With Austin Jenkins on cannabis in Washington

Don’t make the state financially dependent on chemically dependent cannabis users.

Austin Jenkins, the highly skilled correspondent for Washington State’s TVW channel invited me to appear on his “Inside Olympia” interview show. The result was the most in-depth public discussion I’ve had so far.

It’s generated several news stories, mostly focusing on my attempt to deflate the inflated revenue estimates that have been floating around. But the key point to me is that a legal cannabis market should be run to protect public health and safety, not to maximize revenues.

I turn out to have been unduly dogmatic on the question of timelines: the Board has decisions to make, some of which could telescope the process.

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

24 thoughts on “With Austin Jenkins on cannabis in Washington”

  1. That was the most informative and frankly, adult conversation sans the giggle factor, so far that I have seen in the media.
    There are some unsettling things I am starting to see in the Seattle area. There are some “dab” lounges opening up
    in U of Washington area, Tacoma, and Rainier Valley. These are private clubs that allow you to vaporize cannabis products, that
    circumvents smoking rules, supposedly.

    Also, there are two markets in the Rainier Valley and West Seattle that offer various cannabis products.

    I am concerned that these examples show the Feds that Wa state can not control
    the internal cannabis market and perhaps, external via diversion. Or perhaps, this is the grey area time until rules are formed and
    local jurisdictions must step in for zoning and use rules.

    I totally agree that you can not have a dual system of largely unregulated collective gardens vs licensed cannabis production.
    The donation of excess medicinal cannabis to these dispensaries will circumvent the licensed cannabis production and retail system.
    Perhaps, the key point is that medical marijuana dispensaries must follow all of the rules licensed cannabis retailers must follow.
    Or much easier, ban dispensaries which are not legal without a cannabis license, but still allow for collective gardens.

    1. Vaporization is not smoking. The regulatory board would be wise to nudge users away from smoking toward vaporization. The state has a real opportunity here to mold what the mainstream usage of cannabis will look like without fighting an entrenched lobbying force.

  2. I’d be interested in narrowing down your definition of “responsible” (and conversely “problematic”) use. You compared extremes on the show: once a week and half a gram per month vs. all day every day and 4 grams a day. Obviously we’d all agree that the former is responsible and the latter is problematic. But what about a gram a day, most days, all in the evening when the user gets home from work? What about an alcohol drinker who has 2-3 drinks every day in an appropriate setting?

    On a related note, I think the comparison to alcohol only goes so far. If you agree the harms associated with marijuana use are less than alcohol use, wouldn’t you also have to agree that a quantity of marijuana use that slightly exceeds what constitutes “problematic” alcohol use might not be problematic? For example, if we define “problematic” alcohol use as 30 hours of impairment in a month, would 31 hours of marijuana impairment also be “problematic”?

      1. That still may not help to hide your true self:

        “Third, even on those rare occasions where Kleiman does not endorse prohibitionist policy, his analysis is infused with a prohibitionist morality. In his often superb chapter on marijuana, his evidence forces him to consider alternatives. Yet he is reluctant at every turn. He brings himself to admit that the costs of the current prohibition (e.g. each year 350 000 arrests and up to 10 billion dollars in enforcement costs and lost revenue) are probably too great for the ‘benefits’ received. But he still conceives of the alleged deterrent value of prohibition as a benefit, and again implies that he believes marijuana use is in itself somehow ‘bad’.”

        —Prohibitionism in Drug Policy Discourse
        by Craig Reinarman, University of California, Santa Cruz,

        “He also bases his support for prohibition on the fact that the criminal justice system does not do a good enough job of preventing drug-related crime. Most informed observers, however, trace many of the problems in our criminal justice system to the burden and corruption placed on it by narcotics prohibition. Finally, I would note that even Mr. Kleiman realizes that only a small percentage of the population develops abuse problems with any specific drug and that we do not know what makes a given person have an abuse problem with a given drug. Why then does he recommend a nationwide policy that is oppressive, impersonal, and ineffective?

        —Mark Thornton, Auburn University.
        A Review of Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results, 1992.

  3. Vaporizing is not a good method of using cannabis for medicinal purposes. Because the cannabis is heated and not burned, many terpines are not activated. We have a great deal to learn about the components in cannabis. The “Wild West” we are experiencing in Washington, especially in Seattle, is the result of the partial vetoing 2 years ago. Vape lounges and cannabis markets are not what the voters intended. They are designed for the casual cannabis user not the medical patient. When cities and the state refuse to deal with the tricky behavior of people operating on the edges, patients suffer.

    1. Smoking it appears to be healthy:

      1) Tobacco is cancer causing largely because it delivers specific carcinogens such as NNK and NNAL that are not present in cannabis. Not all “tar” is created equal, and tobacco has some of the most carcinogenic types of tar known to science, whereas cannabis does not.

      2) Cannabis (marijuana) use is associated with a DECREASE in several types of cancer… potentially even providing a protective effect against tobacco and alcohol related cancer development.

      Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased lung cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.

      Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade, comparing cancer rates among non-smokers, tobacco smokers, and marijuana smokers. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers who didn’t also use tobacco had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.

    1. Keep an eye on this guy (Jenkins, i mean).
      He is the real deal as far as serious journalism is concerned.

  4. First of all, growing up with alcoholics myself i can tell you that marijuana use, medical or otherwise is far…excuse me, EXTREMELY FAR less “problematic” than alcohol use. How many people have died with a direct link to marijuana? As in smoking the herb actually killed them? There’s nothing on record I’ve ever seen that would prove it. Also severe alcoholics (this coming from experience) tend to be very violent towards anyone including their wife and kids but not limited too just those, this aggression (mental and physical) extends to anyone within eyesight of the drunk. Now imagine your father,uncles,aunts and yes even a grandmother who have drank heavily as long as you can remember. Now imagine constantly fearing these people who are supposed to be your “family” and watching them fight each other all the time, oh yea and don’t you dare make a sound when they’re drinking/fighting or you’ll get back handed to the floor then kicked and screamed at about how much better their lives were before they had kids..Luckily an old family friend who lived hours away heard about what was happening and stepped in. This one man and his family took the kid in and showed him love and compassion taught him real family values are all about and guess what…they all smoked pot.. and quite alot actually AND still managed to maintain careers, family and have a normal life, something the alcoholics could never seem to do and still don’t to this day, well those whose livers haven’t packed up an moved out. The point here is the adoptive pot heads are still alive, still smokin and still doing absolutely fantastic now some 20 years later compared to the remainder of my alcoholic bloodline that’s clinging to that bottle until it literally kills them. And finally…tobacco, legal in all 50 states and you may as well roll up some rat poison and sprinkle arsenic on it cuz it’s just as deadly…yet these two highly destructive “man made” poisons are sold at every gas station around the country causing cancer and destroying lives one puff and swallow at a time. Still yet though natures wonder plant which is not addicting, if you just said yes it is you’re a buffoon I smoked for years and years then quit at the drop of a hat to join the army with NO withdrawal symptoms and NO “cravings” you can say it depends on the person and maybe it does but if that’s the case then there’s an underlying problem causing the addictive personality and that person would withdrawal from sugar cookies should we ban them too? Anyway I can’t say the same for the cigs though I thought I was gonna go nuts my first couple of weeks thinking about cigarettes all the time and craving them sooo bad it was the worst part BCT honestly once I kicked the nicotine it was smooth sailing from there on out. Honestly I didn’t intend on writing a novel here so I’m gonna close, I thank you for your time and wish you and yours well.

    1. Oh and one more thing this ones for you MR Riffle my adoptive family was probably high well over 31 hours a month and to this day are the kindest most gentile people I know. They always provided for me as well as their biological children and never once even raised a hand at me. They weren’t pushovers though mind you if you were acting up there was punishments they just didn’t involve taking their leather belts and hitting you with them…so all in all, No. marijuana usage exceeding 31 hours a month is not what I would call “problematic” and damn sure doesn’t even begin to compare to negative side effects of alcohol use.

      1. And finally…tobacco, legal in all 50 states and you may as well roll up some rat poison and sprinkle arsenic on it cuz it’s just as deadly…

        How does hyperbole serve your argument here?

  5. my adoptive family was probably high well over 31 hours a month and to this day are the kindest most gentile people I know

    OY! That’s enough to keep me away from the stuff.

    1. Haha seriously? Someone being a genuinely nice and successful person and still be responsible with marijuana use makes you wanna stay away from it??! I mean to each their own I’m not judging you for not wanting to smoke it cuz I don’t smoke it anymore either, and i certaintly dont pass judgement to those who do choose to partake but I’m a little confused that out of ALL that ^ …your reply is all you took from it. Are you saying you would prefer a violent drunken family setting over a normal loving family setting? An don’t take this the wrong way I’m not trying to bash you just unclear on your reasoning there

      1. I believe this comment was an April Fool’s Day joke: In the quoted passage you spelled “gentle” as “gentile”

        1. Oh I see that now but either way spelling mistakes aside it’s obvious what was meant to be said so lets try and keep our big boy pants on here the issue isn’t spelling and grammar if you wanna troll someone or play grammar police go to Facebook and do it

  6. From the first link into the Seattle Times:

    Just 20 percent of users consume 80 percent of all weed in the U.S., Kleiman said.

    I don’t recall you quite saying that so bluntly. You did invoke the 80-20 law, but shifted into alcohol statistics at that point. No doubt cannabis usage is roughly captured by the law. But do we know have a more concrete set of numbers?

    Also, I agree it is wise to steer the WA clear of visions of the sugarplum revenue fairy. But at the same time, has anybody estimated the uptick in marijuana tourism?

  7. A few points.

    I believe the borrowing of alcohol experience to inform ourselves about pot is a mistake. They are two different substances and will have different effects from a population perspective just as they differ as a personal experience. The use of an alcohol model throws our perspective into a box where opportunities are missed and behaviors are mischaracterized.

    The glaring inadequacy in the interview comments involves the technical discussion of quality regulation. In the food industry there are standards bodies that were established by people in industry and academic institutions. These bodies do most of the work of determining how products are tested and produced. The government can best meet their responsibility by determining safe levels of various substances and ruling out certain obviously unsafe practices. The rest should be left to industry as industry is pretty good at creating professional organizations to serve the need for industry standards The model is already well known and easily adopted. The state might be wise to fund the initial academic work of modifying existing test methods used in other matters so these methods are available as a starting point for industry to then carry to fruition. Most important is that the production process determines the quality of a product and the lab only serves that process. The lab doesn’t make products safe. Mandating rigorous testing of each bit of product for all things will be a disaster. Better to allow the development of processes that result in a safe product which will include lab testing as needed to facilitate that goal.

    I was shocked at the mention of ten bucks a gram as a difficult goal. I was repelled at the mention of extracting THC from stems and integrating that THC into product. I laughed at the mention of producers as pushers. Many years ago I grew and sold pot. I can openly say this as it was legally addressed. I would like to share some notions created during that time.

    Pushing pot is a ridiculous joke. Corporations may get enough power over society to push it by advertising and other cultural communications but from the perspective of a guy with some pot to sell, the problem was to keep people from trying to get you to sell pot rather than trying to grow a market.

    Pot is ridiculously easy to grow and harvest. If ten bucks a gram is a difficult goal then there is way too much overhead. Personally the high price seems an invitation to a situation where favor is granted and the corruption and abuse shifts away from the illicit market to the licit market.

    The idea of extracting substances and placing them in product is an example of a practice that should be made illegal from the start as the cost of producing a quality product is lower than the cost of introducing such nonsense. The THC outside of the plant structures where it has been created during growth will be fragile and will degrade. This will make for a poor product with undesireable properties both for the user and for the public(malaise). The idea that there are consumers with acceptable rates of consumption has some truth to it even though the alcohol model distorts this idea. The lacing of plant flowers with extracted plant product is antithetical to the idea of promoting responsible use as the type of consumer that fits the moderate use model will want nothing to do with an inferior laced product.

    Thanks for the sober and reasonable interview. Your perpective is not mine but it is repectful and respectable.

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