“Just How Legal Should Marijuana Be?”

The debate over marijuana legalization came to campus on September 10 when Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Mark Kleiman gave a lecture entitled “Just How Legal Should Marijuana Be?”. Throughout the lecture, the UCLA professor insisted on using the legitimate and legal term “cannabis” rather than its more popular name. According to him, “marijuana” is little more than a slang term invented by Mexican migrant workers in the early twentieth century.  He also said the word carries too much “Cheech and Chong” baggage.

For Kleiman, the question is not “should cannabis be legalized?” but rather “how should it be legalized?” Kleiman believes its legalization is inevitable and will occur sometime in the 2020s. Relating historical examples from the alcohol temperance movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and current conversations he had with cannabis advocates, Kleiman presented a compelling case on where cannabis should be heading upon its impending legalization. The professor believes that from a historical perspective the U.S. lives in the past.

 “We are living in 1929,” Kleiman said.  

Kleiman added that cannabis prohibition is collapsing much like the national ban on alcohol once did. The legalization of medicinal cannabis in several states provided a wedge for legalization activists. 

“Cancer is a more dangerous word than drug. We will make them vote for drugs over cancer,” a legalization activist once told Kleiman when the vote for medicinal cannabis was up in California. Since then, it has been a losing battle for those who support its continued prohibition. Looking at the number of cannabis-related ballots passed in other states and national polls, Kleiman believes that there is a kind of “cultural lag” between the people of the U.S. and their legislators. Kleiman asserts that there would be a debate on the legalization of cannabis in Washington, D.C. if not for the heavy influence of law enforcement. 

“No politician can afford being called ‘soft on crime,’” Kleiman said.  

He believes that using the current methods of distribution and regulation for alcohol, as some experts advocate, is potentially dangerous and would likely be disastrous. He also asserts that the Netherlands is too poor of a model; while sale is legal in that country, growth is not. Cannabis legalization in the U.S. will be an entirely new and unprecedented phenomenon. In the course of his lecture, Kleiman spoke on the increased potency of cannabis in our modern times.

“This is not your grandfather’s cannabis,” Kleiman said.  

Along with an increase in potency from the 1970s, the average heavy cannabis has changed significantly. No longer is cannabis the favored drug of the leftist intellectual or artist. Twenty-five percent of heavy cannabis users smoke without a high school degree. 

This is a very dangerous statistic, as once cannabis is legalized, marketing will be directed toward the heavy user. With

the introduction of cannabis into a normal market economy, the price for

it will be massively driven down, according to Kleiman. 

“Doritos cost more than cannabis would for an average user in a legalized world,” Kleiman said. 

Professor Kleiman believes the real danger behind cannabis legalization is people being unable to support their house payments or support their struggling families. The average user will be fine and life will continue uninterrupted for them, but for the heavy user, there may be tremendous economic problems.

He suggests a model based on temperance: a citizen has a monthly cannabis stipend and once he reaches his limit, he is cut off and unable to purchase anymore. Professor Kleiman believes this system would promote moderation and health.

He closed the lecture by taking questions. If one thing is clear, there are passionate advocates on both side of this argument.