Bloomberg is now running its own op-ed section, called Bloomberg View. The editors there asked me for a short essay on the California marijuana legalization question, and I wrote what I hoped was a careful, analytical piece outlining the case for straight repeal of California criminal laws rather than some cockamamie tax-and-regulation scheme that couldn’t possibly operate in the face of Federal prohibition.
Among the risks I had to acknowledge: a big upsurge cannabis production in California for export to other states, leading to massive Federal enforcement action and the risk of violence:
Under repeal, California could easily supplant Mexico as the primary source of marijuana for North America, leading to a price collapse and a surge in cannabis use nationwide. We couldn’t expect Washington to just stand back and let cheap California marijuana flood the national market. As California police stepped back, we’d probably see a surge in federal enforcement. With volume and sales rising, it’s likely that some of the resulting conflicts among growers and dealers, and between them and the law, would be violent; that’s the nature of large-scale criminal enterprise.
So repeal is no free lunch, but it’s still better than the status quo.
After moderately tough negotiations, in which the Bloomberg folks wanted me to make my views less nuanced, we agreed on a text. Today there was a last-minute flurry of fact-checking. On balance, op-ed writing is a less rewarding activity than blogging, but the promise of a big audience seemed too good to pass up.
Just now I got an email from the manager of a pro-pot list-serv, congratulating me on my excellent work: “From your lips to God’s ears.” This seemed puzzling, until I clicked through and saw the headline Bloomberg had attached to my piece:
Let California Become
U.S. Pot Bread Basket
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
Of course I can’t get anyone in New York on the phone at this hour, and my attempt to put up a comment disowning the headline is “held for moderation.” Color me frustrated.
Now, I’m pretty invulnerable. I have tenure, I’m not running for anything, I don’t have any Federal grants, and my actual views are well-enough known so that I won’t have too much trouble straightening out the record. (No doubt my editor will change the headline in the morning.)
[UPDATE: Hed now changed to the far more accurate In California, Legal Pot Is Best of Bad Options: Mark Kleiman.]
But if those things weren’t true, this could be a career catastrophe. As it is, it’s a substantial annoyance.
Chalk it up as one more reason to stick with blogging.
FOOTNOTE The convention that headlines are written by copy-editors and not by reporters or columnists goes back to the days of print, when headlines had to be custom-crafted to occupy the right amount of space: a quantity that couldn’t be known until the page was laid out. For a piece in electronic form, there’s no reason not to let the author create the heading. It’s called “cultural lag.”
SECOND FOOTNOTE After the piece was written, I assigned my first-year policy students to design a cannabis legalization initiative for California, assuming that the federal law remained in place. I was sure I’d given them a problem with no really attractive solution; I wanted them to wrestle with a hard one and have the experience of choosing a “least bad” option.
But it turns out they’re smarter than I am, and came up with a way to make state-level taxation and regulation work, more or less, even under federal prohibition. More on that to come.
UPDATE: As noted above, the headline has now been changed to something more accurate.
Reading the comments is instructive: they’re all from legalization advocates, with a plurality calling me an ignorant liar because, e.g., I think that driving stoned is probably a bad idea or that lower prices will mean more problem use. The shift in the balance of intensity on this issue over the past 30 years is even more striking than the shift in the level of support for legalization.