The US drug policy is changing, pitting states against federal law. This essay explores this inner friction of contradictory drug legislation, and what it may mean for the international drug control regime, itself a result of US drug policy. (4,400 words)
A set of laws to govern how recreational marijuana should be grown, sold and taxed was signed into law Tuesday in Colorado, where Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper called the measures the state's best attempt to navigate the uncharted territory of legalized recreational pot. The laws cover how the drug should be raised and packaged, with purchasing limits for out-of-state visitors and a new marijuana driving limit as an analogy to blood alcohol levels. (See also: Highlights of Colorado's new marijuana laws)
The first time I talked to Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at UCLA, was in 2002, and he explained why legalization of marijuana was a bad idea. “At some point you have to say, a law that people don’t obey is a bad law,” Kleiman told me when I asked how his views had evolved. He has not come to believe marijuana is harmless, but he suspects that the best hope of minimizing its harm may be a well-regulated market. Today the most interesting and important question is no longer whether marijuana will be legalized — eventually, bit by bit, it will be — but how.
They've spent nearly eight months visiting marijuana grow houses, studying the science of getting high and earning nicknames like "the queen of weed." Now, officials in Washington are taking their first stab at setting rules for the state's new legal weed industry, possibly covering an array of topics ranging from how pot should be grown, labeled and tested for quality assurance to what types of security should be required at state-licensed pot businesses.
Many Washington residents are looking to cash in on the newly legal and potentially lucrative marijuana market, which they hope will give them a new start, create jobs, and boost Washington's slumping economy. A diverse bunch, prospective marijuana entrepreneurs range from cannabis novices to experienced sellers crawling out of the black market. State officials are unsure how much revenue marijuana will bring because the market has never been regulated. But experts predict the industry could fetch up to $2bn over a five-year period.
The Drug Enforcement Administration sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 medical-marijuana dispensaries because they are within 1,000 feet of schools or other prohibited areas. The DEA maintains that the crackdown does not signal a federal war on Washington state’s new legal-pot law. Despite Washington state’s new legal recreational-pot law, enacted by voter-approved Initiative 502, all forms of marijuana remain illegal under federal law.
In the wake of the marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November, and buoyed by a series of national public opinion polls showing support for pot legalization going over the tipping point, marijuana reform legislation is being introduced at state houses across the land at levels never seen before. According to a legislative activity web page maintained by the Marijuana Policy Project, decriminalization bills have been introduced in 10 states.
Colorado lawmakers tried to find the Goldilocks level for recreational marijuana taxes — an amount neither too high to discourage voters from approving it nor too low to pay the costs of pot legalization. At the end of the debate, the state House gave initial approval to a bill that proposes a 15 percent excise tax and an initial 10 percent special sales tax on recreational marijuana, over the objection of Republicans who said the tax rates are too much.
A proposal that could lead to the repeal of marijuana legalization in Colorado has gained momentum at the state Capitol. The repeal would be linked to a measure on marijuana taxes that is expected to go before voters in November, according to legislators and advocacy groups involved in the discussions. The premise is that, if voters do not approve the taxes, then Amendment 64, the initiative passed just months ago to legalize marijuana, would be repealed.
Legal marijuana in Colorado may not bring in enough money to cover the societal costs of legalization, a study from a Colorado State University think tank concludes. The analysis also argues that revenue from marijuana taxes won't do much to help Colorado's budget and that money generated for new school construction won't reach the $40 million annual target that supporters of marijuana legalization set when campaigning for Amendment 64, the measure that legalized use, limited possession and commercial sale of marijuana for adults in Colorado.
Washington state may delay issuing licenses to grow pot by a couple months, according to state Liquor Control Board Deputy Director Rick Garza. In its initial timeline, the board would issue producer licenses in mid-August. Then it planned to issue processor licenses in early November and retailer licenses in mid-November. Under that schedule, state-regulated stores might open as early as December. But the board staff believe it’s probably better to create all three licenses at the same time.
Washington’s new pot consultant has one overarching, discouraging message for lawmakers and state budget writers: don’t look at weed as an ATM. Potential tax revenues will probably be less than half of the $450 million that’s been projected, said Mark Kleiman, in a interview Thursday night with TVW’s Austin Jenkins. More important, Kleiman said, to rely on money from pot — like money from gambling, alcohol and tobacco — means relying on abuse and addiction, which are not necessarily desirable state goals.
Colorado's under-construction plan for regulating recreational marijuana nearly came unglued when lawmakers questioned whether the agency that would enforce the rules is up to the task. The plan called for the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division — which regulates medical-marijuana businesses — to transition to the Marijuana Enforcement Division and be in charge of all pot enterprises in the state. But a scathing audit cast doubt on the division's fitness for handling the massive job.
Washington state gets ready to regulate legal marijuana with the help of one of America’s top drug policy analysts. Mark Kleiman is professor of public policy at the University of California in Los Angeles, and co-author of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. His team at Botec Analysis Corporation earned the contract to help turn Washington state’s vote to legalize marijuana into a reality. TIME talked to him about the challenging job ahead.
House Bill 2000, the bill by Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, to modify Initiative 502, marijuana legalization, offers a mix of changes that could help create a functioning market and things that might not. That ambiguity was reflected in the testimony on the bill Wednesday: the bill was opposed by Derek Franklin of the Washington Association of Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention (WASAVP), which opposed legalization, and also by Keith Henson, Pierce County director for NORML, which favored it. (See also: Some K9s trained to ignore pot in Washington)
Colorado lawmakers yanked and tugged at the threads of the state's proposals for regulating recreational marijuana, as one legislator hinted to his colleagues that pulling too hard could unravel the whole thing. At its second meeting, the legislature's joint marijuana committee returned again to the question of how to structure the marijuana stores that Colorado voters authorized in November.
Washington state’s chief pot consultant remains a bit mysterious, but Mark Kleiman's views on legalizing pot are no mystery. He lays them out in “Marijuana Legalization,” a 2012 book he wrote with three of his team members. Alison Holcomb, the law’s author, said Kleiman’s credentials could ease federal concerns about Washington’s system evolving into an industry that tries to create addictions and market to young people. “I’m glad Kleiman and his colleagues are heading up the consulting group,” she said. (See also: Washington touts credentials of new pot consultant)
Washington has tentatively chosen professor Mark Kleiman at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to be its official marijuana consultant. His firm Botec Analysis is based in Cambridge, Mass., and has evaluated government programs and provided consulting relating to drug use, crime and public health. Losing bidders for the contract can protest the award. Kleiman has written several books on drug policy, including "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know." Reformers have had a "love/hate" relationship with Kleiman over the years.