As widely reported this afternoon, a new report from the RAND Corporation shows that legalizing marijuana in California - something that voters will vote on in November - would reduce the price of the drug by as much as 80 percent and increase consumption by an undetermined amount. Researchers there also found that the potential revenue from taxes could be dramatically higher or lower than the $1 billion estimated by the state's Board of Equalization, depending on a number of factors.
In other words: there's not a lot of clarity on what would happen if marijuana were legalized here.
When I heard the news, the first person I contacted was Keith Humphreys, PhD, a Stanford addiction expert who recently served as an advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Humphreys was actually quite certain about a few things, telling me the report's conclusions "resonate with everything we know about commodities and illegality." There's "zero doubt" that prices would drop, he said, and he outlined which groups would experience a rise in marijuana use:
"Few rich people are going to start using pot because the price drops - they aren't "price sensitive" (as the economists say)... Teenagers and the unemployed and other groups with less disposable income will be the most responsive to the price drop in marijuana, i.e., the ones who are most likely to increase use."
An influx of high teens isn't exactly ideal. But Humphreys sounded most troubled by something the RAND report didn't address: the possibility that tobacco companies would start selling marijuana cigarettes if they were legal:
"The irony of the initiative is that its supporters tend to either be left-leaning or libertarian politically, but the passage of the initiative will do something that goes against their own politics: create the biggest business opportunity in decades for multi-national tobacco corporations. That's an awful lot of power to hand over to a sector of our society whose main product kills over 1,000 Americans a day."
Photo by tboothhk