How Drugs And Crime Became One Harvard Professor's Body of Work
Senior Features Editor
States Vs. Washington
CNBC:Is it safe to say there is a lobbying industry around this at this point?
Miron: Certainly, a movement, an industry, all sorts of advocacy groups like the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, clearly their mission is to try and change the legal status of marijuana. And some emphasize a bit more on the medical marijuana, some are a bit more on full legalization.
In terms of being opposed to it, there’s the drug czar's office and the DEA. There’s treatment groups, which tend to be opposed to legalization. It must be tens of billions of dollars for treatment. So, I think that’s mainly self-interest, if it were legal many fewer people would be pushed into treatment by the criminal justice system and there would be a lot less demand for treatment services. Of course, law enforcement is the other main group—the prison building industry, vice squads, etc. A lot of law enforcement is going to have less of a job, if in fact marijuana were legalized.
CNBC: On the legalization issue, is it realistic to think that this would be a constitutional amendment that would require the approval by states?
Miron: There’s never been any constitutional amendment giving the federal government authority to outlaw drugs or marijuana, so you could argue that the Controlled Substances Act and other things that led to the prohibition of marijuana are completely unconstitutional. So, in any event, simply without even repealing that, simply moving marijuana from being a Schedule 1 drug, to being a Schedule 2 or 3, to being a less serious category under the CSA [Controlled Substances Act] would allow for far more legal provision.
CNBC: Is it hard to foresee a battle between the states and the feds on this?
Miron: Well, the battle I think, we may well see very soon is if it California passes its ballot initiative, then the federal government is in a really awkward spot, because then it has to decide are we going to simply decide not to enforce the federal law in California. Even though on the books, it obviously applies to California citizens? And if they don’t, if they just let that be the outcome, then given it's pretty hard to seal borders, then you can imagine that California is going to be producing, legally, and supplying the whole nation. So you almost kind of de facto legalize for the entire country, so it wouldn’t be surprising if there wasn’t a huge fight over the what the federal government would do for California’s ballot initiative to pass.
CNBC: While they are choosing to enforce it, they are also contesting it in court?
Miron: Absolutely, no it would be contested., it would be years before we saw it all play out.
CNBC: If we had national legalization, do you envision a situation where the states and the feds would be fighting over taxing authority or would the feds just put a certain tax on pot and then the states are adding ten cents or twelve cents?
Miron: I think mainly the latter. Although you raise a good question, which is if the Fed puts a pretty heavy one on, then the states know if they put a heavy one on, they are going to drive the activity to some other lower-tax state and they are all going worry well, if we do too much we are just going to drive it entirely back underground. Now in fact for alcohol and tobacco and gasoline we have that same issue, and we seem to have some level of peaceful co-existence, nobody has yet jacked it up to a level which completely mucks up the system.
CNBC: Some states would have more interest in taxing it higher than others, right?
Miron: Absolutely, as they do with lots of things.
CNBC: How do you explain the difference in enforcement state to state? Is it rational or is it just how things happened?
Miron: I think it mainly reflects the underlying attitude of the populations of the state. There are clearly very different political views on average between say red states and blue states, so that shows up in which items end up being priorities for the people who make the decisions for governors, sheriffs, etc. Clearly some amount of it is just dumb luck, you end up with a big law and order guy in a blue state or a laissez-faire guy in a red state. I think it is mainly just a variation of political preferences.
CNBC: At the end of the day, would you say there is no rational reason to keep the current system in place?
Miron: Yes I agree with that statement. There is no rational reason to keep the current system in place.