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.

Two Intriguing Developments in Marijuana Legalization

Oakland City Council’s decision not to go forward with a plan to let private companies start enormous “medical” pot farms has two intriguing subplots.

First, the Alameda County Attorney advised the members of the council that it was not clear whether they would be immune from federal prosecution if they approved the plan. This issue hasn’t come up yet because Prop 19 lost, but assuming some state goes pro-pot, it’s an inevitability. If a mayor or city council creates a system regulating cannabis production that is legal under state law and tries to tax it, will federal agents arrest them under federal drug trafficking statutes? I don’t think it’s a question of whether this would be legal but whether a federal prosecutor would be willing to take the political heat this would generate.

Second, small pot growers apparently lobbied the council not to pass the plan for mega-farms. Most analyses of the medical marijuana movement assume that the pot growers would become the vanguard for full legalization. But if you are a small grower, a big corporate producer of medical marijuana will easily be able to under-sell you and thereby reduce your profit. And if there is full legalization, small growers will be in the same position as small family farms trying to stay afloat in a market dominated by massive corporate farms. Some people were shocked that a number of small growers (and dispensary operators) opposed Prop 19, but that may become the normative stance over time once the implications of a corporate presence are more widely understood.