Hat trick

Over the past couple of weeks, my essays in search of temperate cannabis policies have appeared in Slate, Vice, the New York Times, and now National Review. Other than the expected trolling from pot fans, pot-industry flacks, and fundamentalist libertarians, they haven’t drawn much response. I sometimes think that trying to talk reasonably about cannabis is a little bit like trying to talk reasonably about football on sports-talk radio. It’s a subject so hard to think clearly about, and so easy to get angry about, that saying anything other than “Racist drug war! Legalize it!” or “Brain damage! What about the children?” seems to miss the whole point of the exercise. But I’m grateful to all the editors involved for giving me the space.



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

12 thoughts on “Hat trick”

  1. I’ll read everything you write on the subject. Glad to have your input in the mix of pro and con views. Like legalization itself writing about mj is also in it’s infancy it seems. I have one question. When will studies begin to analyze use based on amounts and not days per week. 1 gram a day and one gram a week can still be daily use. Until we can adequately catagorize use findings will be suspect.

  2. I think you need a simpler message. Maybe stick to something like "we messed up alcohol regulation, and ended up with lots of alcohol problems. let's get cannabis regulation right by ensuring a high minimum price. this wouldn't affect recreational users, but would help limit the consumption of heavy users". However you do it, you need a problem everyone can understand, and a simple solution they can understand. You don't want "it's complicated. on the one hand … on the other hand …"

    1. I think the problem with expecting high prices to curb heavy use is the fact that heavy users already have a very reliable supply chain, black market weed, which they have been using for decades.

      1. How can Kleinman simultaneously say, “cannabis is so easy to grow” but “high cannabis prices will diminish cannabis use”? Or, “cannabis is so easy to grow” but “recreational cannabis increases youth access?”

      2. I am thinking of a dinner in London with Daniel Kahneman and Richard Layard. Kahneman is much the deeper academic, but it is Richard Layard who has had more impact on policy. Danny can see the problems in every idea, and is hesitant to promote any idea that he isn't certain about. Great for science, but terrible for policy. Richard is comfortable with imperfection, and able to transform academic knowledge into clear practical messages. Some of his pronouncements wouldn't (and certainly shouldn't) pass peer review, but they are certainly a clear improvement over politics as usual.

  3. Readers of an occasional article whose response is "that looks pretty reasonable" are less motivated to say so than fanatics and trolls. On a blog, writers can also attract the best kind of commenter, who responds socratically to move the conversation forward or in a new direction. We bloggers here at RBC are fortunate to have a high proportion of such dinner-table companions.

  4. Mark, you’re getting plenty of responses from people. You just don’t like what they’re saying. They mostly disagree with you or cannot follow your logic. Black-market cannabis is far cheaper than recreational cannabis, and young people currently have all the access they need. Cannabis currently is readily available (especially to young people) whether it is legal or not. It even makes its way in to jails! Regulating cannabis with truthful messaging (regarding harms and benefits) will slowly demystify its usage, eventually leaving the young “rebels” with less to prove and fight against.

    A grow and give model doesn’t work for the more healthful smokeless alternatives like vaporizers or pills or beverages. These options need to be safely produced.
    I’ve followed your work for a couple years now, and your relevance in this area seems to be waning. The lack of responses you are satisfied with may reflect that. I will continue to follow your work, thanks for everything.

  5. I have written a few comments at this site on this topic but there certainly isn't a conversation, which is too bad. However, I think this is partially because the changing comments policy here putoffs many readers (and potential comment writers). Perhaps front-pagers do not realize that a community is not created by others reading their work…rather it springs from the responses of readers.

    "Black-market cannabis is far cheaper than recreational cannabis." This is true and I don't see what is going to change that in the state of Washington. I like that it is legal to consume MJ in my living room and that I can drive less than 2 miles to a well-stocked retail shop. BUT I do not like paying $25/gram for pretty average bud.

  6. Mark,
    What points do you stand on with the statement, "high cannabis prices will decrease cannabis use"? I think it is often presumed that homegrowers will follow the precedent set by homebrewers but that discounts the great disparity of skill needed between the two practices. Homebrewing requires a fairly basic knowledge of chemistry and equipment. Homegrowing is far easier with only the most rudimentary understanding of biology allowing someone to grow a nice crop.

    High prices will only drive more homegrowers into a secondary market that sits in the grey. It will become a popular hobby, driving the number of people who do it (just wait till the hipsters pick it up). This will likely not minimize youth access. It is up to the parents of the children to adequately safeguard and teach. The onus is on the family first. Only in a distant second does government find their place in this equation: ensure the industry follows evolving standards in a burgeoning market. Producers, this includes homegrowers, should adequately label all products with a universal symbol. The universal symbol could be a green star with circle around it or any other number of easily recognizable logographics. Abstract enough that a child might recognize it and understand it at an eye's glance. Make this a part of the curriculums in school when alcohol or other base pleasures are brought up.

    This, coupled with sensible market pressures will allow the industry to start out on the right foot. The sensible market pressures should include minimizing large monopoly takeover. The pressure should be for small, local production. Taxes should increase as production increases to keep the market's power spread rather than consolidated. The tax structure could be formulated to ensure a certain inflection point between net profits and production. Smaller production should beget smaller ad revenues. This removes any worry about Super Bowl ads flashing during games.

    Just some thoughts from someone who enjoys marijuana's introspection-inducing qualities.

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