Panel Paper: Contrasting Initiatives to Legalize Marijuana for Non-Medical Use

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 10:05 AM
Preston (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jonathan Caulkins, Carnegie Mellon University

The pros and cons of drug legalization have been debated for decades.  Until recently that debate has been largely academic; political prospects for passage seemed dim.  However, California came close to legalizing production and distribution for non-medical use in 2010.  Its “Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 (better known as “Proposition 19”) 19 won 46.5% of the vote, with another 6% of voters reporting in exit polls that they favor legalizing marijuana generally, but nevertheless voted against that particular Proposition.

Much of the debate has imagined that legalization is an up or down, binary choice, but comparing the seventeen marijuana legalization initiatives and bills that are being discussed in US states in 2012 reveals striking differences on many dimensions that have important consequences for price, availability, use, and health outcomes.

This paper compares and contrasts these proposals, with each other, with past proposals that made it onto ballots, and with “model” approaches that have been described in the academic literature.  A fundamental conclusion is that the differences are considerable, challenging the idea that it is even sensible to speak in terms of marijuana legalization having this or that outcome; the results of legalization may depend dramatically on which version passes.  A second conclusion is that spill-overs will be considerable; any one state legalizing could depress prices throughout the U.S.  The analysis identifies key “design choices” that will affect outcomes, and from those choices a typology that can help clarify public debate about legalization proposals.