Sentences to ponder

Medical marijuana dispensary on Ventura Boulev...
Medical marijuana dispensary on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark Kleiman shares typically thoughtful and serious thoughts about legalizing cannabis. Too bad thoughtful and serious is so rare where cannabis policy is concerned.

2. Everything has advantages and disadvantages. Cannabis legalization will reduce criminal revenue, intrusive enforcement, arrest, incarceration, and disorder around illicit markets, and enhance personal liberty, consumer choice, and respect for the law, and probably reduce bloodshed in Mexico. It might foster safer and more beneficial practices of cannabis use.

3. Legalization will certainly increase drug abuse, including heavy use by minors. Every adult is a potential source of leakage to minors. And if we insist on making minors consume illicitly-produced pot, we reserve 20-25% of the market for criminals. Much better to tolerate leakage and have a grey-market supply to minors like the current system that provides them with alcohol.

4. The polarized nature of the debate means that both sides wind up spending lots of time denying the obvious.

via How to legalize cannabis « The Reality-Based Community.

Regulating the marijuana market

marijuana marlboroThe Partnership at Drugfree.org reports the results of a recent survey:

There is strong support for a wide array of stringent post-legalization marijuana regulations to protect minors and the community wellbeing. The research shows intense support (above or near 90 percent) for:

  • Setting a legal age of 21
  • Prohibiting marijuana smoking in public places
  • Severe penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana
  • Making it illegal to provide marijuana to someone underage (even at home)
  • Prohibiting the sale of marijuana at grocery or convenience stores
  • Industry-financed youth prevention education
  • Taxation for state general fund revenue
  • An outright ban on marijuana advertising

What is particularly interesting is that support for this slate of regulations remains exceptionally strong even among those who approve of the legalization of marijuana.

The poll dug even deeper into attitudes toward marijuana advertising post-legalization, providing respondents with a list of more than a dozen different advertising media ranging from television to movie-theater advertisements, and asking where it would be acceptable for marijuana sellers/growers to advertise. The number one response, among both parents and the general population at large (including in CO and WA) was “nowhere.”

The data are exceptionally clear: There isn’t just a desire for these kinds of regulations, there is an expectation, among parents and among adults nationwide, that lawmakers put these in place if and when marijuana is legalized.

 

What policy would minimize total damage?

Mark Kleiman responds to a WSJ column expressing concern about increases in marijuana use leading to increases in schizophrenia. Kleiman responds to the specific concerns and then steps back to frame the larger policy decisions.

The author of the WSJ piece solemnly announces, “The claim that marijuana is medically harmless is false.” No sh*t, Sherlock! Nothing is harmless. It’s always a question of counting harms, weighing them against one another, and comparing them to benefits. And we should do that not only when embarking on “social experiments” (i.e., making changes) but also when continuing a high-cost and potentially unsustainable status quo policy.

The costs of cannabis prohibition are large (including $35 billion a year in criminal income), and its capacity to keep consumption in check appears to be breaking down. That’s not a reason to plunge wildly into legalization on the libertarian model, but it is reason enough consider, soberly, the options around legal availability. Mere unquantified viewing-with-alarm (about schizophrenia, or workplace impairment, or intoxicated driving, or increased use by adolescents, or increased substance abuse disorder) no longer counts as a valuable contribution to the debate, any more than mindless sloganeering about “The failure of the War on Drugs.”

Some people will get hurt as a result of legalization; some people are getting hurt now by prohibition. The question before us is, “What policy would minimize total damage, net of the benefits of responsible use?” Continued prohibition in some form – at least the prohibition of commerce – might turn out to be the answer to that question; at least, Jonathan Caulkins and Keith Humphreys both think so, and they’re two of the most thoughtful and knowledgeable people around on this issue.

But being “against legalization” does not by itself name a policy position. No one I know has a serious proposal to put the genie back in the bottle, reversing the trend toward more cannabis use, and heavier use, that started around 2003 and seems to be accelerating. So it’s time to try some innovation. Who knows? We might be able to construct a licit market, and norms of responsible use, that would stop the progression toward more potent and less CBD-buffered, and thus probably riskier, cannabis. And then we should evaluate the results of those innovations with as much cool detachment as we can summon up: not to “prove” that one team of culture warriors or the other was right, but to consider what to try next. That’s the way grown-ups make policy.

What would legalized pot look like?

marijuana marlboroA RAND analyst lays out seven important questions regarding the establishment of legal marijuana:

1. Production. Where will legal pot be grown — outdoors on commercial farms, inside in confined growing spaces, or somewhere in between? RAND research has found that legalizing marijuana could make it dramatically cheaper to produce — first because producers will no longer have to operate covertly, and second because suppliers won’t need to be compensated for running the risks of getting arrested or assaulted. After lawmakers decide how it will be grown, production costs will be shaped by the number of producers and other regulations such as product testing.

2. Profit motive. If there is a commercial pot industry, businesses will have strong incentives to create and maintain the heavy users who use most of the pot. To get a sense of what this could look like, look no further than the alcohol and tobacco industries, which have found ingenious ways to hook and reel in heavy users. So will private companies be allowed to enter the pot market, or will states limit it to home producers, non-profit groups or cooperatives? If a state insisted on having a monopoly on pot production, it could rake in a decent amount revenue — but for now, that possibility seems far off in the United States since marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

3. Promotion. Will states try to limit or counter advertisements in the communities and stores that sell marijuana? U.S. jurisprudence against curtailing what’s known as “commercial free speech” could make it tough to regulate the promotion of pot. While a state monopoly system could help control promotion, those advertisements you see for state lotteries should give you pause.

4. Prevention. If pot is legal for adults, how will school and community prevention programs adapt their messages to prevent kids from using? While some proposals to legalize marijuana would divert tax revenues to prevention efforts, the messaging and strategy should probably be in place before legal marijuana ever hits the streets.

5. Potency. Marijuana potency is usually measured by its tetrahydrocannabinol content, or THC — the chemical compound largely responsible for creating the “high” from pot, as well as increasing the risk of panic attacks. Much of the marijuana coming into the U.S. from Mexico is about 6% THC, while the marijuana sold in medical dispensaries in California ranges from 10%-25% THC. Meanwhile, the Dutch are now considering limiting the pot sold at their famed coffee shops to no more than 15% THC.

While THC receives the most of the attention, don’t forget other compounds like cannabidiol, or CBD — which is believed to counter some of the effects of THC.

6. Price. With marijuana, like any other commodity, price will influence consumption and revenues. A growing body of research suggests that when marijuana prices go down, the probability that someone might use marijuana goes up. So retail prices will largely be a function of consumer demand, production costs and tax rates. If taxes are set too high, pot will become expensive enough to create an incentive for an illicit market — exactly what legalization is trying to avoid. The way taxes are set will also have an effect on what’s purchased and consumed — that is, whether pot is taxed by value, total weight, THC content, or other chemical properties.

7. Permanency. The first jurisdictions to legalize pot will probably suffer growing pains and want to make changes later on. They would do well to build some flexibility into their taxation and regulatory regime. For example, while it may make sense to tax marijuana as a function of its THC to CBD ratio, 10 years from now we may have research suggesting a better way to tax. Just in case they change their minds, some pioneering jurisdictions may want to include a sunset provision that would give them an escape clause, a chance — by simply sitting still — to overcome the lobbying muscle of the newly legal industry that will no doubt fight hard to stay in business. As the sunset date approaches, legislators or voters could choose either to keep their legalization regime or to try something different.

 

Legal weed

English: Marijuana plant. Español: Planta de m...
English: Marijuana plant. Español: Planta de marihuana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Fresh Air recently aired a great interview on the marijuana legalization. It spent a lot of time looking at the medical marijuana regulation in Colorado and how that will be the model for full legalization.

 

The interview was balanced and informative. (A very rare thing for drug policy discussions.)

 

He also wrestled with the potential toxic marriage of capitalism and marijuana.

 

“We’ve seen legalization in two states — that’s the first step toward legalization in other states. That’s a step toward legalization nationally. So you have a third vice industry like tobacco and like alcohol. The problem with that is that 80 percent of the profits tobacco companies and alcohol companies make comes from heavy users. The business model is based on people consuming more than they should. And so there’s a strong economic incentive for big marijuana companies to create as much addiction as possible. And yeah, sure, marijuana is less harmful than Jack Daniels, but it’s not the same thing as safe or helpful in the home or helpful in the workplace, or good.

“And so the long-term worry is that you have sophisticated marketing programs in place, distribution programs in place, that create a double or tripling of the current level of marijuana usage. And … by the way, Americans [already] use marijuana at triple the global average. So we’re talking about a tripling of a tripling, and that’s a big deal. It’s something to think about, which is why many people are in favor of — or I believe will become more in favor of as they realize the risks — of severe limitations on the size of marijuana businesses and the advertising that they can undertake.”

 

 

The political left and prohibition

"Legalization Now" Banner At The May...
“Legalization Now” Banner At The May Day Immigration Rights Rally (Washington, DC) (Photo credit: takomabibelot)

Andrew Sullivan picks up on Jack Meserve’s discussion of the political left and prohibition:

Meserve:

Think of a few of the currently illegal vices: recreational drug use, gambling, prostitution. With some exceptions, the left has been in favor of legalization or decriminalization of these activities. Now think of legal vices: gluttony, cigarette smoking, alcohol use. On these habits, we’ve supported bans, onerous restrictions on place and time of consumption, and increasingly aggressive fines and taxes. There seems very little consistency between these positions, and few have even attempted justifying the differences. Progressives have been guilty of letting our temperament rather than our reason guide the policies; bans on activities like drug use are seen as naive or old-fashioned, but legal vices like cigarette smoking are public-health or collective-action problems to be solved through brute government action.

Then, Sullivan offers some reader reactions to Meserve. Here are just a couple:

…legalization isn’t being pursued as a public health issue.  It’s being pursued to make sure people don’t face fines, criminal charges, arrest, or jail time for using a substance that is less harmful and addictive than other legal substances.  Any public health aspects come into play when you discuss how pot would be regulated ONCE it is legal.  But Meserve doesn’t discuss or raise any public comments about what happens post legalization in the piece.

another:

Why is the pot legalization initiative on the ballot in Washington when legalization has failed to qualify so many times before, despite our alleged libertinism?  Well, this one contains a 25% excise tax dedicated to substance abuse prevention and healthcare in general, a state-run store regime was added, age limits put in, and specific concentrations of THC in the bloodstream for DUI were defined.  These things were absent in prior initiatives, meaning that had they qualified and passed, anyone could have set up shop across from a kindergarten to sell. It’s almost instead of us being a bunch of stoned hippies just out for a good time, we wanted to make sure that this vice was legalized in the most thoughtful, responsible way possible, while also making provisions for ameliorating possible social harms caused by legalization.  That’s left-wing social engineering at its best.