There’s going to be some uncertainty

To the opponents of legalization that want us to prove exactly how many people will use which drugs with legalization, and to the concern trolls that suggest that we’d do better if we addressed a laundry list of specific questions, the answer is “forget it.”

If there’s anything the recent RAND report demonstrates, it’s that there’s a whole lot of uncertainty that comes with legalization. In part due to the interminable length of time that this drug war has been foisted upon us, and in part due to the ubiquitous global reach of the American drug war machine, we don’t have a modern day legalization analogue available that doesn’t suffer from the potential criticism of being insufficiently similar to our situation.

But unlike what the intellectually dishonest Rosalie Liccardo Pacula (co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center) would have you believe, neither a lack of certainty nor a lack of specificity are things to fear.

We will enter into legalization and we will learn from it. We’ll tinker and adjust. If suddenly there’s an increase in stoned driving crashes (and there won’t be), we’ll address that specifically. If there’s an overwhelming increase in pot use by 12-year-olds (and there won’t be), we’ll address that specifically. We’ll be able to operate surgically, because we’ll no longer be pulverizing the patient from operating by sledgehammer.

Despite the uncertainty, there’s a lot we do know. We live in a post-Reefer Madness world, and the same lies that once hoodwinked the people are getting harder to push. We’re not going into legalization blind. We know that our journey is relatively safe; we just don’t know exactly where it’s going.

And Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Robert J. MacCoun, Peter H. Reuter and all the other academics who note the lack of certainty in their calculations, should be absolutely (in private, of course, not betraying their personal biases) dancing with joy at the notion of legalized pot in California. Here, at last — a large human laboratory to truly test how a modern legalized cannabis system can work. And the provisions to let different localities try different options? Bonus! I am thinking that this is more incredible INPUT than even Johnny 5 could handle.

Oh, sure, California’s not perfect; what we learn there may not apply exactly to North Dakota. And results will still be a bit watered down and muddied by the steady rain of federal urinations and defecations. But there will be knowledge! And a little less uncertainty.

But isn’t first moving into this uncertainty scary?

It might be if the current system were nirvana. If our drug policy was all butterflies and daffodils, instead of death, destruction, incarceration, racism, and corruption, then sure — why would we want to try a different approach whose results were partially unknown?

But it’s clear to all who care to look, and who are not blinded by the golden shower of drug war cash, that we are in a world of hurt. We don’t need to tinker with prohibition. We need to burn it and then take the ashes and spread them to the far corners of the universe.

California is a first crack in the fecal façade of prohibition. The drug warriors are desperately trying to plug that crack to avoid even a glimpse of a different approach.

Well, guess what. They’ve had decades of their failed projectile diarrhea, upon which they pathetically dab drops of perfume in an effort to prove that their shit don’t stink.

After all those years, they’ve got nothing. No evidence of a workable system. And not a leg to stand on when opposing a radically safe alternative to prohibition like regulated legalization.

Their time is finally coming to an end. We need to hasten it and reduce the damage as much as we can by speaking out and bringing the truth to the people, and letting them know that yes, there will be some uncertainties in the journey, but that the alternative — keeping things as they are now — is an unspeakably hideous path.

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27 Responses to There’s going to be some uncertainty

  1. Nick says:

    I sense anger Pete.
    Very nice post.

  2. TrebleBass says:

    As much as i am for complete legalization, there are some in betweens that could be tried. For example, we could let people grow 25 sq ft of cannabis, and possess up to three ounces, and allow them to sell it as long as they don’t advertise it or put a sign in front of their house that says “i grow and sell weed”, and allow consumption only in private. I’m not for this, just to be clear, but this is an alternative.

  3. TrebleBass says:

    Although, now that i think of it, that is one of the possibilities that counties could try.

  4. Paul says:

    The California initiative is actually a pretty modest step toward full legalization. Ideally, it would be regulated and sold just like cigarettes and alcohol. Both of those models are not perfect, and they become downright weird in some states, but there is no serious black market for these things anymore, besides a little tax evasion smuggling.

    Unfortunately, I think we are going to lose in CA this November. Not by a huge margin, but a loss nonetheless. We should start looking forward to other initiatives for the ballot in CA and in other states. Sooner or later, we’ll hit the jackpot.

  5. Ken says:

    Excellent, I was just thinking the other day that when (I don’t think “if”) the marijuana legalization passes in California, it will be an interesting laboratory. And when the sky doesn’t fall and hell doesn’t open up and swallow the state whole we can view the results and move forward in other states.

    My only worry is the feds. If legalization happens in CA, then how strongly will the DEA act?

  6. Paul says:

    If we do win in CA, I personally hope the DEA goes totally apeshit and begins mass raids in San Francisco. That ought to get people there to rethink their love affair with D.C.. Maybe the resentment and anger the DEA would create in Obama’s base will finally get him to keep his promises and call off the dogs for good.

  7. auggie says:

    The bill in cali will fail, not because people don’t want to free the weed, but because so many people there are tied to the black market and know they will lose their income. It’s the whole tourist trade export argument throwing a wrench in this. The second state to pass legalization will be the true test.

  8. Sam Whiskey says:

    Ivory tower academic theoreticians are irrelevant.

  9. nt109 says:

    But what would the bureaucrats do if they weren’t funneling billions of taxpayer dollars going after the devil weed? God forbid that people actually be able to make decisions for themselves and decide their own true destiny. I won’t be a slave that’s for sure. Let me know when these jerks actually want to give us true freedom ……………………..

  10. Rev. Run says:

    Sometimes I think Pete is slightly too friendly to the “progressive worldview” and gives short-shrift to libertarian and even “right-ish” arguments for decriminalization or legalization.

    Not this time.

    Pete hit it right on the head.

    NO ONE can predict the future with 100% accuracy. Just as we can’t predict the number of days it will rain next month, nor can we predict the price of Apple, Inc.’s stock at this time next year, we simply cannot predict exactly what legalization will look like.

    So, instead, we need to rely on common-sense principles that emphasize robustness and resilience. Start small, e.g., with cannabis, the least harmful plant in the pharmacopoeia. Let different localities remain free to experiment and adjust. Emphasize information-sharing, a focus on municipal best practices, and a personal ethic of moderation and individual responsibility.

    Freedom isn’t simple. 100% security isn’t a guarantee in this world or any other. Human beings make mistakes. The law cannot save us from ourselves.

    Intelligence, clear-eyed appraisal of the facts, trial-and-error, and willingness to stick to the principles of personal freedom and limited government can help us overcome this disastrous drug policy.

    Thanks for posting this, Pete.

  11. In Denmark we have a great psychiatrist called Henrik Rindom. He runs a treatment facility, but he’s in favor of legalizing marijuana. He once got one of those questions in a TV interview going a bit like “what if legalization goes totally haywire”. His reply:

    “Well, if it doesn’t work we can always hand back the market to the gangs.”

    I thought it was both hilarious and true.

  12. claygooding says:

    Part of any propaganda campaign is to cause the targeted subjects confusion and doubt. The government and the industrial coalitions against marijuana have all the resources necessary for think tanks,media support and hire for pay scientists/researchers at their fingertips with a small army of zealots willing to spread their misinformation and bullshit,and all we have is the truth.
    The anti-marijuana coalition would like to convince us that the effort is a waste of time and hope by doing so,the people supporting legalization will give up because they feel the vote will fail.
    Their biggest problem with this issue is that they have no physical evidence of harm or danger to society by marijuana legalization.,only “could possibly cause” and “has possible links with” for their arguments.
    We have history and ongoing practical evidence of the harms prohibition has evoked in our country and people see it every day.

  13. Paul says:


    I liked that a lot. I’ll have to remember that quip for a tough argument some time.

  14. Rev. Run says:


    That’s a great quote. Now what would he have said if someone asked him what’s the difference between having a regulated market in cannabis and a regulated market in all other currently illegal drugs?

  15. @Rev Run: good question. I’ll have to ask him when I run into him 🙂 I would suspect he wouldn’t be as forthcoming – and certainly not in public.

    But it’s a discussion we’ve had here on Pete’s couch before. Lots of otherwise smart people just can’t really, truly bring themselves to support legalizing all drugs in some way or another. Too much nasty lingo going around, lacking first hand knowledge of other drugs, etc.

  16. Madd Havik says:

    Great writeup. But wait, are you telling meee…. JOHNNY 5 is ALIVE!?!?!

    Sorry couldnt resist, lol.

  17. “Fecal facade” and “projectile diarrhea” and “golden shower”? Too funny! You write this in the bathroom?

    • Pete says:

      I’ve always been uncomfortably grossed out by discussions of bodily excretory functions, so I find them to be the strongest possible insults. Besides, once I started with it, I figured I should keep up the theme for continuity of rant…

  18. it has been legal to grow your own and smoke it in your own home in alaska since the 70’s.

    sounds like the “laboratory” has already been established and nothing bad happened.

    here we are several decades later “wondering” about it? jesus!

  19. Maria says:

    The ability for states, counties and municipalities to do what they need to do is how alcohol is currently handled. In my county, you can not buy a bottle of wine on Sunday for dinner. It’s annoying but it shows that each place has it’s own way of regulating access, distribution and production. There is an overall baseline of regulation that repeats across all (drinking age) but each place can essentially tweak a lot for themselves. Same goes with a lot of products and behavior.

    Even tight regulation is legalized regulation compared to prohibition.

    As soon as someone starts telling me that legalized regulation might cause more damage compared to prohibition, i can’t help but ask, more damage compared to what exactly? And the good thing (sadly, a good thing only in this context) is that with this question, one can then point to so many terrible things happening because of prohibition.

    But then again, I can’t help but get super depressed after reading this:

  20. Maria says:

    Sorry not drinking age I meant purchase age. I think some states allow for consumption in private settings for under 21.

  21. Chris says:

    Nice post Pete.

  22. Ned says:

    While the phrase “look like” is general, it is entirely possible to decide what legalization would look like, from a regulatory point of view. Actually if it is going to work, that’s essential. The fact is that alcohol regulation is far from perfect, but it works to the point where no one is talking about re-prohibiting it.

    I spent the past 30 years in the cannabis trade in CA. I could draw up a regulatory framework that I guarantee wouid be 95+% functional if not a 100% right from the start.It would take about 3 years to fully completed out but it could be easily done.

    One thing I like to say to opponents of legalization is that, if prohibition worked, alcohol would still be illegal, nonexistent, and a distant memory. And because you believe it works, just when is the target date for the successful eradication of cannabis. You know, the date when it can be declared that it no longer exists.
    They hate that.

  23. TrebleBass says:

    The thing about the RAND study is that they are obviously more inclined to suggest voting no on the initiative than yes. The summary of the study is this: “We have no idea what will happen, but it might be pretty bad; vote no”. It would have been equally speculative to say “We have no idea what will happen, but it might be pretty good; vote yes”. And even then, the only possible ‘bad thing’ is that consumption would increase, and that might even turn out to be a good thing if it decreases use of alcohol or prescription drugs. Plus, these people talk about all sorts of possible variables, and they make it sound like they consider everything in the world, but notice that there is no mention of possible differences in crime. How many murders are related to marijuana prohibition? Do they have any estimates on how race relations could improve, or on how respect for police and the rule of law would improve? When they talk about money from tourism, in a 58 page report, they invest one paragraph to saying something like: “we didn’t really look much into this, but revenues could be about as large as from taxes on marijuana itself”, and that’s with an estimate of 10% increase in tourism! (I think tourism could increase much more than ten percent). Yes, there are a lot of uncertainties, but a lot of those are good. Why didn’t they emphasize that?

  24. Maybe the CIA should’ve thought about this before they let crack flow like the Ganges River in Black communities – have we all forgotten about Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance?

  25. kaptinemo says:

    No, Vincent, some of us haven’t…nor have we forgotten the two rounds to his head he supposedly fired himself, either. ‘Double-tapping’ is standard procedure for ‘making sure’ of someone in the ‘cleaning’ business. And he’s not the only casualty.

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