Mark Kleiman Wins Washington Marijuana Legalization Implementation Contract

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."

Mark Kleiman (ncjrs.org via Wikipedia)
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.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Indeed. Mark Kleiman has not

Indeed. Mark Kleiman has not always been the friend of legalization we'd like to see in that job. And his approach to the topic has to me seemed both overly cautious and pessimistic. But the job specifics are what they are. To make recommendations to the State on how best to implement this law, not to consult on whether it's a good idea.

This is Kleimans ball to carry or drop. He certainly doesn't do his consulting firm any good if he fails. With that in mind, I wish him the best of luck. The way he does his job directly affects me and many of my associates. I'm rooting for him to do it right, whether or not I have agreed with him in the past.

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In all seriousness, the plant

In all seriousness, the plant really is a major staple of this community. You come over and smoke someone's weed, you offer a nug in trade before you leave. Know somebody that can't afford it at the moment? People will jump to help them out and donate a little free nug or two. It's an extremely rare thing to walk into a house that doesn't have paraphernalia sitting on the coffee table, and it's almost rude not to offer a smoke when you have company. In some parts, it's practically an acceptable form of payment with people. To all of these people who have this mindset, letting the government control weed is the antithesis of what the plant is about.

That's an interesting theory,

That's an interesting theory, but the Senate and the House can override a presidential veto by passing the bill with a 2/3rds majority. This is the same majority required for an amendment, but the amendment must also be ratified by 3/4ths of the state legislators.

The reason I've heard is that the bounds of the federal government were viewed as a lot stricter then (remember, this is pre new-deal, which GREATLY expanded the influence of the federal government) so a constitutional amendment was required.

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