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Which Pot Poll to Believe in Oregon?

By: Wednesday October 29, 2014 7:17 am

legalize marijuanaWe have two recent polls on the marijuana ballot initiative in Oregon, Measure 91, and they diverge significantly from each other.

One poll came out yesterday. It was conducted by Elway Research for The Oregonian and KGW.  It found the measure losing, with 44 percent of likely voters planning to vote yes and 46 percent planning to vote no.

The other poll was released by SurveyUSA  for KATU-TV last week. It found 48 percent of likely voters supporting Measure 91 and only 37 percent opposed.

There are three big reasons why I’m inclined to put significantly more stock in the SurveyUSA poll and doubt this Elway poll. The first has to do with issues about the Elway poll’s turnout model. According to the Oregonian the poll assumes 70 percent of the electorate will be over the age of 50. That seems unlikely based on past elections and is very important given how much support for legalization correlates with age. By comparison the SurveyUSA poll puts this age groups share at only 58 percent.

The second reason is past performance. Elway’s marijuana legalization poll of Washington State at this same time two years ago was off. It found Initiative 502 leading only 48 percent yes to 44 percent no, but it ended up winning 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent. By comparison, SuveryUSA’s final poll of Initiative 502 was very close to the final result.

Finally, the big reason to doubt the Elway poll is all the other polls so far. For example the poll for OPB and Fox 12 earlier this month found Measure 91 winning 52 percent yes to 41 percent no. That margin is effectively identical to the SuveryUSA poll. That is why when possible we try to look at the averaging of multiple polls because there is always the chance any one can be an outlier.

Of course in a week we will know which pollster is more accurate and if Measure 91 does lose I will re-evaluate my opinion of the pollsters involved. For now, though, I would put my bets on this SurveyUSA poll.

What Price Do You Want Legal Marijuana to Sell for?

By: Tuesday October 28, 2014 9:56 am

Mark Kleiman’s reserved endorsement of Oregon’s marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 91, has crystallized in my mind a question that I would like to see other policy experts, political leaders, and regular people answer. What specific price would you ideally want legal marijuana sold for?
dank marijuana.
If marijuana were fully legalized without any special taxes, consumer protections, labeling requirements, or regulation, the price could drop dramatically. Exactly how much it would retail for in such an unlikely scenario is hard to predict, but similar agricultural products can give us a range. On the high end, some of the most expensive and labor-intensive crops like vanilla bean and high quality white tea sell to consumers for around $7-20 per ounce. For a low end estimate, perhaps the most comparable crop is hops. Hops flowers often sell to small consumers for around $2.50 an ounce.

This means that after marijuana is fully legalized, the government has substantial direct and indirect power to set a price anywhere between a few hundred dollars an ounce to a few dollars an ounce.

The government can just give itself a monopoly over all legal marijuana sales and directly set a price, like Uruguay is planning to do. Or if marijuana is being sold by private businesses, the government could use taxes, license fees, and regulations to significantly adjust the price to consumers. While taxes are the most direct mechanism for adjusting price, regulations can play a big role. The frequency and types of product tests required by law add some real costs to production.

Like most consumer goods, a reduction in the price of marijuana will probably result in some increase in the amount purchased, but how this demand curve is actually shaped is still a matter of significant debate.

Deciding an ideal price for legal marijuana all depends on your priorities. Here are just some examples of several possible priorities with the likely impact on price they would have, with the highest prices at the top. The possible prices I list for each are purely educated guesses, simply designed to give readers a rough idea of the tradeoff — they could end up being significantly wrong.

1) Highest price possible that still reduces the black market - (possibly around $180 an ounce) – It seems this is Kleiman’s preferred choice. The goal would be to eliminate the black market but also keep prices high to reduce consumption.

I would like to see experts try to put an exact figure on this, because there is no one magic number at which the entire black market would instantly disappear. There remains a very small black market in almost everything from cheese to laundry detergent. It is more of a sliding scale based on many factors, so is the goal eliminating 97 percent of the black market, or would a price that eliminates 85 percent be good enough? In addition, if marijuana were also legalized in neighboring countries where it was subjected to a very low tax rate, the local price would potentially need to be dropped to stop the grey market smuggling of legal marijuana across the border.

2) The most government revenue possible(possibly around $120 an ounce) – The goal here is to soak from the market as much money as the government can get from it. This might result in a price higher or much lower than the first option, depending on the demand curve and how much of the black market remains at a given price. The argument for this option is that the tax revenue could be used for all sorts of other priorities which may have a much bigger positive impact on society than any change in marijuana consumption.

3) Maximize new jobs(possibly around $100 an ounce) – Taxes aren’t the only way to keep prices higher. Demanding frequent testing, substantial security measures and limiting the size of farms all make legal marijuana more expensive but also end up creating more jobs. The marijuana industry could be made artificially inefficient, localized, and diverse with the top goal of making it an indirect jobs program. This might end up creating a price similar to option two, but with much of the money going to workers and companies instead of tax payers.

4) Maximizing substitution for more dangerous drugs while discouraging overuse - (possibly around $60 an ounce) – There is some indication that people might substitute marijuana for more dangerous drugs for either medicinal or recreational reasons. A study found opioid deaths dropped significantly after states legalized medical marijuana. While it would be hard to determine, it is theoretically possible the optimum price for overall public health is between option one and the lowest price possible. The price would have to be low enough to encourage beneficial substitution while also high enough to discourage some users and still raise sufficient revenue for public health programs.

5) Whatever it costs to create extremely accurate information or maximum security(possibly around $50 an ounce) – The primary thing determining price could even be some goal separate from tax revenue or demand, like assuring the most accurate chemical labeling possible or super aggressive security measures. If the regulator burden was big enough, it could end up indirectly setting a high floor on the overall price. Under priorities like these the “ideal” price is whatever it costs for the industry to meet the goal.

6) The “fair” price relative to alcohol(possibly around $15 an ounce) – Polling shows most adults want to see marijuana taxed and regulated like alcohol. One could argue the “fair” thing to do is treat marijuana just like alcohol by subjecting it to the same relative tax rate and overall regulatory burden.

7) Let the market decide(possibly around $6 an ounce) - Several ideological arguments can be made for allowing the market to mainly decide the price by subjecting it to only basic regulations. Some people don’t think it is the government’s place to pick winners, make judgments about morality, or try to be a “nanny state.”

Some priorities can be combined easily while others are often mutually exclusive.

At the moment I’ve heard relatively few people even state their top priorities when it comes to the price of fully legal marijuana, and basically no one is coming up with concrete numbers. As more states and countries legalize marijuana, this is a question that deserves real attention.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Picture from Katheirne Hitt licensed under Creative Commons

Medical Marijuana Amendment Appears to Be in Trouble in Florida

By: Tuesday October 28, 2014 7:01 am

Not so sunny forecast for Amendment 2 in Florida

It is looking increasingly likely that Florida will not legalize medical marijuana this year. New polling confirms that Amendment 2, Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions, probably won’t get enough votes this November to be adopted.

The latest Gravis Marketing poll found 50 percent of likely voters plan to vote for the ballot measure, while 42 percent plan to vote against it. In any other state that would be a victory, but not in Florida.

Under Florida law, any amendment placed on the ballot needs to get 60 percent of the vote to be adopted. Even if all the undecided voters in this poll vote Yes, the measure would still be just short. While a significant majority of voters is likely to cast a ballot in favor of medical marijuana, it looks like it won’t hit the legal threshold.

If we had a sane political system this wouldn’t matter. After a majority of voters back some policy, you should reasonably expect their representatives in the state legislature would want to move to make it law. Unfortunately, sanity is a trait often lacking in our current politics, especially on issues of drug policy.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Sen. Alexander (R-TN) Opposes Feds Interfering in State Marijuana Laws

By: Friday October 24, 2014 9:58 am

Sen. Alexander is not the first traditional Republican from a red state to adopt the states’ rights position on marijuana reform

Republican Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has adopted a states’ rights approach to marijuana reform issues. From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

“Sen. Alexander believes that Washington, D.C. should not be telling states what to do about the decriminalization of marijuana,” Alexander spokesman Brian Reisinger said in an email response to questions posed by the Times Free Press.

Reisinger said that as for Alexander’s “own views, while there may be some valid medicinal uses for cannabis, he is concerned about the potential abuse and widespread use of drugs for recreational purposes and is carefully watching the de-criminalization process in the states of Colorado and Washington.”

Alexander is not the first traditional Republican from a red state to adopt this position. During a debate last month Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who is in a tough re-election fight, called marijuana legalization a “state issue” that should be decided locally not federally.

Moving in this direction politically would be smart for Republican leaders as marijuana reform continues to grow in popularity. While the Republican base doesn’t support marijuana legalization, they also overwhelmingly oppose the federal government interfering in what they see as a state matter. This is the stance Congressional Republicans can take that makes their base as well as supporters of marijuana reform happy.

We may soon get to see how truly committed Alexander is to the principle of leaving marijuana issues up to the local government. Voters in D.C. are set to overwhelmingly approve a marijuana legalization initiative this November, but Congress has the power to rewrite any local laws in the District so it could step in to overturn the will of the electorate.

Last Month’s Anti-Pot Poll in Colorado Appears to Have Been a Fluke

By: Thursday October 23, 2014 7:42 am

Somewhere in Colorado

Last month prohibitionists aggressively highlighted a Suffolk poll showing a majority of likely midterm voters in Colorado don’t support the new marijuana law, but now it looks increasingly clear that poll result was a fluke.

The September poll found 45.8 percent of likely midterm voters in Colorado agreed with the decision to legalize marijuana, while 50.2 percent disagreed. Yet their new poll out Wednesday tells a different story with a plurality supporting the law. The new poll has 45.4 agree with the decision to legalize, and only 44.8 percent opposed to the decision.

As I said at the time, it is important to keep in mind that this is a poll of likely voters in a low turnout midterm election. The people who vote in midterm elections are on average noticeably older and more conservative than those who turn out for Presidential elections. And registered voters tend to be a slightly older subset of all adults. That would mean we can assume from this poll that support for legalization among all adults in Colorado is much higher, which is what several other polls have shown.

This is of course why we look at the average of multiple polls instead of a single poll whenever possible. There is always the chance that any single poll can be an outlier.

Not surprisingly, I’ve seen none of the opponents of marijuana legalization who aggressively highlighted the Suffolk poll last month mentioning their more recent survey.

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