Marijuana Legalization: What We Know and What We Don't

RAND Congressional Briefing Series

In November 2012, voters in multiple states will be asked to consider propositions concerning decriminalization and legalization of marijuana for commercial production and sale for general—not just medical—purposes. Medical marijuana and decriminalization are familiar concepts, albeit widely misunderstood by the public. Legalization of commercial sale and production, on the other hand, would constitute a revolution, one about which public opinion couldn't be more evenly divided. The latest Gallup poll reports that exactly half of Americans favor legalization, with indications of stronger support in states voting on it this year.

This briefing will examine

  • why the evidence on medical marijuana is inconclusive
  • what makes legalization so dramatically different from mere decriminalization
  • the possible consequences of a state legalizing marijuana for non-medical purposes, both for that state and spill-over effects on other states
  • important differences between the particular legalization measures that are on the ballot this year in Colorado and Washington
  • options and limits for federal response to state-level legalization.

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