Friday, July 26, 2019
Obit: Prof. Mark Kleiman
Sam Roberts, NY Times, July 25, 2019
Mark A. R. Kleiman, a prominent drug policy apostate who favored what he viewed as a sensible middle ground on marijuana — eliminate criminal sanctions for selling and using it but preclude full-blown commercial legalization — died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 68.
Kelly Kleiman, his sister and only immediate survivor, said the cause was lymphoma and complications of a kidney transplant he received from her in April.
Author, blogger, adviser to government and a teacher at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, Professor Kleiman considered himself a “policy entrepreneur.”
His purview extended beyond drugs to the broader criminal justice system, which he sought to reform by imposing “swift, certain and fair” punishment through shorter sentences and more resources devoted to probation and parole.
“When politicians say, ‘Let’s hire 5,000 more police!’ everybody cheers,” he told The New York Times in 1990. “Say, ‘Let’s hire 5,000 probation officers and create cost-effective alternatives to prison!’ and everybody yawns.”
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Professor Kleiman was best known for what was then a cry in the wilderness: a thesis that wars on drugs waged on the basis of enforcement had failed; that alcohol does more harm than cannabis; and that the cost of banning marijuana altogether outweighed any of the benefits of prohibition. At the same time, he warned that complete legalization remained a high-risk gamble.
What had seemed like a quixotic campaign in the ′80s has evolved more recently into pragmatic consultations with state governments, including New York’s, over how to carry out liberalized laws.
Some critics found Professor Kleiman prickly and prone to perch himself above the fray between opposing policy camps. But few challenged his acumen and relentless curiosity.
“Allergic to cant,” Patrick Radden Keefe wrote in The New Yorker in 2013, “he speaks with the bracing candor of a scientist in a disaster movie, and appears to derive grim pleasure from informing politicians that they have underestimated the complexity of a problem.”
When Professor Kleiman and a team of colleagues he had assembled were hired by Washington State in 2013 to help implement a law that legalized both the medical and recreational use of marijuana, he bombarded officials with so many suggestions that even he applied to himself a famous characterization of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey: “He’s got solutions the rest of us don’t even have problems for.”
The full name of Professor Kleiman’s consulting company is Botec Analysis Corporation; “Botec” stands for Back of the Envelope Calculation. While the name belied his exacting and encyclopedic approach to policy research, it acknowledged the ambiguities of an underground economy in which illegal drug trafficking generates millions of dollars.
In Washington, he startled state officials by predicting that loosening prohibitions on the sale and use of marijuana would initially raise the costs of law enforcement, because the police would have to deter illicit dealers who would otherwise undermine the fledgling legal market.
“What distinguished him was his ravenous and wide-ranging intellect and his commitment to sharing it,” Dr. Sally Satel, a psychiatrist, friend and colleague in Washington. D.C., said in an email. “There are lots of brilliant people out there, but what I remember most and valued most and will miss the most is how generous he was with his own ideas and how gleefully, sometimes brutally, he’d help you dissect yours.”
Mark Robert Kleiman was born on May 18, 1951, in Phoenix to Dr. Allen and Jeanette (Albert) Kleiman. He was barely a teenager when he quirkily adopted “A” as an extra middle initial, from his mother’s maiden name, so that all four initials would spell Mark.
His mother taught economics and social science at, among other institutions, the historically black Morgan State University in Baltimore, where Mark grew up. His father was a surgeon.
Mark evinced a passion for public policy early. At 14, he was a page at the Maryland State Constitutional Convention. At 17, he was writing speeches for Parren James Mitchell, the first black congressman from Maryland since Reconstruction.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1972 and a master’s (in 1974) and a doctorate (1983), both in public policy, from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
After working as a special assistant to Edwin H. Land, the chief executive of Polaroid, Mr. Kleiman became director of program analysis for the Boston Office of Management and Budget. He then joined the Justice Department, where he was director of the Office of Policy and Management Analysis in the Criminal Division from 1982 to 1983.
He was a professor of public policy at U.C.L.A. for 18 years before joining N.Y.U. in 2015 as the director of the Crime and Justice Program at the Marron Institute of Urban Management and a professor of public policy at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
Professor Kleiman was a frequent contributor to The Times’s videotaped “Bloggingheads” debates at nytimes.com.
In 1986, Professor Kleiman collaborated with Peter Reuter, a former director of the RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center, in analyzing the drug trade as a dynamic economic market rather than as a moral or criminal justice issue.
He also suggested at one point that marijuana users be licensed, like drivers, and that their purchases of the drug, like certain decongestants, be limited monthly.
He was the author of “Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control” (1989); “When Brute Force Fails” (2009), which was drawn from his study with Angela Hawken of Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation With Enforcement program, known as HOPE; and “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” (2012), with Ms. Hawken, Jonathan Caulkins and Beau Kilmer.
He also organized a group blog, The Reality-Based Community.
“He was the most careful and original thinker of our time about criminal justice and drugs,” said Michael O’Hare of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I have lots of colleagues who make me smarter by telling me stuff I didn’t know — nothing wrong with that,” Professor O’Hare said by email. “But Mark was one of the few from whom I always discovered what I hadn’t realized was solid, or fruitful (yes, or flaky or ill-informed) about my own thinking.”
Professor Kleiman had not been averse to using psychedelic drugs, but his typical stimulant of choice was chocolate. Asked once to estimate the impact of wholesale legalization of marijuana, he predicted precisely: 650,000 fewer arrests annually, 40,000 fewer people incarcerated and 15 billion stoned hours.
“You have to decide,” he told the assembled criminal justice experts, “whether a stoned hour is a good thing or a bad thing.”
In contrast, he equivocated when asked by The New Yorker about his personal experience with marijuana.
“If you do drug policy and you’re asked whether you use drugs, you’ve got two choices,” he replied. “You can say, ‘Yes, I’m a lawbreaker. Please come arrest me and ignore everything I say, because I’m a bad person.’ Or ‘No, actually, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.’
“Since neither of those is an advantageous admission,” he added, “I don’t answer the question.”