The New Marijuana Legalization Book is a Model of Public Policy Analysis

Even when I was critiquing it for the authors in draft form, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know was very good. The final version, which I have just finished devouring, is even better. It’s the best book on cannabis in many years and a fine example of public policy analysis more generally.

I am going to do some posts about the content of the book in coming weeks. But I wanted to recommend the book to everyone in a more general way as an outstanding case study in how to separate scientific facts from public policy prescriptions. As I have written about before, the two are often unhelpfully — even dishonestly — slopped together in public policy analyses. Often the authors of such works don’t realize they are conflating the two, which is why they walk away from public policy disappointments saying “They ignored the science” when what they ought to say is “I’m mad because I didn’t get my way”.

The team that wrote the marijuana legalization book clearly appreciates that their great expertise in the science of drug policy does not give them a special warrant to tell other people how to live. They present the facts calmly and clearly, withholding their personal opinions until the end. And wonderfully, when they do eventually reveal their own policy preferences they label them as personal opinions, not as policies that science has proven must be implemented.

Somewhere, David Hume is smiling. So am I. Well done indeed Jonathan, Angela, Beau and Mark.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

5 thoughts on “The New Marijuana Legalization Book is a Model of Public Policy Analysis”

  1. If only the U.S. government ever cared 1/10th as much about facts and science in drug policy as have the authors of this book. Unfortunately, the ONDCP, the DEA and the rest of the federal government apparently thought they WERE given a special warrant to tell other people how to live.

    The sad part is that while the authors are trying to balance the extreme advocates on both sides of the drug policy debates with their facts and uncertainty, the balancing act is necessarily uneven, since one extreme advocacy side is the federal government with the power to distort the entire debate..

    1. The ONDCP, the DEA and the others did get a special warrant to tell other people how to live. It came from the elected representatives of the voters.

  2. Just because elected officials are supposed to represent constituencies, doesn’t mean elected officials represent constituencies. Ideally they’d lose their job if they didn’t legislate representatively, but how many districts, let alone states, are there where voters are informed (and homogenous) enough to fire their Congressperson for not doing work in accordance with their will?

    1. Exactly. And when the ONDCP (and the entire federal government) acts as a propaganda arm of prohibition, it undermines the ability of the public to be informed.

      1. Prohibition is official federal policy, so I’m not going to criticize the federal government for disseminating information that attempts to discourage drug use. Granted, some of that information has been inaccurate in the past, but the federal government is not THE culprit for an uninformed public. It’s not like there isn’t any accurate information out there, yet how many people consume it? Of all the culpable parties for an uninformed public, the public is number one.

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