Breaking News:URGENT: Call Congress TODAY to Save DC Marijuana Legalization!

Book Review: "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know"

Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark Kleiman (2012, Oxford University Press, 266 pp., $16.95 PB)

(Note: You can now order "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" and support StoptheDrugWar.org at the same time -- click here for details on our current membership offers.)

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuana-legalization-book-200px.jpg
Marijuana legalization in one form or another will be on the ballot in at least two states -- Colorado and Washington -- this fall, and maybe three, if one or both of the Oregon initiatives currently in the signature validation process actually qualifies. [Editor's Note: One did, Friday night.] Public opinion polls show a populace that is now evenly split on the subject, but with support for it trending rapidly upward in recent years. We could be on the cusp of the biggest changes in how we deal with marijuana since pot prohibition began to emerge in the states a century ago.

So, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know couldn't be more timely. A collaborative effort by four academic drug policy researchers, this tome is thoughtful, thorough, and balanced as it addresses the wide array of issues and disputes associated with changing pot policy. One can only hope that politicians charged with voting on marijuana policy reform would read it, or at least, that their staffs would do so and offer them up a nicely bullet-pointed précis.

Grappling with the topic of marijuana legalization is a surprisingly complicated affair. Marijuana use is so common, the impacts of marijuana prohibition so pervasive, that to talk about marijuana law reform involves disciplines ranging from botany and biochemistry to medicine and public health and diplomacy and international law, and more. One of the qualities that makes Marijuana Legalization so handy is the way it disaggregates the multi-sided issue into easily digestible, bite-sized chunks. The book is divided into two sections, one on marijuana itself and one on legalization, and subdivided into thematic chapters ("Who Uses Marijuana?" "What are the Risks of Using Marijuana?" "What if Marijuana Were Treated Like Alcohol?"), which in turn are further subdivided into one-to-two page questions and answers.

The answers to the questions are carefully based on the latest academic research and meta-analyses and appear, overall, to be fair representations of the state of knowledge in the fields in question. Sometimes, though, it appears the authors are striving so much for fairness that they risk pulling muscles from bending over backwards.

In the section on the gateway theory, for instance, the authors note that there is a correlation between teen pot use and an increased likelihood of moving on to other drug use, but that a causal relationship is more difficult to determine and that other underlying social, psychological, or physiological risk factors could be at play. Still, they feel compelled to note in language approaching the Rumsfeldian that "the fact that causal connections are not needed to explain the observed correlations does not mean there is no causal connection." Ummm, okay. And the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Actually, given the decades of efforts to establish the gateway theory, the paucity of evidence to support it is pretty good evidence.

All of the talk about marijuana dependency may grate on the nerves of advocates, some of whom may well qualify as dependent under the clinical criteria. But clearly, like any psychoactive substance, people can grow habituated to pot and it can have deleterious effects. For all the emphasis on marijuana dependency, though, the authors deserve credit for clearly and forthrightly stating that all dependencies are not created equal. It's one thing to be a skin-and-bones crack addict; quite another to smoke pot and be a couch potato every night.

The careful, balanced tone of Marijuana Legalization is something that legalization advocates might want to strive for. This holds doubly true for claims about the impacts of marijuana legalization that might not hold up to scrutiny. For instance, Proposition 19 advocates may have overstated the impact that legalization in California would have on Mexican drug cartels, only to have opponents come back and undercut those claims. Likewise, claims that our prisons are filled with pot-smokers are unsupported by the facts. That anyone is in prison for marijuana is bad enough -- and the authors say 40,000 people are -- but overstating the negatives of even some aspects of prohibition does not aid the cause in the long run.

Similarly, the authors make clear that there are some things we just don't -- and can't -- know. How much would use increase under various legalization schemes? Anyone who tells you they have a definitive answer is blowing smoke, and his credibility should be called into question. We can make educated guesses, but given the lack of laboratory conditions, that's all they are.

When it comes to legalization itself, the authors delineate several versions, from a free market scheme where marijuana is treated like any other commodity to one that that would see marijuana produced and sold with regulations and restrictions like alcohol or tobacco. There is also a medical model and a state monopoly model (similar to what Uruguay is now proposing). Given the "nightmare scenario" -- potential massive decreases in price along with powerful advertising campaigns by vendors leading to massive increase in use and dependency -- of the more open legalization approaches and the political opposition such fears can engender, that state liquor store model looks a little more attractive, even though it runs in the face of current ideological trends about the inability of the state to do anything as well as private enterprise can.

I have to give the authors kudos for one chapter in particular, "What is Known about the Non-Medical Benefits of Marijuana?" In our drug policy discourse in general, marijuana included, the emphasis is almost entirely on the negative results of drug use. That begs the question: If these drugs are so horrible, why does anyone use them in the first place, let alone get strung out on them? Drug use clearly does have positive benefits for users -- otherwise they wouldn't be using them -- and it's refreshing to actually hear some forthright talk about that when it comes to pot.

Marijuana Legalization doesn't advocate for or against legalization. At the very end of the book, each of the authors lays out his or her personal views. But I'm not going to be a spoiler. Read the book and find out for yourself. It's a most handy primer on the diverse and interrelated topics that constitute the universe of marijuana legalization issues, and its structure helps disentangle what can be an overwhelming array of concerns and issues.

Yes, the authors have undoubtedly reached some conclusions that will not be well-received by the drug reform community, but they have done so in a spirit of scholarship and fairness. If you don't like the conclusions they reach, rebut them or deal with them in the same manner. It'll do you and the cause good.

(Note: You can now order "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" and support StoptheDrugWar.org at the same time -- click here for details on our current membership offers.)

(The author's have launched a web site associated with the book, http://www.marijuanalegalization.info.)

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Criticism of reform advocates may be overplayed

It's really kind of ridiculous to complain about reform advocates overstating the impact that marijuana legalization would have on drug cartels when they got the numbers from the ONDCP (as the authors point out). The only rebuttal to that has been the ONDCP's convenient reversal when the numbers no longer supported their arguments, and RAND putting out a "we don't know how much, but what you said is clearly wrong" statement. Apparently, it' the fault of the reformers that they didn't independently verify the government's numbers. Additionally, you may know reformers who say that prisons are filled with marijuana convicts. I don't. What I hear is that prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders and marijuana arrests are through the roof. The other thing I hear is prohibitionists saying that there's nobody in prison for marijuana possession. Which is, of course, not true. The book is balanced when it comes to the facts, but it's pretty badly skewed when it comes to the authors' unwillingness to give proper weight to their numerous balancing acts.

 "Criminalization of

 

"Criminalization of possession and illegal use of drugs compounded by mandatory sentencing and lengthy prison sanctions for low-level drug use has become the primary cause of mass incarceration. The global prison population has skyrocketed in the last three decades with ten million people worldwide now in jails and prisons. The extraordinary increase in the number of people now incarcerated has had tremendous implications for state and national governments dealing with global recession and a range of economic, social and political challenges. Research indicates that resources that would otherwise be spent on development, infrastructure, education and health care have been redirected over the last two decades to incarcerating drug offenders, many of whom are low-level users." - page 3

"Sociologists have also recently observed that the widespread incarceration of men in low-income communities has had a profound negative impact on social and cultural norms relating to family and opportunity.  Increases in the imprisonment of poor and minority women with children have now been linked with rising numbers of displaced children and dependents. Drug policy and the over-reliance on incarceration is seen by many experts as contributing to increased rates of chronic unemployment, destabilization of families and increased risk of reincarceration for the formerly incarcerated." - page 3

"In the United States, drug arrests have tripled in the last 25 years, however most of these arrests have been for simple possession of low-level drugs. In 2005, nearly 43% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses.  Marijuana possession arrests accounted for 79% of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990s. Nearly a half million people are in state or federal prisons or a local jail for a drug offense, compared to 41,000 in 1980. Most of these people have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity" - page 4

"With over 5 million people on probation or parole in the United States, drug use on parole or probation has become the primary basis by which thousands of people are returned to prison. These technical violations of parole or probation account for as many as 40% of new prison admissions in some jurisdictions." - page 6

A DIRECT THREAT TO PUBLIC SAFTEY:

"The “war on drugs” has also generated indirect costs that many researchers contend have undermined public safety. The federal government has prioritized spending and grants for drug task forces and widespread drug interdiction efforts that often target low-level drug dealing. These highly organized and coordinated efforts have been very labor intensive for local law enforcement agencies with some unanticipated consequences for investigation of other crimes. The focus on drugs is believed to have redirected law enforcement resources that have resulted in more drunk driving, and decreased investigation and enforcement of violent crime laws. In Illinois, a 47% increase in drug arrests corresponded with a 22% decrease in arrests for drunk driving. Florida researchers have similarly linked the focus on low level drug arrests with an increase in the serious crime index."

Drug Policy, Criminal Justice and Mass Imprisonment, by Bryan Stevenson

http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Arquivos/Global_Com_Bryan_Stevenson.pdf 

Legalization drives dosage reduction

"Similarly, the authors make clear that there are some things we just don't -- and can't -- know. How much would use increase under various legalization schemes? Anyone who tells you they have a definitive answer is blowing smoke, and his credibility should be called into question. We can make educated guesses, but given the lack of laboratory conditions, that's all they are."

At the risk of blowing vapor, hopefully not too soon to offer suggestions how to address this question in their Second Edition?  

1.  Legalization would REDUCE "consumption" by eliminating the baneful technicality that you can get in trouble for OWNING A HARM REDUCTION UTENSIL-- a one-hitter, vaporizer etc. which actually REDUCES DOSAGES-- because under present legal conditions a 500-mg rolled up "joint" is EASIER TO HIDE than a cannister with 20 tokes of herb in it and a 25-mg-serving-size utensil.  (The worst enemy you have to hide your utensil from may be not the rogue cop but your own drugwar-hysterical Mom.)

2.  Legalization would de facto relieve barriers to openly making and marketing harm-reduction (dosage-restriction) utensils and publicly advocating and instructing others in their use.  Google "MARIJUANA PARAPHERNALIA" or "PARAPHERNALIA LAWS" etc. to see what's out there.  By the way, speaking of Propa & Ganda, have you noticed how the word "PARAPHERNALIA" breaks down into echoes of smaller hate-words such as  "Paranoid", "Infernal", "Alien"?

3.  Present-day laws are the best Big $igarette Corporations could buy to keep (a) cannabis too expensive to compete with tobacco for kids' money, (b) proper cannabis vaping equipment too risky to own to compete with the "joint" which helps indoctrinate youngsters into $igarette smoking.  (Watch out, in Europe someone offering you a puff on a joint may have mixed nicotine tobacco into it, that's considered "traditional".)

Sorry I'm too cheap to buy books so apologies if I"ve insulted the authors by covering subjects here they actually did justice to.  One reason corporates and Republicans hate riefer is it helps you figure out how to live a voluntary "Spartan"/"Austere" economics, devoid of superstitious personal money-spending habits which sustain today's corporate oligarchy and its political donations strategy.

 

Prohib

WOW...what a broad topic...From Botany to International Law etc  etc.. Not to mention Religious freedom

In ANY case people  should be free to be informed and decide their action...No Harm No Jail..I meanyou are not a criminal for using/growing/selling PLANTS...Medical models/warnings are better...4:20

I'm willing to support this

I'm willing to support this effort. I smoke cigarettes and that is the most addictive drug I've put into my body. If I wake up in the morning without a cigarette, I'm not right until I get one. Alcohol has a definite effect on my body. When it comes to marijuana, it, for the most part, has a calming effect. One in which I find things funnier when I'm high. I've never felt a need to go out and rob anyone in order to score marijuana. And when I'm without it, I'm still able to function. Just don't take away my smokes. America needs to find a way t tap in on this plant. It grows freely unlike heroine, meth, prescription pills which seem to be more of a problem. So, yes, I'm aboard. Put it on the shelf next to the liquor and smokes and watch the profits soar. I will be willing to collect signatures. Mary J.

taxed

I am from the camp that thinks cannabis should legalized, taxed, and regulated like alcohol. While I love reading anything that promotes legalization of cannabis, this book was a breath of fresh air on the subject. daniela

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <i> <blockquote> <p> <address> <pre> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <h6> <br> <object> <param> <embed> <b>

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School