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2016’s marijuana legalization votes, explained

Mark Kleiman, a Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Crime Reduction and Justice Initiative at New York University’s Marron Institute, was quoted in a Vox article by German Lopez titled: "2016’s marijuana legalization votes, explained". Lopez delves into the issues that voters should consider as they head to the polls in states that are considering full legalization or legalization of medical cannabis. According to Lopez, there is one big argument for legalization and one big argument against it: a) Legalization solves the unintended consequences of prohibition, versus b) There’s a big problem with the current model for legalization. 

Lopez states, "The argument for full legalization is simple: Yes, marijuana is a drug that some people can abuse and get in trouble with. But the risks attached to pot abuse are enormously outweighed by the unintended consequences of continued prohibition — specifically, more violent crime and incarceration." Kleinman, however, has some reservations:

The risk is legalization could lead to more use and abuse by making pot cheaper and more available. Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at New York University's Marron Institute estimates that a legal marijuana joint will cost no more to make than, say, a tea bag — since both products come from plants that are fairly easy to grow. And it would also be available to anyone (21 and older) in retail outlets after legalization — meaning it would no longer require a shady or secretive meeting with a drug dealer. Those are benefits for responsible marijuana users, to be sure, but easier access could also be a risk for those who aren’t responsible.

The major concern with full legalization is that big, for-profit companies will get into the marijuana industry and market the drug in ways that encourage widespread use and abuse.

Drug policy experts like Kleiman and Beau Kilmer at the RAND Corporation point to Colorado, where one study of the state's pot market conducted by the Marijuana Policy Group for the Colorado Department of Revenue found the top 29.9 percent heaviest pot users in the state made up 87.1 percent of demand for the drug. For the marijuana industry, that makes the heaviest users the most lucrative customers — meaning pot businesses have a financial incentive to encourage more heavy use and even abuse.

If marijuana companies are able to act like the tobacco and alcohol industries have in the past, there's a good chance that they'll convince more Americans to try or even regularly use marijuana, and some of the heaviest users may use more. And as these companies increase their profits, they'll be able to influence lawmakers in a way that could stifle regulations or other policies that curtail abuse.

But legalization experts like Kleiman, Caulkins, and Kilmer note that states can go about legalization in different, potentially more responsible ways. 

To find out their suggestions and read the full article, click here

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