David Kirkpatrick

July 8, 2010

From the department of “no duh”

The only thing the title of this release left out is it would also reduce both crime and the caseload of the California court system.

The release:

Legalizing marijuana in California would lower the price of the drug and increase use, study finds

Legalizing the production and distribution of marijuana in California could cut the price of the drug by as much as 80 percent and increase consumption, according to a new study by the nonprofit RAND Corporation that examines many issues raised by proposals to legalize marijuana in the state.

While the state Board of Equalization has estimated taxing legal marijuana could raise more than $1 billion in revenue, the RAND study cautions that any potential revenue could be dramatically higher or lower based on a number of factors, including the level of taxation, the amount of tax evasion and the response by the federal government.

Past research provides solid evidence that marijuana consumption goes up when prices go down, but the magnitude of the consumption increase cannot be predicted because prices will fall to levels below those ever studied, researchers say. Consumption also might rise because of non-price effects such as advertising or a reduction in stigma, researchers say.

In addition to uncertainty about the taxes levied and evaded, researchers do not know how users will respond to such a large drop in price. Even under a scenario with high taxes ($50 per ounce) and a moderate rate of tax evasion (25 percent), researchers cannot rule out consumption increases of 50 percent to 100 percent, and possibly even larger. If prevalence increased by 100 percent, marijuana use in California would be close to the prevalence levels recorded in the late 1970s.

The analysis, prepared by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, was conducted in an effort to objectively outline the key issues that voters and legislators should consider as California weighs marijuana legalization.

“There is considerable uncertainty about the impact that legalizing marijuana in California will have on consumption and public budgets,” said Beau Kilmer, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at RAND. “No government has legalized the production and distribution of marijuana for general use, so there is little evidence on which to base any predictions about how this might work in California,”

The analysis also suggests that the annual cost of enforcing current marijuana laws is smaller than suggested by others. The RAND study estimates that the cost of enforcing the current laws probably totals less than $300 million.

“It is critical that legislators and the public understand what is known and unknown as the state weighs this unprecedented step,” said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, a study co-author and co-director with Kilmer of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.

Two proposals are pending that would legalize the production and sale of marijuana in California. Assembly Bill 2254 authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would legalize marijuana for those aged 21 and older and task the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control with regulating its possession, sale and cultivation. The bill would create a $50 per ounce excise tax and these funds would be used to fund drug education, awareness, and rehabilitation programs under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

In November, California voters will consider a ballot measure titled the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 that would make it legal for those aged 21 and older to cultivate marijuana on a 5-foot-by-5-foot plot, and possess, process, share or transport up to one ounce of marijuana. In addition, the initiative would authorize cities or counties to allow, regulate and tax the commercial cultivation and sales of marijuana. Such activities would remain illegal in jurisdictions that do not opt in.

In only two countries have there been changes in the criminal status of supplying marijuana. The Netherlands allows for sale of small amounts of marijuana (5 grams) in licensed coffee shops and in Australia four jurisdictions have reduced the penalties for cultivation of a small number of marijuana plants to confiscation and a fine. Neither has legalized larger-scale commercial cultivation of the sort California is considering.

In 1975, California was one of the first states to reduce the maximum penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana from incarceration to a misdemeanor with a $100 fine. In 1996, California became the first state to allow marijuana to be grown and consumed for medical purposes.

RAND researchers say one effect of legalizing marijuana would be to dramatically drop the price as growers move from clandestine operations to legal production. Based on an analysis of known production costs and surveys of the current price of marijuana, researchers suggest the untaxed retail price of high-quality marijuana could drop to as low as $38 per ounce compared to about $375 per ounce today.

RAND researchers caution there are many factors that make it difficult to accurately estimate revenue that might be generated by any tax on legal marijuana. The higher the tax, the greater the incentives would be for a gray market in marijuana to develop, researchers say.

“A fixed excise tax per ounce may give producers and users an incentive to shift to smaller quantities of higher-potency forms of marijuana,” said study co-author Jonathan P. Caulkins, the H. Guyford Stever Professor of Operations Research at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and Qatar campus. Such a shift is another factor that could lower revenues collected from marijuana taxes.

In addition, since the November ballot initiative leaves it to local governments to set tax rates, the size of any levy could vary broadly. A jurisdiction with a low tax rate might attract marijuana buyers from elsewhere in the state or even other states, further complicating efforts to predict government revenues from the sale of legal marijuana, according to researchers.

The RAND report also investigates some of the costs to the state and society in general, such as drug treatment and other health expenses, that may change if marijuana is legalized in California.

It’s unclear whether legalizing marijuana may increase or decrease drug treatment costs, according to the study. More than half of the 32,000 admissions for treatment of marijuana abuse in California during in 2009 resulted from criminal justice referrals, which could drop if legalization is approved. However, an increase in marijuana use could cause a spike in those who voluntarily seek treatment for marijuana abuse, researchers say.

###

The report, “Altered State? Assessing How Marijuana Legalization in California Could Influence Marijuana Consumption and Public Budgets,” can be found at www.rand.org. Funding for this study was provided by RAND’s Investment in People and Ideas program, which combines philanthropic contributions from individuals, foundations, and private-sector firms with earnings from RAND’s endowment and operations to support research on issues that reach beyond the scope of traditional client sponsorship.

Other authors of the study are Robert J. MacCoun of the University of California, Berkeley, and Peter H. Reuter of the University of Maryland.

The RAND Drug Policy Research Center is a joint project of RAND Health and the RAND Safety and Justice program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment. The goal of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center is to provide a firm, empirical foundation upon which sound drug policies can be built.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world. To sign up for RAND e-mail alerts: http://www.rand.org/publications/email.html

March 20, 2009

Cato on Obama and medical marijuana

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 9:02 pm

Drug policy news from the Cato Institute’s weekly dispatch. It’s a small step, but anything that serves to normalize the U.S. drug policy is worth mentioning.

Even though the GOP has historically been for state’s rights, the Federalist impulse tends to disappear when those pesky states pass laws against Republican Party doctrine. Party of less government and personal freedom? Not any longer. In this case it took a Democratic administration to implement Federalist ideals.

And the GOP wonders why the walk in the wilderness is full of nothing more than blind trails and stepping in its own poop.

From the inbox:

Obama to Stop Raids on State Marijuana Distributors  
 

Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the president would end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that were common under the Bush administration.

It’s about time, says Tim Lynch, director of Cato’s Project on Criminal Justice:

The Bush administration’s scorched-earth approach to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws was a grotesque misallocation of law enforcement resources. The U.S. government has a limited number of law enforcement personnel, and when a unit is assigned to conduct surveillance on a California hospice, that unit is necessarily neglecting leads in other cases that possibly involve more violent criminal elements.

The Cato Institute hosted a forum Tuesday in which panelists debated the politics and science of medical marijuana. In a Cato daily podcast, Dr. Donald Abrams explains the promise of marijuana as medicine.

February 12, 2009

Arrests in Phelps case

This is among the worst use of police resources possible. Nothing more than moron sheriff jerking off and seeking cheap publicity.

All this does is provide yet another “exhibit A” on why US drug laws are asinine, illustrate how the scare tactics used against drugs are largely bullshit and expose just how much taxpayer money is wasted fighting a non-crime due to stupid politics and worse enforcement of the bad laws on the books.

From the link:

Authorities in the South Carolina county where Michael Phelps was photographed smoking from a marijuana pipe have been arresting people as they seek to make a case against the superstar swimmer, lawyers for two arrested people said Thursday.

Attorneys Joseph McCulloch and Dick Harpootlian told The Associated Press they each represent a client charged with possession of marijuana who was questioned about the party Phelps attended near the University of South Carolina campus in November.

The lawyers said the two clients were renters at the house where the party apparently took place. Harpootlian said his client was at the party, but didn’t see Phelps smoke marijuana, while McCulloch said his client wasn’t there. The two have since moved and were arrested after police executed a search warrant at their new home and accused them of having a small amount of marijuana there.

“After they arrested him, they didn’t ask him, ‘Where did you get the marijuana?’ or ‘Who sold it to you?’ Almost all the questions they asked him were about Michael Phelps,” Harpootlian said.

I think an easy summation on this whole situation is Sheriff Leon Lott=douchebag extraordinaire.

Also from the link:

Lott has said Phelps should not get a break because of his fame. Harpootlian said that he believes police are being overzealous.

“I find it amazing the justification is they don’t want to treat him any differently just because he is a celebrity, and he is being treated far differently than any other Joe Blow who might have smoked marijuana four or five months ago.”

February 4, 2009

Phelps, pot and Lott

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:13 pm

An ill-advised move by Phelps and a cheap shot from whoever took and released the photo of his bong hit, but the inane grandstanding from the little sheriff is nothing more than a play for publicity.

And Michael Phelps is quite the poster boy for the ills smoking marijuana can cause a person. His story for 2008 was one of national failure — oh yeah, scratch that argument …

From the Reason link:

Like Jacob Sullum, I agree with most of Kathleen Parker’s column on Michael Phelps and marijuana prohibition. But this part, about Richland County, South Carolina Sheriff Leon Lott I think comes up a bit short:

Lott, meanwhile, is threatening action against Phelps because … he has to. Widely respected and admired as a “good guy” who came up through the ranks, Lott is in a jam. Not one to sweat the small stuff, he nevertheless has said that he’ll charge Phelps with a crime if he determines that the 14-time gold-medal winner did, in fact, smoke pot in his county.

July 30, 2008

Ron Paul sponsors bill to decriminalize pot

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:47 pm

Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Barney Frank have co-sponsored a bill to decriminalize possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana. The “war on drugs” has been such an abject failure, I’m not even going to go into the issues here (for the very lazy who want more, here’s a Google search to get you started.)

It’s not surprising sensible, privacy respecting civil liberties legislation is coming from Ron Paul. The blatant hypocrisy of US drug laws is a joke. i doubt this bill goes anywhere, but I’m pleased Ron Paul’s new found name recognition and political clout with the public translates into actual policy every now and then.

There’s really no libertarian blueprint. That much is clear if you take even a sidelong glance at the big-L Libertarian Party. It’s full of all manner of cranks, malcontents, isolationists, druggies, tax dodgers and then a whole lot of otherwise average people who just want the government to stay out of their way.

I don’t participate in any party activities for a variety of reasons, most importantly I don’t think the Libertarian Party is honestly serious enough to achieve any real policy goals.

Here is a paraphrase of a common joke among party participants — I’ve read this somewhere, but can’t recall where. Maybe on Wendy McElroy’s blog.

(This block quote is just the joke, not a quote from anyone’s blog)

First time Libertarian Party meeting participant, “Oh my god, look at that table of Nazis!”

Old vet, “Yep, there’s always at least one.”

First-timer, “What? Nazis?”

Vet, “Nope, someone who bitches about ‘em.”

Ron Paul is a little bit Libertarian, and quite a bit more libertarian and is the most libertarian congressman, at least publicly. I hope he can translate a wildly successful (given the expectations) presidential bid into real policy results for his ideals.

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