Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talking Marijuana at Vanderbilt Law School

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 11:00 AM

Last night I went to see friend of the Scene Roger Abramson moderate a panel made up of the CATO institute's David Boaz,
click to enlarge DEA, as a Federal Agency, You Can't Copyright Things (Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105), So Your Watermark Fails to Intimidate
  • DEA, as a Federal Agency, You Can't Copyright Things (Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105), So Your Watermark Fails to Intimidate
NORML's Paul Kuhn and Vanderbilt Law School's Robert Mikos talking about legal issues surrounding marijuana and the potential for pot legalization. (In the process, I got to meet Roger's dad, who is cuter than most babies.)

Unfortunately, there were no Twinkie breaks, but the panel members talked thoughtfully and eloquently about eventual marijuana legalization and what the market and regulatory mechanisms for pot might look like.

Boaz noted how hard it is to predict and analyze emerging markets because public policy is made to protect interests that already exist, not to encourage potentially new ones. We don't know for sure what a legal marijuana market might look like, but he guesses that, when the inevitable happens, it will be set up and regulated like the alcohol and tobacco markets.

Meanwhile, the tax benefits of legalizing pot represent only part of the argument in favor, Boaz said, because as much revenue as levies would generate, there would be even more savings in enforcement.

NORML's Kuhn, next at the mic, expressed an optimism about the legalization movement in Tennessee. Even though the medical marijuana bill died in legislative committee, it advanced farther this year than it ever has, he noted. In the coming session, NORML and its legislative supporters will submit another bill, one that takes into account the lessons learned from different regulations in other states.

Robert Mikos started his portion of the talk by saying he's "thoroughly agnostic" about marijuana legalization. He's more interested in how the tensions between state and federal regulations play out. He said repeatedly that states can allow activities that the federal government prohibits. Almost all marijuana arrests happen below the federal level, so if states simply stop arresting marijuana users, they could effectively circumvent the feds.

Not that it's as easy as all that. While states can legalize marijuana and even attempt to regulate it, they can't keep secrets from the federal government. This makes it very difficult for states to get compliance with their regulations.

The question and answer session also was pretty interesting. We, as a country, have made it very difficult for tobacco farmers to make the living they once could, but Kuhn noted that legalizing marijuana -- even just medical marijuana -- could help tobacco farmers earn a decent wage again.

Both Mikos and Boaz spoke to the fact that the DEA and the attorney general could, right now, without congressional intervention, reschedule marijuana. They doubt there is the political will at this point to do that, but the federal government will feel increasing pressure as more states pass medical marijuana laws.

Boaz ended the evening by reminding attendees that the last three presidents have admitted past drug use. Assuming Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton believed they didn't deserve to be incarcerated for those indiscretions, how then, Boaz asked, do/did they justify arresting others for the same "crime"?

(I would like to say, too, that in trying to find an image appropriate for this post, I stumbled upon this gem of a site created by the DEA, which I am sharing with you just in case you were wondering if drug enforcement is still as square as it's always been. Yes, yes it is. First of all, "blubbers"? I allegedly know a lot of alleged pot users and I have never heard this term. Second, how can I get smart about anything on a site that uses "affect" when it means "effect"?)

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