Bryan Caplan  

A Bet I Forgot to Make

William of Orange, Political I... Reality Check...
Just one election cycle ago, Tyler embraced a conclusion I found implausible on the basis of a model I found absurd:
When it comes to marijuana legalization, I believe that the "anti-" forces will muster as many parental votes as they need to, to defeat it when they need to.  The elasticity of supply is nearly infinite at relevant margins.  Legalization may appear "close" for a long time, but in equilibrium it will not spread very far.  The "no" votes will pop up as needed.
Why absurd?  Because voter turnout isn't very flexible in general, probably isn't very flexible with respect to one marginal issue, and almost certainly falls far short of "nearly infinite" elasticity.  I strongly prefer the common-sense view that when legalization appears close, it is close.

I'm hardly surprised, then, to see that a scant two years after Tyler's post, Colorado and Washington have seemingly already proven him wrong.  A mere fluke?  I'm happy to bet at even odds that by 2024, at least five U.S. states will have legal recreational marijuana.

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Brian writes:

*at least five U.S. states will have legal recreational marijuana.*

Legal in the sense that there's no specific state law against it or legal in the sense that nobody's going to jail for growing it, trading in it or smoking it?

The first seems solidly likely. The second is wild-eyed loony.

Motoko writes:

Only even odds? Once the rest of the nation sees how legalization works, all the standard "what if" arguments will stop holding water.

Tyler Cowen writes:

Surely it is worth mentioning that federal law has not changed and marijuana remains illegal in those places.

Goldgarf writes:

You're much too pessimistic. By 2024, most states and the federal government will have legalized marijuana.

PJ Glandon writes:

I'm looking forward to a fight between the states and the Feds. How will this thing play out?

John Thacker writes:

Interesting that recreational marijuana polled better than either of the two candidates in WA and CO, and yet no Senators nor major Presidential candidates support it. Eventually one assumes that they will.

Ted Craig writes:

I don't know the demographics for Washington, but Colorado is one of the youngest states in the union.

Marc writes:

Tyler, you cannot bring up the Federal issue when you relied on "parental votes" to make your case.

Matt C writes:

Well, I hope so. There was something good come out of this election, at least.

Anyone care to make a contingent prediction on how long it will take for legal protections for weed smokers, against getting fired for off the job marijuana use?

Drake Fowler writes:

In addition as legalizing Marijuana becomes more popular within a state, Tyler’s theory has less constitutes to realize itself. I feel that there is another factor to consider here. I believe that legalizing medical marijuana is a “gateway legislation” to the eventual legalization for recreational use. I came to conclusion from pondering what would motivate a non-marijuana consumer to vote for legalization, more so, what would motivate a person that is against the legalization of marijuana to completely change their position? Having lived in Denver from 2008-2010, medical marijuana became prolific. Any vacant store front or car dealership became a dispensary. As you drove past them at night one could see that the interior was usually a metal desk from the fifties sitting in an empty room. Aside from the additional costs to put bars on your windows cost of entry was apparently very low. As popularity exploded the need for additional regulation became painstakingly evident. At the same time cities like Breckenridge became testing the markets acceptance of recreational use by passing legislation making it legal to carry Marijuana without a prescription. All of these factor lead to a more general acceptance of Marijuana in society and it calmed the nerves of many, even non-users, that legalizing marijuana would not lead to the implosion of society and rampant crime. I can only conclude that Colorado’s legalization will bring additional over sight and regulation, this could be appealing to a person that was once against legalization.
Back to my original conclusion, Colorado and Washington had the oldest medical Marijuana policies (1998) accept California (1996). There are 17 other states with medical Marijuana polices on the books, and 6 states with policies that are over ten years old. Look for these states to prove your prediction right by 2024. I might even venture that with the legislation that passed in Washington and Colorado that states will be watching to see the result of these policies. If there are no huge negative side effects I think we could see the fulfillment of your prediction much sooner, possibly by the next election cycle.

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