Room for Debate: cannabis policy

Six short essays: hawks, doves, and analysts.

Six short essays, by a mix of hawks, doves, and analysts: Beau Kilmer, Michelle Alexander, Kim Rueben, A. Eden Evans, Garrett Peck, and some guy with a beard. I find it somewhat remarkable that, at this late date, it’s still possible to rant against legalization without considering the costs of prohibition, or vice versa, but in fact the Times is unusual in having four people with various analytical takes and only one hawk and one dove.

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 “Room for Debate: cannabis policy”

  1. Amazing short essays. And to tell about Beau Kilmer, he is a senior policy research worker at the RAND Corporation, where he codirects the RAND Drug Policy center. he’s conjointly a prof at the Pardee RAND grad school. Kilmer’s analysis lies at the intersection of public health and public safety, with a special stress on substance use, illicit markets, corrections, and public policy.

  2. Mark — I wonder if you couldn’t lessen the culture war aspects of drug policy by not putting people into “war camps” with terms such as “hawks” and “doves”. I think you and Bob Jesse had a commendable proposal at some point to call people what they want to be called, e.g., “People who support current policy”, “People who favor commerical-style industry” etc.

    1. Happy to do that on the substance. There are analysts who, based on reasoning and evidence, oppose any commercial availability, and analysts who, based on reasoning and evidence, think that cannabis should be sold more or less as alcohol is. (See the Caulkins and Hawken concluding essays in the marijuana legalization book.) By a “hawk” I mean someone unwilling to reason about the issue, acting as if once you’d established that cannabis is damaging you’d answered the question about whether people should be imprisoned for selling it. By a “dove” I mean someone who acts as if once you’d established that incarceration is bad you can ignore the risks of increased consumption due to legalization, or someone who thinks that proclaiming a “right” to manage what you put into your body to influence your mind obviates any need to think about consequences.

  3. “Don’t allow marketing.” Mark, as you probably realize, there is a real chance that the Roberts Court would probably not allow this. The five Right-wing justice would regard most marketing restrictions of a legal product as an infringement of speech, even if the commercial speech doctrine theoretically is less protective than political and other speech.

    1. Tobacco companies, as you doubtless know, cannot advertise cigarettes on TV, radio, or billboards. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a print ad.

      I have a hard time believing that the Constitution is a bulwark against legal paternalism.

    2. Jonathan’s concern is well-placed. Alcohol advertising is everywhere (including TV), tobacco marketing is about $40 million a day and both have done a skillful job of saturating the Internet with ads as well as things that don’t look like ads but are (e.g., fake blogs).

      1. Dr. Humphries,

        Where did you get the $40 million/day statistic? Where are the fake blogs? I’m genuinely curious.

        Are you saying that you expect a Supreme Court that is populated by a Progressive Bloc that is made of steel combined with a “right-wing” section that is as firm as jello is likely to treat cannabis more like alcohol than like tobacco (which, I get it, was really hammered after the consent decree)?

        To further pinpoint what I’m getting at: Are you saying that a Supreme Court populated by the likes of Sam Alito, Antonin Scalia, and John Roberts are going to be more faithful to restraints on government’s power to regulate/control and inhibit economic liberty rather than to the moral pronouncements of former Pope Ratzinger?

        I find it unlikely in the extreme. In fact, given the Court’s decisions in Raich and last year’s Affordable Care Act case, we know that the Right-wing of the court has no burning desire to overturn Wickard and is perfectly willing dredge up one or another “compelling state interest” for the government to prudentially regulate advertising. To suppose that Scalia and Alito will presumptively treat the Devil’s Weed equally as they would alcohol is to inhabit the libertarian paradise of my imagination.

        tl;dr – the Supreme Court works backwards from the results they want in order to procure the reasoning they desire. As long as there is prospective concern about a hypothetical “Big Marijuana,” marketing of marijuana will be effectively and tightly regulated.

        1. D. Silver: I believe they have to report their annual marketing budget under the tobacco compact — you can get annual numbers from Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids or Legacy. The linked story below puts their marketing at 12 billion annually.

          The fake blogs have been studied by my friend Professor Kurt Ribisl of University of North Carolina Cancer Center. An example would be a blog allegedly by an attractive teenage girl who tells stories of her social and romantic exploits, all of which have embedded references to tobacco products. The zillions of horny teenage boys who read such a blog do not realize that it is all written by industry people to promote their products.

          There are also many smoking fetish videos on YouTube and one wonders if tobacco industry people are behind any or all of them

          I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to address the legal issues you raise for example re Wickard (indeed I don’t even know what that case was about). I have though been repeatedly impressed by the ability of the alcohol and tobacco industries to get their way, both in developed countries and even moreso in the rest of the world (where advertising is everywhere and use of these substances is exploding)

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