Pubdate: Fri, 01 Apr 2016
Source: Harper's Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2016 Harper's Magazine Foundation
Author: Dan Baum


How to Win the War on Drugs

In 1994, John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, unlocked for 
me one of the great mysteries of modern American history: How did the 
United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that 
has yielded so much misery and so few good results?

Americans have been criminalizing psychoactive substances since San 
Francisco's anti-opium law of 1875, but it was Ehrlichman's boss, 
Richard Nixon, who declared the first "war on drugs" and set the 
country on the wildly punitive and counterproductive path it still pursues.

I'd tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon's domestic-policy adviser, 
to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority 
recruitment. I barely recognized him. He was much heavier than he'd 
been at the time of the Watergate scandal two decades earlier, and he 
wore a mountain-man beard that extended to the middle of his chest.

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug 
prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky 
questions that he impatiently waved away. "You want to know what this 
was really all about?" he asked with the bluntness of a man who, 
after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little 
left to protect. "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White 
House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. 
You understand what I'm saying?

We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or 
black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with 
marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both 
heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their 
leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them 
night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying 
about the drugs?

Of course we did."

I must have looked shocked.

Ehrlichman just shrugged.

Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy 
spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.

Nixon's invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was 
cynical, but every president since -- Democrat and Republican alike 
- -- has found it equally useful for one reason or another.

Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to 
ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on 
the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by 
draconian punishment that doesn't end at the prison gate; one of 
every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.

As long ago as 1949, H. L. Mencken identified in Americans "the 
haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy," an astute 
articulation of our weirdly Puritan need to criminalize people's 
inclination to adjust how they feel. The desire for altered states of 
consciousness creates a market, and in suppressing that market we 
have created a class of genuine bad guys -- pushers, gangbangers, 
smugglers, killers.

Addiction is a hideous condition, but it's rare. Most of what we hate 
and fear about drugs -- the violence, the overdoses, the criminality 
- -- derives from prohibition, not drugs. And there will be no victory 
in this war either; even the Drug Enforcement Administration concedes 
that the drugs it fights are becoming cheaper and more easily available.

Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to change course. 
Experiments in alternatives to harsh prohibition are already under 
way both in this country and abroad.

Twenty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow 
medical marijuana, and four -- Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and 
Alaska -- along with D.C., have legalized pot altogether. Several 
more states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and 
Nevada, will likely vote in November whether to follow suit. Portugal 
has decriminalized not only marijuana but cocaine and heroin, as well 
as all other drugs.

In Vermont, heroin addicts can avoid jail by committing to 
state-funded treatment. Canada began a pilot program in Vancouver in 
2014 to allow doctors to prescribe pharmaceutical-quality heroin to 
addicts, Switzerland has a similar program, and the Home Affairs 
Committee of Britain's House of Commons has recommended that the 
United Kingdom do likewise. Last July, Chile began a legislative 
process to legalize both medicinal and recreational marijuana use and 
allow households to grow as many as six plants.

After telling the BBC in December that "if you fight a war for forty 
years and don't win, you have to sit down and think about other 
things to do that might be more effective," Colombian president Juan 
Manuel Santos legalized medical marijuana by decree.

In November, the Mexican Supreme Court elevated the debate to a new 
plane by ruling that the prohibition of marijuana consumption 
violated the Mexican Constitution by interfering with "the personal 
sphere," the "right to dignity," and the right to "personal 
autonomy." The Supreme Court of Brazil is considering a similar argument.

Depending on how the issue is framed, legalization of all drugs can 
appeal to conservatives, who are instinctively suspicious of bloated 
budgets, excess government authority, and intrusions on individual 
liberty, as well as to liberals, who are horrified at police 
overreach, the brutalization of Latin America, and the 
criminalization of entire generations of black men. It will take some 
courage to move the conversation beyond marijuana to ending all drug 
prohibitions, but it will take less, I suspect, than most politicians 
believe. It's already politically permissible to criticize mandatory 
minimums, mass marijuana-possession arrests, police militarization, 
and other excesses of the drug war; even former attorney general Eric 
Holder and Michael Botticelli, the new drug czar -- a recovering 
alcoholic -- do so. Few in public life appear eager to defend the status quo.

This month, the General Assembly of the United Nations will be 
gathering for its first drug conference since 1998. The motto of the 
1998 meeting was "A Drug-Free World -- We Can Do It!" With all due 
respect, U.N., how'd that work out for you? Today the U.N. confronts 
a world in which those who have suffered the most have lost faith in 
the old strong-arm ideology.

That the tide was beginning to turn was evident at the 2012 Summit of 
the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, when Latin American leaders for 
the first time openly discussed -- much to the public discomfort of 
President Obama -- whether legalizing and regulating drugs should be 
the hemisphere's new approach.

When the General Assembly convenes, it also will have to contend with 
the startling fact that four states and the capital city of the 
world's most zealous drug enforcer have fully legalized marijuana. 
"We're confronted now with the fact that the U.S. cannot enforce 
domestically what it promotes elsewhere," a member of the U.N.'s 
International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors international 
compliance with the conference's directives, told me. Shortly before 
Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia added themselves to the 
legal-marijuana list, the State Department's chief drug-control 
official, William Brownfield, abruptly reversed his stance.

Whereas before he had said that the "drug control conventions cannot 
be changed," in 2014 he admitted that things had changed: "How could 
I, a representative of the government of the United States of 
America, be intolerant of a government that permits any 
experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the fifty 
states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that 
road?" Throughout the drug-reform community, jaws dropped.

As the once-unimaginable step of ending the war on drugs shimmers 
into view, it's time to shift the conversation from why to how. To 
realize benefits from ending drug prohibition will take more than 
simply declaring that drugs are legal.

The risks are tremendous. Deaths from heroin overdose in the United 
States rose 500 percent from 2001 to 2014, a staggering increase, and 
deaths from prescription drugs -- which are already legal and 
regulated -- shot up almost 300 percent, proving that where opioids 
are concerned, we seem to be inept not only when we prohibit but also 
when we regulate. A sharp increase in drug dependence or overdoses 
that followed the legalization of drugs would be a public-health 
disaster, and it could very well knock the world back into the same 
counterproductive prohibitionist mind-set from which we appear 
finally to be emerging. To minimize harm and maximize order, we'll 
have to design better systems than we have now for licensing, 
standardizing, inspecting, distributing, and taxing dangerous drugs.

A million choices will arise, and we probably won't make any good 
decisions on the first try. Some things will get better; some things 
will get worse.

But we do have experience on which to draw -- from the end of 
Prohibition, in the 1930s, and from our recent history.

Ending drug prohibition is a matter of imagination and management, 
two things on which Americans justifiably pride themselves. We can do 
this.Let's start with a question that is too seldom asked: What 
exactly is our drug problem? It isn't simply drug use. Lots of 
Americans drink, but relatively few become alcoholics. It's hard to 
imagine people enjoying a little heroin now and then, or a hit of 
methamphetamine, without going off the deep end, but they do it all 
the time. The government's own data, from the Substance Abuse and 
Mental Health Services Administration, shatters the myth of 
"instantly addictive" drugs.

Although about half of all Americans older than twelve have tried an 
illegal drug, only 20 percent of those have used one in the past month.

In the majority of those monthly-use cases, the drug was cannabis.

Only tiny percentages of people who have sampled one of the Big Four 
- -- heroin, cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine -- have used that drug 
in the past month. (For heroin, the number is 8 percent; for cocaine, 
4 percent; for crack, 3 percent; for meth, 4 percent.) It isn't even 
clear that using a drug once a month amounts to having a drug 
problem. The portion of lifetime alcohol drinkers who become 
alcoholics is about 8 percent, and we don't think of someone who 
drinks alcohol monthly as an alcoholic.

In other words, our real drug problem -- debilitating addiction -- is 
relatively small.

One longtime drug-policy researcher, Peter Reuter of the University 
of Maryland, puts the number of people addicted to hard drugs at 
fewer than 4 million, out of a population of 319 million. Addiction 
is a chronic illness during which relapses or flare-ups can occur, as 
with diabetes, gout, and high blood pressure. And drug dependence can 
be as hard on friends and family as it is on the afflicted.

But dealing with addiction shouldn't require spending $40 billion a 
year on enforcement, incarcerating half a million, and quashing the 
civil liberties of everybody, whether drug user or not.

It's possible, of course, that one reason we have a relatively small 
number of drug addicts is precisely that the most addictive drugs are 
illegal. If cocaine were to be legalized, says Mark Kleiman, a 
professor of public policy at New York University who has been a 
critic of the war on drugs since the 1970s, there's no evidence 
indicating that the number of cocaine abusers would be less than the 
number of alcoholics, or about 17.6 million.

Moreover, legalizing cocaine might worsen both cocaine addiction and 
alcoholism, Kleiman adds. "A limit to alcoholism is you fall asleep.

Cocaine fixes that. And a limit to cocaine addiction is you can't sleep.

Alcohol fixes that."

Kleiman's prediction of a big increase in post-legalization addiction 
rates seems intuitively correct.

Common sense and decency dictate that any plan for legalizing drugs 
ought to make provisions for a rise in dependence. Millions of 
addicts already go untreated in the United States. Although treatment 
is a bargain -- the government estimates that for every dollar spent 
on drug treatment, seven are saved -- treatment and prevention get 
only 45 percent of the federal drug budget while enforcement and 
interdiction get 55 percent, and that's not including the stupendous 
cost of incarcerating drug offenders. Treatment may become more 
available now that the Affordable Care Act requires many insurers to 
pay for mental-health services, including drug addiction, at parity 
with physical illnesses. Training effective treatment providers is 
time-consuming and expensive, but the billions freed up by the end of 
enforcement and mass incarceration could be used to help address that need.

It is also not a certainty that legalizing drugs would result in the 
huge spike in addiction that Kleiman predicts.

In fact, some data argue against it. The Netherlands effectively 
decriminalized marijuana use and possession in 1976, and Australia, 
the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, and New York State all followed 
suit. In none of these jurisdictions did marijuana then become a 
significant health or public-order problem.

But marijuana's easy; it isn't physically addictive.

So consider Portugal, which in 2001 took the radical step of 
decriminalizing not only pot but cocaine, heroin, and the rest of the 
drug spectrum.

Decriminalization in Portugal means that the drugs remain technically 
prohibited -- selling them is a major crime -- but the purchase, use, 
and possession of up to ten days' supply are administrative offenses.

No other country has gone so far, and the results have been 
astounding. The expected wave of drug tourists never materialized. 
Teenage use went up shortly before and after decriminalization, but 
then it settled down, perhaps as the novelty wore off. (Teenagers -- 
particularly eighth graders -- are considered harbingers of future 
societal drug use.)

The lifetime prevalence of adult drug use in Portugal rose slightly, 
but problem drug use -- that is, habitual use of hard drugs -- 
declined after Portugal decriminalized, from 7.6 to 6.8 per 1,000 
people. Compare that with nearby Italy, which didn't decriminalize, 
where the rates rose from 6.0 to 8.6 per 1,000 people over the same 
time span. Because addicts can now legally obtain sterile syringes in 
Portugal, decriminalization seems to have cut radically the number of 
addicts infected with H.I.V., from 907 in 2000 to 267 in 2008, while 
cases of full-blown AIDS among addicts fell from 506 to 108 during 
the same period.

The new Portuguese law has also had a striking effect on the size of 
the country's prison population. The number of inmates serving time 
for drug offenses fell by more than half, and today they make up only 
21 percent of those incarcerated. A similar reduction in the United 
States would free 260,000 people -- the equivalent of letting the 
entire population of Buffalo out of jail.

When applying the lessons of Portugal to the United States, it's 
important to note that the Portuguese didn't just throw open access 
to dangerous drugs without planning for people who couldn't handle 
them. Portugal poured money into drug treatment, expanding the number 
of addicts served by more than 50 percent.

It established Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, each 
of which is composed of three people -- often a doctor, a social 
worker, and an attorney -- who are authorized to refer a drug user to 
treatment and in some cases impose a relatively small fine. Nor did 
Portugal's decriminalization experiment happen in a vacuum.

The country has been increasing its spending on social services since 
the 1970s, and even instituted a guaranteed minimum income in the 
late 1990s. The rapid expansion of the welfare state may have 
contributed to Portugal's well-publicized economic troubles, but it 
can probably also share credit for the drop in problem drug use.

Decriminalization has been a success in Portugal. Nobody there argues 
seriously for abandoning the policy, and being identified with the 
law is good politics: during his successful 2009 reelection campaign, 
former prime minister Jose Socrates boasted of his role in 
establishing it.So why doesn't the United States decriminalize? It's 
an attractive idea: Lay off the innocent users and pitiable addicts; 
keep going after the really bad guys who import and push the drugs. 
But decriminalization doesn't do enough.

As successful as Portugal's experiment has been, the Lisbon 
government still has no control over drug purity or dosage, and it 
doesn't make a dime in tax revenue from the sale of drugs.

Organized crime still controls Portugal's supply and distribution, 
and drug-related violence, corruption, and gunned-up law enforcement continue.

For these reasons, the effect of drug decriminalization on crime in 
Portugal is murky.

Some crimes strongly associated with drug use increased after 
decriminalization -- street robberies went up by 66 percent, auto 
theft by 15 percent -- but others dropped. (Thefts from homes fell by 
8 percent, thefts from businesses by 10 percent.) A study by the 
Portuguese police found an increase in opportunistic crimes and a 
reduction in premeditated and violent crimes, but it could not 
conclude that the changes were due to the decriminalization of drugs.

Heavy-handed enforcement also requires favoring scare tactics over 
honest inquiry, experimentation, and data gathering; and scare 
tactics are no way to deal with substances as dangerous as heroin, 
cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Portuguese-style decriminalization also wouldn't work in the United 
States because Portugal is a small country with national laws and a 
national police force, whereas the United States is a patchwork of 
jurisdictions -- thousands of overlapping law-enforcement agencies 
and prosecutors at the local, county, state, and federal levels. 
Philadelphia's city council, for example, voted to decriminalize 
possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in June 2014, and within a 
month state police had arrested 140 people for exactly that offense. 
"State law trumps city ordinances," Police Commissioner Charles 
Ramsey told the Philadelphia Inquirer. And while marijuana may be 
legal in four states and D.C., under federal law it is still as 
illegal as heroin or LSD -- and even more tightly controlled than 
cocaine or pharmaceutical opioids.

The Obama Administration has decided, for the moment, not to 
interfere with the states that have legalized marijuana, but times 
change and so do administrations. We cannot begin to enjoy the 
benefits of managing drugs as a matter of health and safety, instead 
of as a matter of law enforcement, until the drugs are legalized at 
every level of American jurisprudence, just as alcohol was 
re-legalized when the United States repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933.

One of the evils that led to Prohibition in the first place was the 
system of "tied houses" -- saloons owned by alcohol producers that 
marketed their product aggressively. As Prohibition was ending, John 
D. Rockefeller commissioned a report published as Toward Liquor 
Control that advocated total government control of alcohol 
distribution. "Only as the profit motive is eliminated is there any 
hope of controlling the liquor traffic in the interests of a decent 
society," he said. That never happened, of course.

Tied houses were banned, but Seagram, Anheuser-Busch, and other 
companies became gigantic from the manufacture and sale of alcohol; 
only eighteen states assumed any direct control over the distribution process.

We've grown used to living with the consequences of legal alcohol, 
even though alcohol is undeniably costly to the nation in lives and 
treasure. But few would argue for a return to Prohibition, in part 
because the liquor industry is so lucrative and so powerful.

Binge drinkers -- 20 percent of the drinking population -- consume 
more than half of the alcohol sold, which means that for all the 
industry's pious admonitions to "drink responsibly," it depends on 
people doing the opposite.

At the same time, Big Alcohol's clout keeps taxation low. Kleiman, of 
NYU, estimates alcohol taxes to be about a dime a drink; the societal 
cost in disease, car wrecks, and violence is about fifteen times 
that. Neither the binge-dependent economics of alcohol nor the 
industry's capture of the regulatory process is something we would 
want to mimic when legalizing substances such as heroin and crack cocaine.

We'll have to do a better job at legalizing drugs than we did at 
re-legalizing alcohol if we want to hold addiction to a minimum, keep 
drugs away from children, assure drug purity and consistency of 
dosage, and limit drugged driving.

Last November, Ohio voters rejected marijuana legalization, most 
observers believe, precisely because the proposed initiative would 
have allowed only ten companies, all of which sponsored the 
initiative, to grow and distribute marijuana in the state.

If we can summon the political will, the opportunity to establish a 
state monopoly on drug distribution, just as Rockefeller urged for 
alcohol in 1933, is now -- before the genie is out of the bottle. 
Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands have successfully made 
heroin legally available to addicts through networks of 
government-run dispensaries that are divorced from the profit motive. 
The advantages of a state monopoly over a free market -- even a 
regulated one -- are vast. A poster showing how to use a syringe at 
Insite, a safe-injection site for drug addicts in Vancouver, British 
Columbia Copyright Andy Clark/Reuters

In the 1970s, the eighteen states that established government control 
over alcohol distribution at the end of Prohibition began to water 
down their systems by feeding their wholesale or retail alcohol 
businesses, or both, to private industry.

Still, in 2013 a team of researchers at the University of Michigan 
found that even in "weak monopoly" states, consumption of spirits was 
12 to 15 percent lower than in states with private liquor stores or 
grocery stores.

In states that retained control over retail sales, alcohol-related 
traffic fatalities were about 7 to 9 percent lower than in states 
that did not; crime rates were lower as well.

Just about everybody who thinks seriously about the end of drug 
prohibition agrees that we'll want to discourage consumption. This 
goal could be accomplished, at least in part, under a system of 
regulated, for-profit stores: by setting limits on advertising and 
promotion (or banning them altogether), by preventing marketing to 
children, by establishing minimum distances from schools for retail 
outlets, by nailing down rules about dosage and purity, and by 
limiting both the number of stores and their hours of operation.

In a for-profit system, however, the only way government can 
influence price -- the strongest disincentive to consumption -- is by 
levying a tax, and getting taxes right is no small task. First, on 
what basis should the tax apply?

Federal taxes on alcohol are set according to potency, but keeping up 
with the THC content of every strain of marijuana would be 
impossible. Weight? The more potent the drug, the less you need to 
buy, so taxing by weight might end up promoting stronger drugs over weaker.

Price? Post-legalization prices are likely to plummet as the 
"prohibition premium" -- which compensates dealers for the risk of 
getting caught -- disappears, competition sets in, and innovation 
increases production. To keep prices high enough to discourage use, 
legislators will have to monitor those prices constantly and risk 
their jobs by pushing for politically unpopular tax increases.

"It's too hard to adjust taxes quickly enough," said Pat Oglesby, a 
North Carolina tax lawyer who was chief tax counsel for the Senate 
Finance Committee from 1988 to 1990 and who now researches marijuana 
taxes. "Legislatures love lowering taxes.

Getting them to raise taxes is like pulling teeth." What's more, if 
legislators overdo it and set taxes too high, they'll risk 
reawakening a black market in untaxed drugs.

A government monopoly on distribution solves the problem by making 
the setting of prices a matter of administration, not legislation. 
Government officials, whether at the state or federal level, would 
have infinite flexibility to adjust the price -- daily, if necessary 
- -- to minimize use without inspiring a black market.

The production of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin could remain in 
private hands, and the producers could supply the government stores, 
just as Smirnoff, Coors, and Mondavi provide their products to state 
liquor stores.

If the cost of producing a drug drops because of innovation or 
competition, the government agency selling that drug to the public 
would see an increase in revenues.

Likewise, it is much easier for the government to set the dosage and 
purity of products it sells in its own outlets than to police the 
dosage and purity of products that are spread throughout a free market.

And the government could decide on its own to what extent it wants to 
permit advertising, attractive packaging, and promotions.

Finally, of course, when the government holds a monopoly, the public, 
not private shareholders, enjoys the profit.

The states that retain control over alcohol distribution collect 82 
to 90 percent more in revenue than states that license private 
alcohol sales collect in taxes, depending on whether they control 
both wholesale and retail. That the government should profit from a 
product it wants to discourage could be seen as hypocritical, but 
that's the way things stand now with tobacco, alcohol, and gambling.

States generally reduce the moral sting of those profits by 
earmarking them for education or other popular causes.

In the case of drugs, the profits could go toward treating addicts.

The great thing about trying a state monopoly first is that if it 
doesn't work, it's politically much easier to liberalize to a 
regulated free market than to go the other way.

But as long as federal law in the United States maintains an absolute 
prohibition on marijuana, cocaine, and heroin -- and stringent 
restrictions on methamphetamine -- it's hard to imagine state drug 
monopolies on the model of state liquor stores.

Even if the international bans on Schedule I drugs were to lift, 
could our legislators muster the will to legalize them, much less to 
expand government to distribute them? It's one thing for the chief 
executive to turn a blind eye to the states' experiments in licensed 
marijuana commerce; it's another to grind the gears and shift 
conservative congressional sensibilities.

This is a pity, since a government monopoly would be the least 
expensive and most flexible way to legalize drugs.

It would generate the most revenue and -- more important -- it would 
protect public health. Until Congress reschedules marijuana, heroin, 
and cocaine, and until we get over the idea that government can do 
nothing right, we're stuck with second best: state-size experiments 
that ignore the federal ban on marijuana and license private 
industries. Colorado is the furthest along that path, and its 
experience is instructive.Colorado has allowed medical marijuana 
since 2000 through a system of licensed private dispensaries. The 
state originally required marijuana businesses to be vertically 
integrated; dispensaries could sell only what they grew themselves -- 
a replication of the old tied houses.

The theory was that it was easier to regulate businesses from "seed 
to sale." In November 2012, 55 percent of voters approved Amendment 
64 to the Colorado constitution, which legalized recreational 
marijuana. (The initiative was strategically timed; having marijuana 
on the ballot helped draw young and progressive voters to the polls 
to win the state for President Obama.) After the election, Colorado 
chose a system of licensed businesses over state monopoly; in 2014, 
it dropped the requirement that recreational dispensaries be 
vertically integrated -- one business can now grow marijuana for 
another to sell. As soon as Governor John Hickenlooper formalized the 
results, five weeks after the vote, Coloradans twenty-one years of 
age and older could legally possess and use marijuana.

Stores and commercial cultivators were not allowed to open, though, 
until January 2014, fourteen months after the vote. The delay was 
meant to allow the state time to expand the Marijuana Enforcement 
Division, within the Department of Revenue, to incorporate retail 
marijuana into its jurisdiction, and to allow the division to write 
rules concerning signage, advertising, waste disposal, video 
surveillance, labeling, taxes, and required distances from schools.

Already, legal marijuana in Colorado is following the grim economics 
of alcohol.

Daily smokers make up only 23 percent of the state's pot-smoking 
population, but they consume 67 percent of the reefer. That may have 
been true too when marijuana was illegal; maybe the number of daily 
stoners is neither rising nor falling.

We'll never know, because one problem with illegal markets is that 
you can't track them. But we do know that the legal, for-profit 
marijuana business in Colorado is already mimicking the alcohol 
business in its dependence on heavy users.

 From a public-health standpoint, that's troubling.

The effect of legalization on crime has been difficult to determine. 
Overall, crime fell in Denver by almost 2 percent in 2014, the first 
year of full marijuana legalization. And, strangely, surveys of 
40,000 teenagers before and after legalization showed that although 
fewer now believed marijuana to be harmful -- just as the opponents 
of legalization predicted -- fewer were smoking pot. Were they lying? 
Was it a statistical anomaly?

Are pot dealers harder to find now that they're competing with legal stores?

Or is it possible that marijuana, once legalized, lost its cachet?

Colorado has run into glitches.

The fourteen months between the vote and the opening of the stores 
wasn't enough time to write regulations on such variables as 
pesticide use in cultivation or dosages in edibles. Nor was there 
time to write a new training curriculum for police, who found 
themselves not knowing exactly what to do about the large quantities 
of marijuana they were encountering. People have been stringing 
extension cords together to make their own grow rooms -- and burning 
down their homes.

They've pumped so much water into pot cultivation that monstrous 
blooms of black mold have rendered their houses uninhabitable. And 
Denver has seen a spate of burglaries and robberies at marijuana 
greenhouses and stores.

The law let local jurisdictions decide whether to allow retail pot stores.

Only thirty-five counties did so at first, which is partly why the 
state received only $12 million in new marijuana taxes in the first 
six months of legal pot sales -- about a third of what regulators had 
anticipated. ("That's changing," said Lewis Koski, the 
forty-four-year-old who is the deputy senior director of Colorado's 
Enforcement Division, in 2014. "Just about every week we have new 
jurisdictions allowing it.") It may also be that the state set the 
tax on retail marijuana too high -- 10 percent on top of the usual 
sales tax. Some smokers are apparently continuing to buy on the black 
market, which is often cheaper. (It may be that almost everybody who 
wanted to buy legal pot already had a medical-marijuana I.D. card; 
111,000 Coloradans -- more than 2 percent of the population -- hold 
them, and medical pot carries only the regular sales tax.) Still, in 
2015, Colorado collected about $135 million in marijuana taxes 
andfees, almost double what it took in the year before.

Cracking down on unlicensed growing operations and training cops has 
been relatively easy. What's going to be tougher is keeping big 
business from overwhelming the exercise and rigging the game. Even 
with only four states and the District of Columbia having legalized, 
and only twenty-three states allowing the medical use of marijuana, 
legitimate production is already a $5.4 billion industry.

Forbes has published a list of the "8 Hottest Publicly Traded 
Marijuana Companies." Cannabis stocks include biotech companies, 
makers of specialized vending machines, and manufacturers of 
vaporizers that allow inhalation without tar or burning the product.

The combined value of marijuana stocks rose by 50 percent in 2013 and 
by 150 percent in the first three weeks of 2014, before settling down 
to a still-impressive 38 percent gain for the year. In September 
2014, MJardin, a maker of turnkey growing operations, announced that 
it was considering an initial public offering.

Even the Wall Street Journal analyzes marijuana as a serious 
investment opportunity. These enormous bets are being placed at a 
time when recreational marijuana is still illegal in forty-six states 
and under federal law.

The citizens of the U.S. jurisdictions that legalized marijuana may 
have set in motion more machinery than most of them had imagined. 
"Without marijuana prohibition, the government can't sustain the drug 
war," Ira Glasser, who ran the American Civil Liberties Union from 
1978 to 2001, told me. "Without marijuana, the use of drugs is 
negligible, and you can't justify the law-enforcement and prison 
spending on the other drugs.

Their use is vanishingly small.

I always thought that if you could cut the marijuana head off the 
beast, the drug war couldn't be sustained."

Even in my hometown of Boulder, which may be the most pot-friendly 
city in the United States, "it's not marijuana gone wild," as Jane 
Brautigam, the city manager, told officials from Colorado and 
Washington during a public conference call in September 2014. People 
were, for the most part, "feeling okay about it," she said. Marijuana 
charges in Colorado were down 80 percent: only 2,000 or so Coloradans 
were charged for marijuana offenses in 2014, as opposed to nearly 
10,000 in 2011. Brautigam has had to shut down a few marijuana 
businesses for violations, but no more than in other industries. 
"There was an implication that there would be people smoking all over 
the place," she said. "That hasn't happened." When I checked in with 
her office in January, things were still going well, Patrick von 
Keyserling, the city communications director, told me, in large part 
because "it's a very well-regulated industry."

To the extent that we in Colorado think about legal marijuana, now 
that the initial excitement has worn off, we have a smug sense that 
we have taken the lead in doing something smart.

We are as divided as any place over immigrants, guns, and climate 
change, but our police don't waste their time chasing down pot smokers anymore.

Adults don't have to worry, as they used to, about neighbors smelling 
reefer smoke wafting from their patios.

Even if marijuana tax revenues -- which are slated to help public 
schools -- aren't what we'd hoped, our state is making money from 
something that used to cost it money. Marijuana is no big deal. We 
look at other states that treat it as a public menace and wonder what 
in the world they're thinking.

Nobody I spoke with in the United States or elsewhere envisioned 
stores selling heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine as freely as 
Colorado stores sell marijuana or as state liquor stores sell vodka. 
The way most researchers imagine hard-drug distribution, short of a 
state monopoly, involves some kind of supervision. A network of 
counselors -- not necessarily physicians -- would monitor how a drug 
fits into a person's life. When Kleiman, at NYU, allows himself to 
imagine legal cocaine, he pictures users setting their own dose. "You 
can decide whether you want to raise your quota -- a bureaucratic 
process -- or see someone about your cocaine problem.

This is to give your long-term self a fighting chance against your 
short-term self."

Eric Sterling, the executive director of the anti-prohibition 
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, envisions a similar system. 
"Someone might say, 'I want cocaine because it stimulates me in my 
creative work,' or, 'I want cocaine to improve my orgasms.' The 
response might be, 'Why don't you have enough energy?

Do you exercise?' Or, 'What might be interfering with the current 
quality of your sex life?' " Those who want to try LSD or other 
psychedelics, Sterling suggests, might go to licensed "trip leaders," 
analogous to wilderness guides -- people trained, indemnified, and 
insured to take the uninitiated into potentially dangerous territory.

Of course, it's easy to imagine people who enjoy cocaine, heroin, or 
psychedelics saying "to hell with all that" and continuing to buy on 
the black market.

But, as Sterling points out, doing so is risky.

If someone as rich and well-connected as Philip Seymour Hoffman can 
die from a heroin shot, nobody is safe. Also, as Sterling notes, 
"It's a hassle to be an addict.

Find a dealer, score, find a place to get off . . ." If a lawful, 
regulated system is fine-tuned -- so that drugs are cheap and 
trustworthy, the process is not too burdensome, and the taxes on them 
are not too high -- users will likely come to prefer it to the black market.

Competition, not violence, will destroy the criminal gangs that 
control illegal drug distribution. "Ultimately this is all about 
building the proper cultural context for using drugs," Sterling says, 
a context in which "the exaggerations and the falsehoods get extinguished."

In 2009, Britain's Transform Drug Policy Foundation put out a 
232-page report called "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for 
Regulation." The authors suggested issuing licenses for buying and 
using drugs, with sanctions for those who screw up -- much like gun 
licenses in some U.S. states, or driver's licenses.

Users would have their purchases tracked by computer, so rising use 
would, in theory, be noticed, making intervention possible.

Legal vendors would bear partial responsibility for "socially 
destructive incidents" -- the way bartenders can be held responsible 
for serving an obvious drunk who later has an accident behind the wheel.

For pricing, the report suggests prices high enough to "discourage 
misuse, and sufficiently low to ensure that under-cutting . . . is 
not profitable for illicit drug suppliers." And although the British 
group argued for a generally more laissez-faire market than European 
and Canadian government-run heroin-distribution systems, it embraced 
a complete ban on any kind of advertising and marketing, and argued 
instead for plain, pharmaceuticalstyle packaging.I voted for 
marijuana legalization even though I hadn't smoked pot in years and 
wasn't much interested in doing so. Legalization seemed a sensible 
political and economic measure, and a way to distinguish Colorado as 
a progressive beacon of the West. But one night in July, I was headed 
for the Cruiser Ride, Boulder's goofy, costumed weekly bicycle 
parade, and I thought it might be fun to try it stoned.

It was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment.

A year ago, I wouldn't have known where to find a joint.

Now, I simply pedaled to the Green Room, a marijuana retail store a 
mile from my house.

Although I wear every one of my fifty-nine years on my face, I was 
carded -- in a reception room decorated with portraits of Jerry 
Garcia and Jimi Hendrix. A bud tender escorted me into the store, 
where I stood at a counter, separated from the customer next to me by 
a discreet, bank-teller-like divider.

I picked up a card titled edibles education: start low, go slow and 
read that if I bought any of the pot-laced artisanal goodies, I 
should not consume them with alcohol; I should keep them out of the 
reach of children; I should start with a single small serving and 
wait two hours before taking more. "Everybody's metabolism is 
different," it said. For a new consumer, no more than one to five 
milligrams of cannabis was recommended; the potency of the buttery 
candies and cookies was listed on the labels. This was a far cry from 
the fibrous, foul-tasting pot brownies I used to eat before 
late-night college screenings of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A young bud tender -- tattooed and achingly professional -- presided 
over a copious array of marijuana blossoms in large glass apothecary 
jars. I confess I got a little lost as he discoursed, with Talmudic 
subtlety, on the differences between Grape Ape, Stardawg, and Bubba 
Kush. The joint that I bought for $10 -- fat, expertly rolled, and 
with a little paper filter -- came in a green plastic tube with a 
police-badge-shaped sticker reading department of revenue, marijuana. 
For someone who started buying pot in alleys when Gerald Ford was 
president, this felt like Elysium.

I wasn't allowed to light up in the store or outside on the street; I 
had to go home to smoke legally.

As instructed, I started low and went slow, taking only one hit. 
Twenty minutes later, I was stoned in that good way I remembered: I 
felt perceptive and amused, with none of the sluggishness or paranoia 
common to the old fifteen-dollar ounces. That single joint I bought 
is so strong that even though I've taken hits from it half a dozen 
times since my Cruiser Ride, I still have about a third left, a treat 
to keep around for the right occasion.

So under legalization I have become a pot smoker again.

But I don't drive stoned or need treatment, so who cares?

I drink a beer or a dram of Laphroaig most days too, and I still hit 
my deadline for this article.

If it is now time to start thinking creatively about legalization, 
we'd be wise to remember that, like carefully laid military plans, 
detailed drug-liberalization strategies probably won't survive their 
first contact with reality. "People are thinking about the utopian 
endgame, but the transition will be unpredictable," says Sterling, of 
the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Whatever system of 
regulation gets set up, there will be people who exploit the edges. 
But that's true for speeding, for alcohol, for guns." Without a 
state-run monopoly, there will be more than one type of legal, 
regulated drug market, he says, and the markets won't solve every 
conceivable problem. "Nobody thinks our alcohol system is a complete 
failure because there are after-hours sales, or because people 
occasionally buy alcohol for minors." Legalizing, and then 
regulating, drug markets will likely be messy, at least in the short 
term. Still, in a technocratic, capitalist, and fundamentally free 
society like the United States, education, counseling, treatment, 
distribution, regulation, pricing, and taxation all seem to better 
fit our national skill set than the suppression of immense black 
markets and the violence and corruption that come with it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom