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November 6th, 2013
05:23 PM ET

Professor: Given current trend, pot could be legalized nationwide in five years

(CNN) – Last night, Portland and several communities in Michigan became the latest areas to legalize marijuana, following in the footsteps of Colorado, and Washington, which both voted to legalize recreational drug use in the 2012 elections.

But these city decriminalization laws essentially legalize something that was never illegal under city statutes to begin with.

Passing these laws in cities and towns reflects the growing support for legalizing pot, and puts pressure on state lawmakers.

Given the current trend, don't be surprised if pot is legal nationwide in five years, said UCLA public policy professor Mark A.R. Kleiman.

The latest Gallup poll shows that 58% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. Given that majority, some argue there needs to be more focus on how to make the legalization of pot work, rather than debating whether it's a good idea.

"The current train that's leaving the station is commercial legalization pretty much on the model of alcohol, and tobacco. Those seem to be like two very bad models to follow, and I think we ought to be able to do better," said Kleiman.

"The piecemeal state-by-state approach rules out what I think would be the best solution, which would be to have cannabis distributed by state agencies, rather than by for-profit private entities, but you can't do that while cannabis is illegal nationally, since state officials can't be told to break law," said Kleiman.

Colorado recently passed a law to tax marijuana sales at a rate of 15%, a legalization model Kleiman disagrees with.

"One problem is that the rate is too low, and the other is that it's set as a fraction of the market price," said Kleiman. "What you would like is a tax that rises as the market price falls, to keep the price to the consumer more or less constant."

The professor suggests an excise tax on TSC, the active agent in cannabis, adjusted yearly.

"That's not the direction that Washington State or Colorado went in," said Kleiman. "If you're putting it up to the voters, it has to be something you can explain in a 30-second spot. And more complicated proposals aren't going to do very well in that context."

According to ArcView market research, the legal marijuana market is worth almost $1.5 billion dollars nationally, and it's expected to top $2.3 billion dollars by next year.

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