Last summer on Show #29, I interviewed Professor Mark Kleiman, a UCLA Public Policy analyst who had written a book on marijuana legalization.
He is now Washington State's "Marijuana Czar" - actually, the CEO of the company that was awarded the bid by the Washington State Liquor Control Board to implement the state's new marijuana legalization regulations.
At the 4:20 mark of the video (naturally), Kleiman answers my questions about the economic effects of marijuana legalization at the state level, expressing that the cost to the retail customer should be about $40 to $50 per ounce. Later, at about 7:24, he explains how legalization at the national level would bring the price of weed into the range of "tea bags".
However, I was most stunned when Kleiman revealed his disdain for marijuana consumers and I now worry about how well he will craft regulations to meet the needs of marijuana consumers. At 8:16 he compares marijuana smokers concerned about the price of herb to an old scotch ad comparing a top shelf brand to a house brand, and proclaims that if you're worried about the price of pot, "you're smokin' too much pot."
When I pressed him on the the definitions of "too much" and whether that's an overall public harm worth criminalizing people and enriching cartels, he agreed that legalization was a better option, but only in the context of the trade-off and only if legalization policy is shaped to reduce pot smoking:
KLEIMAN: That's the problem of marijuana policy. You've got a trade-off between illegality with all the costs of illegality, and free availibility, with all the costs of increased drug abuse. You've got to try to figure out where on that spectrum you want to lie. My view is we'd be better off conceding that some people are going to smoke too much pot, making it legal, trying to make it as expensive as we can under legality, and try to limit the marketing. So my ideal system would be that people would join co-ops, the way they do in Spain, that there would not be 'big marijuana' companies running 'Bud' vs. 'Bud Light' ads on the Super Bowl.
I don't think this bodes well for marijuana consumers to have the regulator aiming for the most expensive marijuana possible. Or judging frequent consumers as "abusers" solely by the frequency of their use.
Our interview took the strangest turn when he claimed that nobody dies from tobacco:
KLEIMAN: The damage [from cannabis] is limited - not zero. You know, this 'nobody ever died [from cannabis]' is silly. By those standards, nobody ever died from smoking tobacco, either.
BELVILLE: Nobody ever died of smoking tobacco?
KLEIMAN: Well, if the rule is you're only looking for fatal overdoses... (pause) Cannabis smoking damages the lungs.
BELVILLE: I'll concede there's not a fatal overdose for nicotine, certainly it's the major contributor to, you know, lung cancer.
KLEIMAN: Yes, and it looks like cannabis does not cause lung cancer, but it does cause other kinds of lung damage. It's very implausible... it's very implausible that nobody ever died of an accident that happened because he was stoned.
When we put up the numbers of deaths from tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis, we usually are counting the health-related deaths. Like cirrhosis of the liver from alcoholism or lung cancer from smoking. We'll include the fatal alcohol overdoses, too. But if you'd like us to start including the accidents and murders that are alcohol related, we can start doing that. To be fair, we'll include all the pot smokers who only smoked pot and died in accidents and all the pot smokers that murdered someone.
Now this man's company is going to charge the taxpayers of Washington State $300 per hour to shape the marijuana business.