As the usual gang of academics in drug policy have, over the years, continually pointed out the uncertainties of legalization given the lack of any actual examples of legalization, I have often publicly wondered at the lack of interest in pushing for a Justice Brandeis-style “laboratory” to give us that actual data.

Now that Washington and Colorado have stepped up to the plate and voted for legalization despite the paralyzing reams of uncertainty that surely must be haunting their every waking moment, it’s nice to see Mark Kleiman appreciating this new laboratory: States as laboratories for marijuana policy.

So the obvious way to learn something about marijuana legalization would be to try it out one state at a time: relying on what Justice Brandeis called “the laboratories of democracy.” If Colorado’s legalization went badly, that would be a much easier problem to correct than if the mistake had been made on a national basis. [...]

So why shouldn’t the federal government cut Colorado and Washington some slack? As long as those states prevent marijuana grown under their laws from crossing state lines and thereby subverting marijuana prohibition in the rest of the states, the Justice Department could step back and let the consequences of the new policies play themselves out. They might succeed, or they might fail. In either case, the rest of us could learn from their experience.

I’m pleased to see Mark engaged in this new opportunity for data.

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