A serious drug-legalization talk

Jim Leitzel of the University of Chicago provides some straight talk on drug policy.

Jim Leitzel of the University of Chicago has done what most proponents of drug legalization refuse to do:  admit the likely increase in drug abuse as a result of legalization, and think in concrete and practical terms about policies to limit that increase, such as requiring each user to pass a basic-knowledge test for each drug and set a personal quantity limit for each (day? week? month?), and banning sales to, and use by, those convicted of crimes under the influence. I’m less sanguine than Leitzel about the practicalities; since the 10% heaviest users of any drug consume at least 50% of the quantity, and since heavy users are more likely to be problem users, even a moderately tight licensing system could create the customer base for a huge illicit market. But he’s at least asking the right questions, and trying seriously to answer them. Note that favoring the sort of regime he proposes for cannabis still makes you a wild-eyed permissive liberal, while suggesting it for the far more dangerous drug ethanol makes you a fun-killing nanny-state liberal. “Conservatives” seem to be perfectly satisfied both with cannabis prohibition and with insane laxity about alcohol.

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

6 thoughts on “A serious drug-legalization talk”

  1. Burce: some conservatives dislike some kinds of change, but are perfectly OK with other kinds. Paying for externalities of various liquids, nuh-uh. Massive increase in per-capita incarceration rates, expensive foreign adventurism, sure.

  2. The way to bridge the gap between the current legal treatments of THC and ethanol is with a legal regime based on explicitly grudging tolerance, rather than any sense of a “right”. It would involve, as starting point, taxes designed to be as high as is consistent with averting a significant black market, and regulation in other areas at least as tight as now apply to tobacco or alcohol. Getting from here to there will be extremely difficult, and maintaining such a regime in the face of commercial interests of the providers will be almost as difficult. But it would be better than what we have now.

  3. Professor Kleiman –

    Frankly, your posts on this subject remind me of the controversies that raged late in the Vietnam war. After endless years of futile effort, a crude consensus emerged that the war was a dreadful mistake. Then various bright people bobbed up with various tinkering proposals and schemes, whose effect was to blur the core issue.

    That’s because they mistakenly believed that the core issue for America was the future of Vietnam. They were wrong … the core issue was the US effort in Vietnam, which was doing far more damage to America than even the worst-case outcome in Vietnam could. (As we saw eventually, when the worst-case outcome actually happened in Vietnam and it affected America hardly at all.)

    Similarly, your posts merely serve to blur the core issue. The “War on Drugs” does enormous tangible harm to America … more than any plausible increase in drugs use that might occur if it ended. Perhaps you agree with that and perhaps you don’t. If you do, then your intelligence and expertise are needed to help stop the stupidity. If you don’t, then try publishing an honest roll-up of all harms that the current “War” is doing; and compare it to your worst-case theorized harm from stopping the “war”.

    Either way, you’d be addressing the right issue. The way you’re going now, you’re just helping blur the debate … like those bright people back during Vietnam.

  4. End the War on Drugs. Then take 1/2 the money we currently spend on the War on Drugs and spend it on a combination of drug education/messaging, treatment and regulation (of content to make it safer). I believe the result will be far better for our society.

    I don’t think trying to limit supply is going to work well. You’ll end up with people breaking those rules, just like they break the rules now. Some sort of treatment for addicts who want help strikes me as a better choice than trying to just block them.

  5. This conservative favors decriminalization of all drug use (although conditions of sale should be regulated) and changes to alcohol regulation. The drinking age should be returned to age 18 post haste, with appropriate driving restrictions. I would have no problem with limiting under age 21 drivers to the commuting window (between 5 AM and 8 PM), with appropriate exceptions for off hour jobs and school.

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