Review – Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, part 1

“Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark A.R. Kleiman

This is part one of my review. I hope to address some additional specific areas in future posts.

First of all, let me start by saying that this is probably the best writing about marijuana legalization that has ever been done, that wasn't written by an outright legalization advocate.

This may be a surprise to regular readers of Drug WarRant, who know that I often take (even vehement) exception to many positions held by the so-called “academics” of U.S. drug policy writing.

But it really is good, for the most part. It's garnered some rave reviews, including this one from Philip Smith at

In a world where the official state position is Reefer Madness, a book like this is a breath of fresh air, in that it really does take a look at the facts of the subject in a balanced way. Even in little ways, that's refreshing. In a section about the uncertainties of the respiratory effects of marijuana smoke, for example, the authors take the time to remind the reader that smoking isn't the only delivery method. Can you imagine that even being mentioned by Drug Czar Kerlikowske?

The incredible strength of balance is also ultimately its weakness, in a way–particularly when it comes to analysis. Balanced is generally good, but trying to present balanced arguments about the relative positions regarding whether the earth is flat or round would be completely absurd in today's world. And to those of us fully informed about marijuana prohibition and its effects, some “balanced” arguments about legalization can seem just as awkward.

But first, let's take a look at some more good stuff. Check out this passage from Chapter 8 of the book:

Why even consider legalizing a substance whose use creates harm?

The liberty to make our own decisions about our own lives–including decisions that seem unwise to other people–is valuable, and allows us to learn from our own mistakes and those of others. Intoxicating drugs are hardly the only potentially dangerous consumer items of recreational activities. People get killed and crippled climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes, sailing, scuba diving, playing football, and riding motorcycles. Marijuana use may well be less risky than any of those other forms of recreation, yet a proposal to ban any of them would generate outrage.

It isn't obvious that the majority of the users who do not, and would not, abuse the drug deserve to be inconvenienced–to say the least–to protect against the consequences of less responsible users.

Moreover, drug laws create risks and harms of their own–most of all, the harms associated with illicit markets.

Wow. That's some good stuff.

Be honest, now. How many of you regular readers expected such a passage to be in this book?

There's lots in the book like this, and tons of good, clear information. The section of marijuana and driving, for example, would be despised by the Drug Czar. There's even some enjoyable reading in the non-medical uses of marijuana, dealing with creativity and… the (gasp!) valuable pleasures of using it.

On the other hand, you can start to tell the influence of different members of the authorial team as you start delving further. In contrast to the clear statement of liberty above, just a little further in chapter 8, there is an excruciatingly long and torturous dance around John Stuart Mills' “Harm Principle,” that desperately argues for paternalism in drug policy for such bizarre purposes as addressing the “fashion” of drug taking. It seems clear that those two passages were written by different authors.

[Update: I was wrong. Mark Kleiman says: “But, as it happens, both of the passages in question originated on my keyboard.”]

There are also a few strange things in this book. For example, in the section entitled “Does Marijuana cause cancer?,” the authors note that there is nowhere near the level of proof needed to determine that marijuana causes cancer (I know… a strange way of wording it). And several studies are specifically mentioned–some that seem to disprove any cancer connection along with a couple that showed small risk–with the indication that “published research shows mixed results.” Yet, the major 2006 study by Donald Tashkin of UCLA, funded by NIDA, that conclusively determined that marijuana does not cause lung cancer, is oddly not mentioned.

There are also some passages that are really just plain bad. This one, at the conclusion of Chapter 11, for example:

In the end, all this fancy benefit-cost analysis boils down to a rather simple proposition […] If you think marijuana intoxication is, on average, a good thing–counting both the happy controlled users and the unhappy dependent users–then a benefit-cost analysis done in a way that reflects your values will probably conclude that legalization improves social welfare. If you think marijuana intoxication is, on average, a bad thing, then an analysis that reflects your values will probably conclude that legalization harms social welfare–because the dominant outcome of legalization will be more marijuana use.

That's outrageous, and, quite frankly, offensive. This is what passes for academic writing? The passage completely ignores the huge portion of the debate represented by folks like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition–people who do not take a viewpoint regarding the value of marijuana “intoxication,” but rather do an actual cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the real problems presented by the war on marijuana users. People who care about the outcomes of 800,000 arrestees (and what that means to their jobs, their education, their families, their income), even if they don't do marijuana themselves. People who want to at least reduce the black market in drugs. People who care more about liberty than paternalism and don't think it's right for government to harm someone who is doing no harm in a misguided attempt to prevent someone else from voluntarily harming themselves. It's a stupid effort that seems to try to turn the entire debate into one pitting marijuana enthusiasts against marijuana foes as opposed to actually talking about policy.

This particular mess appears clearly to be the work of Jon Caulkins, who writes (in the section where each author gives his own views): “If you like marijuana intoxication, you should like marijuana legalization; if you don't, you shouldn't.” A rather heavy paternalist, he also says that “the majority who would use responsibly ought to be willing to give up their fun to protect the minority who would not.” Nowhere, however, does he prove that criminalization has done anything of the kind.

These lapses take away from the overall good work done in the book, by having the authors' personal biases govern the analyses, instead of having the facts inform them.

More to come in a future post…

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24 Responses to Review – Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, part 1

  1. “If you like marijuana intoxication, you should like marijuana legalization; if you don’t, you shouldn’t.”

    Huh, so if I don’t enjoy sex with others of the same gender, I guess I shouldn’t support gay rights? And since I don’t personally enjoy practicing religion, I shouldn’t mind if the government prevents others from doing so?

    A true stalwart of liberty this one.

  2. strayan says:

    What ethical framework or philosophical principle justifies cannabis prohibition? Does the book cover that?

    Reducing law-making to the outcome of a cost/benefit analysis is crazy.

  3. Byddaf yn egluro: says:

    Meet Ian Driver, the most forward-thinking of the candidates for the Kent (UK) Police Commissionership. He explains how Kent will benefit from local police de-emphasising victimless “crime”.

  4. Hello Drugwarrant,
    I just stumbled across this and, Do people really think in this day and age that a person should have their life ruined simply for possessing and using marijuana? 70% of Americans don’t think so.
    An End to Marijuana Prohibition
    The Drive To Legalize Picks Up
    By Ethan Nadelmann. National Review, July 12, 2004. Pp. 28-30.
    NEVER before have so many Americans supported decriminalizing and even legalizing marijuana. Seventy-two percent say that for simple marijuana possession, people should not be incarcerated but fined: the generally accepted definition of “decriminalization.” Even more Americans support making marijuana legal for medical purposes. Support for broader legalization ranges between 25 and 42 percent, depending on how one asks the question. Two of every five Americans-according to a 2003 Zogby poll-say “the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and only make it illegal for children.”

    Close to 100 million Americans-including more than half of those between the ages of 18 and 50-have tried marijuana at least once. Military and police recruiters often have no choice but to ignore past marijuana use by job seekers. The public apparently feels the same way about presidential and other political candidates. Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and John Kerry all say they smoked pot in days past. So did Bill Clinton, with his notorious caveat. George W. Bush won’t deny he did. And ever more political, business, religious, intellectual, and other leaders plead guilty as well.
    The debate over ending marijuana prohibition simmers just below the surface of mainstream politics, crossing ideological and partisan boundaries. Marijuana is no longer the symbol of Sixties rebellion and Seventies permissiveness, and it’s not just liberals and libertarians who say it should be legal, as William F. Buckley Jr. has demonstrated better than anyone. As director of the country’s leading drug-policy-reform organization, I’ve had countless conversations with police and prosecutors, judges and politicians, and hundreds of others who quietly agree that the criminalization of marijuana is costly, foolish, and destructive. What’s most needed now is principled conservative leadership. Buckley has led the way, and New Mexico’s former governor, Gary Johnson, spoke out courageously while in office. How about others?


    Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace.
    Police make about 700,000 arrests per year for marijuana offenses. That’s almost the same number as are arrested each year for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, and all other illicit drugs combined. Roughly 600,000, or 87 percent, of marijuana arrests are for nothing more than possession of small amounts. Millions of Americans have never been arrested or convicted of any criminal offense except this. Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 billion in direct costs alone.

    Punishments range widely across the country, from modest fines to a few days in jail to many years in prison. Prosecutors often contend that no one goes to prison for simple possession-but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on probation and parole are locked up each year because their urine tested positive for marijuana or because they were picked up in possession of a joint. Alabama currently locks up people convicted three times of marijuana possession for 15 years to life. There are probably-no firm estimates exist-100,000 Americans behind bars tonight for one marijuana offense or another. And even for those who don’t lose their freedom, simply being arrested can be traumatic and costly. A parent’s marijuana use can be the basis for taking away her children and putting them in foster care.

    Foreign-born residents of the U.S. can be deported for a marijuana offense no matter how long they have lived in this country, no matter if their children are U.S. citizens, and no matter how long they have been legally employed. More than half the states revoke or suspend driver’s licenses of people arrested for marijuana possession even though they were not driving at the time of arrest. The federal Higher Education Act prohibits student loans to young people convicted of any drug offense; all other criminal offenders remain eligible.

    This is clearly an overreaction on the part of government. No drug is perfectly safe, and every psychoactive drug can be used in ways that are problematic. The federal government has spent billions of dollars on advertisements and anti-drug programs that preach the dangers of marijuana-that it’s a gateway drug, and addictive in its own right, and dramatically more potent than it used to be, and responsible for all sorts of physical and social diseases as well as international terrorism. But the government has yet to repudiate
    Great Job!

  5. Francis says:

    If you like violence and repression, you should like marijuana prohibition; if you don’t, you shouldn’t.

  6. CJ says:


    GARY baby, booby, listen, wait no, ah im too upset… ok

    hey… heres my problem Gary Johnson is talking about marijuana. Gary Johnson is talking about pot he says drugs at other times however further investigation (on my behalf) as well as having seen him in several documentaries (Americas last great white hope) i know that Gary is, or atleast has only claimed to be talking about marjiuana when it comes to the drug war, however, he then mentions the billions wasted ok but that billions is apart of the entire drug war all drugs. Now id like to know if Gary J has at some point now said that his pot elitism is over and this is truly about the DRUG war not the POT issue or am I correct that he is talking exclusively about POT?

    Ron Paul was criticized by alot of people, both his support and not, at times anyhow, for the fact that he was very deliberate about ending the entire DRUG WAR – NOT just the pot war. When idiots like John Stewart began saying things like “yeah i think your great when you say legalize pot but when you say legalize heroin then i think you come off a little crazy” and Ron Paul defended himself – terrific – BUT you see in some of Ron Paul’s interviews he singled out pot but you could tell he was uncomfortable doing so and that it wasn’t his idea.

    Gary J i am registered as a libertarian but im voting for Ron Paul because i dont trust you – i dont trust you at all when you say that your gonna end the drug war I dont believe you, your gonna solve the already solved but waiting to be dealt with pot problem – the solution to this is the solution that need be applied to all drugs. So sorry Gary J, i wish your wife was named Mary and was running with you so you could be running with Mary J lol i know its stupid but im not into the pot elitist b.s around the internet. Sorry Gary and please man dont mess with peoples heads, dont be a selfish pot head man be a good dude and dont lie to people, when you do commericals booby dont say drug in place of pot just say pot. thanks. ok im better now

  7. kaptinemo says:

    Once again, as Heinlein observed, the Human race splits into Controllers and Free Thinkers. Controllers want everyone and everything controlled for a safer (for them) world…all with the best of intentions, of course.

    The latter group has no such illusions, knowing, in many cases from personal experience with the former group that the former group is, if anything, arrogant, ignorant, and dangerously certain of its’ own moral rectitude, refusing to acknowledge that it has ‘feet of clay’, too.

    The ones who wrote those paternalistic passages ought to consider why they did so. It might help them realize that they have sorted themselves according to that split. And have thus shown how far they’ve been infected by the arrogant conceit of the wannabe ‘Controllers’, perhaps without them even realizing that it happened.

    The past is always prologue. The problem is that this country doesn’t like to read History, it’s too busy making it. And thus it makes the same mistakes every other great nation has throughout time. The ‘Controllers’ refuse to see the damage they’ve done in the name of their ‘good intentions’ that paved the Road to Hell we’re presently on. And in their heat-induced delirium they want to drag us all into the oven that awaits at the end of that Road…for our own good, of course.

    • Windy says:

      “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial … the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.” — Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, 1928

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  9. Dante says:

    The only thing you need to know about the legalization of cannabis is that the people who have obtained obscene wealth, power and are unaccountable under the law will never, ever give that up so we can live in freedom. They will lie, cheat, steal, assault and even kill to keep their ill-gotten status even if it means destroying the very people that they claim they want to “save”.

    Who are these heinous people, you ask?

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  10. Matthew Meyer says:

    Pete, that is passing strange they don’t mention the Tashkin study.

    But I’d characterize it not as “conclusive” that there is no cannabis-cancer link, but as the best science we have to date. That certainly does not mean the question is settled and no more research should be done.

    • Pete says:

      I’ll accept that.

      I guess I find myself emphasizing the Tashkin study, because it was huge, and it was conclusive within itself (ie, a clear and unambiguous result). I’m so tired of government apologists comparing it to the pathetically limited New Zealand study as if they were somehow equivalent studies that came up with different results.

      • claygooding says:

        Tashkin’s was the largest and longest duration study of marijuana and lung function,,not mentioned are the 4 or 5 statistical reviews that suggest that marijuana users have as much as 60% less chance of contracting cancers in the first place…

        Pharmaceutical companies do not have any cancer blocking medicines or even cures,,only treatments,,at appx $40,000 a pop,,and I wonder if a pharmaceutical company would even consider selling a medicine that reduces that money flow.

      • kaptinemo says:

        But that’s the point. The public doesn’t know about these studies (which they paid for with tax dollars), and given the ‘ends justify means’ mentality of the prohibs, the prohibs believe they have license to lie to that public.

        How many times have the prohibs brought up Zhang’s (discredited) study, the one about how cannabis might, maybe, could, ought, etc. cause neck cancers? The study Tashkin was on, and that he wasn’t happy with the results, so he did his own? They do it all the time, because they know the public is statistically ‘naive’ when it comes to this sort of thing, and so they know they can pull the wool over most people’s eyes.

        Lies of omission are still lies in the face of fact. And if anything, prohibs are unmatched mendicants…

        • B. Snow says:

          I can distinctly recall Barry McCaffrey – shortly after that study/news came to light – not mentioning “lung cancer” and instead adding in “throat, neck, and larynx cancer” He adores power of three to emphasize a point…

          I’m not 100% on the “larynx” bit, I believe it varied in different interviews/debates w/ him – swapping that part of his standard argument/speech with “throat, neck, and head cancers”.

          (And – how big a fraking reach is that?) Generic “head cancers”… Really?

          Back to the article: “the majority who would use responsibly ought to be willing to give up their fun to protect the minority who would not.”
          Fuck this guy! I can’t wait for someone like this guy:

          “Jason David, father of a 5-year-old boy with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, wept as he recounted his son’s positive response to a glycerine-based tincture developed with DeAngelo’s help. The tincture uses a strain high in cannabidol, which is not psychoactive.

          “He’s down from 22 pills a day to four. When I look in his eyes and tell him, ‘Give me a kiss,’ he can now give me a kiss,” David said. “Please, Ms. Haag, have some compassion. Don’t let me lose my son.”

          From “Oakland protests U.S. attorney’s crackdown on large medical marijuana dispensary” – By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times – July 13, 2012


          Someone like this guys is gonna lose their kid to seizures or something & take the “war” back to the people they blame for the death. Somebody is gonna “cowboy the fuck up” and “ride on their ass(es)”
          (IF/OR when it happens) I’m really hoping they get it all on film = So I can get my popcorn & soda ready, so I can embrace & behold the beautiful horror of karma being delivered harshly… over and over.

          (Damn, re-reading it that sounds bad = oh well!)

          YES – I did in fact, ‘wake up on the wrong side of the bed’.
          NO, my Wheaties contained no urine…
          You’d think they did, but as it turns out they didn’t!
          I thought the same thing and double checked, they we’re “clean”.

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  14. Esoteric Knowledge says:

    “If you like marijuana intoxication, you should like marijuana legalization; if you don’t, you shouldn’t.”

    I have to take issue with this idea as well. I think it’s pretty easy to judge right and wrong separated from personal wants.

    A group of people are controlling the population to such an extreme level, that they have declared plants “illegal” for human interaction. They claim to control reality and life itself, and deny people the full experience of earth and reality. This is madness.


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