Hey Reddit! I'm Chris Ingraham, I write for the Post's Wonkblog covering drug policy, among other things.

Given this year's ballot initiatives in Alaska, Oregon and DC, as well as continued news out of Colorado and Washington, I've been writing a lot about marijuana lately - changes in the laws, changes in opinion, and what the latest social science research says about marijuana use.

Have questions about marijuana laws or what current research says about marijuana use? Ask away!

Proof: Verified Twitter account

UPDATE: Okay I've got to head out for the time being. This was awesome! I'll leave you with this: regardless of how you feel about the issue, the most important thing you can do is VOTE. Most of the action on marijuana laws is happening at the state and local level, which younger voters historically aren't as involved in. Make your voice heard!

Comments: 186 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

nyckidd38 karma

Do you think that we will see meaningful reform on a federal level before President Obama leaves office?

cingraham40 karma

We've already seen a considerable amount of change at the federal level. When Obama first took office, the Justice Dept. was conducting raids on medical marijuana dispensaries at a faster rate than Bush did.

Eight years later, and Justice has taken an explicit hands-off policy on the legalization states, and Eric Holder is calling for a rethinking of marijuana's schedule status. Holder has also nominated an outspoken proponent of legalized marijuana to the top post at Justice's Civil Rights Division.

nyckidd19 karma

Honestly, I wouldn't necessarily say that those things are meaningful, maybe besides the abatement of medical dispensary raids. I meant something more like the President rescheduling marijuana or removing it entirely from the list of controlled substances.

cingraham44 karma

One of the biggest factors is that federal bureaucracy moves slowly. In essence, we've got this huge bureaucracy built around the notion that "drugs are bad, mmkay." And so any loosening of drug policy is a direct threat to the existence of those bureaucracies.

HoldTheJalapenos26 karma


cingraham30 karma

The largest thing at the federal level is that the government lists marijuana as a schedule 1 controlled substance, which means they consider it dangerous, without accepted medical use, and having a high potential for abuse.

Most researchers and independent observers agree that this scheduling is non-sensical. The status is currently under review by the FDA, although they've reviewed it twice in the past decade or so and recommended leaving it as-is.

Beyond that, the U.S. has obligations toward 3 international drug control treaties to prohibit marijuana use and prosecute it if necessary. Notably, though, the State department has given signals that it is rethinking our relationship with these treaties. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield recently called for "flexibility" in implementing these treaties, to accommodate states and other countries that are experimenting with legalization.

smellyrebel16 karma

What is it going to take for the federal government to actually decriminalize marijuana use? Or what will it take for them to move it out of schedule 1 classification?

cingraham26 karma

The FDA is reviewing the scheduling status now. The case for keeping it Schedule 1 is really quite poor, and is just an artifact of early-70s drug war hysteria.

I think as we see more states legalizing and we see the sky not falling as a result, the impetus for broader federal reform will grow.

Actual-Situation16 karma

Chris, what can you tell us about the evolution of the "black market" for marijuana in states that have legalized/decriminalized it? Furthermore, do you think we can generalize what we see regarding the current black market in WA and CO to what we expect to see if marijuana is legalized elsewhere?

I ask because I understand drug cartel are VERY stubborn and will do whatever they have to do to stay in business.

cingraham28 karma

In Colorado people have been slower than expected to move from the black market to the legal market, primarily because legal weed carries high taxes and is more expensive.

However, the legal market continues to grow, and Colorado is doing an excellent job of monitoring the policy environment and making adjustments as necessary.

I expect people to move away from the black market over time, as prices in the legal market come down. But it won't happen overnight!

PM_me_my_dick_pic10 karma

Just got back from Denver. My friend and his family all smoke and they buy from black market because it is significantly cheaper.

lmakestuff16 karma

There's something to be said for the professionalism of these dispensaries too, if it's anything like California medical market a good number of them are probably run a bit poorly.

If the only difference between going to a storefront and hitting up my buddy is legality & taxes, it's kinda not worth it.

But if it was decked out like an apple store with nice quality packaging, product, and service, id def be heading there more often.

cingraham16 karma

This is an important point. For CO's legalization to be perceived as successful, we'll need to see continued migration from the black market to the retail side. But in return, retail consumers will have to demand the same level of professionalism from their marijuana retailer as they do from everyone else.

Crisissss14 karma

1) What is your personal stance on "legalization vs decriminalization"?

2) Do you find decriminalization could also solve a lot of problems related to marijuana policy?

3) After being involved with this topic for so long, how do your views compare to those that you had when you started?

cingraham20 karma

  1. Either is far preferable to the current policy regime.

  2. Decriminalization will help, but without legalization you're still going to have a black market to contend with, and all the problems associated therewith.

  3. I have a better understanding that there are [some risks associated with marijuana use](http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/09/no-marijuana-is-not-actually-as-addictive-as-heroin/], particularly if you start at a young age. But the case for full legalization seems very strong to me, and the case for keeping the current regime in place is really not supported by any data.

JDRsqrd12 karma

Do you think that the (what I assume will be) high profit report from legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington will prompt other states to "follow the money" and quickly legalize recreational usage?

What are (some or all) current regulations on marijuana sold for recreational usage?

cingraham16 karma

I certainly think so. It's a sad reality of current politics, but nothing speaks like money does. Colorado tax revenues are coming in well above the current projections.

In fact, the financial arguments are something that give the issue cross-party appeal, which is rare these days. States that legalize and tax will not only see revenue increases, but they'll also be saving a considerable amount of money by not wasting police resources on low-level marijuana offenses.

Tai158 karma

Do you think that if/when marijuana legalization is successful, it will lead to decriminalization of other drugs that are relatively safe, like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA?

cingraham15 karma

It may, although I think that would be a long way off. One of the absurdities of the current scheduling system is that the safest drugs with the least potential for abuse - marijuana, peyote, LSD - are categorized as the most dangerous drugs with the most potential for abuse. Put frankly, this isn't a rational framework at all.

chon1567 karma

Are there any data regarding protections of an hypothetical expansion of drug legalisation?

cingraham9 karma

There's certainly a good case to be made for more widespread decriminalization of drug use. Portugal has done that, and the results are widely seen as a success.

NDaveT7 karma

Running up to the 2012 election, it seemed to me like many politicians were out of touch with how much public opinion has changed on this issue over the last 50 years. Do you think they are really that out of touch, or are they trying to please some constituency or other by remaining pro-prohibition?

cingraham7 karma

Older people are less favorable toward marijuana legalization, and they're also far more likely to vote than younger folks. So expect politicians to be behind the ball on this topic for awhile.

If you're younger and want your voice heard, the most important things you can do are voting (especially in midterm years!) and contacting your representatives to let them know where you stand.

lolpandaguy7 karma

First off, thank you for providing information on marijuana laws to everyone and supporting the cause.

My question is pretty cliche (but I would like a current update on): When could marijuana become legal for recreational use in the United States?

cingraham19 karma

I see it following a similar trajectory to gay marriage. I suspect the federal government will largely let the states lead the way, until there is such a critical mass of legalization states that the tensions between state and federal policies have to be address explicitly.

It seems reasonable to assume that at least Oregon and DC will vote to legalize this fall - Alaska may too, although polls there show a very tight contest. Then there will be at least six states that are looking to put marijuana on the ballot in 2016.

Expect it to be a fairly big issue in the 2016 elections. After that, depending on who is in office, we may start to see some meaningful federal change.

saxj7 karma

Why does the use of marijuana warrant such legal restrictions when smoking tobacco is condoned? Is it less of an ethical concern and more of an economic issue? Will marijuana use be sanctioned if a system of taxation is put in place?

cingraham28 karma

The current scheduling regime makes zero sense. If alcohol and tobacco were invented today they would be placed into Schedule 1, the most restrictive category: they're dangerous, they have no accepted medical use, and they have high potential for abuse.

JaiOhBe6 karma

How stoned are you right now?

cingraham30 karma


solodoloGAINZ6 karma

When do you think Marijuana will be legal in Texas?

Which state do you think will be the last state to legalize recreational Marijuana?

cingraham12 karma

This is a fun question. Advocates for legalization already have their eyes set on Texas, so it may be sooner than you'd otherwise think.

In terms of the last states to legalize, my money would be on Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana.

Of course, it's important to note that the tide of public opinion may also shift, and states may start rolling back their legalization efforts. But every researcher I've talked to considers this a highly unlikely scenario.

ragesauce95 karma

Did you choose to cover marijuana policy or was it assigned to you? How has your experience been overall?

cingraham3 karma

I chose it - it's a fascinating public policy topic. We're basically talking about the regulation of pleasure-seeking, right? Plus there is going to be a lot happening at the state level between now and 2016, and presumably beyond.

There's also a huge amount of good data and research on marijuana out there, and it's research that isn't as widely understood as it should be. I can think of few realms where there's as much disconnect between federal policy and sound research as this one.

Frajer5 karma

do you think the stigma surrounding marijuana is vanishing ?

cingraham18 karma

In an era when you've got the president of the U.S. saying marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol? Yeah, it's definitely decreasing.

thisnickguy5 karma

Are you covering this topic from a pro or anti-drug position? Throughout your research, have you uncovered any unintended consequences resulting from the legalization of Marijuana for recreational use in Colorado thus far?

cingraham13 karma

My position is that the current system of drug war policies is a disaster, and that nearly any other regulatory regime would be preferable. It seems that full legalization will lead to the best possible outcome in terms of harm reduction.

There have not been any unintended consequences in Colorado so far, although it is still very, very early in the process. We may not see the full effects of legalization in areas like school graduation rates for several years or more.

But as I've written extensively before, so far the outcomes in states that have legalized or decriminalized are overwhelmingly positive.

window54 karma

Is anyone studying the societal affects in states where usage has been legalized? Are more people being arrested for driving while high? Are people not working as many hours a week as they were before legalization? Has there been an increase in people being fired for testing positive on a drug test?

cingraham3 karma

People are watching them very closely, but it's still very, very early on. I will say that looking at the broader segment of states that have decriminalized or enacted medical marijuana in the past decade, we're really not seeing any harmful effects.

one-pump-chump2 karma

Hi there, Mr. Ingram. I am a big fan of your work—mainly because it irritates the duplicitous Kevin Sabet.

Here are five (5) questions. Please feel free to answer any or all of them. Thanks in advance!

(1) Here’s my big pet peeve about all drug data collection. A lot of data that’s released regarding drug usage statistics (particularly among teens) relies on SURVEYS who, in my understanding, have approximately ZERO external validity since the data can be skunked by social desirability bias, desire to not self-incriminate, and, in technical terms, teenagers fucking off. Why in the hell do journalists on all sides report these (teen) usage rates as if they convey real information?

(2) Aside from the Washington DC ballot measure (sure to win) and Florida’s MMJ amendment (sure to lose), how do you think marijuana will do in Oregon and Alaska?

(3) Is it difficult to be a “data journalist” on the marijuana beat when there is so little data to report? Small-n problems everywhere—are they the bane of your existence? How can you discuss the effects of legalization when we have only two(2) experiments to work with (and they are different in important ways)?

(4) Marijuana legalization is super-popular among the young people (who may be trying desperately to forget our nation’s economic prospects, thanks Boomers!), but very unpopular among the super-engaged older generations. Does this mean that MJ Prohibition could be enjoying a long retirement rather than a quick death in 2016?

(5) The link—associative or causal—between marijuana and mental illness are hotly debated. In your evaluation what do we know with a reasonable level of certainty.?

cingraham3 karma

  1. The data collection is far from perfect, I agree. It's known that the surveys generally under-report actual drug use, by as much as half. But researchers know this, and they've done various studies to figure out the full extent of the underreporting. So while we might take the raw numbers with a grain of salt, the surveys are still highly valuable for things like trends over time, or comparing use among different age groups, drugs, etc.

  2. It seems like Oregon will pass. In Alaska the polling is very close, so I'd call it a toss-up. Florida honestly I have no idea what's going on there - polls with similar question wording show 20-point differences from each other.

  3. I think the hardest part is learning the limitations of the various studies. They can all tell us something important, but you have to know the limits of what you can and can't say from a survey, which can be tough.

  4. I think long retirement is precisely the way I'd describe it. As I mentioned in another post, assuming public opinion continues to favor legalization I'd expect it to follow a path similar to same-sex marriage, where the states are taking the lead.

  5. For what we know with a reasonable level of certainty, here's my take on the recent 20-year review of marijuana studies.

waslikeyouropinion2 karma

Thanks for doing this. I read Wonkblog every day.

1) You guys seem to be doing more stories about drinking in the past few months or so. What's up?

2) It seems like libertarian leaning Republicans and many Democrats have a lot of common ground on drug and incarceration issues, but I don't know when/what will actually happen. Do you see anything happening on criminal justice reform in the near future on the federal level?

3) Have things changed much at the Washington Post since Jeff Bezos acquired it and Ezra Klein and co. left?

cingraham1 karma

  1. It's just an interesting thing to write about! And like everything else, there's a ton of data available now on alcohol use.

  2. Definitely. There are already several bipartisan bills before Congress on sentencing reform, for instance. On drug reform there are so many ways to approach the issue - you can look at it as an issue of frivolous spending, or of personal liberty, or of racial justice, or simply from a logical standpoint. Issues like this that inspire cross-party cooperation could help break through the current logjams in Congress.

  3. I just came to the Post in February, so I don't know what it was like before. But I will say there's a lot of positive energy in the newsroom these days, definitely more so than any other place I've worked.

Xanthilamide2 karma

Do you think that if marijuana gets legalized in the US, will it affect EU or Chinese attitude towards this same drug?

cingraham7 karma

Yes. In fact, legalization in CO and WA is already changing how other countries - especially in Latin America - are thinking about their drug laws. This is a very good thing.

The ironic thing is that the U.S. was the one pushing the international drug control treaties in the first place. But now the U.S. is taking the lead in re-interpreting them.

jchabotte2 karma

What do you think of the possibility of Unimed Pharmaceuticals, the producer of Marinol, having lawmakers in their pockets to keep Marijauna illegal?

cingraham5 karma

Pharma absolutely has a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal, and they are generally supporters of various anti-legalization campaigns here in the U.S.

However, I don't know how much influence they actually have over the situation. It's interesting to note research showing that medical marijuana states have lower rates of prescription drug overdose. I think it will be hard for lawmakers to overlook evidence like this.

b33pb0pb00p1 karma

If you had to eradicate the existence of either jorts or the phrase YOLO from all of human history, which would you choose? be honest

cingraham10 karma

Those are the two finest words in the English language and anyone in favor of eradicating them is a criminal.

williwashere1 karma

The legal age for marijuana consumption is 21 in CO as I have heard, unlike tobacco which is 18 right. Why is this so and is it possible that the age for mj consumption could be lowered to 18 as it moves to becoming federally legal?

cingraham6 karma

Part of it is that in many ways, marijuana is more similar to alcohol than it is to tobacco. There's some good evidence of negative outcomes for people who start using marijuana heavily in their teens, for instance.

I don't think you'd see a move toward a legal age of 18 unless there was strong political support for also lowering the drinking age to 18.

Alfman29-2 karma

Chicken Teriyaki or Chicken Parm?

cingraham10 karma

Chicken Teriyaki 4eva