The Legal Marijuana Middle Ground

Article by Beau Kilmer, Rand

Earlier this month, voters in California and seven other states passed ballot initiatives to allow for-profit companies to produce, distribute and sell non-medical marijuana. With more than 65 million people living in states that have passed marijuana legalization, and a Gallup poll showing that 60 percent of the country supports legalizing marijuana use, national legalization may seem inevitable.

As goes California, so goes the nation, right?

Not necessarily.

Consider what happened with medical marijuana. California was the first state to allow medical marijuana, starting nearly 20 years ago. Its approach was extremely loose—over time it became easy for essentially any adult to obtain a medical recommendation, and dispensaries abounded.

Most states now allow some form of medical marijuana and some followed California’s approach—especially in the West—but others did not. For example, Massachusetts and New York implemented versions that restrict medical marijuana to people with serious medical problems and supply them via heavily regulated dispensaries.

Will the story be the same with nonmedical marijuana? Or are the eight states that have passed initiatives to legalize non-medical sales—Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—blazing a profit-maximizing trail that others will follow?

To date, the debate about nonmedical marijuana in the United States has focused on a false dichotomy: Marijuana supply is either completely prohibited, or it is regulated like the commercial alcohol model in this country.

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