Monday’s Mtg: What If We Legalized Marijuana?

For our last meeting at the El Cajon Blvd Coco’s, I thought we would cover a topic that has been in the news a lot this last election cycle: Marijuana legalization.  As you probably know, Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana possession via initiative last November.   Is this the beginning of legal pot?  Well, both federal law and international treaties we are a party to prohibit marijuana’s legalization.  Moreover, the Obama Administration has been pretty aggressive in cracking down on medical marijuana.  However, public support for legalization is now approaching 50%, and there is some momentum to reexamine the need to keep marijuana a part of the 30 year-old War on Drugs.

We certainly can debate the merits of legalization.  However, we did that on last April, and the arguments are pretty well-known.  My idea on this one is for us to discuss what might actually happen if we legalized pot.  Were pot treated like alcohol – or even more liberally  what might develop in terms of:

  • Pot’s increased use and the consequences to society;
  • How a legal industry would develop and be regulated and taxed;
  • The impact on law enforcement and incarceration rates;
  • U.S. foreign policy impacts, especially with Mexico and treaty-wise.

I’ll open on Monday by (1) explaining what CO and WA legalized, and then I’ll briefly (2) list the major concerns about what would happen if the drug were to be legalized nationwide.  FYI, I still do not favor legalization, but I’m close to reversing this position.


  1. What did CO and WA legalize and what remains illegal?  How are they preparing for it?
  2. Will the Obama Administration  allow these and/or other state experiments in legalization to go forward?  Will Congress and/or the courts?  What conditions might they impose on states?
  3. What impacts (good and bad) would legalization have on society, per the above bullet points?
  4. If legalization is not the answer, or if it is blocked, what else could be done to rationalize drug laws and policies?


I’m sending an email to various local political groups that might be interested in this topic, so maybe we’ll get some new blood.  Tell a friend!


9 responses

  1. I am not in San Diego, but hope it is all right for me to comment anyway. In projecting the impact of legalized marijuana, we do not need to speculate idly as we have two legal drugs: alcohol and tobacco. We have been culturally trained not to think of them as drugs, but they are. We should expect a marijuana industry in the U.S. to bear similarities to these industries. How one feels about legalization should therefore turn on whether one believes these industries costs (e.g., 500,000 deaths per year) and benefits (e.g., legal jobs) represent a good trade-off.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Humphreys. Dr. Humphreys is an academic criminal justice expert and a contributor to one of my favorite websites, the reality based community, at (Hey, I once took a class from Kleiman at KSG.)

  2. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    Where does that figure come from? Is the implication that legalizing marijuana would cause 500,000 deaths a year? I find that hard to believe

    1. Keith Humphreys | Reply

      500,000 is the death rate from tobacco plus alcohol in the US. World wide it is 8 million per year (World Health Organization number). The implication is not that marijuana is the same, but that when an industry forms it will blend, advertise and promote a drug to maximize addiction because that creates the most profit. The free growing tobacco plant doesn’t kill people, but once a multi-national industry with scientists and marketers and lobbyists and celebrities for hire gets behind it, it becomes far more deadly than anyone would have imagined. One can’t judge what a legal industry will do based on the benigness of a plant — because as I said, how many people die of tobacco growing in the wild?

      1. Is there any way under U.S. law to limit a legitimate industry to small-scale production and its limited economies of scale? You imply not and I can’t think of a way, either. Could any such restrictions on a legal commodity’s manufacture and sale survive challenge? Hell, now that the antitrust standard is consumer harm, even that could not limit a Weed-Mart’s size and reach, I imagine.

        I will quote you at our little meeting tomorrow night, which, BTW, we’ve been doing for 8 years and usually attracts 10-15 people.

      2. Thanks for the kind words James G. Wish I could have been at your discussion group. The challenge as you know is one of political economy more than public policy. It should be possible to tightly regulate industries that sell drugs, but with our campaign finance system and tolerance of lobbying, it is very hard to.

  3. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    FYI, Bus Route 13 goes very near the new Coco’s

  4. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    I understand the point. However, it is possibie to regulate an industry–presumably advertising could be banned, as is tobacco advertising now. It could also be heavily taxed (although since one can grow marijuana in the backyard, enforcement might be problematical).
    How else it could be controlled, I can’t really imagine.

    It is a perennial argument–should one try to control people’s behavior for their own good? However, prohibition of alcohol didn’t work and I don’t think it’s working for marijuana either.

    I probably can’t be at the discussion.

    1. presumably advertising could be banned, as is tobacco advertising now

      With respect, it is not banned and cannot be. The Supreme Court has ruled that any legal business has a free speech right to advertise.

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