Caulkins on (quasi) medical marijuana

How come the number of “medical” marijuana users in some states is so large compared to the total number of self-reported marijuana users? Is there an epidemic of chronic pain among otherwise healthy thirty-year-old men who have been smoking pot for years?

Jon Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon is the lead author on a book on marijuana legalization scheduled for publication next spring. The rest of the team consists of Angela Hawken of Pepperdine and me (who worked with Jon on Drugs and Drug Policy, part of the same series from Oxford University Press) plus Beau Kilmer, who heads the RAND effort studying the possible effects of legalization.

Jon and I don’t come from the same place culturally or politically, and he’s extraordinarily smart (not to mention conscientious and kind), a combination that makes working with him – as I’ve been doing off and on for twenty years – both a challenge and a pleasure. Angela and Beau bring still different personalities, views, and skills to the enterprise – along with razor-sharp minds –  but so far it’s running very smoothly.  The concluding chapter of the new book will consist of a brief statement by each author laying out a preferred option; I can’t predict any of them in detail (even my own thinking keeps shifting) but I expect the four statements to embody lots of disagreement.

Jon and I agree more about facts than we do about values or policies. For example, he’s clearly right to say that the profile of “medical” marijuana users looks like a profile of recreational drug users, not a profile of patients, and that their sheer numbers in some states suggest that most of the recreational market is now accessing its supplies through quasi-medical channels. And that doesn’t even count the people whose recreational needs are supplied by friends with medical cards. Whether he’s also right to say that the Justice Department would do well to crack down on the scam is less obvious, at least to me.

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:

6 thoughts on “Caulkins on (quasi) medical marijuana”

  1. If I can say something other than the standard arguments about legalization, one of the wonderful things about the medical marijuana issue is how democratic it is.

    In other words, you had technocrats in charge of our drug policy for a long time, and their efforts may have reduced drug use but they also involved a ton of dishonesty (marijuana has NO medical use? really?) as well as a ton of bad side effects (drug raids in the inner citgy, plan colombia, etc.).

    And the policy has now started to be taken back by the people. And that is a truly inspiring thing about democracy– that when experts become corrupt or dishonest, the public can overrule them.

    What I would suggest to drug warriors is that they need to regain the trust of the American people that they have lost, rather than just continuing to try and negate and overrule them. And that requires some self examination about mistakes that were made. Specifrically, drug warriors need to think about the extent to which their personal aversion to hippie culture and their disdain for people who take chemical substances for recreational purposes have caused them to overrate the need to stamp out all recreational maijuana use.

    But until they do this, I don’t think the medical marijuana movement is going away. As I said, in a democracy, if the people speak, they get to overrule the technocrats. They have here.

  2. Well, if the issue is the need to put an end to “scams,” then just legalize marijuana, regardless of medical need.

    Attacking medical marijuana is just carrying water for those who are trying to maintain the scam that marijuana is somehow more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, requiring the state to prevent all citizens from obtaining and using it.

    More than 70 years on, it’s also a scam to argue that legal prohibitions against marijuana are effective at doing anything other than providing the only jobs program — hiring more cops and prison guards — that our disgraceful politicians can find the guts to support.

    And it is a scam to argue that tweaking the “drug war” will produce better results more than 40 years after it was declared.

    Yep, there’s a scam going on, but to see it you have to remove the lumber from your eyes to appreciate who’s running it — Uncle Sam.

  3. Cost benefit analysis regarding the arrest of recreational marijuana users and penal costs that sap existing funding short-falls is but one factor in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession.

    Contrasting such an analysis with existing societal costs for recreational alcohol and recreational tobacco would at least give us a bit of a comparison as to what society is willing to bear regarding the negative effects of legal recreation.

    Is society burdened when its “legal” marijuana dispensaries transform into marijuana recreation centers? Any more so than the existence of several Bars in any one vicinity of any city USA? Or any more of a burden than the health plight of any long-term tobacco smoker?

    When such comparables can be entered into the minds of our policy makers, maybe recreation can be achieved for marijuana consumers without the stigma of crime, in some perceivable future time!

  4. One of the benefits of marijuana legalization is that the distinction between medical and non-medical uses no longer takes on any legal significance (or at least greatly reduces that significance). It is a benefit because the distinction is itself too imprecise to carry any serious weight. If marijuana makes an anxious person less anxious, or just makes a person feel better, is that a medical use or a non-medical use? A person shouldn’t be liable for arrest just because the judicial system comes down on one side of that question.

  5. A medical marijuana permit, whether valid medically or not, is an insurance policy against damages done to the holder by their own government.
    I see these cards as a statement of FREEDOM.

Comments are closed.