in a world of doubt. How much lower would legal prices be than current illegal prices? If there were heavy taxes, how much evasion would there be? Would buyers in a legal market favor possibly more dangerous high-potency varieties, or would lower-strength products dominate the marijuana market as beer dominates the alcohol market? Would legalization greatly increase problem marijuana use? Use among teenagers? (That might depend on the price.) Would there be an increase in auto accidents due to stoned driving? Would problem drinking decrease - or increase - as result?…

Colorado and Washington have just made this sort of experiment possible. But what about the feds, who have their own laws to enforce?

[T]he federal government could shut down both of those experiments, if it were determined to do so. Everyone who applies for a license to grow or sell marijuana is, in effect, asking the state for permission to break the federal law, and that list of applicants could become a list of targets for federal drug-enforcement agents.
That approach would please the drug warriors. But it would make it impossible to learn anything useful from the Colorado and Washington experiments.
So why shouldn’t the federal government cut Colorado and Washington some slack? As long as those states prevent marijuana grown under their laws from crossing state lines and thereby subverting marijuana prohibition in the rest of the states, the Justice Department could step back and let the consequences of the new policies play themselves out. They might succeed, or they might fail. In either case, the rest of us could learn from their experience.

Kleiman, as usual, makes abundant good sense.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • T2 on November 13, 2012 5:12 PM:

    "How much lower would legal prices be than current illegal prices?" uh, anyone can grow the weed. So the answer is FREE.

    " problem marijuana use" Get real, it's easy to get pot now. And the government has been studying the "bad" results of pot for over 40 years and can't point to one thing. To the contrary, it's LEAGAL Medicine in many states and has been used as medicine in native american cultures for centuries. You think they'd still be using it if there was eventual downsides? Of course, if you were forced to live on a Res....

    "stoned driving" again, Get Real....Texting while driving is far, far more dangerous.
    I'll admit that being stoned, texting and driving is probably not a good mix. Probably pretty hard to do anyway.

    This is one of those culture wars that just needs to go away.

  • JackD on November 13, 2012 5:14 PM:

    How could one prevent the weed from crossing state lines? People cross state lines for tobacco and booze all the time to avoid local taxes.

  • Whickywhackybacky on November 13, 2012 5:17 PM:

    I have long supported legalization and voted for the Washington initiative, but it's not all roses.

    I am particularly worried about people who have never tried pot going into a store and buying a King Kong variety that gives them a full blown panic attack after one puff.

    I think most people understand that Whiskey is stronger than beer. If I drink 6 cans of beer, I am toasty. If I drink 6 cans of whiskey, I'm facedown in a ditch.

    It's not so easy with weed.

    Like I said, I support the initiative for libertarian reasons and for social justice reasons, but it's a mistake for proponents to argue that pot legalization will be problem free. Let's have an honest discussion.

  • T2 on November 13, 2012 5:25 PM:

    @Whickywkkacky...."Let's have an honest discussion." How about this idea.....lets have an honest discussion as to why tobacco products - proven killers of thousands of Americans every year are sold openly? Why not make pot legal and tobacco against the law? That would be a good "honest discussion".

  • barkleyg on November 13, 2012 5:40 PM:

    Glenn Greenwald, before he started boring a hole in Obama's rear end regarding killing Americans on a seemingy daily basis, wrote many times about the decriminalization of Drugs in Portugal.

    IMHO, Glenn was, and still is, an excellent blogger about legal matters, was all for this decriminalization before it happened, and has written about it's success since it was introduced in Portugal.

    I don't know if Portugal included marijuana; I know it included Heroin.

    That's my DFH opinion! Aint pot great?

    The anti- decriminalization of marijuana reminds me of a modern version of "THE DOMINO THEORY". No. ALL of SE Asia aint going to fall, and NO, decriminalizing marijuana is not going to make America a country of Drug Addicts.

  • barkleyg on November 13, 2012 5:42 PM:

    Glenn Greenwald, before he started boring a hole in Obama's rear end regarding killing Americans on a seemingy daily basis, wrote many times about the decriminalization of Drugs in Portugal.

    IMHO, Glenn was, and still is, an excellent blogger about legal matters, was all for this decriminalization before it happened, and has written about it's success since it was introduced in Portugal.

    I don't know if Portugal included marijuana; I know it included Heroin.

    The anti- decriminalization of marijuana reminds this ol DFH of a modern version of "THE DOMINO THEORY". No. ALL of SE Asia aint going to fall, and NO, decriminalizing marijuana is not going to make America a country of Drug Addicts.

  • JEA on November 13, 2012 8:01 PM:

    Didn't Dems CONDEMN GOPers when they advocated states as laboratories for healthcare and entitlement reform??? Make up your minds.

  • SecularAnimist on November 13, 2012 8:09 PM:

    Ed wrote: "Kleiman, as usual, makes abundant good sense."

    If the drug warriors were interested in listening to "abundant good sense", marijuana would have been legalized decades ago.

    The Obama administration's FY 2013 National Drug Control Budget is $25.6 BILLION.

    If marijuana were legalized, most of that money would go elsewhere. And the drug warriors don't want that money to go elsewhere.

  • Drunk Pundit on November 14, 2012 11:07 AM:

    "Kleiman, as usual, makes abundant good sense."

    No he doesn't, he never has. He says stupid stuff like this:

    "Would buyers in a legal market favor possibly more dangerous high-potency varieties"

    That is stupid. There are no "dangerous" varieties of cannabis, high potency or not. If the weed is more potent, you smoke less.

    I have no idea why people take Mark Kleiman seriously. He's been bloviating and misleading for years and just because he's got tenure and yaks about the subject a lot people listen to him.

    He's an idiot who says stupid things.