Unprecedented! (Updated)

So what do you get when you take some paternalistic self-appointed academic policy wonks who write a book with good facts and flawed analyses and get them together with the Los Angeles Times?

Sing along with me: Reefer Madness…. Reefer Madness…

As 3 states mull marijuana legalization, experts warn: 'Beware'

“Legalization is unprecedented – not even the Netherlands has done it – it is entirely possible it will happen this year,” said Jonathan Caulkins, co-author of “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

“The effects will be enormous,” said Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, during an event at the American Enterprise Institute. […]

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, said his advice to federal officials would be “to sit down with the governor of the state and say, 'Look, we can make your life completely miserable — and we will – unless you figure out a way to avoid the exports.”

I stand by my compliments for the good stuff they included in their book, but, my God, they're a bunch of whiny know-it-all chicken-little idiots without a clue when it comes down to actually doing something about a clearly failed and destructive policy. Their desire to be “fair minded” turns them into nothing more than prohibition enablers.

Update: Mason Tvert responds:

“It’s surprising and disappointing to hear academics make such bold claims without a shred of evidence to substantiate them,” Tvert said to The Huffington Post via e-mail. “It is especially disappointing since people truly respect RAND as a research organization. Unless they retract these assertions, you will undoubtedly see our opponents citing this fanciful and baseless speculation as ‘fact’ in the future. Fortunately, RAND has shown a willingness to retract marijuana-related research, as they did when law enforcement complained about their research showing that medical marijuana dispensaries did not lead to increases in crime.”

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32 Responses to Unprecedented! (Updated)

  1. primus says:

    When alcohol was re-legalized, people were well aware of problems from its use, they legalized despite its harms, because they correctly perceived the greater harms wrought by prohibition. They did not have all the answers, but as time passed, solutions were found to the very real problems caused by alcohol use (e.g. the breathalyzer). In other words, it is quite logical to legalize then seek solutions to any real problems that emerge. To oppose legalization because of potential problems that might (or might not) come about is silly and beneath them.

  2. “…but, my God, they’re a bunch of whiny know-it-all chicken-little idiots without a clue when it comes down to actually doing something about a clearly failed and destructive policy. Their desire to be “fair minded” turns them into nothing more than prohibition enablers.” LOVE IT!!

  3. Servetus says:

    Prophets of doom make big money and create big careers, but at some point doom needs to make its appearance, or the whole charade is compromised. That point came and went for prohibition in the 60s with the emergence of a new awareness of the frauds and crimes perpetrated by governments.

    Kleiman and Caulkins will end their days playing the same roles as clerics who favored reactivating the Spanish Inquisition 35-years after its official demise. Once the inquisitions ended, the world was a better place, which constituted a tremendous effect, but probably not the tremendous effect Caulkins alludes to when it comes to regulating weed.

    Like many who get into his line of work, Caulkins is apocalyptic. He doesn’t predict the end of the world on a specific date and time because he’s a bit more sophisticated than that, but it’s the same principle. Imagine if someone predicted a specific date and time when all things would be happy and rosy for everyone – no one would pay any attention. Tragedy on a cinematic scale gets noticed.

    Kleiman’s get-tough scheme involving federal agents threatening governors of states to round up their state’s marijuana production is clearly out of touch with reality.

    Even if it were possible, petty federal officials don’t approach governors and make threats. That’s a job for the president, and even the president wouldn’t speak that way to a governor. Kleiman’s suggestion may have revealed an authoritarian side to his personality, which would explain much.

  4. n.t. greene says:

    Unprecedented as in it has been legal before and woo was it out of control then.


  5. n.t. greene says:

    To continue the bit:

    Unprecedented as in we did it once with alcohol, but things were so much worse afterwards.


  6. Cannabis says:

    If you choose to read his biography, you will find that Jonathan Caulkins is a master at the government/academic revolving door.

  7. daksya says:

    Kleiman has specific ideas on what a legal cannabis regime should look like. His rhetoric here seems to display his fear that upon success of the initiative(s), those regimes would catch on elsewhere scuppering his aim to get enacted his personal vision of legalization.

  8. CJ says:

    wait a second – unprecedented? pete why dont people realize that there has been a world – a planet earth in existence long before theyre greatness was created? they should know better – to say that is just an all out lie. unprecedented?? did it not occur to them that all drugs have been legal, completely legal 100% for far, far far far far longer than they haven’t. That really pisses me off. Drugs – pot, heroin, etc have all been perfectly legal and accessible for over a thousand years – theyve been unavailable and prohibited for over a hundred. wtf? unprecedented?

    • Matthew Meyer says:

      CJ, has heroin really been accessible for a thousand years?

      Under colonial and capitalist expansion, plant drugs of longstanding use in traditional contexts have been subjected to isolation, refinement, and concentration, and their routes of administration have also had technological upgrades, as part of their commodification.

      We can’t assume that powder cocaine and heroin can be used as safely and as pro-socially as the simpler botanical extracts, which have been used for centuries or millennia.

      I certainly agree that it’s too often forgotten that drug prohibition in any modern form is only a century old. That forgetfulness might be a side-effect of the association of drug use and Original Sin.

  9. strayan says:

    “Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, said his advice to federal officials would be “to sit down with the governor of the state and say, ‘Look, we can make your life completely miserable — and we will – unless you figure out a way to avoid the exports.”

    Deary me, Kleiman’s had another lapse. This time he’s forgotten that cannabis is already being imported and exported on the black market.

    Early onset dementia?

    Kleiman, see a doctor.

    Not Sabet, you need to see a real one.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      It’s amazing that after 100 years of abject failure these people don’t even pause before launching into the tough guy chest beating.

      I saw a comment yesterday from a guy who claimed that his niece had an IQ of 79 as a result of her father (writer’s brother-in-law) smoking pot in the same room when the niece was an infant. There was no arguing with the guy either because he was one of those ‘can’t ask the people with direct experience because they’re addicts’ people. One of the more peculiar habits of the prohibitionists, stating that those on the inside can’t possibly know what’s going on. Never mind that their presentation of our reality bears no resemblance whatever to our world.

  10. Duncan20903 says:

    Still, it looks like the countries south of the border are done playing the game:
    Legal Marijuana Debated as Belize Joins Regional Push on Drugs

  11. Francis says:

    Humans had been cultivating and enjoying cannabis for thousands of year before it was ever criminalized. It is the prohibition of cannabis that was truly “unprecedented.” Thankfully, it is increasingly clear that this bizarre and destructive aberration will be — on the scale of human history — a short-lived one.

  12. kaptinemo says:


    I’ve been a gadfly of sorts at various ‘progressive’ Websites, reminding the various bloggers and readership of the Drugwar’s origins when the usual issue of why civil liberties are eroding comes up.

    Very, hell, vanishingly few of the bloggers and readers have the slightest idea of how the drug laws came to be, and how they’re used to deliberately disenfranchise minorities. I usually get maybe one or two responses, mainly what I suspect is sheepish silence on the part of those reading, as they know to admit I’m right is to threaten their own fragile world-views.

    How fragile? Today, I came across this.

    Early on you’ll read this:

    As for the soft on crime trope, it was a Republican strategy to entice northern white voters who were unnerved by the unrest among the you-know-who’s. It did succeed in making the Democrats eager to put even more people in jail than they already did, particularly as a result of their drug war, but that wasn’t saying much since they had already been quite eager to do it before. The whole thing was a political strategy to stoke racial animosity and fear. But hey, if Joe Klein doesn’t know that by now, he never will. (Emphasis mine – k.)

    Did you see that? How this particular Democrat is saying that the DrugWar is a sole Republican franchise? THEY DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO ADMIT JOINT PATERNITY FOR THIS MONSTER.

    I’ve long wondered at the psychological mechanism involved in why the Dem’s leadership never want to really debate the drug laws, and shy away from anyone who dares to bring the subject up. They really, truly cannot bring themselves to admit that they are partly responsible for the insanity. And now, with the above, it’s clear that the Dems have done a ‘Pontius Pilate’ and ‘washed their hands of us’…at a time when they desperately need every vote. Sick, sick people…

    • Pete says:

      Kaptin – I’m not sure how to read that… the wording is awkward, so the “their” could conceivably refer to either the Democrats or the Republicans.

      • darkcycle says:

        “..their” would refer to the last named party in the paragraph, wouldn’t it? I think he was laying it squarely at the feet of the Dems there…

      • kaptinemo says:

        Considering that the site the quote was gleaned from is a distinctly ‘partisan’ one on the ‘Democratic’ side of the Establishment Party spectrum, I can only assume the ‘their’ is the Republicans. But no matter. If this is truly how the mainstream Democrats actually think then it explains volumes as to why they act the way they do: they’ve been avoiding this issue like the plague for decades, and now, it’s that policy ‘Russian Roulette’ time I mentioned.

        In ancient Rome, in questions of paternity, if the putative father touched the infant, it was a sign of acceptance of responsibility.

        The Dems don’t want to touch this ‘baby’ because it’s a revolting monster…but it ‘takes two to tango’, and this monster had two parents…one of them ‘Blue’ in political coloration. And now it appears that they’re trying to deny their own progeny when it turned vicious. Typical ‘progressives’…

  13. “nothing more than prohibition enablers”

    Right on the money Pete.

  14. The problem with Kleiman et. al., is that they epitomize the technocratic mind. That THEY ultimately know better than everybody else and that THEIR solutions and policy prescriptions, AND ONLY THEIRS, are the only acceptable result. Everything else is a “danger” or “extreme”. Reading the LA Times article is really funny to me since I saw the non-Kleiman trio lecture on their book yesterday at the Rayburn Office Building and the one thing they stressed over and over, albeit in a room compromised of at least 25% drug policy reform activists, is that we just don’t know what would happen under legalization and to suggest we do know what will happen is pure speculation. Then I read the LA Times piece in which they are essentially saying the exact opposite. My head’s spinning.

    • Mark Kleiman says:

      Ummm … maybe the LA Times got it wrong?

      • I’d just echo much of what Pete has written below. Is the only thing wrong with the LA Times article that you disagree with the framing of their headline or did they misquote you and distort the crux of your presentation? The Oxford Dictionary defines beware as such: “be cautious and alert to the dangers of”.

  15. ezrydn says:

    Unprecedented? UNPRECEDENTED?!!! Looked at a 1904/14 Sears catalog lately? There’s them immoral drugs, being sold on the open market, without one cartel in sight.

  16. Outlier says:

    Totally agree that this hand wringing and “balance” is de facto support of the status quo of destructive prohibition.

    One thing we need to consider though is what the federal government’s response will be should some or all of these initiatives pass. Right now it looks like there will be a GOP House, a deadlocked Senate, and the presidential race is too close to call. While I hope that will make for a Congress too divided to pass any punishments to these states, I’ve come to never underestimate bipartisan stupidity when it comes to drugs.

    I’d expect some ginned up stories from DEA agents about “marijuana exports” from Colorado, Washington etc to try and provoke the feds to strip highway funding or some other federal funds (similar to what we do with the drinking age). With the laws as they stand we can also expect more of the same crackdowns we’ve seen with MMJ dispensaries. Bottom line not only do we need to win in November, we need to make sure implementation goes smoothly and that Colorado Washington and Oregon become models we can replicate in other states.

  17. Mark Kleiman says:

    Pete, how about watching the video rather than relying on a reporter’s fuzzy understanding of what we said? As I posted on my blog, the message wasn’t “Beware!” so much as “Be cautious.”


    That post also has the link to the AEI video.

    • Francis says:

      Mark, I don’t want to speak for Pete, but I’m pretty sure his comments were a response to the direct quotes contained in the article rather than the one-word characterization you’ve seized upon. Cannabis prohibition has been an unmitigated disaster of a policy that has sown nothing but death and human misery. Urging “caution” of those who would put an end to this nightmare seems, well, reckless.

    • strayan says:

      Wow Mark, ‘be cautious’. There it is folks, the finest mind in the ‘drug [policy] business’ and that’s all he has to offer.

      ‘Cautious’ is what I am backing out of my driveway for work each day. Somehow I manage to push through the anxiety and get on with things despite the risks. I mightn’t have a family to come home to if I didn’t.

      What you should ‘beware’ are the consequences of NOT legalising. Y’know, an increase in the jail population, integenerational poverty, deprivation, family breakdown, the militarisation of the police and state intrusions into the private sphere etc. ALL THAT STUFF. That is what I’m worried about Mark.

    • darkcycle says:

      I get this vision in my head when you say that, Mark. In my vision I encounter a man in the process of cutting his own foot off with a hacksaw. He complains he would like to stop. But I urge him be cautious about making changes and to continue, because I don’t KNOW what will happen if he stops.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks for the link, Mark. I’m checking out the video now (although I haven’t finished it yet). I read the L.A. Times article and posted this before I was aware of your post (several people sent it to me) and the Times didn’t provide a link to the video.

      Regarding the headline of the article — I knew full well that it was the work of the Times. Hence my inclusion of the Times in the formula in the first sentence of my post. The L.A. Times is known for being strongly anti-pot.

      My comments regarding the “academics” had to do with the specific quotes within the article (I assume you weren’t misquoted).

      When, as “experts,” you go out of your way to provide the corrupt and established system with excuses for maintaining the status quo, you are enablers of all that it entails, including the destruction and corruption. And that’s been one of the big issues I have with you and the others. I know that you support legalization of marijuana. But unless someone reads one of your books, every time you’re in the media it’s a message of “caution”… at best. And Jonathan — he’s like an agoraphobe rather than a public policy analyst, afraid to leave the house because there might be a poisonous snake in the front yard, or a meteor dropping from the sky, or a drive-by shooting. It’s Unprecedented!!! Who knows what might happen??? There might be face-eating zombies!!!

      This failed drug war is so entrenched (with so many years of propaganda) that it takes almost nothing for people to shrink back in fear. “Oh, the experts say we must be cautious… we better wait a couple more decades before we actually do anything.”

      Was it really necessary for you to advise federal officials “to sit down with the governor of the state and say, ‘Look, we can make your life completely miserable — and we will – unless you figure out a way to avoid the exports.”?

      Do you really think U.S. attorney Melinda Haag needs to be cautioned about marijuana legalization? “Oh thanks, Mark – I hadn’t paid any attention to marijuana.” Does the DEA need your help to think of busting pot distributors? If Colorado legalizes marijuana, cops around the country will probably start pulling over anyone with Colorado plates and listening to John Denver will be probable cause for searches.

      If you guys want to do something productive, go to the media and say: “If marijuana is legalized, here are some good ways to implement a legalization policy.” Not in a book, not in a panel discussion, but providing practical public policy advice in the public arena, like we find from Transform.

      Caution is good, but what you provide is way beyond that. All the things you say we don’t know are things you say we can’t know because we’ve never had legalization (at least not since we had it) and yet you advise against moving ahead until we know, and you advise not to take a risk and try it because it might be too hard to go back after we try it.

      That’s not policy. It’s not caution. It’s paralysis.

  18. kaptinemo says:

    From 1776 to 1914, this country had only minimal laws governing drug possession, and those only in the very late 1800’s, on a local and State government level, largely aimed at minorities for economic as well as social control reasons. Other than that, not much. It wasn’t until government intervention, ostensibly ‘for our own good’, that led to the series of legislative bills that became the laws that formed the backbone of national, Federal drug prohibition

    The point being that the zeitgeist back then was that government should stay out of such matters due to the meddling nature of it; power ceded to government is rarely returned without conflict. The power to put what you damn’ well want into your own body was one such power that was ceded…and look at the results of failing to heed that zeitgeist.

    Returning to that level of freedom in this heavily bureaucratized society is impractical, as it would require the dismantling of the entire Federal apparatus to accomplish, an unlikely event. (BTW, this is really why the Supremes cut down Raich and upheld Obamacare, as to have done the opposite would have opened the way to that dismantling.) But we can achieve a less robust, but no less important, return to part of the freedom with ending cannabis prohibition via re-legalization and regulation…a prospect that frightens the authoritarians currently infesting most levels of national government.

    The rationale for the accumulation of power they’ve acquired would vanish overnight…not that they ever needed Armored Personnel Carriers to serve warrants on ‘pot-heads’.

    And so, when it looks like ending prohibition has a chance, right on cue, the stable of tame intellectual prosti- uh, er, apologists for the failed policy are trotted out to wag fingers and jowls and try to scare us with boogeymen about how bad a legal market would be…like the one we had before the laws that created the cartels, and all the attendant bloodshed.

    We already know what such a world would be like, we have the historical evidence, and it was vastly preferable WRT drugs compared to today. But as someone wrote about propaganda, it had the power to make Heaven seem like Hell, and vice versa. We’ve had enough of the prohib’s version of ‘Heaven’ and those propagandists who promote it; it bears a disturbing resemblance to the other place. Time for a little of what they think is ‘Hell’…a.k.a. FREEDOM.

  19. Peter says:

    mark kleiman:
    several comments posted here have criticised your thesis. are you proposing to answer those criticisms or are you goong to fall back on the usual prohibitionist tactic of avoiding argument?

  20. Duncan20903 says:

    Fitz Hugh Ludlow didn’t think that a legal retail distribution chain for cannabis is unprecedented.

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