Pubdate: Tue, 04 Mar 2014
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2014 Bellingham Herald
Author: John Stark


Washington and Colorado's quasi-legal marijuana industry is likely to
cause a lot of unnecessary harm, says Mark Kleiman, professor of
public policy at UCLA and an advisor to Washington state on marijuana

Writing in Washington Monthly, Kleiman says the industry now being
established in both states may maximize profits for the industry and
revenue for the state, but it may also help to maximize drug use among
those who find that too much pot-smoking is disrupting their lives.

Kleiman isn't arguing against legalization. He says it is too late for
that. Instead, he calls on the federal government to step in and take
over the legal marijuana business, setting up a system that does away
with the harmful social costs of marijuana prohibition, while also
minimizing the negative side effects of legalizing a powerful and, for
some, harmful drug.

Here are just a few key quotes from Kleiman's lengthy essay--emphasis

Cannabis consumption, like alcohol consumption, follows the so-called
80/20 rule (sometimes called "Pareto's Law"): 20 percent of the users
account for 80 percent of the volume. So from the perspective of
cannabis vendors, drug abuse isn't the problem; it's the target
demographic. Since we can expect the legal cannabis industry to be
financially dependent on dependent consumers, we can also expect that
the industry's marketing practices and lobbying agenda will be
dedicated to creating and sustaining problem drug use patterns ...

The trick to legalizing marijuana, then, is to keep at bay the logic
of the market-its tendency to create and exploit people with substance
abuse disorders. So far, the state-by-state, initiative-driven process
doesn't seem up to that challenge ...

It remains to be seen whether even the modest taxes and restrictions
passed by the voters survive the inevitable industry pressure to
weaken them legislatively ...

The industry's marketing efforts will be constrained only by rules
against appealing explicitly to minors (rules that haven't kept the
beer companies from sponsoring Extreme Fighting on

The difficulty is that marijuana is both relatively cheap compared to
other drugs and also easy to grow (thus the nickname "weed"), and will
just get cheaper and easier to grow under legalization. According to
RAND, legal production costs would be a small fraction of the current
level, making the pre-tax value of the cannabis in a legally produced
joint pennies rather than dollars ...

Taxes are one way to keep prices up. But those taxes would have to be
ferociously high, and they'd have to be determined by the ounce of pot
or (better) by the gram of THC, as alcohol taxes now are, not as a
percentage of retail price like a sales tax. Both Colorado and
Washington have percentage-of-price taxes, which will fall along with
market prices ...

The other way to keep legal pot prices up is to limit supply. Colorado
and Washington both plan to impose production limits on growers. If
those limits were kept tight enough, scarcity would lead to a run-up
in price. (That's happening right now in Colorado; prices in the
limited number of commercial outlets open on January 1 were about 50
percent higher than prices in the medical outlets.) But those states
are handing out production rights for modest fixed licensing fees, so
any gain from scarcity pricing will go to the industry and encourage
even more vigorous marketing ...

In Uruguay ... which is now legalizing on the national level, the
current proposal requires cannabis vendors to be registered
pharmacists. Cannabis is, after all, a somewhat dangerous drug, and
both much more complex chemically and less familiar culturally than
beer or wine. In Washington and Colorado, by contrast, the person
behind the counter will simply be a sales agent, with no required
training about the pharmacology of cannabis and no professional
obligation to promote safe use.

Kleiman's essay is one of several on legal marijuana issues in the
current online issue of Washington Monthly.
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