All of us at Canna Law Blog were saddened to learn that the estimable Mark Kleiman passed away over the weekend. Kleiman was probably the most influential scholar on cannabis policy. His views were creative and nuanced, data-driven and humanitarian. He was a strong opponent of the War on Drugs going back to the early 1980s, yet he also opposed a full commercial model for marijuana legalization. Instead, he argued for a middle ground that would end prohibition and mass incarceration, while preventing the rise of Big Marijuana and its potentially detrimental public health consequences.
Our Seattle lawyers have distinct memories of watching Kleiman serve as Washington’s appointed “Pot Czar” as it built out the first state cannabis program in 2014. We spoke alongside him on issues as far afield as tribal cannabis programs back in those days, and we conferred with him over the years and used his writings to teach law students annually going back to 2016.
Kleiman was excellent in interview, lecture and print formats. For just a few of his greatest (and most accessible) hits, check out the following:
- “We’re Legalizing Weed Wrong” (Top 10 list for Slate)
- “Which Drugs Should be Legalized? How Legal Should They Be?” (Dartmouth University lecture)
- “How Legalized Pot Would Change America” (Interview with Vox)
- “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Co-authored book)
If we were to identify the most prominent theme in Kleiman’s scholarship, it would probably be that the lack of a coherent national policy on cannabis legalization is bad for everybody. States will race to the bottom on regulation and pricing, making the same mistakes as they did with alcohol and tobacco; public health will suffer.
Kleiman also did not shy away from saying things the cannabis industry and its regulators didn’t want to hear, on issues from cannabis use disorder as a real and growing problem, to his strongly held belief that taxes should be assessed on each product’s intoxicating power. Our cannabis business lawyers did not always agree with Mark, but to a person we always considered him well-informed, thoughtful, and honest.
Kleiman left at a very interesting time for cannabis policy in the United States. Federal cannabis policy is still a disaster. States are building their programs on revenue-raising models, rather than emphasizing public health. The industry is dividing into THC companies and CBD companies. International norms are changing fast. Overall, it feels like things are moving more quickly than ever, but in a more chaotic manner than ever before.
The next few years will see continued need for strong voices on cannabis policy. Think tanks like the Brookings Institution and RAND Corporation continue to do important work, along with advocacy organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project. As far as individuals, though, Kleiman was probably the single most respected and important voice in the field. He leaves an enduring legacy and giant shoes to fill.
Mark Kleiman will definitely be missed.