Pot legalization

Mark Kleiman directs us to a new poll on the subject with only a 6% margin against legalization.

His analysis of the poll:

Rasmussen doesn’t give the wording, and the accompanying article is written largely from a pro-legalization viewpoint (Rasmussen tends to lean libertarian).

Under the circumstances, I’d be skeptical, but the CBS/NYT poll in January got comparable results: in response to “Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?” 41% said “legal” and 52% said “not legal.” Current support for legalization is at what seems to be an all-time high, but the numbers are consistent with the long-term trend in Gallup polling.

Predictions about Obama’s policy direction:

Note that these numbers come against the backdrop of relentless official anti-pot propaganda: not just from the drug czar’s office, DEA, and the DARE program, but even from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That suggests that a President who decided to change the message might not hit a stone wall. And the age breakdown suggests that the trend is likely to continue as the cohorts that grew up without pot leave the voter pool.

Obviously, this isn’t something the Obama Administration is going to jump on, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big move late in a second Obama term or sometime in the term of his successor (assuming the Democrats keep winning elections). If I had to quote odds, I’d say about even money on legalization within fifteen years. As with the repeal of alcohol prohibition and the creeping legalization of gambling, I’d expect it to be presented at least in part as a revenue-raising measure.

His opinion on the matter:

Substantively, I’m not a big fan of legalization on the alcohol model; a legal pot industry, like the legal booze and gambling industries, would depend for the bulk of its sales on excessive use, which would provide a strong incentive for the marketing effort to aim at creating and maintaining addiction. (Cannabis abuse is somewhat less common, and tends to be somewhat less long-lasting, than alcohol abuse, and the physiological and behavioral effects tend to be less dramatic, but about 11% of those who smoke a fifth lifetime joint go on to a period of heavy daily use measured in months.) So I’d expect outright legalization to lead to a substantial increase in the prevalence of cannabis-related drug abuse disorder: I’d regard an increase of only 50% as a pleasant surprise, and if I had to guess I’d guess at something like a doubling.

So I continue to favor a “grow your own” policy, under which it would be legal to grow, possess, and use cannabis and to give it away, but illegal to sell it. Of course there would be sales, and law enforcement agencies would properly mostly ignore those sales. But there wouldn’t be billboards.

That beautifully-crafted policy has only two major defects that I’m aware of: it wouldn’t create tax revenue, and no one but me supports it. On the drug-warrior side of the argument, even those who can read the handwriting on the wall won’t dare to deviate from the orthodoxy. As we did with alcohol, the country will lurch from one bad policy (prohibition) to another (commercial legalization). I just hope the sellers are required to measure the cannabinoid profiles of their products and put those measurements on the label.