Monday, January 5, 2015

SAM releases "short report" stressing perceived harms from legalization in Colorado and Washington

The leading anti-marijuana reform group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this brief report titled "Lessons After Two Years of Marijuana Legalization - Short Report." According to this press release, SAM believe that the "report outlines both what data we know - and what we need to know - to accurately evaluate the consequences of marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado."

Unfortunately, the report is not anywhere close to a review of relevant data about legalization and it is entirely focused on stressing what SAM thinks is evidence of problems since legalization.  For example, here is some of what appears in a section under the heading "DENVER CITY AND COUNTY CRIME IS UP":

In the city and county of Denver, overall crime is slightly higher through November 2014 than it was during that same time period in 2013. Most crime categories are up, like simple assault and criminal mischief; but some categories show reductions, like sex offenses, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft....  It's possible that crime statistics have little to do with marijuana law changes, but rampant media reports of “legalization linked with a crime drop” are unsubstantiated.

Most critically, the report say nothing about the metrics and factors stressed by those who push for marijuana reform such as (1) avoiding harms/costs that result from (racially skewed) arrests and enforcement of low-level marijuana criminal laws, (2) generating revenues from marijuana taxes, licenses and fees (3) allowing police to focus on more serious crimes, and (4) increasing monies available for drug prevention and addiction programs, (5) creating jobs/incomes from a new regulated legal industry and taking jobs/monies away from drug cartels and gangs involved in the black market.

In addition, though the title of this short report promises to provide "Lessons" from legalization, I struggled to draw any lessons from this report (other than that SAM is mostly interested in trumping up existing data to claim legalization is problematic when the extant evidence is anything but clear).  That all said, this report merits credit for noting and lamenting that "no robust public tracking system by federal or state authorities has been implemented" and for noting that "more sophisticated data are sorely lacking with respect to marijuana in Colorado and Washington."

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I have heard Kevin Sabet from SAM speak three times and credit him with being very articulate. I am undecided as to whether he actually believes the horribly distorted picture of marijuana that he provides, or is just a clever entrepreneur who sees that there is a market for such nonsense, just as there is for stories about Bigfoot and Ancient Aliens.

Concerning information, Prof. Mark Kleiman from UCLA points out that Washington has very strict reporting requirements that should go a long way toward filling the gaps in our knowledge about how a legal marijuana market operates.

Posted by: Richard Kennedy | Jan 6, 2015 5:53:14 AM

I have also heard Kevin Sabet speak a number of times. He is not only genuine, but spot on in his criticism of what he pens as "Big Tobacco." Good for him for standing up to this giant industry. The report they issued should get credit for the paltry amount of data so far available to the public. I live in Colorado and find it shameful we have no good tracking systems.

Professor Berman, of the 5 things you listed, I don't think that was the point of the report. This report should gain merit for being the only single source out there of what we know and what we don't so far. This is far more than any other group has done, so far as I have seen.

Posted by: Jennifer LaFerit | Jan 6, 2015 11:00:19 AM

Fair points, Jennifer, and I agree that Project SAM is to be respected for doing some data review here. That said, Cato a few months ago did a much more balanced review of a lot more data, as blogged here:

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 6, 2015 12:41:20 PM

Cato, balanced!? C'mon now. They are a libertarian org devoted to the legalization of all drugs.

Posted by: Jennifer LaFerit | Jan 6, 2015 3:04:53 PM

Sabet's criticism of Big Tobacco is solid but he then implies that marijuana could cause a similar health catastrophe even though:
• Tobacco kills 480,000 people annually while the number of marijuana deaths is too small to detect.
• Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs, marijuana one of the least.
• Unlike tobacco, it's easy for marijuana users to grow their own (or so I'm told by friends), which limits corporate power.
• We managed to impose significant restrictions on tobacco when that industry was at the peak of its power, and surely can do better with an infant industry. (I can remember seeing cigarette commercials on tv and sitting next to smokers on airplanes.)

Posted by: Richard Kennedy | Jan 7, 2015 4:20:18 AM

Jennifer, I agree Cato has a libertarian point of view. But that makes even more impressive the relative balance one finds in the report I linked. To its credit, Cato is trying to really look critically at the data; SAM seems only interested in marshaling data to support its refer madness viewpoints.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 7, 2015 6:42:22 AM

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