Will pot prices drop and usage rise not just in Colorado but across the country if Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, passes? An author on a Washington, D.C. panel at the American Enterprise Institute seen in a video below thinks so -- but an Amendment 64 proponent calls the theory nonsense.
During this week's event, covered by the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Caulkins, a Carnegie Mellon professor and co-author of the book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, pointed out that "legislation is unprecedented -- not even the Netherlands has done it." But thanks to Amendment 64, as well as weed-related proposals in Washington and Oregon, "it is entirely possible it will happen this year," he added.
If that happens, "the effects will be enormous," Caulkins stressed. In his view, pot's illegality keeps prices high, which prevents use from exploding. Should Amendment 64 win approval, he argued that more people would obtain grower's licenses, instantly transforming Colorado into what the Times describes as "a good home for exporters of marijuana."
As Caulkins put it, "They would be able to provide marijuana to New York state markets at one quarter of the current price," thereby putting pressure on the federal government to crack down or allow the situation to degenerate into economic chaos.
Is this scenario realistic? Not in the view of Amendment 64 supporter Brian Vicente.
"I think it's fundamentally false," he says. "I really don't think Professor Caulkins has even read the Colorado law, from what I could gather, or else he wouldn't draw these conclusions."
Examples? "When this passes, it would remain absolutely illegal for anyone to send marijuana out of state under both state and federal law, in the same way other portions of our state law remain in place, including making driving while impaired illegal. To his point, it would be a federal offense, and we assume the federal government isn't going to stop enforcing marijuana laws entirely as it impacts other states."
Additionally, he continues, "we can look to the other sixteen medical marijuana states where marijuana has been partially legalized for adult use -- and surrounding states haven't had these massive decreases in the price of marijuana, and usage rates have not skyrocketed. So really, his entire premise is flawed."
Page down to read more about the price-decline theory and see a video of the marijuana panel. Even so, does Vicente expect that Amendment 64 opponents such as Smart Colorado and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck will seize on Caulkins's theories anyhow?
"We are absolutely used to the tactics of drug warriors in attempting to spread propaganda, whether it's reefer-madness-era propaganda or these current, untenable premises that this professor is laying out," Vicente allows. "Marijuana is already considered by the federal government to be universally available, so the idea that in some way marijuana use would spike dramatically upward doesn't make sense. If it's already universally available, how could it become more available?
"Another tactic we've seen drug warriors use is talking about a possible increase in teen usage, when they've failed to explain why moving marijuana sales off street corners, where people aren't asking for IDs, and behind counters, where there are tight regulations and vendors would ask for IDs, would somehow increase youth usage. We think that's a real stretch. We need to move away from the underground cartel market and instead regulate adult marijuana sales and tax them."
Should the theory that Colorado might spur a marijuana epidemic nationwide become a talking point in the campaign, how will the Amendment 64 forces respond? "Our solution is simple," Vicente says. "We point to facts and proof and talk about how common-sense drug policy reform would be better for Colorado and allow us to lead on this issue.
"It's undeniable that this is a massive, nationwide movement," Vicente thinks, "and that our country is ready to have a really adult dialogue about reforming marijuana laws. We have three major states that have legalization measures on the November ballot, and a number of states are considering medical marijuana, including Massachusetts, which is a very populous state. So I think we're going to see some major changes. It's something our country is ready for."
For other points of view, check out the American Enterprise Institute panel discussion here.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Ken Buck says Amendment 64 backers care more about profit than people."
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