Prominent policy analyst and UCLA professor Mark Kleiman has won Washington State’s consulting contract on I-502 implementation. According to Northwest Public Radio, “Washington’s Liquor Control Board wants consulting help in four areas: marijuana industry knowledge, plant quality and testing, regulation, and to the extent possible, projecting how many people will use pot now that it’s legal.”
Reformers have had a “love/hate” relationship with Kleiman over the years. He supports some of our issues, like marijuana legalization — sort of. He acknowledges the impact of prohibition in increasing the harmfulness of addictive drugs to their users, but states as nearly a fact the assumption that overall harm would go up with legalization nonetheless — while admonishing the rest of us not to make assumptions about the positive effects of even just marijuana legalization. He does pretty clearly want to make criminal justice less punishing, and wrote a book about that. Another book Kleiman’s co-authored, which we’ve promoted on this web site and which Phil complimented in a book review, is “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.” (You can order a complimentary copy from us if making a donation of $35 or more.)
A quote that caused some consternation among reformers is one he gave to the LA Times during California’s 2010 Prop 19 campaign:
“There’s one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can’t be done. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can’t legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes. And that won’t happen.”
I think the quote deserves some criticism. Medical marijuana provision is also a federal felony, under the same law Kleiman cited with regard to legalization of marijuana. Kleiman’s arguments in the piece — that the feds can afford to largely ignore the medical marijuana industry only because prices remain high, and because regulation of medicine is traditionally a state matter — are unpersuasive to me. Administrations in power during the medical marijuana years have not suggested that medical marijuana is a state matter; even Obama’s inconsistently-respected “not a priority” position about going after businesses operating in compliance with state law, made clear that they can go after any medical marijuana business if they think it’s in the federal interest to do so. And Kleiman or his coauthors during book talks and related fora I’ve attended have argued that we don’t know what will happen to marijuana prices following state legalization in the face of continuing federal prohibition. One reason they’ve argued it might not is that federal prohibition makes it too risky to set up the very large scale growing and distribution infrastructures that are needed to bring down prices in the way that we’d predict from legalization at all governmental levels.
Still, I count myself among the optimistic when it comes to Kleiman’s work for Washington State. Kleiman prefers a very non-commercial form of legalization to any big sales model. But he’s also suggested the federal government allow the Washington and Colorado experiments with legalization to take place. And whatever quotes I might take issue with from time to time, Kleiman is a very serious academic who’s written extensively about the issue; and he’s not a drug warrior, even if his support for legalization, even of just marijuana, tends toward the tepid. I expect he’ll do the best job he can on this very high profile assignment — that assignment being to advise on the implementation of legalization, not on whether it’s a good idea. (I also saw Kleiman wearing a Students for Sensible Drug Policy t-shirt at the Takoma Park Folk Festival one year. :-)) I can think of plenty of people who might have been in the running for the job, who would make me a lot more nervous than Kleiman. But time will tell.
Anyway, along with some articles linked here, CNN has pitched an interview with “Washington State’s New Pot Czar” on “Erin Burnett OutFront” tomorrow (Tuesday) night. Perhaps the interview will provide some indicators of where Kleiman might go with this.
– Article originally from Stop the Drug War, used with permission.