The state’s chief pot consultant remains a bit mysterious, as Mark Kleiman’s duties as a UCLA professor didn’t allow him to join his team in Olympia as state officials announced they had been chosen to help implement a legal pot law.
But Kleiman’s views on legalizing pot are no mystery. He lays them out in “Marijuana Legalization,” a 2012 book he wrote with three of his team members.
Alison Holcomb, the law’s author, said Kleiman’s credentials could ease federal concerns about Washington’s system evolving into an industry that tries to create addictions and market to young people. “I’m glad Kleiman and his colleagues are heading up the consulting group,” she said.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, a sponsor of the law, agreed. “I’m very impressed with the selection,” he said.
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Kleiman’s application said his firm, BOTEC Analysis, could do the job for $292 an hour. The Liquor Control Board budgeted $100,000 for expert consultants who will be advising in four areas: product knowledge; quality testing; analysis of demand; and development of regulations.
Randy Simmons, the state’s marijuana-implementation manager, said the consultants might end up costing more.
A Massachusetts-based think tank, BOTEC has specialized for 30 years in crime and drug policy. BOTEC augmented its team with a top pot-testing firm, a production expert who supplied marijuana to the Dutch government, and several policy experts from academia and the nonprofit RAND Institute.
Some pot advocates are wary of comments Kleiman made in 2010 that state-approved pot would still be illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
Book’s six options
In his book, he looks at six options for legalizing pot, from current policy to a model mirroring the alcohol industry.
His own preference, which he admits is unlikely to happen, sounds like a hippie dream. He’d like pot legally grown and sold by nonprofit cooperatives.
Kleiman likes Washington’s model, a tight form of commercialization, with high taxes and restrictions on advertising. But he doubts it will be politically stable. “The industry would simply have too great an incentive to move it toward the alcohol model,” he wrote in the book’s last chapter.
That comment gets at what he sees as the worst possible model for legalizing pot: “a multibillion-dollar enterprise devoted to creating and sustaining as much addiction as possible — including among minors — because addiction is where the money is.”
Kleiman’s co-authors also aired their personal views in the book.
Of them, Angela Hawken, a Pepperdine University professor, was the most comfortable with the “social experiment” of legalizing pot.
Jonathan Caulkins, a RAND researcher, wrote that he would vote against legalization, and said most problems caused by the current prohibition could be fixed by middle path options such as decriminalization.
Beau Kilmer, another RAND researcher, also favored incremental approaches over commercial production, which he believes would likely try to target young people.
But Kilmer and others stressed that their personal opinions were not relevant in their work for Washington state.
The state Liquor Control Board bought several dozen copies of the book in November and considered it recommended reading for its staff.
“Our team was deliberately built to have a wide range of skills,” said Steven Davenport, BOTEC’s project manager. “Ultimately our goal is to see the board does this correctly.”
Davenport downplayed the team’s role as what CNN called “pot czars.”
“We’re here in a support role,” he said, to supplement and review research already done by board staff.
In all, the state received 52 qualified bids for the job. Finalists have a right to protest the BOTEC selection. Simmons said it would probably be 10 days before the state clears that period and negotiates a contract and work terms with BOTEC.
Kleiman’s team scored the highest in all four categories of expertise the state is seeking, according to the Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with creating our highly regulated and taxed pot system.
Some pot advocates are dismayed that Kleiman’s team lacks local growing experience.
Michael Sautman, the team’s horticulture expert, was CEO of a subsidiary of the sole provider of medical marijuana in the Netherlands. Sautman said a key part of his consulting job would be listening to local experts.
While Kleiman didn’t make it to Washington on Tuesday, he did appear on CNN later in the afternoon to discuss his new job.
“You could say our team wrote the book on the subject,” he said. “Our job is to tell the Liquor Control Board the likely consequences of decisions they make — good and bad.”
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org