Marijuana Legalization: No Simple Task

As is evident in Washington and Colorado, voting to legalize marijuana is the easy part of legalization, actually getting the framework in place for a system of legal pot is another story. There are numerous concerns and no easy answers (as far as lawmakers are concerned) when it comes to organizing a system for legal marijuana. A commentary in USA Today this week summarized some of the top concerns that are currently challenging the problem-solving skills of officials in Colorado and Washington, and concerns that will no doubt have to be addressed in other states as marijuana legalization grows.

Part of the problem, the hold-up and confusion in regards to marijuana policy is that these are things that have never been ironed out before. Sure, lawmakers had to adjust laws and create a framework after alcohol prohibition fell numerous decades ago, but marijuana prohibition offers unique challenges.

48.42ndSmokeIn.Rally.LafayettePark.WDC.4July2011Beau Kilmer with the RAND Corporation and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center says there are seven key questions that have to be addressed in marijuana legalization. Here is a summary of them.

  1. Production. Lawmakers must determine all there wheres and hows of growing marijuana. Will farmers be able to grow it in fields like other cash crops or will it have to be tightly regulated in secured greenhouses. Ultimately, Kilmer points out, legalization will drive production costs down as growers won’t have to be secretive about it or be compensated for their risks.
  2. Profit motive. Who will make the money off of pot production and sales? Will producers be limited to personal users and co-ops or will states allow private companies to venture into the field (as in alcohol and tobacco)? In order to keep the “heavy users” of marijuana engaged in the legal trade, officials will have to find a method that will both encourage business through profit and incentives for using the legal pot.
  3. Prevention. Lawmakers in Colorado and Washington are both now looking at how to prevent legal pot from getting into the hands of children. They’ve got to address an education system that has demonized the plant for decades.
  4. Potency. Will there be limits on the THC concentration in legal strains of marijuana? For perspective, the marijuana that crosses from Mexico to the U.S. typically has 6% THC; medical marijuana in California ranges from 10%-25%, and the Dutch are currently looking to limit their legal marijuana at no more than 15%.
  5. Promotion. Will marijuana growers and distributors be able to take out ads in newspapers, online or place their marketing on billboards?
  6. Price. How will prices be controlled and what role will taxation amounts play in someone’s decision to purchase legal pot rather than return to the black market?
  7. Permanency. Lawmakers will need to build flexibility into their framework as the system will obviously need adjusting as time goes on.

As Kilmer concludes, “Of course, these aren’t the only decisions facing those who are thinking about legalizing marijuana. But if we want to move away from the puns and abstract discussions to serious policy debates, these “Seven Ps” are a fine place to start.”

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

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