An Alternative to Legalization

Mark Kleiman has a decent proposal:

Today’s laws criminalize millions of otherwise law-abiding individuals and create a multi-billion-dollar illicit market. Commercializtion would give the marketing geniuses who have done such a fine job persuading children to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, and supersize themselves with junk food the opportunity to show what they could do with marijuana. Neither choice appeals to me.

My proposed law: It would be illegal to sell cannabis or to exchange it for anything of value, but not to grow it, possess it, use it, or give it away. I don’t imagine that the law would effectively prevent sales, any more than anti-gambling laws suppress private poker games. The goal would be to prevent marketing.

Read the whole thing.

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25 replies
  1. 1
    Tim F. says:

    Call me a Democrat, but I think we should tax it. If we taxed coke and heroin for example, rehab could be revenue-neutral. Take into account the savings from not incarcerating tens of thousands of small-time drug users and states could afford to cure addiction and hand out free laptops to every arriving fourth grader.

    From a utilitarian standpoint, who do Americans fear more, the police or the IRS?

  2. 2
    Steve says:

    Well, I don’t even want to touch the issue of coke and heroin, but when it comes to pot, it seems a real shame to legalize it and then not bother taxing it. You could surely get away with exorbitant taxes on pot, just like with cigarettes, and since we keep passing tax cut after tax cut we clearly need to get money from somewhere.

  3. 3
    Bruce in Alta California says:

    This is not my opinion. I think Utah has some wonderful areas. But my friend says all drugs should be legalized in Utah.

    1) All drug users would move to Utah.
    2) Anything sent to Utah is considered an improvement

  4. 4
    SeesThroughIt says:

    You could surely get away with exorbitant taxes on pot, just like with cigarettes, and since we keep passing tax cut after tax cut we clearly need to get money from somewhere.

    I agree with the second part of your statement, but I’m not so sure about the first. I think if the price of an eighth went up a couple bucks due to taxes, people would continue to procure illegally even with a nice legal option on the table. Like, “I’ve been paying $50 an eighth, and now you want me to pay $53 for that same eighth? Piss off.”

    I think it’s a good idea, and it would be nice to actually get some tax revenue that way, but I have to wonder about the effectiveness of such a program. Would the people who have been buying weed illegally for years change their habits? That’s what the success of such a program would hinge on.

    Kleinman’s idea is an interesting one, though. It would be nice if we could stop criminalizing marijuana and start putting the resources spent fighting it into something more productive, that’s for sure.

  5. 5
    neil says:

    And don’t forget the health benefits.. preservatives and chemical fertilizers can’t be good for you.

  6. 6
    Steve says:

    Well, I’m not a smoker, so maybe someone could mention how significant the black market for cigarettes is, and the reasons why marijuana would likely be similar/different.

  7. 7

    I think if the price of an eighth went up a couple bucks due to taxes, people would continue to procure illegally even with a nice legal option on the table.

    Even if you were to tax it a “legal” eighth wouldn’t cost you more than an illegal one. When a substance is illegal it’s price on the black market is way more than its price would be in a legal market.

    Legalization would cause a vast drop in prices of drugs and thus even it we were to tax them, it would still be beneficial for someone to buy them legally.

  8. 8
    SeesThroughIt says:

    Ah, good point, Disenfranchised Voter. I hadn’t considered that.

    Steve: I think the big issue that comes into play vis-a-vis black markets is that cigarettes have always been legal, whereas marijuana has been illegal for quite some time. You can go to the store and buy some smokes. If you want pot, then you have to find a dealer and all that. In a sense, the entire marijuana market is a black market; if you want weed, you have no choice but to go the illegal route (unless you live in a place that has legalization laws, and even then, the legality is up for debate).

  9. 9
    Vladi G says:

    You could surely get away with exorbitant taxes on pot, just like with cigarettes

    Could you? Legalities aside, is it as easy to cultivate tobacco for personal use as it to cultivate pot for personal use? I’m not a smoker of either (which isn’t to say I’ve NEVER smoked either), but if tobacco was controlled the way pot is in this country, would there be as many people growing tobacco plants as there are who grow pot plants?

    I would imagine that at some price point, the costs of buying heavily regulated pot would outweigh the costs of growing it yourself. Even if growing it were illegal, possession would have to be legal, so your odds of getting busted just went way down.

  10. 10

    If any of you have the time and are interested in the topic, I suggest reading this article by David Boaz from the CATO institute.

    It is a really great summary of why Drug Prohibition isn’t the right path.

  11. 11
    Vladi G says:

    Legalization would cause a vast drop in prices of drugs and thus even it we were to tax them, it would still be beneficial for someone to buy them legally.

    This makes me want to clarify my post above. I’m not talking about the difference between buying legally and buying illegally. I’m talking about the difference between growing illegally and buying legally. I know the above wasn’t directed at me, but it made me think about another angle.

  12. 12
    Krista says:

    It would be illegal to sell cannabis or to exchange it for anything of value, but not to grow it, possess it, use it, or give it away.

    Well, that would take care of my Christmas list…

  13. 13
    tzs says:

    I think we should allow anything you can grow in your back yard, as long as you use it as is. And that includes opium poppies.

    (Speaking of which, it’s bloody difficult to get the little suckers out of the garden. We had them–before it was illegal to grow them–and the left-over seeds just kept germinating and germinating and germinating. It took us about 5 years before they stopped popping up.)

  14. 14
    Vladi G says:

    It took us about 5 years before they stopped popping up.

    Yeah, sure it did.

  15. 15
    tzs says:

    Hey, Vlad, all left-over seeds don’t germinate at the same time. They can hang around and come up later.

    …or were you just being snarkish? hard to tell around here.

  16. 16

    Yeah, sure it did.

    Hahahaha.

    Nice.

  17. 17
    DougJ says:

    This thread is going nowhere, so let’s discuss the fact that Bill “what are the odds that we could abort all African-American babies” Bennett is one of the SOTU commentators on CNN tonight. It stands to wager, he’ll put his money on the president’s number in every race tonight.

  18. 18

    Call me a libertarian (heh heh heh) but I’d like to see marijuana legalized both commercially (and taxed like alcohol) and for private cultivation and consumption. Remember, people who live in densely-populated areas without arable land won’t be able to grow their own.

    By the way, I believe that marijuana is a lot easier to grow than tobacco. It certainly is less sensitive to cold weather.

  19. 19
    BadTux says:

    If the Constitution was anything other than a piece of toilet paper that Presidents and Congressmen use to wipe their a$$ with, this wouldn’t be a problem. If the Constitution was the law of the land, it’s already legal to grow all the marijuana you want and possess, smoke, or otherwise do anything other than sell it, because the Interstate Commerce Clause only covers (doh), *COMMERCE*. If it doesn’t cross state lines, or doesn’t involve commerce, then the Feds have no justification, under the Constitution, to regulate it in any way.

    Of course, our criminal government refuses to obey the law and continues to insist they have the right to break the law anytime they feel like being Big Brother (remember, Big Brother loves you and wants only the best for you, it’s for your own good). This is not, BTW, limited to Republicans by any means, anybody we send to Washington D.C. appears to swiftly be corrupted by the big-government nanny-state mentality that says “We, not the People, know best.” Thus the pack of criminals that are Congress and the Bush White House (and the Clinton White House before that).

    The sad thing is that nobody seems to care. I guess the constitution is just a piece of funny-colored toilet paper after all, rather than being the fundamental law of the land…

    — Badtux the Constitutionalist Penguin

  20. 20
    Geoff says:

    Can someone explain the distinction to me between legalization and the above proposal, in the sense that it seems to me that the motivation for legalizing marijuana for personal use and the motivation for legalizing it in general are pretty similar… what is the rationale for believing that a constituency exists for the former if it does not for the latter?

  21. 21
    CaseyL says:

    Geoff, you’re correct on the face of it.

    But: There are going to be people who can neither grow their own weed nor know anyone who does; and there are going to be people who will grow far more than they or their friends need.

    The social perturbations will be inescapable and interesting: people making friends purely for the sake of accessing the legal weed network, neighborhood cannabis clubs that charge a membership/entry/cover fee, and a barter system where “free” weed is traded for goods and services. In other words, even legal free weed will inevitably become commodified, and that puts the issue right back in law enforcement territory.

    It’s important to remember the current laws have very little to do with benefitting society, or even with stopping drug use. They seem to exist for the purpose of alienating and controlling certain segments of the population, and creating bogeymen to frighten people with. They also, since the confiscatory laws passed, have a lot to do with grabbing private property for the benefit of the public purse.

    And let’s not forget the geopolitical factors: the US government has found it very useful, on more than one occasion, to use the international drug trade to fund CIA operations and illegal wars, and to use drug trafficking networks for illicit weapon distribution.

    All of which is threatened by the prospect of real legalization – even the ‘personal use’ version.

    It just ain’t gonna happen. America’s drug policies are completely corrupt, and those who benefit from the corruption would hate to see it end.

  22. 22
    Sirkowski says:

    Considering I’ve paid for pot only once, smooching the rest of the time, I like it.

  23. 23
    John Cole says:

    By the way, I believe that marijuana is a lot easier to grow than tobacco.

    It is, and it grows wild all over the place in southern West Virginia. The National Guard gets volunteers to go on active duty to go down state collect it and burn it.

    And it is, after all, nicknamed ‘weed.’ Anything a stoned person can grow with relative ease in a college dorm room closet is pretty easy to cultivate.

  24. 24
    Krista says:

    John – Not that any of us would know, of course. Right? (Exaggerated wink.)

  25. 25
    Bill Tucker says:

    Considering I’ve paid for pot only once, smooching the rest of the time, I like it.

    You must be a hell of a kisser, Sirkowski. (You’ve got an extra “s” in there, I think. Maybe it’s the one that’s missing from this sentence: “Andrew Lloyd Webber has written another hit musical.”)

    …it grows wild all over the place in southern West Virginia.

    South Dakota, too. I remember my grandmother pointing it out to me in her back yard. Low-quality stuff, though. Er, so I’ve heard.

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