There have been a lot of media reports in the past few days talking about the new RAND study that shows how California legalization will result in as much as an 80% decrease in marijuana prices and doubling of marijuana use.
Except, of course, that the RAND report doesn’t really say that at all.
Altered State? Assessing How Marijuana Legalization in California Could Influence Marijuana Consumption and Public Budgets. By: Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Robert J. MacCoun, Peter H. Reuter
It’s a 55 page report with lots of interesting stuff in it, but when it comes to an actual projection of change in marijuana use with legalization, they have absolutely no idea.
Here’s what they’re pretty sure they know:
Consumption will increase, but it is unclear how much because we know neither the shape of the demand curve nor the level of tax evasion (which reduces revenues and the prices that consumers face).
So much for the doom reports about the entire state being stoned all the time.
However, that doesn’t make a very interesting report, so Rand decided to make up some shit.
Thus, in the absence of marijuana-specific information, we multiply our participation elasticity of –0.3 by 1.75 to proxy the total elasticity. After accounting for possible income effects, we settle on a baseline total price elasticity of –0.54.
Add to this even more uncertainty…
Once again, readers should not interpret our use of these two particular demand curves, the 25-percent evasion rate, or the $50-per-ounce excise tax as signaling what we think the most likely scenario will be. The purpose of Figure 4.2 is only to demonstrate how much additional uncertainty there is about revenue and consumption estimates, above and beyond that already illustrated in Figure 4.1, when one recognizes that none of the other model parameters is known with certainty.
So, where do media get the notion that the RAND study says that marijuana use will double?
A central question about legalization is whether it will make marijuana consumption go up a little or a lot. The central point of Chapter Four is that it is hard to answer that question because there is great uncertainty about how much consumption will increase. However, it is also hard to answer that question because different people have different thresholds for distinguishing between “a little” and “a lot.”
For the sake of exposition, we will consider a doubling in consumption as a bright line for defining whether consumption changes are small or large.
Yep. They just made up that figure for the purpose of argument.
Now, they probably should have stopped there, but no, they decided to apply these completely imaginary numbers to real world situations and estimate, for example, how many more people would need treatment for marijuana if legalized (based, of course, on nothing).
At points, this discussion gets completely surreal. Let’s take a look at the discussion on drugged driving. It starts out fine…
While driving under the influence of marijuana or any other intoxicating substance can be risky, a question remains about whether marijuana use impairs individuals sufficiently to cause crashes and fatalities. While there is significant experimental literature suggesting a diminished effect on response rates and performance under very strictly controlled conditions, evidence from epidemiological studies has been less conclusive (Ramaekers et al., 2004; Blows et al., 2005).
OK, that’s good. According to actual facts and studies, there’s no real significant causal evidence between pot smoking and car crashes. And, as we know from above, there’s no real evidence to show a significant increase in pot use with legalization, let alone stoned driving.
So?… (Check out the gymnastics in this next bit.)
However, a simple calculation suggests that, if someone believes that marijuana is causally responsible for many crashes that involve marijuana using drivers, legalization’s effect on crashes could be a first-order concern for them. […]
There is no empirical evidence concerning an elasticity of fatal accident rates with respect to marijuana price, prevalence, or quantity consumed, and, as we have underscored repeatedly, there is enormous uncertainty concerning how legalization might affect those outcomes.
However, 50- or 100-percent increases in use cannot be ruled out; nor can the possibility that marijuana-involved traffic crashes would increase proportionally with use. So it would be hard to dismiss out of hand worries that marijuana legalization could increase traffic fatalities by at least 60 per year…
If someone actually said the above to me in person, I would accuse them of being high and having one of those weird free association monologues. How does an academic actually find the guts to say something that absurd? It’s embarrassing.
What if I were to say: “We have no evidence to show that stepping on a crack in the sidewalk will break your mother’s back or how often people step on a crack, yet if someone believes crack-stepping leads to back-breaking, then it would be hard to dismiss out of hand the concern that an increase in sidewalks could increase the number of disabled matrons by at least 60 per year.” People would think I was crazy.
Again, remember that RAND at least tells the truth in the report about not knowing anything. Which is good. But given how the press loves fresh meat, it appears that they then had to go ahead and give projections that they knew were pulled out of their asses, and that they probably knew would be misused in the press.
RAND tries to pretend that it’s a nonpartisan and unbiased research center, but as long as it employs people like Rosalie Pacula, who has acted time and again like the RAND Drug Policy Research Center is her own personal tool for opposing legalization, it is an organization with absolutely no credibility.
She couldn’t even resist putting in her own personal opinions in the AP story about the RAND study.
Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, who co-directs the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, acknowledged that as a California voter, she was uncomfortable with “the lack of specificity” in both the ballot measure and the bill that would have put pot in the same regulatory category as alcohol.
“Neither was sufficient for us to get an idea of what the effect of this was, and as a voter that was disturbing to me,” she said.
At least the other authors of the study, while often legitimately criticized for being afraid to give proper consideration to prohibition alternatives, have the integrity to act like researchers. Pacula is a serious blight on the organization.