High Stakes: Interview with Mark Kleiman
Is the prohibition of narcotics a mark of a society which is feeding rather than preventing the drugs trade? Alex Criado sat down with UCLA Professor, sales author and advisor to the U.S government – arguably one of the most influential figures on narcotics in the U.S, Mark Kleiman, to find out.
Mark Kleiman is a professor in public policy in UCLA, comically known as “pot’s go-to guy.” However, he has soberly brought a lot of attention and insight upon the flaws of the U.S justice system, particularly America’s contribution to the war on drugs and the subsequent faults of drug prohibition. I went about this interview intending to convince young voters like myself that we must cease believing that prohibition is functional. Many illicit substances are demonized due to rhetoric over their nascent hazards to both health and society. However, when you compare these potential hazards to the present hazards and damage caused by alcohol, it does make one question the logic of our current policies. In particular in how we qualify drugs illicitness. This interview is not a glorification of weed or other illicit substances, but a demand for a better system; that does treat addiction, which respects personal freedoms and that is both pragmatic as well as realistic about how our society actually functions.
For those who are not familiar with your work, could you give a quick overview of the severity of different drug types and the plausibility for their decriminalisation or legalisation in the future?
“Whether a drug should be legalised partly depends on whether we are successful at keeping it illegal. I think the case for legalising for alcohol was relatively weak, except that prohibiting doesn’t seem to work very well. And so the question therefore for every case is whether you can come up with a regulatory and tax strategy that keeps the abuse problem down to a tolerable level. While avoiding the problems of elicit markets for some drugs, while delivering drugs to those who can use them beneficially.”
As we can see from the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado, public opinion has been shifting towards widespread legalisation of marijuana, why do you think we are seeing this widespread acceptance of the drug?
“I think the introduction of effective marijuana legalisation under the medical guise turned out to be an effective tactic. Public opinion suggests people are getting less and less satisfied with the consequences of prohibition. So its familiarity with the drug partly because of demographic changes, the fraction of voters to whom marijuana is a novelty is now quite small.”
“People who were in college when marijuana first showed up are now retiring.”
So the mind-set has become a lot more liberal to its consumption?
“Yeah, not a lot of approval of it, but less disapproval.”
We’ve seen states grapple with the issue of legalising medical marijuana and often the issue gets tied up with legalising marijuana generally. Are these to be considered separate issues and do you think the association between medicinal marijuana and recreational use has harmed the perception of the components of marijuana as a medical treatment?
“Logically they are separate issues; politically they are the same issue. The use of cannabis as an intoxicant has clearly made it less attractive to the medical community, as is the fact that it is herbal, as is the fact that it is mostly smoked. Which doctors mostly don’t like. I think parcelling out which of those things has been at work is a hard question, but certainly anyone who looks at the medical marijuana system in California and has any respect for the practice of medicine, would get pretty disgusted pretty quickly. In Colorado where we actually have numbers, there are 100,000 people with medical marijuana recommendations, 3% of all adults in the state have some disease that have gotten some doctor to say can be treated by cannabis. Of those 100,000 people more than half have gotten it off a doctor who has prescribed the same to another 8,000 patients.”
So it seems to cause misdiagnosis?
“It is not misdiagnoses, it is drug dealing.”
So it is an abuse of the system to deal these cards (Medical marijuana permit), is this marijuana being effective for their treatment?
“Certainly not the doctor with 8,000 patients, he’s not a problem. Some of these people are using it to treat the problems they have, some are using purely because they like to use marijuana and some are reselling it.”
In the States there has been a low amount of research done on the medical applications of cannabis. Has it just been used as a stepping stone for legalisation?
“No there are definitely real medical applications, the research has been lacking partly because the U.S government has been unconscionably obstructive and partly because the advocates are more interested in spending their money on TV spots than on clinical research. None of the outfits that have been responsible for medical marijuana initiatives has invested a nickel in actual medical research.”
How do you feel about marijuana legalisation in Colorado? Are you happy with how it’s been progressing, have there been any problems with the implementation?
“I think they choose a fundamentally wrong system, in going for commercial legalisation. I think they chose a tax system that will leave prices way too low.”
Why do you think it has taken so long to move to a place where legalisation is looking possible. Do you think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the advocates of marijuana themselves? Are they their own worst enemy? Are these mildly politicised recreationalists or has the movement become more strict and professional since the 1960s?
“Well, you’ve got a movement that is undisciplined except by its billionaire sponsor and then you got now a couple of industrial lobbies, which are going to look like any other industrial lobbies, much more buttoned down.”
Do you believe that the commercialisation using the American system of capitalism is beneficial, as in advertising, in the same way alcohol is commercialised in the States?
“I think it is a terrible policy for alcohol and it has had terrible results. A terrible policy for cannabis will have less terrible results, only because the drug itself is less dangerous.”
Would you consider alcohol to require a new social perspective in how we consume and legislate for its commercialisation?
“First step is to tell everybody alcohol is a drug. Perhaps morally it isn’t a drug, but pharmacologically there is no distinction. Once it is recognised as a drug, one will notice that it is a pretty nasty drug, one that requires high taxes, regulations and in particular an effective ban on continued drinking by those who drink and drive. That has been demonstrated successfully in South Dakota.”
If we see a proliferation of legalised cannabis, do you think we’d see a severe increase in use? If so, do you think this increase would be justifiable and how best could we deal with it?
“I think it would be easy to develop a method of regulation better than prohibition, in fact it would be hard to develop a worse one, but of the available systems the one we are moving toward I think is the worst. It is a second worst to continued prohibition. I would much rather have a system with both government monopoly and high taxes or a strictly not for profit organisation of consumer grow-ops or not for profit businesses. I would keep the commercial end out of it, but I think that train has left the station.”
Other than marijuana could you discuss the feasibility of other drugs such as LSD, hallucinogens or MDMA of becoming legal?
“I have no idea at what the future will hold. I think it would be perfectly reasonable to develop regulatory rather than prohibitory approach both to hallucinogens and to MDMA and its relatives, based on the notion of licensed providers. Who would have training and professional liability, to make sure the people getting the drugs use them safely. That for drugs that are used occasionally rather than constantly that seems like a pretty reasonable approach, whether anyone will pick it up is a different question.”
Although it varies from globally, ideally, what would your policy on drugs look like? What would qualify a drug as illegal and how would we treat drug users and distributors?
“If you are going to make a drug illegal focus your enforcement on minimising the violence in the illegal market and if you have got a substantial number of users who are also actively violent offenders, you use probation and parole to force them to stop using drugs.”
If there was any advice for those who are politically motivated towards the legalisation of marijuana or other drugs, aside from being knowledgeable in the subject, how should they direct their attention or frustration towards their political leaders? Any questions in particular that we should be asking as to direct them to our point of view?
“The main thing I would say to the advocates is pay attention to phenomena not slogans. Start with problems not solutions.”
For the full interview see: alejandrocriado92.wordpress.com