Mark Kleiman was out of place in modern America, which is a compliment to him. He was emphatic in his beliefs, but equally emphatic about listening to opponents. He refused to get stuck. Instead, he embraced growth and cooperation, largely because he understood a crucial truth about life:
Kleiman, who died Monday, directed much of his considerable intellect and curiosity to the reality of legalized marijuana. If you’re a Colorado resident, this reality is on your mind. Well, unless you’re living in secluded cave.
At the turn of this decade, Kleiman predicted America was on the verge of departing strict and unanimous criminalization of weed. He compared the era to the final days of Prohibition, which criminalized the sale of alcohol (with bloody and disastrous results) in America from 1920 to 1933.
But he never stopped asking tough and required questions about legalizing marijuana. Kleiman, 68, worked as a professor at UCLA and New York University, but traveled 100,000 miles a year touring America examining the complexities of legalized marijuana.
“The only way to sell a lot of pot is to create a lot of potheads — not casual, moderate recreational users but chronic, multiple-joints-per-day zonkers,” Kleiman wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
He was on to something.
Most users find a way to fit low-level vice into their lives without deep decay, but America’s big liquor industry has long understood that its key demographic is the out-of-control drinker. The marijuana industry will arrive at the same understanding.
Kleiman knew how Americans think. We want to make money, and don’t worry enough about the consequences. He understood opening the floodgates of legal marijuana would result in excess, because America is all about excess.
If you doubt this, take a drive down Broadway in Denver, where I grew up. It’s become Colorado’s Marijuana Boulevard. It’s too much of too much.
Kleiman was on a dual crusade. He sought the decriminalization of marijuana even as he struggled against the merger of marijuana and big business. He wanted to stop throwing marijuana smokers into prison but opposed billboards proclaiming the wonders of marijuana.
He did not just talk about collaboration with those who disagreed with him. He actually collaborated. He was a liberal, but The National Review, the venerable American conservative magazine/website, sang his praises last week. The chorus of support after his death from liberals and conservatives says much about the man.
“Although he was an extremely partisan Democrat, Kleiman recognized the need to build a bipartisan consensus on drugs and criminal justice,” Gabriel Rossman wrote in the Review. He stepped past, Rossman said, “serious disagreement” to seek consensus. He was about solutions, not grandstanding.
Megan McArdle, a libertarian, had many an argument with Kleiman. The friends disagreed on a wide range of issues. She sometimes doubted his logic. Never did she doubt his heart.
“In 17 years, I never once saw him go along with the crowd when he thought the crowd was wrong, and if he thought the crowd was being unjust to someone else, he leaped into the scrum to stand on the right side,” McArdle wrote in The Washington Post.
Legal marijuana appears to be America’s wave of the future. In 2000, according to Pew Research, 63% of Americans opposed legalization. In 2018, 62% approved, an epic swing in less than a generation. This approval does not reflect, in many instances, self-interest or anything close to cheerleading. The 2018 poll revealed only 48% of Americans had tried marijuana, as opposed to 86% trying alcohol.
Kleiman dived into the complications of legalized marijuana. He didn’t seek simple solutions.
A question hovers above opponents and supporters as they face our new marijuana reality: When will the arguing end and the complicated and required labor begin?