Eric Sterling on P19

Eliminating state-level enforcement would swell the size of the illicit cannabis industry in California.

Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation responds to my critique of Proposition 19 (cannabis legalization). He’s right that Californians who want to grow their own and not sell it would be able to if the proposition were to pass, since the Feds aren’t going to bother with tiny home pot-plots. And he agrees with me that the legalization of commercial production and sales is a bridge too far and that the feds won’t allow it.

So we largely agree on what would happen if P19 passed (which I now think it won’t): the Feds would crack down on the commercial side, leaving the state and its subdivisions bereft of the anticipated revenue, but individuals would be able to grow pot and smoke it in peace.

What Eric’s essay doesn’t deal with is the likely flourishing of illegal cultivation in California as a result; with only federal enforcement to worry about, rather that state-and-local plus federal enforcement, cannabis producers in California would face much lower costs than producers in the other 49 states. That would increase California’s market share, leading to increased federal enforcement against an activity that California’s voters had endorsed. The resulting confrontation seems like a feature to P19’s sponsors; I think it’s a bug.

But what really galls me is the attempt to bamboozle voters by offering them the illusory promise that P19 will help ease California’s budget woes. No, of course I’m not surprised that California propositions are marketed dishonestly, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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:

8 thoughts on “Eric Sterling on P19”

  1. Is there some place you've addressed in a connected way the implications of P19 for Mexican producers, their war against the Mexican state, & its blowback onto US politics? This is another area where P19's supporters have claimed too much (& its opponents too little) on a subject that's too serious for bullshit.

  2. And your better alternative is?

    Your arguments on the drug war remind me of all the reasons we were told we had to stay in Vietnam, which are now being recycled in Afghaninam . . . apparently, in America, if you have a vicious, failing policy that's chewing up people and spitting them out in droves, you can never, ever stop until the magic pony of perfect policy shows up and pleases everybody from every angle.

  3. I'd expect commercial-scale growing in California to go down.

    If small plots and informal distribution are seen as legal, every stoner with a southern exposure grows. Overall supply and consumption increase, but legal, informal supply crowds out commercial product. Demand for same drops, along with prices. What do producers of anything from crude oil to soybeans do when demand and prices exhibit a sustained decrease? They shut in high-cost fields.

    High-cost fields are in Humboldt, not Michoacan.

  4. Mark and Michael: I'll take that bit. Maybe we can use it to plug a bit of the hole in the UC budget.

    More strategically, passage of Prop 19 could start to align California reps in Congress for legalization, and if the same thing happens in other states, we could see a repeat of medical marijuana where the Feds stop fighting or maybe even finally adopt a form of legalization.

  5. I'm with JMG: In your world, how does this drug war madness ever end? When a majority of Congress spontaneously change their minds with nothing having happened at the state level? That's never.

    You need things like Prop 19 to put on the pressure, and increase public resentment towards the drug warriors. Feature, not bug. Unless you're a drug warrior who just likes talking about some slight degree of legalization as long as you're sure it will never happen. Which is what it's looking like to me.

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