The term “public intellectual” usually refers to an academic with big ideas who is able to make them engaging to the general public. Think James Q. Wilson, or William Julius Wilson. Mark Kleiman, who died in July at the age of 68, was a public intellectual in a rarer sense. He was an academic with big ideas who was eager to invest the time to get those ideas to work for the public good.
Mark is best known for his efforts to rationalize drug policy, most notably with respect to marijuana. He brought to the task a breadth of learning and a razor-sharp wit. And he was unclassifiable in terms of the usual legalization binary, equally stringent in his critique of heartless, mindless drug warriors as of oversimplifying legalization advocates. Even before states started legalizing marijuana, he pointed out that the central issue was not simply how much marijuana use and dependence would increase, but what marijuana legalization would do for alcohol problems. Would the new marijuana users be more or less likely to get drunk? What would that do to youth violence? He pointed out that the legalization slogan “regulate like alcohol” was hardly an encouraging prospect, given the gradual erosion of efforts to effectively regulate and tax the alcohol industry.