Cannabis legalization: “Compared to what?”

Prohibition is perhaps the worst option for cannabis policy. Commercialization may be the second-worst.

David Brooks and Ruth Marcus both have anti-cannabis legalization essays up. Brooks doesn’t mention 650,000 arrests a year, 40,000 people behind bars at any one time, or $35 billion in annual illicit income. Brooks does mention the issue of personal liberty, but immediately bats it away: apparently the liberty to do what Brooks disapproves of isn’t really valuable. Marcus mentions that pot-possession arrests are a bad idea but doesn’t say anything about how to reduce them; she just dances gaily on, wishing that the bad consequences of legalization could be avoided. Both Brooks and Marcus seriously overstate the evidence about the damage done by cannabis by flipping back and forth between studies of heavy, chronic use and conclusions simply about “use.” But they’re right to say that cannabis use is bad for some people, and that the number of people harmed by pot is likely to go up when it’s legally sold.

At the same time Bruce Bartlett writes in favor of legalization without ever mentioning drug abuse. He invokes something he calls “economics.” I take it that he uses “economics” to mean the principle of revealed preference, which asserts that whatever a person chooses is what that person wants, and that getting what you want is, by definition, beneficial. He asserts that he is “not aware of a single economic analysis” coming down against legalization, without giving any evidence of having looked.

Well, guess what? If you ignore the benefits of legalization, it looks like a pretty bad idea. If you ignore the costs, it looks like a pretty good idea.

And of course since Brooks, Marcus, and Bartlett all are engaging in the middle- school version of policy analysis that simply ignores countervailing arguments and blows past the compared-to-what question, none of them has to wrestle with the hard questions:

* If cannabis remains illegal, how should those laws be enforced? Whether cannabis use is bad for you is uncertain; that black-market activity, arrest, and incarceration are all bad for you is unquestionable.
* Should cannabis be legal to use, but not to sell? If so, should individuals be allowed to grow for their own use, or should we leave the industry to the criminals?
* If sale is permitted, should it be restricted to not-for-profit cooperatives or to a state agency?
* If commercial sale is permitted, how high should the taxes be? What rules should apply to marketing?
* What information should be provided to consumers by sellers or by public or NGO bodies? If some forms of the drug are more dangerous than others in terms of unintentional overdose or habituation, should the more dangerous versions carry warning labels?
* Should there be a minimum legal age for cannabis purchase and use? If so, how should those laws be enforced? In particular, should underage users be subject to arrest?
* What rules should apply to driving after cannabis use, and what rules of evidence should apply?

I continue to think that continued prohibition may be the worst option under current U.S. circumstances; I’m still waiting for someone who opposes legalization to sketch a reasonable alternative to the status quo. I’m inclined to think that full commercial legalization with minimal marketing restrictions and low taxes – which is where the country is currently headed – might well be the second-worst. But for now the public debate is dominated by those two bad options.

If Brooks and Marcus, and those who share their concerns, want to do some actual good in the world, they need to get down in the trenches and think concretely about policies. Standing athwart history shouting “Stop!” is an undignified posture.

Update Of course Matt Welch is right to criticize Brooks’s equation of a state’s decision not to make some activity a criminal offense with “encouraging” that activity. But equally of course creating a for-profit cannabis industry – which will derive most of its revenue from people who smoke too much – and allowing that industry “commercial free speech” means that the encouraging will go on just the same, even though the state doesn’t do it. In a sane world, it would be possible to allow an activity but forbid its promotion by firms trying to profit from the weaknesses of their consumers; the notion that there’s no middle term between criminalization and allowing aggressive marketing is bizarre on its face.

Welch and his libertarian friends just love “commercial free speech,” a doctrine that exists, as far as I know, only in American law. Lots of places have open political discourse but don’t, for example, let Big Pharma peddle complex medicines directly to sick people. Perversely, this makes it harder to reduce the scope of the criminal law.

How to legalize cannabis

Debating *whether* to legalize pot is pretty pointless. The important debate now is *how* to legalize it. Some notes toward an essay on that topic.

Debating whether to legalize pot is increasingly pointless. Unless there’s an unexpected shock to public opinion, it’s going to happen, and sooner rather than later.

The important debate now is how to legalize it. The results of legalization depend strongly on the details of the post-prohibition tax and regulatory regimes. In the current situation, continued prohibition might be the worst option. Full commercial legalization on the alcohol model might well be the second-worst. But that’s the way we’re heading.

I’m preparing an essay about designing a post-prohibition regime. After the jump is a set of topic sentences and paragraphs for sections of that essay, not yet in a well-defined order. (UPDATE: Numbers inserted to facilitate comments.)

Substantive comments are welcome. Rant and snark will be ruthlessly zapped.

Continue reading “How to legalize cannabis”

Cannabis, alcohol, and public safety: Knowing what you don’t know

Cannabis might be a substitute for alcohol. Or they might be complements. Right now, we just don’t know.

[See update and correction below. Apologies to Adam Nagourney and Rick Lyman.]

The main problem with journalism, in a world full of unknowns and uncertainties, is that faith is news and doubt isn’t. 

Mark Anderson of Montana State and Daniel Rees University of Colorado at Denver presented an interesting paper at this year’s meeting of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, using some moderately sophisticated statistics to investigate the relationship between cannabis availability, alcohol consumption, and traffic accidents. The paper moved my opinion about whether cannabis and alcohol are substitutes or complements from “Not a clue; could go either way” to “There’s a little bit of evidence for substitution” (that is, for the proposition that making pot more available or cheaper would lead to less heavy drinking).

Net substitution would be a big deal, if true, because alcohol does so much more harm than cannabis that a small reduction in the alcohol problem would, in social-cost terms, outweigh even a big increase in the cannabis problem due to legalization.

I say “a little bit of evidence” because the change in cannabis availability due to medical-marijuana laws is poorly measured; because the changes in cannabis availability due to medical marijuana laws are small compared to the changes that would result from full legalization; and because the short-term effects might not only be larger or smaller than, but might not even be in the same direction as, the long-term effects. (Remember the guy who jumped off the Emprire State Building. Being asked as he passed the fiftieth floor, how the experiment was going, he replied, “So far, so good!”)

Unfortunately, Anderson and Rees decided to build on their finding, and other findings from the literature, to make a strong claim: “We expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use.”

Even more unfortunately, Adam Nagourney and Rick Lyman  of the New York Times decided to take that claim at face value, ignoring the papers in the same issue of the same journal by Rosalie Pacula of RAND and Eric Sevigny of the University of South Carolina arguing that the Anderson and Rees claim is more than the current data can support.

Pacula and Sevigny didn’t make the opposite claim: that legalization will increase heavy drinking. Had they done so, normal journalistic practice would have been to cite the two conflicting opinions. But since they brought in the Scotch verdict of “Not Proven,” Nagourney and Lyman simply ignored what they had to say. That let them use the Anderson and Rees claim to support the theme of the story, well-captured by the headline “Few Problems with Cannabis for California.”

[Update and correction:

The above paragraph is inaccurate about the sequence of events. Adam Nagourney writes:

You were wrong to assume I was aware of the dissenting studies and chose to ignore them. I was not; if I was, I most certainly would have mentioned the concerns. Professor Rees  gave me an advance copy of their study; I did not have an advance copy of the journal. Again, if I had, I most certainly would have raised the fact that other people question their assertions.
As someone who has been doing this a long time, I can tell you that this: “The main problem with journalism, in a world full of unknowns and uncertainties, is that faith is news and doubt isn’t” is not true, at least for me or the place I work. One of the great things about the New York Times is that there is room for nuance and subtly. A story is stronger journalistically if it addresses both sides of an argument.

This time I have to give myself an F in Journalism 101; I should have checked with Nagourney before criticizing his work.

Very sorry, sir! Won’t happen again, sir!]

In order to know how cannabis legalization would affect heavy drinking, you’d have to know:

1. The extent of the price decline.
2. The extent of the change in other conditions of availability and use (convenience, marketing, perceived product quality and variety, stigma, legal consequences, social customs).
3. The responsiveness (“elasticity”) of demand to price changes, consisting of two components: the “participation elasticity” measuring changes in how many people use cannabis at all, and the “conditional elasticity” measuring changes in consumption-per-user.
4. Ditto for responsiveness to changes in non-price factors.
5. The “cross-elasticity” between cannabis and alcohol.
6. For all of these, you’d need estimates about the long-term effects of lasting changes, not the immediate effects of transient changes.

All Anderson and Rees can show are reasonable but not perfect estimates of the short-term effects of relatively small and poorly measured short-term changes in price and availability on various outcomes. They’re not within a million miles of being able to offer the sort of prediction on which one ought to base public policy.

For example: One likely impact of legalization, as Anderson and Rees note, is increased cannabis use among minors. Even if it were known that cannabis and alcohol are, at a given point in time, substitutes for minors, that wouldn’t show that increased pot-smoking by sixteen-year-olds might not increase their risk of becoming heavy drinkers at twenty-one. And the Anderson and Rees methods don’t even look for such long-term effects.

“It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you,” said Will Rogers. “It’s what you know that ain’t so.” Knowing what you don’t know doesn’t get your name in the newspaper. But it saves you having to eat your words. Since I think that cannabis legalization of some sort (1) is probably a good idea and (2) very likely to happen in any case, I devoutly hope that Anderson and Rees turn out to be right. But it seems clear to me that Pacula and Sevigny have the stronger argument. We just don’t know.

Public opinion on cannabis: Is it “Game Over”?

Not quite. But close. Time to focus on policy details.

Public opinion on cannabis legalization has been trending positive since sometime in the late 1990s. By a couple of years ago, it was just about break-even. But in the latest Gallup poll, the “pro” side has moved to an almost-20-point advantage, 58 to 39.

Of course this calls for some caveats.

1. The question, as asked, was about legalizing use, not production and sale.

2. With a sample size of only 1000, some of the movement might be noise rather than signal. The Galston-Dionne analysis of Pew Center data from earlier in the year shows a more closely divided country; again, it’s an open question whether that difference is measurement error or real change over a few months.

3. Bad outcomes in Washington or Colorado might reverse the trend.

All of that said, the new numbers are enough to move my probability distribution. For a while now, I’ve been predicting national legalization sometime in Hillary Clinton’s second term, but without much conviction and with the caveat that the trend in public opinion would have to continue in order to make that prediction come true. Now I’d have to say it will come true unless the trend were somehow to reverse.

Note also that at some point positive feedback takes over. Being for pot legalization has a different social meaning when it’s the clear majority view. The polling results will therefore influence the behavior of some survey respondents and voters directly. Moreover, politicians and other opinion leaders shift their announced (and perhaps actual) views in response to perceived shifts in voter attitudes, that in turn will shift the beliefs of some voters.

If the question of whether to legalize now seems largely settled, that makes the much-less-debated question of how to legalize even more topical. Some of the smarter opponents of cannabis have figured this out, and are now looking for ways of limiting the increase in drug abuse likely to follow legal availability. However, career and ideological interests and group ties are likely to lead the majority of the active drug warriors to keep fighting what now seems like an unwinnable battle, telling one another that legalization is sure to be such a disaster that the public will demand re-prohibition. By doing so, the warriors will help to ensure that the legal system that eventually arises will be over-commercialized, under-regulated, and under-taxed.

This would simply repeat the mistake they made in opposing the medical use of cannabis. While the warriors kept chanting “Cheech and Chong medicine,” the pot advocates rolled right over them. Rien appris, rien oublié.

Update Andrew Sullivan strikes a triumphal note. Hard to fault him for that. But goddammit, “less harmful than alcohol” and “not harmful to most of its users” do not add up to “harmless.” Adolescents spin out on cannabis and wreck their academic careers. People of all ages do stupid things while stoned, including driving their cars into trees and other cars. Cannabis now follows only alcohol as the primary drug of abuse reported by people voluntarily entering drug treatment.

Why take the perfectly reasonable case that cannabis should not be illegal and ruin it with the silly claim that the stuff is harmless?

Cannabis taxes will wind up too low, not too high

The big threat to cannabis legalization isnt high taxes; it’s low taxes and loose regulation.

Legal cannabis will naturally be much, much cheaper than illegal cannabis. A joint is the same sort of item as a teabag: the dried flowers of a plant in a wrapper. A fancy teabag costs a dime at the supermarket; the marijuana in an average joint costs about $4 (0.4 gram of sinsemilla flowers @ $10/gram) on the current illicit and quasi-medical markets. The combination of not having to worry about law enforcement and the economies of mass production will inevitably drive the joint price down close to the teabag price. (Generic tobacco cigarettes can be manufactured for about two cents each; the remainder of the price is marketing expense, quasi-rent on brand names, and taxes.)

Now that the federal government has made it clear that state-licensed production in Washington and Colorado will mostly get a pass from federal law enforcement, and now that Washington has decided to allow outdoor growing, avoiding the production bottleneck that might have resulted from the lags in local land-use approval for growing facilities, I’d expect to see much lower-than-current prices in Washington State’s commercial stores no later than next fall. (If I had been running things, I would have started with lower tax rates to speed the transition to the legal market, and then raised taxes to offset the fall in market prices, but the tax rates were in the legislation the voters passed.)

Even at current prices, cannabis is a remarkably cheap intoxicant. A  drinker who hasn’t built up a tolerance might need about $5 worth of mass-market beer to get sloshed; a similarly fresh cannabis smoker could float away on half a normal joint: call it $2 worth. Colorado medical dispensaries already offer their “weekly special” strains of sinsemilla at $5/gm., with volume discounts, and vaporization seems likely to lower the effective cost substantially.  Anyone who’s worried about the price of cannabis is spending far too much time stoned.

Taxation, even if it is very heavy on ad valorem (percentage-of-price) basis, won’t change that picture much; Washington state will collect something like 40% of total retail prices in tax, but 40% of “damned near free” isn’t very much. Colorado’s taxes will be even lower.

The illicit markets may start out with a price advantage over taxed and regulated commercial markets for a year or two. Even then, the quality/reliability/ legality advantages enjoyed by the legal stores would be expected to quickly push the illicit business to the margins, as legal alcohol has done with moonshining. That will be especially true if the states that legalize make a vigorous law-enforcement push against purely illicit activity.

The untaxed and (in Washington State) unregulated quasi-medical markets may also enjoy a price advantage; if people with medical recommendations can buy their cannabis tax-free, we should expect a certain amount of arbitrage. How best to rein in the out-of-control medical-recommendation systems is a challenge that Washington and Colorado (and California, which hasn’t legalized for non-medical use but which has more “medical marijuana” outlets than it has Starbucks) will confront over the coming months and years.

So the biggest worry about legalize cannabis would be a big upsurge in heavy use, and that worry would be exacerbated to the extent that the growth in heavy use is among juveniles. (Provision to minors is by definition illegal, but, as with alcohol, it seems unlikely to generate a distinct illicit market; younger smokers who can’t buy in the stores will be supplied by older siblings, older friends, their parents’ supplies at home, and straw purchasers.

How big that problem turns out to be depends in part on unknowns and in part on policy choices. If cannabis prices are allowed to fall to something like their free-market levels, a very large increase in heavy use would be the likely result. Preventing that will require heavy specific-excise taxation (perhaps on a per-milligram-of-THC basis) and enough enforcement to prevent the evasion of that tax.

The other approach to limiting the increase in heavy use and use by minors would be on the information side: limits on marketing, required vendor training, aggressive consumer information both at point of sale and in the community.

Naturally, true-believing libertarians insist that cannabis legalization be done in the way likely to generate bad outcomes. Taxes BAD! Regulations BAD! “Commercial speech” is SACRED! The free market FOREVER! And of course drug abuse is a merely imaginary problem, so cannabis is just an ordinary commodity that the market will handle perfectly.

It’s possible that they’ll get their way, and that as a consequence the results of cannabis legalization will be just about as bad as the drug warriors keep predicting: the reproduction of our very bad, no good, awful alcohol markets. It’s barely possible – this is what my drug-warrior friends hope – that the results will be so awful that the voters shy away from legalization altogether.

Jacob Sullum has elevated the temporary risk that relatively high taxes starting will slow down the migration from the illicit to the licit market into an existential threat to the legalization project, and is more or less encouraging Colorado pot fans to double-cross the rest of the voters by rejecting the taxes that were the premise of last year’s legalization push. “From a consumer’s perspective, something has gone terribly wrong if legal marijuana prices do not end up being substantially lower than black-market prices.” That’s true, if by “consumer” you mean someone who smokes multiple joints per day. For anyone else, the cost of weed is way down in the rounding error of a personal budget; a weekly smoker might now be paying something like $100 per year for cannabis, even at current prices.

Andrew Sullivan seems to take this seriously. Talk about solving the wrong problem!

Federalism and cannabis policy: the terms of a bargain

Policy waivers and Sec. 873 contractual agreements: how to use the states as laboratories for cannabis policy.

The Journal of Drug Policy Analysis has just published a new paper (behind a paywall) in which I offer two alternatives to the options currently in public discussion as to how the federal government can deal with state-level cannabis legalization.

This fall, Washington and Colorado intend to start licensing businesses to produce and sell cannabis under voter-passed initiatives, even though the stuff remains illegal under federal law. The federal government has not yet said what it plans to do about it, and its three obvious options – acquiescing, cracking down, and muddling through – all have fairly serious drawbacks.

A number of what Keith calls Formerly Important Persons have demanded that the feds crush the state-legal Colorado and Washington markets. Since every participant in those markets needs a license, that wouldn’t be hard to do: any federal judge would cheerfully enjoin someone applying for license to commit a federal felony from doing so.

But the state-legal commercial markets represent only one of three systems that can deliver cannabis to customers. The loosely-regulated “medical marijuana” markets would be a far tougher nut for the feds to crack. And the purely illicit system, which handles the vast bulk of transactions today, is way too big for 4000 DEA agents to suppress without help. More than 90% of arrests for growing and dealing marijuana are made by state and local cops. So the feds need state and local authorities in Washington and Colorado to maintain pressure on illegal growing.

Constitutionally, the states have no mandate to even have drug laws, let alone enforce them. In this case, federalism is more than a legal doctrine: it’s a brute fact.

So: Washington and Colorado would like the feds to let their new commercial systems operate. And the feds would like Washington and Colorado to suppress production for out-of-state sale. When each of two parties has something the other wants, that’s the basis for a bargain.

And the Controlled Substances Act (Sec. 873, if you’re keeping score at home) orders the Attorney General to cooperate with state and local officials in enforcing the law, and authorizes him, “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” to enter into “contractual arrangements” with states and localities. The paper proposes that he use that authority to make formal deals with Colorado and Washington in which the Justice Department would agree to keep hands off state-licensed businesses in return for the states’ active help in suppressing interstate trade. That wouldn’t make the state-authorized activity legal, but it could formalize a program of targeted, selective enforcement that would give state licensees an effective safe harbor.

That seems to me a clear second-best to my preferred option, which would be a Congressionally-authorized program of policy waivers. As with the waivers that allowed state-level experiments with alternatives to AFDC, cannabis policy waivers could allow the states, in good Brandeisian fashion, to act as the “laboratories of democracy” in a policy area where there is currently much more passion than knowledge.

Here’s the abstract of the paper:

Passage of marijuana-legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington poses a problem for the federal government: marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the federal government lacks the capacity to fully enforce that law without state and local cooperation. Complete deference to state legalization would put each state’s cannabis policy at the mercy of its neighbors’. A system of legislatively-authorized policy waivers would allow controlled exploration of alternative systems of control. In the absence of such authorization, the executive branch could use existing authority to craft cooperative agreements with the states intended to confine the effects of each state’s new policies within its own borders.

More detail in this UCLA press release.

Bob Young at the Seattle Times and Jordan Schrader at the News-Tribune have stories.

Logic and the marijuana war

Pot is safer than beer. Denying that fact isn’t “anti-drug;” it’s just anti-truth.

A pro-pot group rented video-billboard space outside the Indianapolis Speedway for the weekend of a NASCAR event to run a video with the following voicetrack:

If you’re an adult who enjoys a good beer, there’s a similar product you might want to know about – one without all the calories and serious health problems, less toxic so it doesn’t cause hangovers or overdose deaths, and it’s not linked to violence or reckless behavior.

Marijuana: less harmful than alcohol and time to treat it that way.

A group that calls itself “anti-drug” objected.

This campaign falsely claims marijuana is safer than alcohol and promotes illicit drug use in a state where marijuana is illegal.

The billboard company chickened out, either out of cowardice or because it didn’t want to offend its beer-company advertisers.

The New York Daily News repeats as fact the claim that the objecting organization is “anti-drug.” “Anti-truth” would be closer to the mark.

The logical negation of “Marijuana is safer than alcohol” would be “Alcohol is no more dangerous than marijuana.” How could anyone concerned about drug abuse make such a recklessly false claim promoting use of the intoxicant that kills, injures, and addicts more people than all the illicit drugs combined? “Less harmful than alcohol” is a low bar, but cannabis clears it easily.

Cannabis and schizophrenia: Scare stories are not policy arguments.

“Some” isn’t much of an argument. You need “How many?”

The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed by a Yale psychiatry resident warning that the legalization of cannabis will lead to increased disability due to schizophrenia. That’s based on a couple of studies showing that cannabis use, especially early heavy use, is a statistical risk factor for a subsequent schizophrenia diagnosis.

If I had a young friend with a family history of schizophrenia or who had experienced schizophrenic symptoms, I’d advise that person to stay away from cannabis. Why take unnecessary chances? But the evidence of an actual causal link is fairly underwhelming; it’s very hard to tell whether early cannabis use might reflect attempts at self-medication for pre-clinical symptoms rather than being an actual precipitating cause.

At the population level, we have what seems to me like strong negative evidence on the question whether increasing the availability of cannabis will lead to a measurable increase in the number of people with disabling levels of schizophrenia. Those in pre-Boomer and early Boomer birth cohorts in the U.S. – anyone born before about 1952 – had essentially zero experience with cannabis before the age of 18. But that changed rapidly. More than 10% of the high-school seniors of 1979 – roughly speaking, the birth cohort of 1961 – were daily or near-daily pot-smokers. Then the prevalence of heavy adolescent use fell sharply for a little more than a decade, reaching its trough around 1992, and has rebounded since.

Yet the rate of schizophrenia diagnosis shows no corresponding cohort-to-cohort swings. (Nor, for that matter, between high- and low-cannabis-prevalence areas within the U.S. or cross-nationally.) That doesn’t mean there aren’t individual cases in which cannabis precipitates a first psychotic break, or that there aren’t some people with schizophrenia whose disease course is worsened by pot-smoking. (It’s also possible, of course, that cannabis provides valuable symptomatic relief for others, but no doubt our vigilant Institutional Review Boards will protect us from ever learning about that phenomenon, if it exists.)

But those results do help put an upper bound on the number of additional schizophrenia diagnoses we need to fear as the result of the increase in cannabis use that would result from legalization and the resulting changes in availability, price, and attitudes. And that upper bound is fairly low: low enough to keep it off the list of the top ten reasons for or against legalization. Note, for example, that people put in jail or prison are at risk of severe damage, especially if while inside they become victims of physical or sexual assault. Some commit suicide. So the mental-health costs of arresting 650,000 people a year, and holding 30,000 or more prisoners at any one time, for cannabis offenses – costs that would be largely, though not entirely, abolished by legalization – might easily match or exceed the mental-health costs of increased exposure to cannabis.

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 responsile 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.

“How to Legalize Pot”

Bill Keller on mj legalization: Can we get to “orderly market” without passing through “way too stoned”?

Remind me to talk to Bill Keller more often. Not many reporters will expend the effort to understand the nuances of a complex issue and make them understandable to non-specialist readers. Key quote: “Can we get to ‘orderly market’ without passing through ‘way too stoned’?”