Drug policy is one of those areas Americans—left, right, and center—almost all agree about, in at least one respect: Our nation’s drug policies are often ineffectual at best and, at worst, self-defeating. The Drug War is obscenely expensive; it swells the ranks of a criminal class, ruining lives, destroying families, and filling our prisons to the bursting point; and it exports a crippling organized crime and black market problem to our international neighbors, near and far.Part of the reason our nation’s drug policies are incoherent is that they are a reflection of the conflicted beliefs and impulses of the nation on this issue. What this means, among other things, as we’ve argued in the past, is that decriminalization will not be a panacea. Stoner Utopia does not wait on the other end of the legalization rainbow.As it happens, three states, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State, may be about to discover that truth for themselves. Come November, citizens in all three places will be voting on ballot referenda to legalize large-scale, commercial production of marijuana for non-medical, recreational use.Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer and Mark Kleiman have written a kind of voter’s guide for residents of these states (and the rest of us, too) in the upcoming issue of The American Interest. Their essay spells out very explicitly that legalization, especially state-by-state, is far from a simple matter:
The marijuana legalization debate has droned on for decades. The familiar debating points having been repeated so often and accepted so uncritically by the two groups of partisans that advocates on both sides are certain of their validity. This is not a healthy situation, since both sides’ views are either non-trivially mistaken or simply irrelevant to specific legalization proposals. Both sides have typically insisted that legalization is a simple yes/no question, but different legalization scenarios differ in important ways. State-level legalization is not like national legalization, since it can introduce all sorts of competitive and beggar-thy-neighbor dilemmas. Repeal-only legalization is not like repeal-and-regulate. The Federal government may have to choose between discouraging state-level legalization by making effective taxation and regulation impossible (at the cost of increasing the damage if a state chose to legalize anyway) and accommodating state laws that permit the violation of Federal laws.