Legalizing pot carries risks. So does prohibition.

My letter to the WSJ about Bill Bennett’s “16.2 million marijuana addicts.”

As predicted, the Wall Street Journal refused to correct the Bennett/White op-ed that strongly implied (without quite stating explicitly) that I believe cannabis legalization would sextuple the rate of cannabis dependence to 16.2 million. (My previous whining about that here.) However, the Journal did publish my letter, with only helpful edits and an accurate headline that’s a pretty good haiku-length statement of the case.

Like the original article, the letter is behind a paywall, so – on the off chance that some RBC readers don’t pay tribute to the Murdoch empire – I’ve pasted it in below.

 

Legalizing Pot Carries Risks, but So Does Prohibition

To the Editor:

William Bennett and Robert White (“Legal Pot Is a Public Health Menace,” op-ed, Aug. 14) cite my research as support for their claim that the legalization of cannabis would mean creating 16.2 million “marijuana addicts.”

Not only is the attribution false; the claim it purports to buttress is absurd. I made no such prediction, and the idea that legal cannabis could create more addicts than legal alcohol doesn’t pass the giggle test. It would be astounding if the actual number were one-third as high as Messrs. Bennett and White project

Cannabis legalization on the current alcohol model—low taxes and loose regulations—would indeed risk a large increase in the extent of cannabis abuse. That is why some of us are working hard for high taxes and sensible regulations on cannabis, as well as stronger controls on alcohol, which is after all a much more personally and socially dangerous drug.

Cannabis legalization in any form will create some harm; every drug policy has disadvantages. But against that must be set the enormous harms from cannabis prohibition: $40 billion a year in illicit revenue, some of it going to violent criminal organizations in Mexico; tens of thousands of people in prison; and more than half a million users arrested each year.

Our goal should be to eliminate as much as possible of the damage from prohibition while minimizing the harms that would result from a badly designed legalization.

Mark Kleiman

Los Angeles

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Legalizing pot carries risks. So does prohibition.”

  1. The USA isn't quite a world hegemon, but its actions usually have global repercussions. Uruguay can legalize cannabis, and the global narcotics régime still stands, with a growing number of inconvenient exceptions. General legalization in the USA would force a rethink of the UN treaty. No other country shares the odd American deference to the unfettered advertising speech of corporations, so a treaty revision could well support Mark's tax-and-regulate model.

  2. The WSJ is going to be in a difficult position. On the one hand, their drug-warrior faction is going to insist to the end that (non-rich, non-white) users be jailed and that the strongest penalties be applied to growers and dealers. On the other hand, their crony-capitalism faction is going to start lobbying loudly against any regulations that might prevent publicly-traded companies entering the pot market from maximizing their profits.

  3. Mark — important correction. In the totality of everything you have written about and done on this issue since 2012, I see an apt comparison to the work of your friend John Kaplan in this. Keep going strong.

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