MARIJUANA LEGALISATION’S UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
Next November, Californians will ballot on allowing people 21 years and older to possess, cultivate and transport cannabis for personal use, as well as enable its commercial production and sale. Professor Keith Humphreys of Stanford University School of Medicine's psychiatry and behavioural sciences departments, discusses the potential consequences.
He recently returned to Stanford after a one-year stint in the White House as a senior adviser on national drug control policy – and was a key speaker at the UK/European Symposium on Addictive Disorders in London last May.
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You can also read excerpts below.
Q: There are estimates that, with legalisation, marijuana use could rise 50-100 percent%. Are those projections reasonable?
Humphreys: We know very well from other commodities that if you make something illegal, the price of it goes up. And when you make it legal, it becomes much cheaper. So the findings are credible. Why they’re scary is that big drops in price tend to affect mainly people with less disposable income… teenagers, the unemployed, other people who have just a small amount of extra money. This will drop marijuana to something they could easily afford to do on a daily basis.
It is not just legalising consumption; it is legalising production. That means you're going to have an industry, like the tobacco industry, that will have lobbyists and marketers and lots of money. In fact, I wonder if tobacco companies might go into this business. They are well-positioned. They have the outlets and the pricing power. It will become a mass-produced, very cheap product.
Q: But the proposition also allows people to grow their own marijuana…
Humphreys: For the vast majority of people, if there's a refined product in a nice package down at the store that costs 1/10th as much, and you don't have to water or worry about sunlight, then they will buy it.
Q: What about the argument that taxing marijuana will provide much-needed revenue?
Humphreys: We should be legalising child pornography and human trafficking? There's lots of awful things that raise money, and that doesn't make them right. The second point is that taxes never recoup the harm from substances. If you look at all estimates of alcohol and tobacco taxation, it never even touched a fifth of the amount of health damage. So you get a little money in the short term, but in the long term, someone's got to pay for car accidents and kids flunking out of school and things like that.
Q: What about the notion that by legalising it you take it out of clandestine operations?
Humphreys: You will probably get rid of some gun violence, for example. But look at the example of a tobacco company. You could have substantially more death. There's lots of ways to do violence in this world. You can weaken government regulations in a way that results in thousands of people dying.
In terms of its medical use, I have compassion for patients; I was a hospice worker for many years. But I don't feel that's the typical person getting medical marijuana. A paper in the Harm Reduction Journal that profiled about 4,000 such people said the prototypical patient was a 30-year-old male who had been smoking pot for about 15 years and wasn't seriously ill – that group is riding on our compassion for the people who have Aids, MS or cancer.
To me, it's a pretty big jump to go from saying that this plant has some medical value, to saying that its consumption — and also its production and advertising — should be legalised.