Alaskan Exceptionalism

Joe Matthews on our strangest state.

So it’s fair to say that Alaska has been shaped more profoundly by direct democracy than any state in the union. As every bit of Gov. Sarah Palin’s life is scrutinized, you’ll hear lots of odd things for which direct democracy is part of the answer. (Here’s my strongest prediction about this choice: once Americans learn how Alaska works, Leno and Letterman will start making jokes — and it’ll be years before they stop). For example, she’ll have to admit — as she has done in the past — that she smoked marijuna. But she’ll have an explanation that may surprise people. Marijuana was LEGAL in Alaska until 1990, and not just for medicinal purposes. Thank the voters for the right. The voters also took the right away.

This seems like as good a time as any to briefly describe my view on marijuana regulation. My view is essentially identical to Mark Kleiman view. To summarize, drug use isn’t the problem; rather, drug abuse is the problem.

Full commercial legalization of cannabis, on the model now applied to alcohol, would vastly increase the cannabis-abuse problem by giving the marketing geniuses who have done such a fine job persuading children to smoke tobacco, drink to excess and supersize themselves with junk food another vice to foster. However, if current laws were changed to make it illegal to sell cannabis or to exchange it for anything of value, but not to grow it, possess it, use it or give it away, the costs of the current control regime could be sharply reduced without greatly increasing the size of the marijuana consumption problem. Such a law could not effectively prevent private sales any more than a ban on gambling can prevent private poker games. Its goal would be to prevent mass marketing.

And also, on the most abused drug,

Few of my fellow drug policy analysts agree on this point, so few politicians are likely to vote for such a change. Nonetheless, these three proposed alcohol-policy reforms—higher taxes, personal prohibition for problem drunks, and eliminating the age restriction—would substantially reduce the social costs of the drinking problem.

Kleiman: very smart guy.