The question is no longer if we should legalize marijuana. A solid majority of Americans now favors it, and more and more states are moving in that direction. The question is how we should legalize marijuana. And the answer is not the way we’re doing it.
In a devastating critique in the Washington Monthly, two experts who have advised Washington State on its marijuana legalization, Mark Kleiman and Jonathan Caulkins, warn that the current approach being taken by that and other states will lead to a public health disaster. It will result in a marijuana market dominated by large commercial interests whose profits will come not from occasional pot smokers but from habitual daily (even hourly) users. We’ll see marijuana commercials on Super Bowl broadcasts, pot brownies at 7-Eleven checkout counters, a vast increase in abuse, minimal tax revenues, and government regulators too weak to do anything about it.
This dystopia can be avoided, say the authors, by cutting out the corporate sector and limiting marijuana sales to government or nonprofit stores. But that won’t happen unless the federal government takes charge of the legalization juggernaut, and soon. Also, as Jonathan Rauch argues, the biggest threat to marijuana legalization is bad implementation of the kind we saw last fall with health care exchanges.