NORML Remembers Dr. Mark Kleiman

NORML regrets the passing of Prof. Mark A. R. Kleiman, an academic expert on cannabis policy who often shared and debated his well informed views on marijuana policy reform with those of us who were committed to advocating for a policy of adult use legalization.

Unlike many of us at NORML, Dr. Kleiman’s advocacy for ending marijuana prohibition did not stem from a deep appreciation of either personal freedom or equal rights; rather, he approached the issue primarily from a public safety and health perspective. But in the end, Mark’s analysis came down against marijuana prohibition, and his academic credentials gave his position credibility in the mainstream press at a time when few academics were willing to express such points of view. His first book, “Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control,” published at the height of the drug war in 1989, made the case that the war on marijuana had backfired, and that decriminalization and regulated, legal consumption ought to be considered.

Dr, Kleiman boldly accepted our invitation to speak at the 1993 MAPS – Cal NORML “Psychedelic Summit,” which came close to compromising the reputations of those scholars who spoke there (including Dr. Lester Grinspoon and Ethan Nadelmann, PhD). At the time, he warned that the American public was seriously frightened about drug abuse, and that any liberalization in policy would require that these fears be addressed.

He further developed his views on cannabis and criminal justice as a professor of public policy at UCLA. He later accepted an invitation to speak to at a national NORML conference in Washington, DC, where he debated the economic potential of marijuana legalization with Dr. Jon Gettman and myself. Dr. Kleiman continued to interact with NORML and other drug reform advocates as he moved further toward the pro-legalization side of the policy debate.

He went on to found a cannabis consulting group called BOTEC, named for his fondness for back-of-the-envelope calculations. After Washington State approved its adult-use legalization initiative in 2012, BOTEC was hired to consult on the law’s implementation. Most recently, he served on the faculty at New York University.

Throughout his life, Mark Kleiman was always open-minded and committed to honest policy debate. Like the rest of us, he was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and his voice will be missed.