Marijuana for Recreational Use in California

Will marijuana be legalized like tobacco and alcohol?

Posted Jul 18, 2013

What is the future of marijuana in California? Will it become legalized or recreational use and packaged like cigarettes? And, if so will large corporations monopolize the profits? Will this put small growers out of business? What are the implications for youth, cancer patients, and organized crime? These and many more questions are addressed in Marijuana Legalization: What everyone needs to know written by Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, and Kleiman. Based on scientific research, these Rand economists and policy professors provide rational answers to muddy questions. While my interest focuses primarily on the future of cannabis, the authors answer many basic questions, such as: what are the active ingredients in marijuana, has marijuana been getting more potent, how is marijuana produced and distributed, what are the risks of using marijuana, how is intoxication tested, how long does it stay in your system, and many more basic questions. Better yet, the book is organized by questions so the reader can select certain sections of interest and read these separately. Furthermore, the authors attempt to be honest and objective. They let you know when answers are unknown and topics need more research. This is a refreshing approach in such a hotly debated and polarized area.

If marijuana becomes legalized for recreational use in California, how will it be produced and distributed? Because marijuana is a hardy plant and easy to grow, the authors project that there will be a lot of it. Professional farmers will mechanize production and put small growers out of business. It will be cheap to buy, cheaper than clothing but more expensive than tomatoes and lettuce. About like tea. Caulkins, et al., project that because cannabis will be cheap, use by teens will increase. This is hard for me to believe because any teenager will tell you that it is already easier to get marijuana than alcohol. At any rate, the authors project that this increased availability and cheaper cost, will lead to government regulations and age limits. These are big issues. At what age can a minor buy a joint? What limits will be placed on driving under the influence and how will it be tested and enforced? Furthermore, rules will be made about where it can be used, like inside restaurants or on the street corner, and how it will be taxed. These are not simple issues and there are no guaranteed correct answers.

Some places to start looking for answers are the Netherlands, Colorado, and Washington. The authors maintain that the Netherlands is not a fair comparison. While an adult can walk into a coffee shop in the Netherlands and buy cannabis, growing and distributing is not legal. In other words, it is legal in the front door but not the back. This has led to serious problems with organized crime and violence. Colorado and Washington are more appropriate places for policy makers to look. What is happening in these two states is absolutely revolutionary and no one is sure how this will play out.

Most likely, over-the-counter sales would be for adults. There would be laws limiting intoxication while driving just like alcohol though this will be hard to assess as there is no quick and effective way to measure marijuana intoxication. Like smoking tobacco, states and municipalities will regulate whether it can be smoked in restaurants or on the street corner. Laws are more likely to be local than federal and this is thorny because marijuana is illegal at the federal level. At any time, the feds can choose to enforce marijuana laws even in states where it is legal. And on federal lands, like national parks, it is clearly illegal. So for example, don’t smoke pot in Olympic National Park even though it might be legal in the state of Washington. Furthermore, national laws are unlikely to change because the US signed an international treaty and changing the law would violate the treaty with other countries. This and many other fascinating issues are discussed in Marijuana Legalization.

My own interest is in the implications for teens. The authors, economists, argue that because marijuana will be cheaper, more teens will be purchasing it. They say that consumption will increase, potency will increase, and marketing will increase. Given that marijuana is so readily available on high school campuses, it is hard to imagine that use will increase. But, perhaps more older teens will buy it and give it to younger siblings like beer. Potency may increase simply for competitive purposes to have a product that is more appealing and most certainly advertising will increase. This will most likely be aggressively targeted toward teens, like jeans. These factors combined – increased potency, aggressive marketing, and availability to younger users could cause a horrible scenario. A plethora of high potency treats, like brownies, would be widely available. Imagine a thirteen year old, unsupervised, getting extremely high for the first time. This could lead to panic attacks, psychotic symptoms, and increased emergency room visits. Most certainly, there will be an age limit for buying pot. But, what age? 18? 21? And who makes this decision and what evidence is it based on? How will be enforced?

Another interesting dilemma is the regulation of driving while under the influence. Smoking pot impairs driving performance. Driving stoned is probably less dangerous than driving drunk but even small amounts of alcohol combined with pot is more hazardous than either alone. Will there be a legal amount of intoxication allowed or a zero tolerance standard? Even NORML includes “no driving” among its guidelines for responsible use of marijuana. And testing for marijuana use is complicated. It lingers in the body many days after use. Someone can test positive even when they haven’t smoked recently.

These and many other unpredictable issues will arise. Most certainly there is a need for public debate. I have found this blog to be a good spot for discussion and I have learned a lot from readers. I hope you will leave your opinion here.