Marijuana legalization: a voter’s guide

Some complicated dynamics between state-level attempts to regulate the marijuana market after they legalize it and the threat of federal pre-emption.

This piece in The American Interest comes from the same team that did the marijuana-legalization book, but breaks some new ground by exploring the dynamics between state attempts to regulate and the threat of federal pre-emption.

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:

10 thoughts on “Marijuana legalization: a voter’s guide”

  1. I wonder if Prof. Kleiman or one of the other authors could elaborate on how they envision Colorado becoming and sustaining itself as a newly dominant hub for national sourcing of pot. Most likely, the purchased in bulk pot would have to leave the state via land vehicles (as opposed to private or commercial flights). Couldn’t the Feds and neighbouring states simply upgrade border surveillance many-fold? Presumably, at present, the level of surveillance and vigilance is commensurate with a more ordinary expected amount of smuggling. There’s no reason that can’t change if the Feds and neighbouring states are truly concerned about preventing a domestic hub of pot supply.

    1. 1. Build a wall around Colorado? Really? Get back to me with the number of paved roads that cross Colorado’s borders, and let’s talk.
      2. FedEX.

      1. We aren’t talking about the odd visitor transporting a few pounds under a seat or even a couple dozen Cheech & Chongs loading up the back of a van.

        In the article, you posit “Indeed, Colorado could make much more money selling to out-of-state dealers who could buy in bulk in Colorado to sell (illegally) in other states.”, “If Colorado became the dominant supplier of cannabis for the entire country, or even for large parts of it,” and “Other states might well cry foul and push for Federal intervention if Colorado’s legalization led to Colorado replacing Mexico and Canada as a closer and more efficient “source country” for marijuana”. You are clearly paying heed to a scenario where Colorado becomes a “source country” for US pot. That kind of volume, especially if sourced from quasi-legal Colorado supply i.e. known or guessed loci of origin, would be hard to sustain over the long haul. At present, supply is diffused from multiple sources and the supply source is clandestine to begin with.

  2. Thank you for the insight on the Michigan proposal.

    Unfortunately, you guys are absolutely right on this point: unregulated legalization state-by-state is the surest path forward for those of us interested in ending the failed marijuana prohibition experiment. Rational regulation can only take place after the federal government ends it’s prohibition and can act cooperatively rather than adversely.

  3. I just finished Macoun and Reuter’s book on drug policy/vice policy. I found it to be a great starting point but I was annoyed by how quickly the data goes out of date. You Masters of Public Policy have given yourself the task of perpetual data-gathering + analysis + synthesis. That’s a nice full-employment racket that you smarties have got going for yourselves! 🙂

    My other thought was that this book, despite being even-handed, shows “the limits of consequentialism” in trying to suss out causal inference and then make the leap over to some sort of policy recommendation. In the end, it’s all political philosophy: James Q. Wilson (RIP) and Mark Kleiman–geniuses both–are never going to agree.

  4. I still think the only way to thwart the feds is for a state to grow it and sell it itself. That would give the state a shot in court under the Tenth Amendment and would make federal enforcement efforts very difficult.

  5. This is a public health issue essentially,
    but with dimensions in the economic outside
    health as well, of course, a multi-dimensional
    legal issue.

    But, still, the foundation is public health policy.

    And since nothing is always 100% safe (you’ll
    drown yourself if you drink a couple glasses of
    water and then choke on something; you risk
    breaking your neck when you don’t hold the rail
    while walking downstairs,) I’ve decided this
    is one place where people might make a stand for
    not only rationality but the senses of proportion
    and awareness of hypocrisy.

    I’ve proposed a public health-based thread-the-needle
    approach to all the above issues that simultaneously
    places a public health umbrella over all the issues,
    including as to what neglected needs as to current
    illicitly-consuming persons may exist. The concerns
    in this area run in every direction.

    Most practically, the idea fills state coffers instead
    of state prisons and implicitly defuses much of the
    incentive to illicitly purvey.

    It still retains, and indeed installs, a consumption
    brake where that consumption is sufficient to set off

    The revenues pay for DUI enforcement, maintenance of
    the companion public health information function, general
    state administrative needs, marijuana market oversight,
    marijuana use and program effect studies, education and
    social work-oriented intervention where special needs
    are identified, and, and this is the best part for me,
    rather like was the case for Francisco Scaramanga and
    his solex-powered toys: the beginning of a state-guided
    health information framework.

    The plan can go by any of several suitable names:

    marijuana usage tax

    aka: marijuana state user fee

    aka: health information and
    monitoring fee

    aka: state and marijuana retailer
    partnering system, with
    the retailer likely needing
    some screening.

    aka: Legal By Way
    Of Toll And Public
    Health Monitoring

    I call it Legal By Toll

    Have a nice day.

    (My “key” “about” are av. on the homepage.
    If you’re familiar with public health
    academic history, I’m an Axelrod-Donabedian’r,
    which was Ann Arbor mid/late ’70’s.)

    Note: I supply personal info to trusted
    correspondents. I otherwise currently
    choose the path of avoiding crank calls.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking link. I do have a nit, though:

    > Indeed, there are about as many alcohol-related arrests for each alcohol-dependent
    > person as there are marijuana-related arrests for each marijuana-dependent person.

    I am having a hard time understanding what this could possibly mean. Alcohol-related arrests for alcohol-dependent persons are generally arrests for breaches of the public peace or safety: drunk driving, drunk brawling, etc. Marijuana-related arrests are arrests for violations of the prohibition, either simple possession or distribution. How are these even remotely comparable, given that under legalization the grounds for almost all current marijuana arrests would vanish?

  7. Well, all I can say is, the quasi-legalized system we have in California right now has not effected my life at all. I read in the paper that the dispensaries are supposedly horrible to live near, but, there never seems to be any actual data.

    And while that would make some intuitive sense, that the kind of people who are into pot might also be litterers and so forth — no offense to anyone here! ; > — we already have laws that deal with, say, liquor stores. So what’s the difference?

    Meanwhile, it’s true the feds are cracking down out here, but I have no idea *why.* I really don’t. I mean, other than that they can. If things have gotten horribly worse and I just haven’t noticed, I’d love to see that argument made. I don’t get it. And I didn’t get the point of the linked piece either, which seemed to me to be worrying much more about the feds’ problems than voters’. Since I don’t see why mj should be illegal, I just don’t see why I need to worry about this. Am I wrong? Has there been some big upsurge in high-driving here in LA, for example, and I just haven’t noticed? What gives?

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