Wednesday, December 18, 2013
What Mark Kleiman Wants You To Know About Drugs
The public policy guru guiding state legalization efforts.
Mark A. R. Kleiman is the Professor of Public Policy at UCLA, editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, author of many books, and generally regarded as one of the nation’s premier voices on drug policy and criminal justice issues. Mr. Kleiman provides advice to local, state, and national governments on crime control and drug policy. When the state of Washington needed an adviser on the many policy questions they left unanswered with the passage of I-502, which legalized marijuana in that state, they turned to Kleiman.
In the past two years, Kleiman has co-authored to Q and A-style books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (2011) with Jonathan P. Caulkins and Angela Hawken; and Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know (2012) with Hawken, Caulkins, and Beau Kilmer.
Here, excerpted from the two books, is a brief sampling of Kleiman and his colleagues on a variety of drug and alcohol issues.
Is marijuana really the nation’s leading cash crop?
“Alas, the facts say otherwise. Analyses purporting to support the claim must contort the numbers, citing the retail price of marijuana but the farmgate price of other products, or pretending that all marijuana consumed in the United States is sinsemilla, or ignoring the fact that most marijuana used in the United States is imported, or simply starting with implausible estimates of U.S. production…. marijuana [is] in the top fifteen, but not the top five, cash crops, ranking somewhere between almonds and hay, and perhaps closest to potatoes and grapes.”
How much drug-related crime, violence, and corruption would marijuana legalization eliminate?
“Not much…. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents report obtaining marijuana most recently from a friend or relative, and more than half (58 percent) say the obtained it for free. That stands in marked contrast to low-level distribution of heroin and crack which often occurs in violent, place-based markets controlled by armed gangs.”
How much would legal marijuana cost to produce?
“The punch line is that full legalization at the national level—as opposed to only legalizing possession and retail sale—could cut production costs to just 1 percent of current wholesale prices…. This would make legal marijuana far and away the cheapest intoxicant on a per-hour basis.”
How would legalization affect me if I’m a marijuana grower?
“It would almost certainly put you out of business. At first glance, legalization might seem like a great opportunity for you…. But legalization will completely upend your industry, and the skills that made you successful at cultivating illegal crops will not have much value. A few dozen professional farmers could produce enough marijuana to meet U.S. consumption at prices small-scale producers couldn’t possibly match. Hand cultivators would be relegated to niche markets for organic or specialty strains.”
Would marijuana regulations and taxes in practice approach the public health ideal?
“If there is a licit, for-profit marijuana industry, one should expect its product design, pricing, and marketing actions to be designed to promote as much frequent use and addiction as possible. Efforts to tax and regulate in ways that promote public health would have to contend with an industry mobilizing its employees, shareholders, and consumers against any effective restriction. Since the industry profits from problem users, we should expect that lobbying effort to be devoted to blocking policies that would effectively control addiction. The alcohol and tobacco industries provide good examples.”
Can we persuade children not to use drugs?
"Even the best prevention programs have only modest effects on actual behavior, and may programs have no effect at all on drug use…. Anesthesiologists know far more about drugs and drug abuse than could possibly be taught in middle-school prevention programs; nonetheless, they have high rates of substance abuse, in part because they have such easy access.”
Why is there a shortage of drug treatment?
“Some specific categories—especially those in need of residential care, and more especially mothers with children in need of residential care—face chronic shortages. But if we had enough capacity for all those who need treatment, many of those slots would be empty because not all the people who ought to fill them want treatment.”
How much money is involved?
“Most of the numbers about drug abuse and drug trafficking that officials peddle to credulous journalists are little better than fiction. Estimates of hundreds of billions of dollars per year in international drug trade—which would make it comparable to food, oil, and arms—do not have a basis in the real world. The most recent serious estimate of the total retail illicit drug market in the United States—by all accounts the country whose residents spend the most on illicit drugs—puts the figure at about $65 billion.”
When it comes to drugs, why can’t we think calmly and play nice?
“American political analysts talk about ‘wine-track (college-educated) and ‘beer track’ (working-class) voters…. So the politics of drug policy is never very far from identity politics…. The notion that illicit drug taking is largely responsible for the plight of minorities (and of poor people generally) and that income-support programs have the perverse consequence of maintaining drug habits has been a staple of a certain form of American political rhetoric at least since Ronald Reagan.”
Are we stuck with our current alcohol problem?
"By no means…. tripling the tax would raise the price of a drink by 20 percent and reduce the volume of drinking in about the same proportion. Most of the reduced drinking would come from heavy drinkers, both because they dominate the market in volume terms and because their consumption is more price-sensitive…."