« In praise of sentencing and drug war coverage at The Atlantic and Reason.com | Main | DOJ Inspector General stresses "growing crisis" from growth of federal prison population »

December 15, 2013

Is a "worst-case scenario" regarding marijuana reform and regulation already emerging in Colorado and Washington?

22353476The question in the title of this post is my reaction to what strikes me as a "Chicken Little" comment appearing in this lengthy New York Times article about marijuana reform in Colorado and Washington.  The article, which started on the front page of Saturday's Times is headlined "In 2 States, Corner Cannabis Store Nears Reality." And here are excerpts that provide some background and context for my query:

Starting early next year, any adult with a craving or curiosity will be able to stroll into a strip mall or downtown shop in Colorado or Washington State and do what has long been forbidden: buy a zip-lock bag of legal marijuana.

After landmark votes made marijuana legal for recreational consumption, users in these two states will no longer need doctors’ notes or medical reasons to buy the drug. Instead, they will simply show identification to prove they are at least 21, and with the cautious blessing of state and federal officials, they will be able to buy as much as an ounce of marijuana and smoke it in their living rooms.

It is a new frontier of drug legalization, one that marks a stark turn away from the eras of “Reefer Madness,” zero tolerance and Just Say No warnings about the dangers of marijuana. But it also raises questions about whether these pioneering states will be able to regulate and contain a drug that is still outlawed across most of the country — although medical marijuana can be sold legally in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The end of the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s, by contrast, to which some historians and legal scholars are comparing this moment, came all at once across the nation.

On this never-traveled road, the outcome on many fronts is uncertain: Supporters predict an economic boom in new business activity, cannabis tourism and reduced public expense with fewer low-level drug offenders clogging jails and courtrooms.

Elected officials, parents’ groups and police chiefs worry that drug traffickers will exploit the new markets, that more teenagers will take up marijuana, and that two places with reputations for fresh air and clean living will become known as America’s stoner states.

Other states flirting with legalization are watching closely too, not least for the expected windfall in state revenue in stiffly taxing something that has never been taxed at all. Referendum drives modeled on Colorado and Washington are already underway for next year in Arizona, California, Oregon and Alaska, and others are expected to follow in 2016. So the pressures to get it right the first time, local and state officials said, are immense. “We are floating in uncharted waters here,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock of Denver, where 149 businesses have applied to sell or grow retail marijuana.

Consider, for example, the strangely altered new role of the police, who in Washington are required to make sure all marijuana is of the legal, state-licensed variety. That could make for more crackdowns on illegal grow-and-sale operations, not fewer, a fact highlighted when federal agents raided several dispensaries in Colorado last month, smashing glass and hauling away hundreds of plants.

Practical questions about the legal, workaday drug trade have required reams of rules and regulations to answer: Should it be specifically taxed?... Can people give it away in public parks?...

But most important, Colorado and Washington must show skeptical federal authorities that they can control this new world of regulated marijuana, and keep it from flowing to underage consumers, into other states or into the grip of drug traffickers and violent cartels. Even as the Justice Department announced in August that it would not block states from regulating marijuana, it also warned that their enforcement rules “must be tough in practice, not just on paper.”

“We’re already seeing a worst-case scenario emerging,” said Kevin A. Sabet, an opponent of legalization and the co-founder of Project SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He said marijuana was already flowing from dispensaries into the hands of teenage users, and he predicted the social costs would only mount in the months ahead.

Though I genuinely hope that marijuana reform is successful in Colorado and Washington because it would provide more evidence that freedom and free markets tend to be superior public policy choices to big government, I am genuinely eager to see sensible and sober assessments of the on-the-ground pros and cons of what these two states are trying. But if anti-reform (or, for that matter, pro-reform) advocates are going to persistently scream that the sky is falling (or that all is nirvana), it is going to end up being very hard to come to a truly sound assessment of whether and how reform can be more or less successful.

December 15, 2013 at 11:09 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Is a "worst-case scenario" regarding marijuana reform and regulation already emerging in Colorado and Washington?:


Speak to the issue of cigarette smoking and I will take you seriously. Smokers not only stink, they die in great numbers. Some say it is better than the one child policy in China. China seems to promote both. But do not talk about the issue of legalizing marijuana unless you talk in the context that Bob Marley did when he wrote his song called Legalize Marijuana. He begins with: Cigarette smoking is dangerous. Hazad to ya health. Does that mean anything to you?

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 15, 2013 11:25:39 AM

Don't worry Doug! Just like them revenuers during Prohibition, Bill and his federal narcotics posse know how to protect you from yourself: they'll shoot you and/or put you in prison for your own good.

PS: Please don't have a secret compartment in your vehicle if you are traveling from Colorado or Washington to Ohio.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 15, 2013 1:41:00 PM

Every briefcase in AmeriKa should have a label on the sides stating: Pentagon Papers. We know that the courts ruled them to be protected. Then if you have a secret compartment in your car you can put the briefcase in there. When the pigs try to bust you for the secret compartment you can film them removing the Pentagon Papers and sue them for violation of your First Amendment rights. The next thing that they will want to do is quarter troops in the rear of your station wagon. But the pot smoking thing is different. Smoke em if ya got em is what John Wayne said in the movie The Green Berets when the troops were out in the jungle and had to take a break. But they were smoking cigarettes not pot. And you can not fight a war without encouraging the troops to start the suicide thing at an early age. All these considerations need to be included in this conversation.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 15, 2013 2:39:28 PM

This scenario illustrates the necessity that all laws be pilot tested in a small jurisdiction, then repeated in a state. Laws are human experimentation without consent, and until proven effective and safe, free of horrid unintended consequences, they are crimes against humanity. One may add unauthorized human experimentation on mass populations to the crimes of the lawyer hierarchy. Just as they did at Nuremberg, hanging should immediately follow the reading of the verdict.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 15, 2013 2:50:30 PM

There's nothing as annoying and redundant as an ex-smoker bastard. It's too bad your nanny/wife/boss/mom/govmint won't let you smoke, but please keep your crabbing to yourself.

Posted by: Pete | Dec 15, 2013 4:24:38 PM

I believe that the lyrics cited above are from Peter Tosh's song "Bush Doctor." His music is often misattributed to Bob Marley, for obvious reasons.

Posted by: Chris Jenkins | Dec 16, 2013 3:09:48 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB