I met last week with John Hudak, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute for a wide-ranging conversation on all things cannabis. Hudak has established himself as a major voice on cannabis policy issues. He regularly writes for Brookings, covering issues like the perceived threat of “big” marijuana, Nevada’s legalization efforts, and the DEA’s recent decision to expand cannabis research. Hudak is often asked by reporters to weigh in on major marijuana stories, recently providing perspective to the New York Times.
The Brookings Institute is one of the oldest and most highly regarded think tanks in Washington DC. Think tanks produce research for lawmakers and regulators to, among other things, help them write and analyze rules and laws. Brookings researches topics including economics, governance, foreign policy, and global development. In the last few years, Brookings has provided significant research on cannabis legalization, led by Hudak.
It makes sense for Brookings to research and write about marijuana laws since each state that legalizes medical or recreational marijuana needs guidance on creating workable legislation and rules for implementing legalization. State regulators can and do use research from institutions like Brookings to help guide them through the legalization process and beyond.
That one of Washington D.C.’s oldest and most respected think tanks is spending so much time and energy on cannabis legalization illustrates how far the cannabis industry has come in this country. A few years ago, marijuana legalization was seen as a “fringe issue” with but small pockets of support around the country. Fast forward to 2016 and marijuana is now taking center stage as multiple states are looking at legalizing recreational or medical marijuana or decriminalizing the plant. A recent Gallup poll shows that roughly 33 million Americans use cannabis. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has promised to reschedule marijuana if she is elected President. America’s voters care about cannabis.
Though nationwide legalization still appears to be years away, the marijuana movement is growing up. Initially, this movement was widely perceived as supported by those under 30 looking to get high legally, it now includes doctors, lawyers, policy wonks, and Members of Congress. Legalization supporters are learning to play the bureaucratic games lawmakers understand. The Brookings Institute provides advocates with respected research they can use to build their case for legalization.
Hudak told me about one particular quote that conveyed how far the movement had come. In 2014, Brookings analyzed Colorado’s marijuana regulators. Jacob Sullum, writing for Reason.com wrote an article about Brookings’ report and closed with the following line:
To me, the really exciting aspect of all this regulatory information is that Colorado has succeeded in making marijuana boring by making it legal.
Cannabis has been prohibited for almost 80 years. I can hardly wait until cannabis has been legal for so long that it has become boring everywhere.