We're Fellows at the Brookings Institution who have studied how Colorado and Washington have implemented their new legal recreational marijuana systems, and who are now thinking about what lessons other legalizing states should learn from their experiences. This is especially important because on November 4, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and D.C. will vote on marijuana legalization during the 2014 midterm elections. We’re here to answer any and all questions about the present and future of marijuana policy today.

For state-specific questions, JHudakBrookings is the Colorado expert and philwallach is the Washington expert.

Proof here.

UPDATE: We planned to do this Reddit AMA for one hour, but your questions were so great, we hung around for two! Keep them coming, we will likely answer a few more by the end of the day. In the meantime, thank you all for your participation. We learned a lot about what the public pulse is like on this issue and we surely hope you learned a lot as well!

In the future, you can read all of our research on the topic--and many more topics--on Brookings' FixGov blog. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov


Phil & John

Comments: 248 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

TheLittleWinstonBaby36 karma

Good morning gentlemen - as drug-testing prior to a formal job offer is the norm for many companies these days, can you fail the drugs test (and not get the job as a result) if you have just come back from, say, Colorado?

JHudakBrookings49 karma

So, this is an interesting question and one that is unfolding right now in Colorado. The state Court of Appeals has rules in a case involving Dish Network's decision to continue to enforce drug testing policies that Colorado businesses can set rules around drug testing in the workplace, even for marijuana.

The challenge is that you can test positive for cannabis (THC) and not be under the influence for a longer period than would be the case for say alcohol. However, the state is giving businesses the power to enforce workplace standards, regardless of rules regarding recreational behaviors out of the work place. For the worker--and future workers--dealing with this issue, there is little recourse in federal courts where marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court will rule on this case and set the standard for the state. Keep a lookout for their ruling.

dimplejuice18 karma

What have been the direct economic effects of legalization in CO and WA so far? Any quantifiable data? Also, if neighboring states eventually legalize marijuana, how will that effect CO and WA sales? For example, here in the Northeast US, the legalization of casino gambling has really siphoned revenue from New Jersey. The pie is just being split in more slices rather than growing.

JHudakBrookings14 karma

I don't have those data, as it is VERY early on in the process. Chris Ingraham @c_ingraham at Washington post has talked a bit about tax revenue in Colorado (see here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/11/colorado-marijuana-tax-revenues-surge-as-recreational-sales-surpass-medical-for-the-first-time/)

Additionally, the state of Colorado commissioned a study of demand for the state to try to get a grasp on how much Coloradans and visitors to the state will want (in terms of product) and that can be a basic understanding of economic impact (both sales and tax). See here (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Market%20Size%20and%20Demand%20Study,%20July%209,%202014%5B1%5D.pdf)

It is important to note as the market expands, which will happen now that new entrants to the market are allowed in, prices will drop and supply will increase. That can have economic effects as well.

Finally, there is a working paper from Harvard/CATO being circulated right now that touches on some of these issues as well. I will not link to it because it remains a working paper, but you should be able to find it easily.

cingraham30 karma

John I am deeply offended you misplaced my underscore: @_cingraham. :D

Here's a write-up of the latest revenue figures. Colorado had a bear of a time projecting total revenues, because nobody knew how large the legal market would be, or how quickly people would migrate to it from the black and medical markets.

Overall, revenues have been slower to materialize than initially expected. But they've grown steadily and are now coming in considerably higher than the latest department of revenue projections.

JHudakBrookings10 karma

Thanks Chris! Apologies.

newmanPlume13 karma

I would love to understand why there is this resistance to any change in marijuana laws on the federal level in the US. Can you explain some of that? It seems like our country has a had an unusual history with growing hemp in colonial days and then I think at some point growing hemp (not mj) became illegal because of some strong adversity to anything hemp or mj.

I would think that if there is this ,"deadset against attitude" toward anything mj, then that might be a serious stumbling block with medical mj.

JHudakBrookings12 karma

Thanks for your question /u/newmanPlume . For people who advocate for a side, it is often difficult to understand opposition. Opposition to legalization--at the individual level--can exist for many, legitimate reasons. People have experiences in their own lives and in their families with individuals who abused marijuana--like with alcohol, other drugs, nicotine, gambling, etc., and can see that use of vices without responsibility can lead to poor outcomes. That is true for MJ and it is true for a lot.

In addition, many people fear the new and fear change. That is true on a variety of policies and in a multitude of contexts. For MJ it comes from a perception that if we legalize marijuana it will become widespread or a disaster or have serious social consequences. Those concerns will likely be illustrated or disproven depending on the experiences in the two states that have legalized and the next ones to come.

Finally, there has been a sustained effort to combat drugs and drug use in the US and around the world for decades. Billions have been poured into an effect that here in the US is spearheaded by every President. That messaging easily takes root in the psyche of Americans and has an effect on public opinion as a result. Is that changing? In part yes. But the sustained reality for decades is something that is to be expected. Many policymakers see drugs, including marijuana, as a problem, and move forward with a goal of making sure the public shares that belief. Whether you think that is good policy or bad policy, it is a reality in American public policy.

mhartmanMarketplace11 karma

I'm a business reporter--I'm wondering what we know about the role of black market/illegally produced-and-distributed marijuana in the new legal marijuana states? Prices are presumably higher in licensed stores than 'on the street'; that's partly taxes, partly overhead, partly quality/transparency of contents and qualities. And, the premium customers are willing to pay for a legal product. Is legal marijuana squeezing illegal growers, cartel and indie distributors/dealers, etc.?

JHudakBrookings12 karma

Mitchell, thanks for the question. This is a challenge to get good data to assess the question because information about the black market is understandably a challenge to get in an valid and reliable way. That said, there are surely individuals who are accessing the legal market now and not the illegal market. At the same time, some outlets argue that there are serious social divides between who is access legal marijuana and who is remaining in the illegal market.

Any time there is an influx of market actors, you can be certain that it will put a strain on existing producers--in this case black market producers and sellers.

One other item, in Colorado in particular, that is a challenge for the black market involves Coloradans new constitutional right to grow marijuana at home. That allows individuals, particularly those in municipalities and counties that have opted out of marijuana, to have access to it--and for fairly cheap. That may actually present a bigger threat to the black market sellers, cartels, etc. than the legalized market.

ryandmo9 karma

Another, separate, question gentlemen: Should Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. become legal states, do you think banking and tax laws and regulations will change and if so, how? Thank you.

JHudakBrookings5 karma

Also, /u/ryandmo for mine and Phil's take on those ballot initiatives, check out our latest post on our FixGov blog http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov/posts/2014/10/28-2014-midterms-marijuana-midterms-oregon-alaska-washington-hudak-wallach

JHudakBrookings4 karma

Regulations within the state will obviously change and state tax policy will change. That said, federal regulations regarding banking, taxes, and drug policy will almost certainly not change in response to legalization in any or all of OR, AK, DC. Changes would likely take a different composition in Congress, some changes in the those in positions of power in the Administration, changes in membership at the Federal Reserve, and more pressure--in the form of more legalizing states--for serious changes to happen at the federal level.

Stopman7 karma

What do you think the United States will look like with regards to marijuana ten years down the road?

JHudakBrookings14 karma

In 10 years, most states will allow residents access to medical marijuana. Many states already have, public opinion supporting medical is quite large and growing, and it is a harder argument to sustain in opposition.

Recreational marijuana is a bit harder. However, I am certain many more states will allow recreational--in the vein we see in Washington and Colorado right now--barring some disaster in a legalizing state that drastically turns public opinion. Deep red, Bible belt states like Mississippi and South Carolina may be among the last to legalize, but I expect New England states, Mountain West states and Red states with deep libertarian streaks may well move forward. Hope this helps. THIS ALSO HELPS ANSWER /u/NC_Law 's question as well.

BowflexMan6 karma

Do you and everyone on your team smoke weed?

JHudakBrookings11 karma

I have smoked pot in the past. I do not smoke it regularly. I cannot speak for my colleagues. But by outward appearances, I do not think everyone on my team smokes weed.

erranttv3 karma

Did you inhale?

JHudakBrookings21 karma

Absolutely. I am not Clintonesque.

Warrus5 karma

What do you think about Florida's bill to legalize use of medical marijuana? How close is it to statewide recreational use being accepted?

JHudakBrookings7 karma

I will add, medical marijuana in Florida is an interesting issue. In political and electoral terms Florida is a swing vote--moderate in nature--and initiatives like these are really a roll of the dice. At the same time, with an aging population and a destination of warm climate, particularly for people with serious medical issues, healthcare is a VERY important issue to the state. It is, of course, a big issue in every state, but Florida's population makes it even moreso. That means that a medical initiative in Florida can really tap into that issue, those concerns, and the public's opinion about access to products that may serve a therapeutic purpose.

Right now, it looks like polling suggests that the vote is relatively close on medical marijuana. Given that medical marijuana tends to be more popular among publics than recreational marijuana, I think it is safe to say that recreational legalization is a bit down the road.

kayneargand5 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. My question is actually in regards to WHY the two of you are advocates of legislation? Also, how do you think legislation nationwide will affect the economy as a whole, and do you think the Controlled Substances Act will be amended to omit marijuana?

JHudakBrookings3 karma

So, Phil and I are political scientists who write about the politics and policy surrounding marijuana legalization. Our work does not advocate on behalf of or against legalization. We simple research the issue and apply our training as social scientists to it. I will direct you to some of our work on the issue. A blog post from yesterday about the OR, DC, AK initiatives (http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov/posts/2014/10/28-2014-midterms-marijuana-midterms-oregon-alaska-washington-hudak-wallach) as well as our post-legalization studies on Washington (http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2014/08/25-washington-marijuana-legalization-knowledge-experiment-wallach) and Colorado (http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2014/07/colorado-marijuana-legalization-succeeding)

You'll see the work is empirical and investigatory, rather than advocacy oriented.

JHudakBrookings3 karma

As for the second part of your question. Amending the CSA to omit--or more likely reschedule--marijuana is going to take different membership in the House and Senate. It won't happen in the current Congress (not much happens in the current Congress) and it won't happen in the next one either (not much is going to happen in that one either). The CSA (w MJ as a Schedule I drug) is here to stay in the near future.

iansteelworker4 karma

How long until I can legally smoke pot and work in West Virginia?

JHudakBrookings6 karma

I wish I had the expertise to answer that. I do not. It requires a) WV to legalize marijuana, which is not on the immediate horizon, then b) either the initiative or legislation legalizing it would have to include the right to use marijuana at work (which is unlikely) or for courts to rule on it.

I should note, for those who drive a school bus or are a coal miner or are a daycare worker, I would predict 'never'.

TactfulFractal4 karma

How connected to efforts to reform the US prison system is the MJ legalization movement? Huge numbers of Americans are in the penal system for drug offenses, many non-violent.

Does legalization (perhaps particularly in states with heavy levels of incarceration) have a broader social-welfare implication? Has your research revealed any novel or interesting correlations?

JHudakBrookings4 karma

There are a lot of reasons advocates are giving for why marijuana should be legalized. Different arguments appeal to different groups. Particularly in minority communities/economically struggling communities, the arguments about civil rights/liberties and incarceration rates have real appeal to get traction in ways that may not have as much appeal in white communities or wealthier communities.

The targeting and diversification of these arguments to specific demographic groups shows a real maturity in the pro-legalization movement to understand what the politics around this issue are. Very talented political and legal minds worked on this issue in Colorado and Washington. It flies in the face of the idea that supporters of the movement are a bunch of stoners. I talk about this concept in my report on implementation in Colorado. See it here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2014/07/colorado-marijuana-legalization-succeeding

pezzshnitsol3 karma

Think tanks have a soft ball league right? What position do you play? Where do you bat in the batting order? Who are your think tank softball league rivals?

JHudakBrookings11 karma

Yes. 1B. 5th. Rivals? It's hard to distinguish them in the dust.

josephtutora3 karma

Do you think Arizona is soon to be recreationally legal when and why? Thanks!

JHudakBrookings4 karma

There are groups working in every state working on this issue. The ability of states to do this is complex. It depends on timing, fundraising, the electoral and political environments, and the paths to legalization (either legislative or ballot initiative/constitutional). I am unsure of the status of recreational legalization in Arizona, but as a political scientist, I will say this:

Recreational legalization's success is difficult in deeply conservative, values voters states. Arizona is a red state that is becoming less red, and will likely be a swing state by 2020. That means there may be more voters likely to be in favor of recreational legalization in a state like Arizona, particularly in the years to come. Groups like NORML and MPP (marijuana policy project) are focusing on initiatives and they will be able to answer that question more precisely.

bmlecg3 karma

I know it's not your area of focus probably, but how likely do you see the United Kingdom following suit and legalising? What do you think the timeline will be?

JHudakBrookings3 karma

I figured I would give an answer /u/bmlecg . I am not sure about UK legalization policy. I do know NORML has a presence in UK. You may want look into their work in the area. They'll have better information than I can give you.

clayHarvest3 karma

As a everyday taker of Zoloft for anxiety, do you believe marijuana is a better alternative to the pills? Thanks!

JHudakBrookings17 karma

Well, let me start by saying that although Phil and I have "Dr." before our names, those are Ph.Ds., not M.Ds. So we're in no position to weigh the different medical or therapeutic effects of one substance over another. I do encourage you to talk to your physician about this issue.

I do know that in some places, marijuana is used to treat anxiety. However, Zoloft has also endured FDA testing for its purposes. The same cannot be said of medical marijuana, and so comparing the two may be like apples and oranges. All that is to say, this is a better question posed to medical professionals and not eggheads like us.

Geldtron3 karma

What happens to people currently on probation (for marijuana possession) when a state legalizes it?

If nothing, in a sense they are continuing to be punished for a past crime that has now been declared a legal act. Which seems silly to me. Is there a general rule of thumb or is it done on an individual case by case basis and assessment of any other legal proceedings this person may have?

JHudakBrookings2 karma

That depends in part on how the state structures the reform, the language they use, and whether they choose to address it at all. Beyond that, courts can choose to engage the issue in an assertive way, and finally governors--in states that have pardon/commutation power--can intervene to address this issue.

Each pathway comes with political benefits and political costs, which I think is the most important way to think about this. Choices in this area, like in many areas of public policy, often don't emerge because they are the ideal, but because the emerge from a political process. Understanding how the politics shake out on the issue, in a particular state, at a particular time, among a specific set of officials will have more to do with the outcome than what is believed to be right or just or sensible.

gorthan19842 karma

Do you also know the legislation outside the U.S.?

JHudakBrookings4 karma

Uruguay recently passed legalization--the first country in the world to do so. There are also very important treaty implications surrounding this issue. This was recently discussed by my colleague Wells Bennett and WOLA's John Walsh. See here: http://www.brookings.edu/events/2014/10/17-international-impacts-legal-marijuana

Latin American countries are interested in this issue and are starting to investigate the challenges, risks, rewards and implications of it, all while taking a wait and see approach with Uruguay. Uruguay is a very advanced Latin American country with stable, solid institutions. The expectation is that if Uruguay can't manage to implement legalization effectively, it would be all the harder for other Latin American countries with weaker institutions to pull it off.

General_Beauregard2 karma

How far behind do you think we Bible Belters are from legalization (or even decriminalization)?

Do you think strongly conservative states (i.e. the Southeast) will get there on their own, or will they not make the change until federal legislation is passed?

JHudakBrookings2 karma

Bible Belt states are likely the last to legalize for a variety of reasons, strong Tea Party sentiment, values voting motivated by social conservatism, etc. That is just a reality. The path forward in these states for legalization supporters would likely to focus on libertarian streaks among conservatives in these states. That said, it is really difficult to see legalization passing any time soon. They may well have to wait for federal policy change.

jumpup2 karma

how many different strains are currently on the market, ?

JHudakBrookings6 karma

I can speak from Colorado's experience. There are a lot of strains on the market. I do not have a number. Cannabis business in the state is an impressive combination of agro-science and genetics, so that companies are producing new strains in ways that offer product diversification at market. Each strain is marketed as having unique effects from energy to relaxation to giggles to munchies and everything in between.

Some argue--and I believe--that the product diversification will become much life craft beer or wines in ways that truly appeal to user tastes in unique ways.

dallas4171 karma

How do you think things are looking for legalization in Missouri? We're a conservative state in the bible belt but we have a lot of small groups making progress towards decriminalization and legalization.

JHudakBrookings1 karma

I cannot speak directly to efforts in Missouri, but I will say that I think a lot of states are taking a wait and see approach to what happens in Colorado, Washington and other states, as well as experiences in states that have or are getting medical marijuana. Taking a minute to endure some policy learning and observation is always healthy. Seeing success or failure before moving forward with new policy is one way to avoid or at least limit the risks of policy failure. The divided electorate in states like Missouri and present challenges for passage, particularly when conservatives are values voters. Those present political obstacles for proponents and offer political benefits for opponents of legalization.

GO_RAVENS1 karma

What is your opinion on medicinal marijuana? Some see it as an important step on the path to legalization, while others believe that it just cheapens the efforts to legalize.

I can see both arguments, because the states that are considering legalization all had medicinal beforehand, but at the same time, California didn't try for medicinal marijuana until legalization efforts were shut down, and when you look at California and Colorado before 2014, it was clear that "medicinal" really just meant back-door legalization.

JHudakBrookings2 karma

I will start with some clarification. California has had a medical marijuana system that predates their attempts at legalized recreational.

Medical marijuana legalization is not a uniform thing. In some states there are dispensaries and grow operations. In other states the system is more narrow, engaging caregivers and individual or home growers. Because of that, the relationship between existing medical marijuana policy in a state is not as neatly related to "benefits" for a state that seeks to establish recreational.

I will say this. The Colorado experience suggests that have an effective, state-run, regulatory operation around medical marijuana can prepare a state for the institutional, bureaucratic and regulatory demands that a recreational program would demand. This is true in other policy areas. Having some sort of experience or existing institutional environment assists in the implementation of new, related policies.

As for your point on medical being a backdoor for legalization. That concern is held by groups of people in a variety of states. In the same way that some pharmaceutical drugs are accessed by some people without legitimate medical necessity, the same is expected of cannabis in medical states. That said, many doctors believe there are medicinal and/or palliative benefits offered by cannabis and that there are patients who actually benefit from it. Does a gray market exist? Absolutely. Is every user of medical marijuana simply subverting the system to use the product recreationally? Absolutely not.

JustSomeD00d1 karma

What are some potential consequences of legalization that are not frequently discussed?

JHudakBrookings2 karma

This is a really interesting question /u/JustSomeD00d. In the creation of new public policy there are always consequences that are not frequently discussed. I argue in my research into the implementation of Colorado's Amendment 64 (available here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2014/07/colorado-marijuana-legalization-succeeding) that states often do not anticipate the tremendous bureaucratic, regulatory, structural, and institutional needs that a policy reform like legalized recreational marijuana can present. It is not simply the flip of a switch and marijuana appears on the market. The issue is complex, and implementation of the policy is more complex. The bureaucratic and regulatory details are hard to anticipate (though they will become a bit easier to anticipate as the Colorado and Washington experiences proceed and even easier if more states come on line) and challenging to put it into action.

margarinized_people1 karma

My dream job is working on drug policy reform. Do you have any advice for someone trying to get into the field?

JHudakBrookings3 karma

There are a variety of very well established groups that are working hard on this issue. They lobby, develop communications strategies, work with state, federal, and local elected officials and organize volunteer groups in states and localities. They are interest groups that have matured over time and become highly professionalized. They are numerous. The most highly visible ones include, but are not limited to, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and NORML, as well as state and local groups as well. Look at their websites, see the work they are doing, and if it aligns with your perspective, that should answer your question. Also, look at other organizations related to those I mention above.

Wordsworthswarrior1 karma

I have heard, anecdotally, that something like 35 state legislatures are discussing legalization of some form of marijuana use. Do you know how many states are currently in the discussion phase? I saw you mentioned Oregon, Alaska and DC as actually having ballot initiatives, but I'm curious what states are considering them. Thanks for doing the AMA.

JHudakBrookings2 karma

So, this is a bit difficult to answer because the claim "legislatures are discussing legalization" can mean one rogue legislator filed a bill or a sizable majority of legislators are pursuing such legalization legislation--or ballot initiative readying legislation--in ways that make it a central part of the policy agenda for that state. There is everything in between, as well. So, I would guard against the idea that all "discussions" are created equal and be clear that they do not necessarily reflect a serious chance of legalization becoming policy. Here is out post about OR AK DC: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov/posts/2014/10/28-2014-midterms-marijuana-midterms-oregon-alaska-washington-hudak-wallach

RichardRydur1 karma

Do u believe police officers in legalized states should be drug tested for marijuana now that its legal?

JHudakBrookings3 karma

I know police forces are very interested in testing their officers for marijuana. Police departments do not want their officers being on patrol, carrying and using a firearm, driving a police car, etc. while under the influence of any drug--alcohol, THC, prescription drugs, etc.

At the same time, police departments have zero tolerance policies regarding numerous behaviors and surely THC will remain among those policies, regardless of changes to state and federal laws. My guess, too, is that the public is going to be perfectly content with ensuring their police officers are not risking being on duty while under the influence OF ANYTHING.

I_am_Bearstronaut1 karma

How does the outlook on marijuanna look in the state of South Dakota? In my eyes, I see it being one of the last states to possibly get it legalized in any form

JHudakBrookings3 karma

South Dakota is an interesting case. While it tends to be a conservative state, for a multitude of reasons, there are demographic changes happening there based on movements of racial groups and the boom in energy exploration in the region. If those changes lead to an influx of residents and voters who have pro-legalization views, South Dakota may move faster toward legalization than you suspect. That said, it maybe a frontier state, but it is not really at the frontier of legalization policy.

FloppyTunaFish1 karma

What is your favorite type of sandwich?

JHudakBrookings7 karma

Ham. I'm a plain guy.

LeeRobbie1 karma

How has recreational legalization changed underage usage?

JHudakBrookings2 karma

The best resource on this question, at least in Colorado can be found here: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/news/news-new-survey-documents-youth-marijuana-use-need-prevention