A Brief Commentary on MJBA’s David Rheins interview with Mark Kleiman


by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

This post is intended to pick up and amplify a few things from MJBA’s David Rheins’ recent interview with Mark Kleiman, Washington’s former “weed czar.”

First, a couple of comments about Kleiman, who is a bit of a controversial figure amongst cannabis people. Critiques of his perspective circle around two things. First, his cannabis politics are those of an outsider. And second, BOTEC, the organization that he heads, is often not just “back of the envelope” but outright off the envelope and onto the table in terms of its published work. I don’t think it’s controversial or negative to speak to both of these Kleiman properties, so to speak.

First, while the man is no Tommy Chong, he’s definitely a huge proponent and user of psychedelics, which means his “outsider” status is not so clear cut when it comes to queer consciousness. LSD was the original counterculture sacrament, with cannabis playing a secondary and more everyday role in hippie lives after the 1960s. In fact, the Brotherhood of Eternal love sold cannabis to finance their mission of getting LSD to the world, not the other way around, according to Nick Schou’s “Orange Sunshine.”  Kleiman certainly seems more inclined than most (all?) psychonauts to toe the stigma that regular cannabis use is a serious public health risk rather than a marker of cultural identity, but that’s clearly a perspective that endears him to the reformist/centrist wing of the anti-drug war movement.

Second, Kleiman uses this report as evidence they got something right in their first round as Washington State consultants, back in 2013. My critique is that this is probably not well-supported, as a result. Literally, the point is so minor I’m not going to get into it. But for me, that means the interview is chock full of “good Kleiman.” So, to the interview itself and my comments, question by question. To see his answers, you’ll have to go to the interview itself, because it deserves traffic.

“It’s been nearly 2 years since Washington State opened its first recreational marijuana market, how well have your market estimates held up?”

See point the second.

What new insights have you had about the legal cannabis market since you first issued your report?

Kleiman concedes something that was pretty obvious to any observers of the local Washington medical market.

Who is the typical recreational cannabis consumer? How much do they consume?

Kleiman’s answer to this is really, really good.

Washington’s marijuana excise tax is 37% Colorado’s is 25% and Oregon is 17%; why such a wide disparity between the legal recreational states?  What should the right level of taxation be?

Kleiman’s answer to this is really, really, really good. Three efficient statements with clear implications for How to Do it Better, although the third one still has an issue. Can you name it?

What are the greatest challenges to the legal cannabis industry?

I like this answer, although I don’t share his challenge priority or some of the reasons he has it. It’s still good, because (spoiler) it clearly indicts the retail bottleneck, which is something policymakers could fix (and could have fixed, for good, in December).

What is the future of legal cannabis in the US? Will we continue to see legalization happen one state at a time, or do you envision an end to Federal prohibition in the not too distant future?

Great answers! And there’s a lot more to be said about why California is important. The question Washington policymakers and the WSLCB should be asking themselves is not whether the Federal government likes their model or not, it’s whether Californians like the WA model. And the answer to that is really, really clear: they do not. The coming struggle will be between California’s model and the Federal model, not between Washington and other states — although Washington is apparently in favor with the Feds, according to a high level NORML friend of mine.

Thus concludes my analysis of this excellent, focused interview with one of the more influential cannabis policy persons on this planet, in terms of who will listen to him. I’m not on team Kleiman, but I’m interested in common ground as it becomes apparent. Thanks to David R. for making space for this.


One thought on “A Brief Commentary on MJBA’s David Rheins interview with Mark Kleiman

  1. Dom wrote: “Kleiman’s answer to [the question on excise tax] is really, really, really good. Three efficient statements with clear implications for How to Do it Better, although the third one still has an issue. Can you name it?”

    I’ll raise my hand, teacher 🙂 I believe it has to do with his proposed tax being based on THC content, when we know there are high-CBD/low-THC cannabis strains/products that are a significant percentage of the 502 market. Additionally, I’ll throw out there “the entourage effect” being what we ACTUALLY feel while high (as opposed to JUST the effect of THC), thus meaning that some of the best, most-potent cannabis out there may NOT actually be crazy-high in THC content.

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