Drugs

Not what a black market looks like. (via Curtis Gregory Perry on Flickr)

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske fears the creation of “a black market that would come into play” if California votes to legalize marijuana. Question for Kerli: what the hell would you consider the $45 billion annual industry in the US that exists despite marijuana prohibition?

Kerlikowske made the curious remarks to NPR’s Michel Martin on Friday when questioned about the administration’s stance on marijuana legalization. Here’s a transcript of the exchange:

MARTIN: One of the arguments, though, that many people make is that just our whole philosophy toward drug use is just flawed, that there are those who of course who favor a dramatic liberalization of drug laws.

That they argue really the issue is prohibition and that if we have the same attitude toward illegal drugs now that we had to with prohibition, it didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now. And what do you say to that?

Mr. KERLIKOWSKE: Well, we know that certainly California is poised to and will be voting on legalizing small amounts of marijuana. And that vote is scheduled for November of this year.

There are a number of studies and a number of pieces of information that really throw that into the light of saying that, look, California is not going to solve its budget problems, that they have more increase or availability if drugs were, or marijuana, was to become legalized. That in fact you would see more use. That you would also see a black market that would come into play. Because why wouldn’t in heaven’s name would somebody want to spend money on tax money for marijuana when they could either use the underground market or they could in fact grow their own.

So there are a whole lot of good reasons why we don’t want to see drugs legalized. And that’s why the Obama administration has a very clear and direct opinion on that.

There’s a lot in here, but let’s start with the basics. Marijuana production is a $45 billion annual industry in the United States, very little of which any state considers legal, and that the federal government considers totally illegal. If that’s not a black market, what is? Either Drug Czar Kerlikowske is ignorant of this reality, which is doubtful, or he considers both the domestic cultivation and sale of marijuana, and the invading Mexican drug cartels, something other than a “black market.”

If marijuana were legalized, regulated, and taxed, as California’s Prop 19 would do, the “black market” that currently exists for the sale of marijuana would be largely irrelevant. A black market exists, by definition, for illegal transactions. Prop 19 would bring this huge industry out of the shadows, where the millions of current marijuana users could make their purchases from legitimate, regulated businesses, as opposed to from dealers that more likely than not buy their pot from Mexican drug cartels. Those cartels, in turn, would see their cash crop of marijuana dry up and defund the rest of the cartels’ dirty work. Marijuana legalization is the ultimate killer of black markets.

The second part of the Drug Czar’s argument seems to be that if marijuana were legalized, California wouldn’t see much, if any, tax revenue; that marijuana usage would increase; and that people would evade taxes on marijuana. All those false conclusions appear to be based on a recent study from the RAND Corporation. That study blared dire headlines about the use and cost of marijuana, though the substance of the study stated quite differently.

An analysis of the study by Drug War Rant found that the study’s author’s grossly spinned the actual findings.

There have been a lot of media reports in the past few days talking about the new RAND study that shows how California legalization will result in as much as an 80% decrease in marijuana prices and doubling of marijuana use.

Except, of course, that the RAND report doesn’t really say that at all.

It’s a 55 page report with lots of interesting stuff in it, but when it comes to an actual projection of change in marijuana use with legalization, they have absolutely no idea.

The report was covered with caveats like “unclear,” “uncertain,” “hard to answer,” “for the sake of exposition,” “readers should not interpret our use,” and “the absence of marijuana-specific information.” Basically, the whole damn report is one big question mark, authored by anti-legalization crusader Rosalie Pacula.

Without RAND, and without unfounded fears of a “black market” under legalization, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske is left with nothing in his argument against legalization aside from the government’s need to continue to spend $15 billion every year to fight drugs like marijuana. Which makes Kerlikowske’s answer to fighting marijuana even more hilarious:

My colleagues, including Ed and others, don’t talk about a war on drugs. They talk about, we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem in this country. So we have to focus on reducing demand.

Good luck with that, Kerli.