Political Science

Marajuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know


Caulkins, J. P., Hawken, A., Kilmer, B., & Kleiman, M. A. R.  Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.  Print.

The following will discuss the book, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, which is a comprehensive examination of the subject of marijuana, both as a substance and going to arguments supporting and opposing its legalization.  The four authors are all significant contributors in the field of social sciences.  Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of research at Carnegie Mellon University, has co-written numerous books dealing with drug policies, impacts of such policies in schools, and issues in higher education.  Angela Hawken has also co-authored works in this range, while Beau Kilmer, a senior policy consultant for the RAND Corporation, writes specifically on societal and legal aspects of drug use.  Mark Kleiman’s other work centers on criminal justice reform, with an appropriate emphasis on drug-related matters.

The paper is divided into several sections, beginning with the book, general subject content, and references to the authors provided above.  This is followed by a brief outline of the book, providing the titles of the chapters. The content is then conveyed in a linear way, with a general explanation of each chapter provided.  Lastly, the paper will offer my own conclusions regarding the book, in terms of its appeal to readers, quality of writing and presentation, and how valuable it may be as a scholastic resource.


Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know begins with an introduction stating the general reasons behind the book’s creation.  The first chapter is, “What is Marijuana and What Would It Mean to Legalize It?”  The remaining chapters in order, all titled in the form of questions, run as follows: 2) “Who Uses Marijuana?”; 3) “How Is Marijuana Produced and Distributed Today?”; 4) “How Stringent Is Marijuana Enforcement in the United States?”;  5) “What Are the Risks of Using Marijuana?”; 6) “What Is Known about the Nonmedical Benefits of Using Marijuana?”;  7) “What Are the Medicinal Benefits of Using Marijuana?”:  8) “What Are the Pros and Cons of Legalization Generally?”:  9) “How Is Legalization of Marijuana Different from Legalization of Other Drugs?”;  10) “What Is the Context of the Marijuana Legalization Debate?”;  11) “What is Marijuana Were Treated Like Alcohol?”;  12) “Could One State Legalize Marijuana If the Federal Government Didn’t?”;  13) “How Would Marijuana Legalization Affect Me Personally?”; 14) “Between Marijuana Prohibition and Commercial Legalization: Is There Any Middle Ground?”; 15) “Can Industrial Hemp Save the Planet?”; and, 16) “What Do the Authors Think about Marijuana Legalization?”

Explanation of Content and Chapters

     The Introduction briefly and simply informs the reader of the complexity of the issue of the subject.  There is a mention of how public opinion is divided on it, and then there is an acknowledgment that no single answer to the debate may be seen as evidently better than another.  The authors here state their intention, not to present an argument, but to offer various perspectives and sources of information, in order that the debate itself be one of valid exchange.  This is followed by, “What is Marijuana and What Would It Mean to Legalize It?,” which is a basic introduction to both the substance and to the controversy surrounding it.  The basic quality lies in the direct explanation of marijuana as a drug, and an equally plain definition of the legalization issue.  Various potentials regarding the latter are offered, including how commerce may be regulated by the government.  Then, the chapter goes on to address the actual composition and effects of marijuana, and this goes into the duration of those effects and to the differences between natural and synthetic varieties.  In a linear way, these elements are followed in Chapter 2 by in an examination of the general user of marijuana.  First, there is a pragmatic explanation of how the substance is taken and how many people actually use it.  This leads to other considerations explored based on usage, including patterns of typical and atypical usage, dependence potentials, and how the use itself has changed over time.  There are also discussions of how usage varies in different parts of the country, and how much money is usually spent on marijuana by users.

Chapter 3, “How Is Marijuana Produced and Distributed Today?”, first looks at actual production of the substance in terms of where it is grown, and how it is then illegally and legally marketed.  This chapter also places the U.S. concerns and consumption in an international context, in assessing pricing and mark-ups as compared between the U.S. and the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal.  The chapter ends in exploring, and presenting, the vast economic impact of marijuana as it is currently grown and sold, referring to it as the nation’s potentially largest “cash crop.”  After this, there is a chapter specifically addressing how effective law enforcement is in controlling marijuana growth and sale, beginning with a discussion of what individuals typically are arrested for trafficking in it, and what the usual legal consequences are. The sentencing for marijuana convictions is compared to those of cocaine and heroin trafficking, and the authors provide information as to the number of convicts serving time for marijuana-related offenses.  In conclusion, evidence is given regarding the actual amounts of marijuana seized by the government, and how much these legal efforts actually cost.  As elsewhere, varying points are made but with no assertion of a definitive point of view.

“What Are the Risks of Using Marijuana?” follows, beginning with an explanation of the difficulty in ascertaining risk factors themselves. For example, while extensive studies have been done on cigarette smoke: “The literature is almost silent when it comes to secondhand marijuana smoke” (68).  The reasons behind marijuana research in terms of risk are presented, along with an analysis of dependency risk, which leads to how many people seek treatment for marijuana “addiction” and how such treatments are conducted.  Then, a variety of specific risk factors are discussed, as in the likelihood of marijuana causing respiratory problems, cancer, mental problems, schizophrenia, and leading to crime and delinquency.  The chapter also addresses marijuana as encouraging turning to harder drugs, how it is seen as influencing car crashes, and its impact regarding child custody when parents are users.  The next chapter explores the nonmedical aspects of the substance, in terms of benefits that may be emotional and social.  It discusses how the state of being “stoned” is interpreted, and if marijuana actually does promote creativity, and even athletic performance.  The chapter concludes in acknowledging that any such benefits are inherently subjective, and it poses the question of whether mere enjoyment may be seen as a valid benefit.

Logically, marijuana as a medicinal substance is then discussed.  Its actual medical value is set out in terms of contrasting research, although the value appears more supported.  This leads to discussion reflecting the main subject of the book, in terms of why the substance is not yet available on a prescription basis nationally.  There is also here an interesting and needing focus on how a substance that is smoked can be healthy at all, and to what extent the marijuana now allowed medicinally is actually used for that purpose.  This is followed by “What Are the Pros and Cons of Legalization Generally?”, which serves as the introduction for the book’s second half.  The aspects to legalizing any drug are discussed, along with the implications of such an action.  There is an analysis of the rationale behind all criminalizing of drugs as potentially self-defeating policy, set against the ethical argument of why legalizing anything harmful is unconscionable.  These issues are reflected in comparing alcohol with marijuana, and the rest of the chapter deals with factual issues regarding legalization, such as market and free trade, and a deeper examination into personal rights and responsibilities in making such decisions for themselves.  The next chapter more intently and consistently compares marijuana with other drugs, in terms of possible consequences of legalization.  It is discussed how legalization here would likely ease immense strains on the criminal justice system, and also curtail the crime inherent in the marketing of anything illegal.  The potential of increased dependence is examined, and the chapter then explores again the ethics of differentiating between substances. Chapter 10 is devoted to the practical realities of the debate, addressing national and international views regarding the current state of supporters and opposition.  There is a political emphasis here, and a questioning of just how validly the public is being represented by its elected officials.

“What is Marijuana Were Treated Like Alcohol?” is entirely theoretical, if amply supported by evidence, and looks into all repercussions of such a scenario.  The issues here of taxation, production, marketing, and social consequences carry into the next chapter, dealing with one state’s ability to legalize marijuana in the face of federal criminalization, noting that: “States cannot bar the application of federal laws within their borders” (184).  Nonetheless, a variety of possible outcomes is discussed, with concerns ranging from the legal to the cultural addressed.

Chapter 13 proceeds to bring the reader more in contact with the subject, exploring how legalization would affect the individual.  This is done by noting possible effects based on any possible tie, or lack thereof, the individual has with marijuana, as in how legalization would affect growers, parents of adolescent users, employers or occasional users.  The next chapter discusses in depth what possibilities exist for compromise between legalization supporters and opponents, and this is done by examining how the Dutch, Spain, and Portugal proceed.  There is also discussion of alternates to complete legalization, as in expanding medicinal allowances.  Chapter 15 deviates from the book’s thrust in examining the issue of industrial hemp as a valuable resource, and the final chapter permits the authors to individually express their own viewpoints. These are not uniform in perspective but, as with the book itself, reflect valid arguments based on reasonable assumptions and facts, and for all sides of the issue.

Personal Review

My personal opinion is that  Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know is an enormously valuable book, in that it so comprehensively covers virtually every aspect of the issue.  This accomplishment is particularly noteworthy given how long arguments for and against legalization have been debated, and how these arguments so often fall back on standard assumptions, personal feelings, and vague possibilities of outcomes.  As the book makes clear, this issue is by no means merely one subject, because it touches on elements of health, society, commerce, and law that profoundly affect everyone, no matter their individual ideas regarding marijuana itself.

Part of my admiration for the book stems from the vast evidence presented, as well as from just how evenly that presentation is done.  I learned a great deal in regard to the actual effects of marijuana, as well as information regarding usage and users of which I had been ignorant.  I particularly found the section on medicinal usage informative, in that it made clear generalizations already in my mind.  Then, I would add that my learning also derives from that far-reaching treatment mentioned.  I too had been inclined to think of marijuana legalization as a single issue, and the book helped me to realize how it actually incorporates multiple aspects of life and society.  While strictly keeping to the subject, the authors nonetheless use marijuana legalization as a kind of lens, to indirectly offer valuable insight on the processes that go to such matters.

I would definitely recommend the book as course material, and for two reasons.  The first is that the evidence presented on all sides is based in sound reasoning and research.  The second is that there is no agenda here whatsoever beyond providing information and exploring contrasting points of view.  A student employing this book would be compelled to do what any other reader must, and come to their own conclusions.  As course materials must serve this exact purpose, I believe this book would be a valuable addition.  Moreover, I can see it as being useful in courses ranging from cultural anthropology to legal studies, so expansive is its platform.

Works Cited

Caulkins, J. P., Hawken, A., Kilmer, B., Kleiman, M. A. R.  Marijuana Legalization: What  Everyone Needs to Know.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.  Print.