Kleiman’s disease model of economic growth

In the previous post, I asked the commenters to discuss Mark Kleiman’s statement:

Just 20 percent of users consume 80 percent of all the weed in the U.S., Kleiman said. (Forty-six percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. is part of drinking binges, he added).

“The only way to get a lot of revenue is to sell a lot of marijuana,” he said. “The only way to sell a lot or marijuana is to sell to people who smoke a lot of marijuana. And that’s not a good thing.” Policymakers may not want the state “fostering disease,” he said.

You all did a great job. I just wanted to add my two cents in here (some of which has already been mentioned in comments).

First, let’s define binge drinking:

Binge drinking is defined as episodic excessive drinking.[7] There is currently no world wide consensus on how many drinks constitute a “binge”, but in the US, the term is often taken to mean consuming five or more standard drinks (male), or four or more drinks (female), on one occasion. [wikipedia]

Now, lets’ assume that the two numbers given are correct (45% of alcohol consumed in binge drinking, and 80% of marijuana consumed by 20% of users).

That certainly does not mean that everyone who is has had 5/4 drinks in one occasion is diseased, nor does it mean that 20% of all marijuana users are diseased. It simply points out some distribution-of-use facts as conditions currently exist for those two products.

We know that less than 10% of marijuana users have any dependency, so it’s hardly likely that 20% are problem users. Ironically, it’s likely that almost every single person who uses marijuana for medical purposes (ie, to combat disease) would fall in that 20% of users.

And, of course, these numbers have other limitations. With the alcohol figures, you’d probably have a whole different set of numbers if you break down beer versus wine versus hard alcohol, etc. And, with marijuana, you’ll have a completely different mix of users with legalization.

Mark Kleiman likes to believe that the percentage of users of a drug that are problem users is an absolute fixed percentage (i.e., if 10% are problem users and then you legalize, 10% of all new users will be problem users as well). Of course, that doesn’t fit either reality or logic. There is absolutely no data to support such a viewpoint, and the truth is, with marijuana being readily available, criminalization has vastly more of a deterrence factor on casual users than problematic users; hence legalization mostly results in an increase in casual non-problematic use.

So, can you make money on marijuana as a state without fostering disease? Of course. First of all, you cam make money on marijuana even if there is no increase in use at all. And then, yes, it is quite possible to increase sales dramatically without increasing abuse. (Kleiman’s price point isn’t the only tool available, and it’s a pretty poor one, as it leads to substitution, which we don’t want, and also has more of a deterrent on the casual user than the problematic user within any equivalent economic class.)

I think it’s fine for Mark Kleiman to tell the state that the tax revenue numbers that they were expecting are unrealistic. He has said numerous times that his role is simply to advise them on implementation; the voters have already decided on legalization. However, when he makes wild, unsupported statements like this, it sure does seem like he’s still interested in subverting the will of the voters.

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