The legalization details

New book and three state ballot measures tackle pot prohibition

This fall, three states—Colorado, Washington and Oregon—will vote on different flavors of marijuana legalization, and the results could potentially deliver a massive blow to the 75-year-old prohibition on the drug in the United States.

And just in time for this national debate comes Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, co-authored by researcher Beau Kilmer, who is the co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the nonpartisan think tank RAND Corporation.

Kilmer researched and wrote the 266-page analysis with Carnegie Mellon University public-policy professor Jonathan P. Caulkins, Pepperdine University public-policy professor Angela Hawken, and UCLA public-policy professor Mark A.R. Kleiman.

Drawing upon the latest empirical research and organized into 15 chapters based on frequently asked questions about cannabis legalization, the book is an essential read and is destined to become indispensable in the field of drug-policy research.

Kilmer recently spoke in Northern California and emphasized that drug warriors and reformers need to define their terms when they talk about “marijuana legalization.” It’s an idea that boasts a variety of approaches, from national pot legalization with no limits on possession, cultivation, manufacture, sales and marketing; to incremental state-level reforms like “decriminalization”—the removal of penalties for personal possession of pot.

“Definitions matter. The devil is in the details,” Kilmer said. “Legalization is more than a binary proposition. It’s not just yes or no.”

For example, Washington’s ballot Initiative 502 would legalize weed possession for adults over the age of 21 and set up a system to tax and regulate its growth and sale. But the details have split the marijuana-law-reform community in Washington, said Vivian McPeak, organizer of the annual Seattle Hempfest, which attracts some 250,000 people.

Just like with Proposition 19 in California in 2010, full-throttle legalizers in Washington have allied with drug warriors to denounce Initiative 502, noting that it criminalizes adults under 21 and contains onerous provisions about driving with tetrahydrocannabinol in one’s system.

Sober drivers with any THC in their system will likely be imprisoned under the initiative’s zero-tolerance provision for those under 21. The initiative also limits adults over 21 to 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, a limit that critics note will likely imprison some regular cannabis users who are driving sober, but still have remnants of the drug in their bodies.

Much like smoking pot, the best way to experiment with legalization may be to take one small puff, then wait a while and see how society feels.