Reefer Madness
California’s Bread-and-Circuses Weed Initiative

Moderate marijuana guru Mark Kleiman—who supports a cautious “grow-your-own” pot decriminalization policy—has harsh words for California’s likely-to-be-approved ballot initiative that he says would dramatically increase the availability of marijuana, give the industry a free hand, and likely increase the prevalence of drug dependency among the small minority of users who would consume the vast majority of newly-legal pot:

All of those provisions favor the expansion of the market at the expense of public health. Unlimited production guarantees that farmgate prices will settle down at something below $1 per gram; add to that 33 cents in excise and a 15% sales tax, and the result will be prices substantially lower than those in Washington State, where some stores now offer highly potent cannabis (claimed to be 18% THC by weight) for $95/ounce. That’s less, in inflation-adjusted terms, than my college classmates were paying around 1970. And today’s material is about 4-6 times as strong as what they were buying then. […]

At current national average pricing – about three times the “Budget Bud” level – the rate of cannabis use disorder has already soared. […]

If someone wanted to write a law to increase the prevalence of that problem, it would look a lot like the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. In other words, this is horrible, awful, very bad, no-good drug policy.

Some degree of loosening of marijuana restrictions still seems to us like the worst policy except all others. But as Kleiman and his colleagues have argued at length in these pages, the binary choice between “legal” and “illegal” weed is a false one. There are a million different ways that marijuana, like any other drug, can be distributed, taxed, and regulated. It’s possible to construct policies that mitigate the drug war’s excesses without essentially promoting dependency and all the deeply destructive social trends that go along with it.

Many of the wealthy San Francisco liberals supporting the ballot measure surely presume that most of the legal weed in the Golden State will be consumed casually by well-adjusted, high-functioning bon vivants such as themselves. In fact, most of the evidence suggests that demand will be concentrated among a small subset of heavy users who are high several hours each day, and whose lives are seriously disrupted by the drug. Rational weed deregulation policy would take these public health effects into account and try to address them; California’s ballot initiative does not.

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