A new RAND Corporation report suggests that states have a reasonable middle-ground alternative between maintaining marijuana prohibition and allowing legalization with unfettered commercial interests.
The 200-plus page report was commissioned last spring in response to Vermont legislation requesting an overview of the benefits and consequences of legalizing marijuana, and it could shape the policy discussion in Vermont and numerous other states that are considering the route Colorado, Washington and Alaska have taken in recent years.
The report advises that Vermont could select from a number of supply model operations if marijuana were to be legalized, including a governmental oversight structure that also could seek to restrict THC levels in marijuana and to place strict controls on retail selling practices.
“It is a false dichotomy to think about marijuana policy in terms of choosing either prohibition or the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington,” RAND Drug Policy Research Center co-director Beau Kilmer said in a Jan. 16 news release. “Jurisdictions considering alternatives to prohibition could limit supply to home production, cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, socially responsible businesses, a public authority or even a state monopoly.”
The full report, which does not take an official stance on whether Vermont should legalize marijuana, is available on the RAND website.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated that he believes careful review of the facts about marijuana should dictate the policy direction the state ultimately will pursue, although he also makes his overall position on the legalization issue clear.
“I continue to support moves to legalize marijuana in Vermont but have always said that we have to proceed with rigorous research and preparation before deciding whether to act,” Shumlin said. Vermont legislators are expected to consider a marijuana legalization bill this year, the Burlington Free Press reported this month.
Report writers, including University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) professor Mark Kleiman and Carnegie Mellon University public policy professor Jonathan Caulkins, stated that under certain conditions, Vermont could expect tax collections in the tens of millions of dollars annually from marijuana legalization. Yet several factors could affect that number, such as whether neighboring states also proceed toward legalization, the degree to which Vermont attracts “marijuana tourists” from outside its borders, and how the federal government might react to any cross-border commerce that could occur in the region.
The report offers a mixed assessment of health outcomes from marijuana use, pointing out acute and chronic health effects linked in particular to heavy use. Report co-author Robert MacCoun, a professor at Stanford University School of Law, said in the news release, “While marijuana use is strongly correlated with many adverse outcomes, it is much harder to ascertain whether marijuana use causes those outcomes.”
Added Caulkins, “There are pros and cons to all marijuana policy options, and there is tremendous uncertainty about how different forms of legalization will affect public health and safety. Much will depend on how any marijuana policy change influences the use of other substances such as tobacco, alcohol and prescription opiates.”