RAND's Research on Marijuana Legalization is Questionable

Confusion abounds following last week's release of a RAND study on the ramifications of legal marijuana in California. In particular, RAND's discussion of rock-bottom prices has growers panicking and the suggestion that use could increase dramatically has opponents chomping at the bit. But, as Pete Guither helpfully explains, the whole thing is just a bunch of wild speculation.

Just look what passes for scientific analysis at RAND when it comes to marijuana legalization:

However, a simple calculation suggests that, if someone believes that marijuana is causally responsible for many crashes that involve marijuana using drivers, legalization’s effect on crashes could be a first-order concern for them. [...]

There is no empirical evidence concerning an elasticity of fatal accident rates with respect to marijuana price, prevalence, or quantity consumed, and, as we have underscored repeatedly, there is enormous uncertainty concerning how legalization might affect those outcomes.

However, 50- or 100-percent increases in use cannot be ruled out; nor can the possibility that marijuana-involved traffic crashes would increase proportionally with use. So it would be hard to dismiss out of hand worries that marijuana legalization could increase traffic fatalities by at least 60 per year…

Nor can we entirely rule out the possibility that legalizing marijuana could somehow cause the earth to stop spinning on its axis, resulting in the incineration of a hundred nations, while others are left buried beneath sheets of ice.

I'm exaggerating, but the point is that when RAND says legalization might double marijuana use and lower the ounce price to $38, they're just babbling because the media is stupid enough to listen. Even RAND admits that their analysis is subject to so many intangible variables as to render futile any effort to quantify legalization's practical impact. The problem is that they went ahead and proceeded to announce various arbitrary computations that sound provocative and mean absolutely nothing.

So, for what it's worth, let's just establish a couple principles that might help sort out some of the confusion here:

1. Marijuana will never cost $38 per ounce in California as long as it remains illegal everywhere else and sells for up to $500. Prop 215 didn't reduce prices by 80% and neither will Prop 19.

2. Marijuana is already way too available in California for any policy change to dramatically impact rates of use. No one is sitting around in Los Angeles waiting for legalization so that they can find a way to buy some weed.

3. If marijuana were a significant cause of traffic fatalities, California's highways would already be stained with blood. See point #2.

Update: Dave Borden has convinced me that I've been at least somewhat unfair to RAND, insofar as a big part of my frustration here results from the way the media presented the research. It's true that the study's authors were careful to explain that there remains considerable uncertainty about the practical impact of legalization. There are issues that I think could have been handled much better, but I wouldn't want to set a standard that prohibits inquiry, simply because so much remains unclear.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The taxes alone in Ca. run about 50 bucks a oz. so the min. the price could be legally is $88.00 a oz. Rand could of at least added in the damn taxes. Funny thing is no other personal medicines are taxed in Ca., talk about discrimination.

Rand should at least of read Glenn Greenwalds study of the changes in Drug use in Portugal since they legalized use. His study showed a drop in use among adults and a even bigger drop among teenagers.

"no empirical evidence concerning elasticity of fatal accident"

"no empirical evidence concerning an elasticity of fatal accident rates with respect to marijuana price, prevalence, or quantity consumed". Nice jargon! Is there any empirical evidence regarding fatal accidents and marijuana TO BEGIN WITH? So, RAND, when's the last time someone in this country was tried for a marijuana related, no alcohol involved, fatal crash?
It's a good thing driving UI cannabis is not a significant problem compared to driving UI alcohol, because we've got many 100,000's of people driving around each day trying to get their marijuana supply on the black market, where price is exorbitant and quality is very variable, so you have to check the product before driving home. If driving under the influence of marijuana was anywhere near as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, there would be carnage every day, people crashing out with their new supply of weed still in the car.
If RAND wants to speculate they can speculate on whether greater availability of cannabis would reduce alcohol related mayhem. Since the two substances are competitors in the recreational drug field, no longer forcing people to use alcohol to get high should save lives. Some people prefer weed but will do booze if that is all that is available/affordable, others know they can't handle alcohol, but again, if that is the only way they can get high, they'll use it anyway. There's a hell of a lot of crocodile tears coming from people who are more worried about almost entirely imaginery marijuana related violence than about the horrendous level of actual alcohol related violence.

Not even a question

It is without a doubt that the availability of marijuana would lessen the incident rate of traffic accidents and make our roads safer -- the substitution effect that exists between alcohol and marijuana would enable less harm and impairment to those who partake in marijuana thus resulting in a reduction of traffic accidents overall. The studies on marijuana and driving are quite clear...

prohibitionists are willing

prohibitionists are willing to do ANYTHING to stop this in its tracks. they are taking advantage of these greedy dispensary owners who want to protect their profits. and it's working....

these greedy bastards are selling us out. they are no better than the pharmacuetical companies who "donate" millions to campaigns to ensure anti weed figure heads get into office.

we cannot afford to lose this vote, we lose this and it will be years until we can gather momentum again...

Stretching the Margin of Error to the Limit

The most bizarre of the marijuana predictions made in the RAND study are being seized upon by the MSM, which has the daily duty of making their news babble appear more exciting or disturbing than it actually is.

Another big problem for the RAND study is that many people don’t think in terms of approximations, only absolutes.  For instance, the type of thinking preferred by prohibitionists is always binary (i.e., black or white).

Which means:  If you’re white, you go free.  If you’re black, you don’t.


Drug War denial

What do Prohibitionists, RAND, & poorly informed people have in common? They assume that prohibition actually prevents anyone who wants to grow, sell, buy, or use cannabis from doing so. Wrong! Prohibition is the very reason that anyone who wants cannabis can easily get it. Via reverse psychology, prohibitionists have been wildly successful at creating demand for & supply of the 'forbidden fruit'. In fact, prohibition is the reason minors will tell you it's easier for them to buy cannabis than it is to get alcohol or tobacco. Prohibition = no regulated sale of cannabis to adults. Prohibition = only criminals sell cannabis for recreational use & they don't card for age. Legalization = Regulated (licensed) farming, & taxed sales of cannabis to adults. Legalization = licensed merchants who successfully prevent the sale of alcohol & tobacco to minors 90% of the time. The same will hold true for regulated cannabis sales. Want to prove the RAND study is outright bs? Ask anyone you know, "If you don't care to use cannabis now, will you start using it once it's legalized?" Remember, almost half of Americans have tried cannabis. So, most adults will have a pretty good idea if they like cannabis, or not. In a well known survey, only 1% of respondents said they'd start using hardcore drugs if they were legalized. Human nature In countries where cannabis use has been allowed has proven that use by natives goes down due to boredom. The prohibition industry (prohibitionists & criminals) want cannabis to remain illegal because, "that's where the money is". They've tried real hard to make cannabis a truly deadly drug, like heroin. Not one cannabis user is known to have died from overdose in 5,000 years of human use. The pharmaceuticals companies, alcohol & tobacco industries would be crowing about any product they had they could say that about. But, even aspirin kills thousands of Americans yearly. The war on cannabis users is a failed 73 year old scam maintained by scare tactics propaganda. The RAND seems to have sold their reputation as a valid research organization to the prohibitionists by producing more of the same.

prop 19

I would be the first to vote for legal cannabis

Prop 19 has flaws ,
a good web page against this prop is here


after reading this , my opinion has changed .

As far as statistics go , all statistics can be manipulated.

i guess I am 1 of the swing voters needed to pass this bill.

the hardest thing in the world is to try to graft a new idea on a closed mind


criminals who profit from pot being illegal back prohibition look at all these law-enforcement losers .they are despicable profiteers in human misery

unfair to RAND?

I really don't think you're being unfair to RAND here. In fact, I think it could logically be concluded that the primary purpose of this sham "study" was to get the mainstream media to pick up the "juicy bits" of wild speculation and promote them to the public neatly disguised as the results of a scientific study. There is simply no justifiable reason for making up numbers to use to guess about the outcome of a situation for which NO empirical data is available, and presenting those numbers in such a way as to suggest that they mean something. The authors of the study certainly knew that journalists would read it, and that they would simplify the results in presenting it to the public.

Further, I may be giving RAND too much credit by saying that this is a situation for which no empirical data is available, as the study conspicuously ignores any data on trends in cannabis use in places where the laws have been liberalized, such as the Netherlands or Portugal. Such data shows that the conventional wisdom that "legalizing" or "decriminalizing" must lead to increased use is dead wrong. The study likewise ignores data on the effects of cannabis on driving--here again, every published study that I am aware of contradicts the conventional wisdom that cannabis causes accidents. I think that we may be selling ourselves short to treat this study as anything but blatant propaganda aimed at stirring up irrational fear of legalization among the public.

To my mind, this study is a classic example of the use of scientific-sounding language and methods that resemble science to promote a partisan agenda for which there is really no evidence or support that comes from actual empirical data or experimental evidence. Don't let them off the hook--this is possibly the worst kind of lie--one that almost sounds plausible at first glance.

The intention of releasing

The intention of releasing this study is so that they can talk about how, since there would be an unpredictable amount of tax evasion, that the revenues from legalization might not be so high, and to say that "it can't be ruled out" that use would double.

" This paper is not intended to be a complete evaluation of the consequences of the RCTC proposition or the Ammiano bill. A full cost-benefit analysis of marijuana legalization would include a number of items that have not been addressed here. For example, we have given no consideration to the reduction in government intrusiveness that comes from eliminating tens of thousands of marijuana arrests, many of which lead to criminal records for individuals who would otherwise have none. We have also not considered the effects that California legalization could have on gang activity in California or the drug-related violence in Mexico. Further, some would argue that a full analysis should also consider the benefits that users obtain from consuming marijuana and how this would change under a legalization regime. We do not ignore these factors because we think they are unimportant; rather, we thought it most constructive to focus on those areas in which we believe we can provide the most insight and that are novel or central to the debate about legalization in California in 2010, as opposed to the familiar general arguments concerning legalization in the abstract. "(page 54)

These are responsible scientists as far as *technically* trying to prove what they talk about, but they do have strong biases against legalization, and this is by no means a neutral report. They say that their intention is to not talk about other issues only because "they think they can provide the most insight" by talking only about consumption and budgets. I don't buy that. I think they just wanted to talk about what they knew could possibly go wrong, and to 'estimate' as far as possible to the side that legalization would be bad in terms of consumption, and that revenues could be less than people have heard. If they wanted to 'provide insight', then they should have conducted an analysis of all the other issues (race relations, crime, benefits of industrial hemp, etc), precisely because people are less familiar with those. They didn't, because they didn't really want to provide insight, they just wanted to throw something out there that they knew the media could pick up and make sound as bad as possible. Obviously, consumption and budgets are very important issues, but the only reason they stuck to those is because they knew that technically they can't rule out that consumption would double, and they knew that would make headlines and make legalization sound bad. I've heard Jonathan Caulkins on the radio (in a youtube video), talking about how he thinks it's important to inform the public that revenues might be substantially less than what people have heard. Why doesn't he emphasize that his own report also says that revenues could be much higher than what people have heard? And that maybe consumption would hardly rise? Or that even if it rises "it cant be ruled out" that there would be a decrease in use of pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, and/or other illegal drugs? And that tourism might double the revenues from taxes on marijuana? Not only does the report ignore major aspects of the legalization debate, but he goes out in public and addresses the media emphasizing only the negative findings of his own study.


Notice that in one of the videos, Caulkins, after saying that tax revenues would be about half of what is estimated (his lowest estimate, although he makes it sound like that's what would probably happen), he says that the report doesn't address health issues, which is basically a lie. The report does address health issues (pages 36-38), and concludes that costs would be minimal. To be fair to him, maybe he meant that the report makes no predictions directly about health issues, and instead addresses the monetary aspects of treatment and emergency admissions.

There are so many speculations in the report, positives and negative, including that revenues would be gigantic, and that consumption rates might hardly even change. But he goes public and portrays his own findings as completely negative. What's the point of conducting a scientific study if to the media he's going to understate one side of the findings and exacerbate the other?


..... the videos, Caulkins, after saying that tax revenues would be about half of what {the board of equalization} estimated.....

Something i just realized about that 'doubling' in consumption

In a footnote at the bottom of page 33 they state:

"In our projection model, consumption is defined in terms of quantity consumed. The increase in the number of users would be smaller, perhaps roughly half as great, as the increase in quantity consumed."

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n 1996, the legalization of medical marijuana won by the citizens of California and the DEA has been at war with the clinics ever since. This is costing the tax payers of California millions of dollars each year. If it is legal, why are they raiding the medicinal clinics? Are they going to make the use of medicial marijuana illegal or can they come up with a solution to make this practice work.


Read’em and weep:

Taken From ABOUT.com website(EXERPT)
Background :

Established in 1945, RAND was created as an intelligence and research outfit attached to the U.S. Armed Forces. In its early years the organization was associated with intelligence research and designing intelligence operations within a classified environment. The organization has since become more independent and now works with other nongovernmental and international organizations and research institutes. RAND researchers are credited with major breakthroughs in space travel and artificial intelligence, as well as pioneering various analytical methods that have been incorporated into various disciplines.
What Does the RAND Corporation Do?:

RAND provides research on various policy areas but seems to concentrate on foreign policy and national security issues. Domestic focus areas include criminal justice, health, labor, disaster preparation, social welfare, and transportation. Other international work includes intelligence policy, international economy, development, and terrorism.
Ties to the Military:

RAND’s ties to the military since its inception have brought it under criticism as overly militaristic and partial towards the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Additional information about the RAND study

Hi all,

For those who want to see how RAND generated the pre-tax prices, check out: http://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/2010/RAND_WR764.pdf

The report is very open about the fact that there is uncertainty about how much use will increase because of the price drop because 1) no one knows the shape of the demand curve for marijuana, 2) uncertainty about the tax rate, and 3) uncertainty about the level of tax evasion. That being said, based on sensitivity analyses which vary the input parameters and assumptions about the shape of the demand curve, it would be difficult to rule out increases in total consumption of 50% or higher (because of the price and non-price effects as well as the effect of evasion, which lowers the price for consumers). The justification for the starting values and ranges for the Monte Carlo simulations are listed in the report. http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/2010/RAND_OP315.pdf (Chapters 3 and 4)

Beau Kilmer
Co-Director, RAND Drug Policy Research Center

Why don't the reports examine the Netherlands experience

I am very curious why the Rand studies never deeply examine Netherlands' experience, where marijuana use after three decades of legalization continues to remain below US rates.  They provide no good reason for not doing so.

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