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The Drug Warrior’s False Choice

Marijuana PlantTo follow up on Doug Mataconis’ post on the subject of marijuana legalization (and, indeed, to the war on drugs in general), it is vital for those who wish to discuss the subject that they talk about policy in the context of reality, not fantasy.  To wit:  anyone who discusses drug policy as if the choices that we face are between a world with drug X and one without drug X is peddling fantasy.

If winning the war on drugs means total victory, then the war on drugs is a war without end.

As such, when David Brooks concludes his now infamous column thusly, he underscores the bankruptcy of his position:

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Of the many problems with the above is that it contains an assumption that the choice on the table is between “enjoying the arts or being in nature” and “being stoned.”  This is not the choice before us.

First, these are not, in fact, mutually exclusive categories, if we are going to honest. One can be high and enjoy arts and/or nature, yes?  This is not a zero sum game.

Second, the government does, in fact, subsidize the arts and access to nature.  Legalizing a substance is not subsidizing it.  It is simply allowing it.

Third, it isn’t as if marijuana isn’t being consumed whilst illegal.  Prohibition is never absolute.

However, the false choice that is rampant in drug warrior thinking is the main problem here:  those who support prohibition frequently speak as if the choice is between no drugs and lots of drugs.  But, of course, this is not the case.  People are already smoking marijuana, and will whether the substance is legal or not.  It is worth noting that another drug warrior fallacy is that if were tougher and spent even more money to fight the war that we would eventually be successful.  The actual evidence is, actually, to the contrary.

So, really, the issue is what is the real choice on the table?  Dave Weigel points out what the real choice is between  ruining people’s lives because they smoke pot or letting them make their own choices about the substance.  Further, prohibitionist policies cost a lot of money.

First, Weigel points to a New Yorker piece that deals with civil forfeiture laws that are used to fight the war on drugs.  The story is sickening in terms of its list of legal abuse of citizens by law enforcement.  The linkage specifically to marijuana comes in terms of terms of three different incidences in the piece, all of which are chilling, with Weigel noting the most egregious:  the way in which selling a total of $60 worth of marijuana could lead to a house being seized and auctioned off (and that house belongs not to the seller, but to his parents).

I recommend the New Yorker piece because it really does place the situation into stark reality.  We have created a situation in which lives are ruined not even because of drug usage, but because law enforcement has been given very wide latitude in the war on drugs. The choice, therefore, is not between arts and toking, it is between fighting a pointless war on our own citizens, or not.  As Weigel notes, “The greatest risk is from arrest, not from use.”

Second, beyond anecdotes, the cost of fighting the war on marijuana is high (in the billions).  It should be common knowledge at this point that we incarcerate  large number of persons for simple possession of marijuana and that this cost money (and also damages the lives of those incarcerated, which is also a serious cost).  Can anyone actually make a cogent argument that getting high on marijuana actually warrants imprisonment?  And I know this is getting to be clichéd:  but how is this all that different from alcohol consumption (except, of course, from the fact that studies show that alcohol is more likely to lead to bad behavior than is marijuana consumption)?

Simply put:  prohibition has numerous costs and the question, therefore, is not whether one wants a drug free world or not, because we are going to have the drugs.  The question is:  are the cost of prohibition worth it?  Are they lower or higher than the costs associated with letting people make up their own minds about a given substance?

In the case of marijuana, the cost/benefit analysis is actually pretty clear:  prohibition costs too much.  This should be, ultimately, obvious to anyone who really looks at the facts (and, I think, this is why we are seeing a shift in public opinion).  This is not just about stoners uniting in some political force (which one expects would be difficult to achieve in any event).  This is about trying to be logical about an issue about which we have long been illogical in the extreme.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    Bravo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. Not to totally derail the conversation, but this is why we want to keep abortion legal as well. It’s not a case of a world with legal abortion vs. a world without abortion. We already know, historically, what happens when abortion is made illegal: you get illegal abortions. Which means all the back-alley, coat-hanger stuff for the poor while the rich fly to countries/states where they can have safe, clean abortions in hospitals.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 1

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Well done. Irrefutable. Though I assume some will try.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    I think you left out one aspect of the war, namely government enforcement is profitable to the agencies, federal, state and local, doing the actual prosecution of the war. Between general grants, provision of equipment and employment of officials in enforcement, prosecution and incarceration we are talking about a huge industry.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    You only have to look at who pays for anti marijuana campaigns, pharmaceutical companies, the beer and wine industry and the prison industrial complex, to see where the problem is.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  6. @grumpy realist: @michael reynolds: Thanks.

    @Mr. Prosser: Indeed, there are multiple motivations for continuation of the policies in question. The self-perpetuation of what one set of authors called “the narco-enforcement complex” is part of the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Incidentally, we have legalized pot in California. You just need a license to consume in the form of a doctor’s prescription. There are of course doctors whose only practice is handing out weed prescriptions and they are not hard to find in the cities. It’s not hard to convince them that you have a medical need. Really, really not hard. And yet, here we are, soaking up the sunshine and not destroyed by a vengeful God or anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thanks for the referral, sounds like a good cold-weather read.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. anjin-san says:

    government enforcement is profitable to the agencies, federal, state and local, doing the actual prosecution of the war.

    This is the true core of the “war on drugs”.

    When the Volstead Act was repealed, the criminal justice/prison industry woke up one morning and realized that their funding and ability to make lucrative seizures was about to take a massive hit. Voila, “Marijuana – Assassin of Youth” was born.

    Of course the war on drugs is also useful for keeping large numbers of black men in the criminal justice system.

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  10. @Mr. Prosser: It is worth a read. It is a good overview of the subject and is quite readable. For a policy-focused book it is getting old (1996) but much of what is described is either the same as it was (or is worse), save the movement on the marijuana question.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    People are always going to get high. Pot is by far the least destructive of the popular mind altering substances. The damage done by legal stuff, like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs, exceeds the harm done by pot by orders of magnitude. Add up the deaths caused by the legal stuff every year. It’s a big number.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I think that the main failure has been the almost obsessive focus on the punitive route (possibly for reasons well stated by Mr. Prosser above) instead of the treatment route.

    It would be foolish to assert that the state has absolutely no interest at all in mitigating drug use, but it is equally foolish (as 40+ years of a failed “war on drugs” has well shown us) to assume that a prohibitionist approach furthers that interest. It doesn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  13. stonetools says:

    I’m somewhat of a hopeful doubter here. I do think the legalizers here tend to overstate what is IMO a decent case. I think we ought to look at the examples of legalization to see what we can expect-and while it’s better than what we have now, it isn’t all rainbows and sparkle ponies. On one hand, Netherlands is an example of a successful country that has achieved legalization of marijuana and hashish. It hasn’t collapsed into drug induced chaos, as conservatives predicted. On the other hands, it’s recently imposed some restrictions. Turns out pothead behavior by drug tourists is just too much of a nuisance. Moreover, the Netherlands model hasn’t been adopted anywhere else, even in more “liberal” countries like Germany and the Scandinavians. They do like order and propriety in those countries, I guess. Switzerland debated adopting the Netherlands model and rejected it. Belgium ( itself half Dutch) has been thinking about it, but they have bigger problems to worry about.
    Recommend this post by the excellent Monkey Cage blog. Money quote:

    It is likely that Colorado will reap the benefits of being the first to legalize in terms of increased tourism and tax revenues. Yet, there will also be a cost, including the nuisance caused by those drug users. And there will be accidents caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana. Those costs might give other states pause. While some make the analogy with booze, the better analogy may be gambling in terms of regulation. While we see some expansion there, it takes a while and has to overcome much resistance. Nevada continues to have a competitive advantage.

    The Dutch experience has not led other European countries to move toward legalization. This is despite the fact that there are open borders between the Netherlands and its neighbors in the European Union. Indeed, the opposite has occurred: France (especially) and Germany continuously press the Netherlands to eliminate its drug policy.

    Seems drug legalization is a kind of a qualified success , where it has been tried. Its not been libertarian nirvana, which is what legalization boosters seem to be promising. Anyway, that’s how I see it.

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  14. superdestroyer says:

    If you are going to take the libertarian position and let people used drugs if they want to, you should, at least, remove the government from the drug rehab or treatment programs. If people want to enjoy drugs, they at least should accept the possibility of there being downside and should be responsible for any possible downside.

    Also, the least the legalize drug use groups should do is explain how driving while high laws will work, who strict liability will apply to people who have drugs in their system, and how recreational drugs should work with product liability.l

    If recreational drugs are going to be exempt from the Food and Drug Act, libertarians should actually describe which if any federal laws are going to apply to recreational drugs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. @stonetools:

    it isn’t all rainbows and sparkle ponies.

    Indeed, but neither is legalized alcohol all rainbows and ponies. Part of the point is that there are no rainbows and ponies to be had regardless. The question is: what policy route leads to the least harm?

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  16. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    The ones that only give our cards generally get busted. The doctor that gave me my first card lost his licence when it was discovered that was the only doctoring he was doing. It is still easy to find a doctor to give a prescription, but the weed card mills are high profit short term ventures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Grewgills says:

    The real choices are:
    Users’ money going to criminals or to the state and the state paying to police, prosecute, and imprison or being paid taxes and licence fees.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Ben says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I think that the main failure has been the almost obsessive focus on the punitive route (possibly for reasons well stated by Mr. Prosser above) instead of the treatment route.

    My only problem with replacing incarceration with treatment is this: it assumes that ALL drug us is abuse and means you’re an addict. There doesn’t seem to be any thought that it is possible to recreationally use a drug without becoming a junky. It is perfectly common for someone to responsibly use a drug (or several), and simply continue to be a productive member of society. Are we going to spend many thousands of dollars to force these people to go to rehab (will they be able to keep their job?) What if they don’t want to go to rehab? Are they going to be forcibly committed? Or do they then get to go to jail?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. stonetools says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed. I’m just pointing out that the biggest real world example of legalization isn’t quite a roaring success. In the last couple of days, just about every post here has been effusive about how wonderful pot legalization is going to be. I’m just saying it may not be all that wonderful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Grewgills says:

    @stonetools:

    It hasn’t collapsed into drug induced chaos, as conservatives predicted. On the other hands, it’s recently imposed some restrictions.

    The reason for the restrictions isn’t the behavior of stoned tourists. Ask anyone who lives or has lived in Amsterdam and they will tell you the ones that bother them are the drunk Brits and the Germans (damn bike thieves). The reason for the roll back have much more to do with pressure from France and Germany and the Red Light district (where most of the coffee shops are) sitting in the middle of town on very desirable property.

    The one roll back on ‘soft drugs’ there that was behavior induced is the waiting period on mushrooms. Too many people got too drunk and stoned then thought it would be a good idea to go to a ‘smart shop’ and buy shrooms. There were a few incidents that ended badly and now there is a 3 day (I think) waiting period. That may be a bit out of date. I moved away several years ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben:

    it assumes that ALL drug us is abuse and means you’re an addict.

    It doesn’t assume that at all. You assumed that. Treatment is obviously indicated when the drug use becomes problematic for society.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:

    Not mine, dude, they’re a chain with 14 convenient locations. They make a show of asking you to bring in some form of medical record, and they weigh you and take BP. You chat for five minutes. “Yep, that insomnia and/or chronic pain is killin’ me, doc.” Then they give you the card and it’s off to the Apothacarium which features dozens of medicinal products.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    LOL, it may have the unintended benefit of neutering the Ronulans.

    Just saying … :-D

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. TastyBits says:

    Ending the “War on Drugs” does not require legalizing drugs. Prostitution, gambling, and murder are illegal, but there are no wars on them.

    Once drug enforcement ceases to be profitable, drug enforcement will cease to be done disproportionately. Reassigning police assets may get them to where they are needed most.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. John Burgess says:

    @TastyBits: One might argue (as many do) that there is indeed a “war on prostitution”. You can ask these 105 guys nabbed by the Nassau (NY) Police Department for their opinions…

    http://blog.simplejustice.us/2013/12/26/it-doesnt-feel-like-a-win/

    They were all grabbed as part of “Flush the Johns” operation about which the department so proudly brags. That at least some of the guys are winning their cases in court does not diminish the fact that the PD — and complicit media — are posting their pictures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. TastyBits says:

    @John Burgess:

    As local areas determine that illegal activities are a problem, they will increase enforcement, and they will redirect their resources as needed. It is not perfect, and there are exceptions – corruption, business interests, moral fervor.

    I believe that the collateral damage from the “War on Drugs” is several orders of magnitude greater than anything the locals can cause.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. stonetools says:

    @Grewgills:

    I’m going by Wikipedia and the problem seems to be misconduct by drug tourists and the intoxication effects of the more concentrated varieties of marijuana.

    In May 2011 the Dutch government announced that tourist are to be banned from Dutch coffee shops, starting in the southern provinces and at the end of 2011 in the rest of the country.
    “In order to tackle the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drug trafficking, the open-door policy of coffee shops will end,” (the Dutch health and justice ministers in a letter to the Dutch parliament)[5]
    A government committee delivered in June 2011 a report about Cannabis to the Dutch government. It includes a proposal that cannabis with more than 15 percent THC should be labeled as hard drugs.[38] Higher concentrations of THC and drug tourism have challenged the current policy and led to a re-examination of the current approach; for e.g. ban of all sales of cannabis to tourists in coffee shops from end of 2011 was proposed but currently only the border city of Maastricht has adopted the measure in order to test out its feasibility.[39] According to the initial measure, starting in 2012, each coffee shop was to operate like a private club with some 1,000 to 1,500 members. In order to qualify for a membership card, applicants would have to be adult Dutch citizens, membership was only to be allowed in one club. [7] [40]

    In Amsterdam 26 coffeeshops in the De Wallen area will have to close their doors between 1 September 2012 and 31 August 2015.[41]

    A Dutch judge has ruled that tourists can legally be banned from entering cannabis cafés, as part of new restrictions which come into force in 2012

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  28. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I can already see coming a two pronged attack on drug treatment programs by conservatives saying that they don’t want to pay for drug treatment programs for “liberal potheads” and liberals saying that treatment programs aren’t necessary because there is no such thing as a marijuana addict, only recreational users who occasionally go astray. Again, not sure that’s good thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  29. Ben says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    It doesn’t assume that at all. You assumed that. Treatment is obviously indicated when the drug use becomes problematic for society.

    OK, when you say that we should be going the “treatment route” rather than the “punitive route”, it sounds like you’re suggesting that we should send drug convicts to treatment rather than jail. But then what do you suggest happens to people for which treatment is not indicated (i.e. someone who isn’t an addict)?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Woody says:

    I’m quite sure the Venn diagram that juxtaposes “Households who earn the majority of their income through capital gains” and “Households seized through drug laws” have zero overlap.

    It’s Miley Cyrus, same-gender marriage, tattoos and heavy bass/rap lyrics that are disillusioning American youth. Not the increasingly overt “All Animals are Equal, but Some Animals are More Equal Than Others” reality promoted by our betters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. anjin-san says:

    drug convicts

    If all they are doing is smoking pot, they should never become convicts in the first place. What a tragic waste of our limited resources.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  32. Davebo says:

    @stonetools:

    On one hand, Netherlands is an example of a successful country that has achieved legalization of marijuana and hashish. It hasn’t collapsed into drug induced chaos, as conservatives predicted. On the other hands, it’s recently imposed some restrictions. Turns out pothead behavior by drug tourists is just too much of a nuisance.

    That’s simply not true. The biggest issue legalization of marijuana in The Netherlands has raised regards communities on the border who choose not to allow sales to prevent people taking a 10 minute drive across the border and back home with some stash.

    I’ve spent a lot of time all over Holland and can tell you it’s just not so much an issue even in Amsterdam. They did have issues with the legal sale of “magic mushrooms” and eliminated that but that’s an entirely different situation from marijuana sales.

    In fact the biggest problem have been in illegal sale of much harder drugs such as heroin, Ex, etc.

    The real problem with tourists in Amsterdam is as it is in all tourist “party towns”. Drunks making fools of themselves in and around Dam Square/Red Light district area. Then there’s Vondelpark but it’s a far cry from what it was 25 years ago.

    Of course the entire question is irrelevant if one assumes we would eventually allow the legal sale of marijuana in most states. No one is going to fly to Des Moines for a “pot vacation”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  33. wr says:

    @Ron Beasley: “You only have to look at who pays for anti marijuana campaigns, pharmaceutical companies, the beer and wine industry and the prison industrial complex, to see where the problem is.”

    And most egregiously, here in California the marijuana farmers are strongly against legalization, and dumped a ton of money into defeating a recent proposition. Because it’s a lot more profitable if it’s illegal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben:

    Nothing should happen to them. There is no reason to bother them as far as I am concerned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Andre Kenji says:

    @stonetools:

    On one hand, Netherlands is an example of a successful country that has achieved legalization of marijuana and hashish.

    No, Netherlands basically decriminalized marijuana, not legalized it. That´s an important distinction, and obviously, many defenders of legalization does not want laissez-faire, but policies to curb consumption without resorting to criminalization of drug use.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Grewgills says:

    @Andre Kenji:
    The Netherlands actually took a bizarre middle ground. It is legal to grow up to 5 plants in most areas. It is legal to carry and use. It is legal to buy up to 5 grams at a go from a coffee shop. What is not legal is growing or buying in the quantities required to run a coffee shop. That leaves pretty much every coffee shop having to illegally procure the product that they then legally sell. There have been several unsuccessful efforts to legalizing commercial growing so coffee shops can be legally supplied*. Hard pressure from France and Germany has been a major factor in those measures failing.

    * This means that pretty much any coffee shop can be shut down at any point that the powers that be really want to shut it down.

    @stonetools:
    I moved away 6 years ago now (hard to believe it’s been that long), but still have close family and friends in Amsterdam, Leiden, and the East. Political pressure from France and Germany has been a major factor in those restrictions. That and coffee shops and brothels sitting on prime real estate. Developers want that real estate in central Amsterdam. BS reasons were given for the crack down, but family and friends still in NL all know the stated reasons are BS. Pot tourists and THC content aren’t the real reason. The hash and kief they have been selling from the very start was over the magic 15% threshold. The mostly American weed tourists tend to limit themselves to a few areas and aren’t so loud or obnoxious. The drunk Brits are the number one tourist complaint from everyone I have ever known in Amsterdam and Den Haag.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. Ben says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Nothing should happen to them. There is no reason to bother them as far as I am concerned.

    Ahhhh, ok I misunderstood where you were going . I apologize, and I agree with you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  38. Stonetools says:

    @Grewgills:

    Well, maybe WIKIPEDIA is wrong then but the article does reference Government documents and speak about actual legislation and court decisions aimed at controlling tourists. It’s not like it’s quoting anecdotes or personal observations. I’m afraid that I am going to have to go with the article on this one. If you can refer me to some official sources I’m happy to change my mind.
    Now the article does speak of political pressure from France and Germany, which is part of my point. Why aren’t those countries adopting the Netherlands model if it’s so successful? Why hasn’t. Scandinavia followed suite? Why did Switzerland reject the model in 2004 after nationwide debate? It’s not like those countries are full of the kind of Neanderthal type conservatives that we have to face here. These countries are considerably more liberal than the US and in most cases have legalized prostiution, for example. But they have not followed the Netherlands on drugs. I can only conclude from that they are seeing things they don’t like, which is why I describe the Netherlands model as a qualified success.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. superdestroyer says:

    @stonetools:

    If you are going to legalized recreational drugs and make them exempt for the Food and Drug Act, then the government cannot do little else but abandon drug treatment programs. How can government make drugs easily available and legal and then pay the price of cleaning up the lives of people who are then harmed by them.

    As the U.S. becomes a one party state with a strong social libertarian bent when it comes to sex and drugs, the government is going to have to align its social welfare policy with its social libertarian policies or else end up with enabling bad behavior for too many Americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  40. Tony W says:

    If winning the war on drugs means total victory, then the war on drugs is a war without end.

    Reagan understood this long ago. In fact this and the “War on Terror” are foundational to the predominate victim mentality of conservatives today.

    Good rule of thumb – if the “war” has the word “On” as part of its marketing, then it’s not a real war. And that goes for the War on Poverty too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  41. Just Me says:

    Por legalization makes more sense than continued prosecution-at the very least decriminalization makes sense.

    Where I have some issues is legalization of all illegal drugs-pretty sure I don’t want meth to become legal drug.

    I don’t think legalization will usher in a new utopian era where all drug users make good choices or that there won’t be negative consequences, but for pot at least legalization seems to outweigh the downsides to enforcement.

    I do want to see laws for under age use enforced as well as driving while impaired laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    How can government make drugs easily available and legal and then pay the price of cleaning up the lives of people who are then harmed by them.

    By spending a tenth of what they currently spend to enforce prohibition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  43. @Stonetools: If you are interested in further comparative cases, you should also look to Portugal, where they decriminalized all drugs over a decade ago shifted from a punitive approach to a public health approach.

    See: Portugal drug law show results ten years on, experts say and also ‘This Is Working’: Portugal, 12 Years after Decriminalizing Drugs.

    The second piece has an illustration of the false choice I am noting here, as opponents to the Portuguese policy criticize it for abandoning the goal of a “drug free world”–but since there isn’t going to be a drug free world, such criticism aren’t too helpful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  44. Andre Kenji says:

    @Stonetools:

    These countries are considerably more liberal than the US and in most cases have legalized prostiution, for example.

    That´s not so simple. In Europe, the only countries that legalized prostitution in a larger sense are Germany, Greece, Turkey, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland(And it´s heavily regulated in these countries). In most Western countries Prostitution per se is not illegal, but keeping brothels or profiting from it are.

    In fact, Hollande has trying to pass a really harsh law against prostitution in France. Besides that, I live in a country that has relatively liberal statures regarding prostitution, but that´s also very Socially conservative, so, I know about that.

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  45. Andre Kenji says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: There is a deeper issue. Brazil does not have good legislation about on drugs(There is an equivalent to the mandatory minimum sentences that exists in the US, and drug trafficking is include on that), but the law tries to differentiate between users and traffickers. Small quantities of drug are not enough to send anyone to prison.

    That´s something that the US law should at least try to consider.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. @Andre Kenji: There is little doubt that US laws are overly harsh. Legislators take the “war” part of the “war on drugs” too seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  47. Stonetools says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Thanks for the reference! I’m trying to be objective here, by looking at real world examples, rather than theorizing about how wonderful things are going to be when legalization comes to pass. Didn’t know about Portugal, so off to look at it. I would like your take as to why legalization hasn’t been tried elsewhere in Europe.

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  48. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The negative impact of alcohol was reported on MSNBC this morning to costs around $200 billion. When all recreational drugs are eventually legalized, the impact costs will be around the same amount. I doubt between reduced spending on law enforcement (which probably will just not happen) and the cleaning up of everything else that goes wrong will probably costs more than the taxes paid.

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  49. @Stonetools:

    I would like your take as to why legalization hasn’t been tried elsewhere in Europe.

    I think that the basic answer is the same for why it hasn’t been tried in the US: moral objections to drug use and concerns that legalization will lead to increased usage. Globally we have been in a drug war paradigm for quite some time, much of which institutionalized via UN agreements.

    There has also been some decriminalization of personal dosage in parts of Latin America and Uruguay just legalized marijuana (basis info here).

    I would note that while some legalizers spout overly rosy pictures about legalization (which is not my position), the bottom line is this: there is going to be neither a drug free world nor one in which all drug users are responsible. Rather, the question is whether the drug war paradigm is better than one in which focuses on problem use (the way we deal with alcohol, for example).

    The ultimate issue, to me, comes down to a cost/benefit analysis. I do, also, think that personal rights are part of the issue.

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  50. C. Clavin says:

    Nice piece.
    False choices form the basis of the majority of our policy arguments.
    Abortion.
    Marriage equality.
    The economy.
    The environment.
    But don’t believe me…just check out Superdoopers comment above. Apparently we are now legalizing all recreational drugs.
    It’s really hard to have a discussion when one side is spewing BS.

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  51. C. Clavin says:

    @superdestroyer:
    First…no one is talking about legalizing all recreational drugs.
    You made that up. It’s your fantasy.
    Second…please link to credible studies about public health costs of marijuana.
    Good luck.

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  52. @superdestroyer: Of the various problems with your reasoning is that you are assuming that the current paradigm is holding back the costs of current drug use. Not only are current policies not accomplishing that feat, they are making them worse because seeking treatment for problem use is more difficult under the drug war paradigm.

    And, further, you are deepening the false choice by acting like the current system diminishes the negative cost of drug use and a different system would radically increase them.

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  53. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The logic for legalizing pot applies to legalizing all drugs. Once you have decided that the Food and Drug Act and the Controlled Substances Act should not apply to drugs that people want to use recreationally, it is only a matter of time.

    Also, the idea of keeping drugs out of the hands of high school and college students is laughable. The government does almost nothing to limit the consumption of alcohol by high school and college students.

    There is no logic to legalizing pot and continuing the “war on Drugs” for everything elese. The only exception seems to be that the elite seem to like smoking pot and want to make it legal. That is fine as a policy proposal but the elite also seem to want to make money of it by increasing the amount government spends on drug treatment.

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  54. sam says:

    Not to mention the God-awful effect our War on Drugs has had and is having on Mexico:

    By the end of Felipe Calderón’s administration (2006–2012), the official death toll of the Mexican Drug War was at least 60,000, although unconfirmed accounts set the homicide rate above 100,000 victims, given the large number of people who have disappeared.

    Not even Dante could do justice to the hell that is northern Mexico.

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  55. C. Clavin says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The logic for legalizing pot applies to legalizing all drugs. Once you have decided that the Food and Drug Act and the Controlled Substances Act should not apply to drugs that people want to use recreationally, it is only a matter of time.

    Right…we’ll be legalizing heroin any minute now.
    Like I said; spewing BS

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  56. @superdestroyer: You seem to be assuming that altering the Controlled Substances Act would mean no regulation of legalized substances.

    That’s not the way it works.

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  57. @superdestroyer:

    The only exception seems to be that the elite seem to like smoking pot and want to make it legal. That is fine as a policy proposal but the elite also seem to want to make money of it by increasing the amount government spends on drug treatment.

    A lot of people, such as myself, have looked at the effects and costs of the drug war, especially as it pertains to marijuana, and clearly see that a) not only is the policy not working, but b) the policies are making things worse, rather than better.

    And, for the record, I have never smoked or consumed marijuana, nor do I have any plans to start.

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  58. Also, huh?

    the elite also seem to want to make money of it by increasing the amount government spends on drug treatment.

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  59. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You clearly don’t understand, superdestroyer’s prescience. Once the Brown Peoples have conquered the White Peoples and created a One Party State, and the White Peoples are living in walled compounds in North Dakota surrounded by Brown Zombie Democrats intent on taking their guns and forcibly gay marrying everyone, of course they’ll legalize heroin and serve it up to kindergarten kids in between lessons on multiculturalism.

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  60. michael reynolds says:

    The essential differences between pot and booze:

    1) There’s no fatal dose of pot.
    2) Stoned drivers are better than drunk drivers. (Not good, but better.)
    3) There’s no proven connection between pot and any disease.
    4) Both can have deleterious effects on short-term memory.
    5) Pot contains zero calories.
    6) Both can have deleterious effects on short-term memory.
    7) Booze tastes better. Pot makes everything else taste better.
    8) Stoners never start bar fights, but do enjoy Judd Apatow movies.
    9) Stoners do however engage in sophomoric philosophizing.
    10) Pot almost solely responsible for the vital corn chip industry.

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  61. anjin-san says:

    The logic for legalizing pot applies to legalizing all drugs.

    Ummm. No.

    Pot is fairly benign. Meth, for example, is not.

    Can you please say something that is not laughable?

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  62. Just Me says:

    Michael-just a note but there are multiple studies that link pot use in the teen years with the development of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. It appears that pot use among teens (when the brain is still developing) comes with risks-especially for teens whose families have a history of mental health issues.

    http://adai.uw.edu/marijuana/factsheets/mentalhealth.htm

    Now I still don’t think this is a good reason to continue to criminalize use but one thing that troubles me with many in the legalization movement is that they tend to promote lot use as coming with no risks and as being “safe.”

    Pot use still has risks involved for people of any age but pot use a on teens comes with larger risks. Legalizing pot won’t create some kind of utopia-people will have bad outcomes but the risk of those outcomes isn’t necessarily a good reason to criminalize use-just don’t pretend like pot is harmless.

    Anecdotally I have seen more than enough very bright teens use pot and lose all interest in school or meeting future goals-(I work in the middle and high school and I have 4 teenagers-and at least among the teens the heavy pot smokers fail far more in school and graduate less than the teens who tend to limit their partying-alcohol only or other drugs).

    I know several adults who seem to smoke on occasion with few issues but I haven’t seen much among the teen population to convince me smoking pot is a good idea.

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  63. Just Me says:

    @anjin-san:

    The idea of legalizing meth is ridiculous-my neighbors can grow some pot and lose no risk to me, but my neighbors can potentially burn my neighborhood cooking meth.

    I think there are quite a few drugs that are best kept illegal or at least more tightly controlled. Pot isn’t particularly worth criminalizing. Pot isn’t risk free but it’s risks don’t warrant prosecution.

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  64. Rafer Janders says:

    @Just Me:

    Anecdotally I have seen more than enough very bright teens use pot and lose all interest in school or meeting future goals

    Correlation or causation? Is the pot causing them to lose interest, or were they already losing interest due to family or other issues, and then turning to pot as a way to alleviate their malaise?

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  65. anjin-san says:

    @ Just Me

    I don’t think anyone is arguing in favor of decriminalization/legalization of pot for minors. Of course, if they want it, they will get it – regardless of what the law says.

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  66. michael reynolds says:

    @Just Me:

    I live in Marin County California. Here’s a story from my 16 year-old son. Apparently a bag of weed was left sitting on a bench in the locker room at his high school. It stayed there for days, untouched. It wasn’t because no one smokes pot, it was because everyone had their own if they wanted it.

    Probably half the kids at his school smoke weed. They will grow up to be lawyers and bankers and real estate agents just like their well-to-do parents.

    I’ve seen the studies. Go back and read the link you offered. Show me where it provides scientific evidence of causation as opposed to correlation. You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist. There’s a small New Zealand study that may or may not show an effect on IQ. That’s about it.

    That’s not to say there aren’t dangers, but there’s just very little objective scientific evidence, largely because governments have routinely refused to conduct reasonable research. The fact is we don’t know. I would like to know. Everyone would like to know. But what we have right now is a whole lot of scare tactic nonsense and very little actual science.

    On the anecdotal side, we have the fact that we do not appear to be suffering from a plague of schizophrenics. Nor are we seeing IQs drop, despite the fact that the population has been getting high for a few decades now. I’ve met very few people who haven’t smoked pot, and most of them started as teen-agers. Now they’re respected writers. Not a wide sample of humanity, I’m afraid, but pretty much all I know are writers.

    So, maybe pot is harmful, but the case has not been made.

    My own sense is that it has the effect of lowering motivation. Or maybe un-motivated people smoke pot. Again, some actual science would be helpful. Meanwhile, you know what will totally kill your kids?

    What if a dietary supplement was proven to cause liver damage, liver failure and death? What if each year, this same supplement caused 100,000 calls to poison control centers, 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 deaths from liver failure alone?

    You know what they’re talking about? Tylenol

    Once again, it would be great if we had a way to rank dangers in order of seriousness. But by any standard, good old acetaminophen will kill you a whole lot deader than pot. .

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  67. Grewgills says:

    @Just Me:

    among the teens the heavy pot smokers fail far more in school and graduate less than the teens who tend to limit their partying-alcohol only or other drugs

    The heavy drinkers, really heavy partiers of any kind don’t do well. Most of the ones I have seen, in the pretty tame, schools where I have taught tuned out, then went to the heavy ____ route. It could be different in some other areas, but usually the tuning out precedes the self destructive behavior. Ideally kids and teens won’t be doing any unnecessary drugs. If I had to choose between my little girl, when he is in HS, going to a party where the kids were getting stoned or a party where kids were getting drunk, I would feel safer with her at the stoned kids party. I’m hoping she will make good decisions, but I’m pretty sure not all of her friends will.

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  68. anjin-san says:

    I grew up in Marin in the 60s & 70s, pot smoking was almost an Olympic sport back then. I ran with the heaviest partying kids in my high school. Most of us came out fine. Some not. That’s life. Some of the straight kids crashed and burned later in life.

    Alcohol, tobacco and cocaine have been the things that really have ruined peoples lives. Oh, and food. Morbid obesity is a heartbreaking problem among my classmates.

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  69. Grewgills says:

    @Stonetools:
    The VVD (the more corporatist of the Dutch parties) won the leading position in the Dutch government in 2010 in coalition with the Christian Democrats. I think that is why you are seeing movement against coffee shops and the Red Light in general now. When I lived in NL I heard a lot of complaining about American politics, about British and German tourists, and about Turks and Poles coming in with their families for lower paying jobs. I didn’t hear anything about (primarily American) weed tourists; it simply wasn’t on anyone’s radar. The property issues I mentioned earlier regarding the Red Light and coffee shops sitting in prime location wanted by other businesses was already at issue then (2007).

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  70. george says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The logic for legalizing pot applies to legalizing all drugs.

    Couldn’t that have been said for legalizing alcohol as well? I’d argue that pot and alcohol should have the same legal status – the arguments for and against each are more or less identical.

    The interesting thing is the number of people who think alcohol should be legal but pot illegal – its hard not to think they’ve been unduly swayed by “Reefer Madness”.

    Some drugs are more harmful than others, and it makes sense to at least discuss whether some should be banned. But alcohol and pot are so clearly in the same category health wise (both harmful if over-used, both innocuous in small doses) and addiction wise (some folks become addicted to one or the other or both) that you have to make some fairly contrived and arbitrary distinctions to come up with a reason to ban one but not the other.

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  71. anjin-san says:

    But alcohol and pot are so clearly in the same category health wise

    Are you joking? It’s either that or you don’t get out much.

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  72. anjin-san says:
  73. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    Are you joking? It’s either that or you don’t get out much.

    Actually I get out all the time.

    Both in small doses have proven health benefits (lots of studies on everything from pot to wine to beer vs tee-totallers life expectency, I assume you don’t need me to list them – or Google if you do, come to think of it).

    Both taken in large doses over extended time periods have detrimental effects (again, Google).

    Both taken in large doses result in intoxication with all the resultant risks (driving, workplace etc).

    For most people, there are mainly benefits for both. For some people – those who can limit their dose size), both can be harmful. I suspect you think one or the other (can’t tell from your post) is more harmful. From what I’ve read, I don’t think the medical evidence supports that.

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  74. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    How about all the studies showing a glass a wine a day is good for you? Or that people who have a drink a day have a greater life expectancy than tea-totallers?

    Alcohol can be abused. So can eating meat, or exercise, or just about anything. In small doses it seems to be beneficial.

    And if you don’t think prolonged heavy pot smoking creates problems, you should take your own advice and get out more – seriously, I can’t believe you doubt that. Its certainly less of a problem currently than alcohol, which is hardly surprising considering the social acceptance of alcohol vs that of pot.

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  75. C. Clavin says:

    And if you don’t think prolonged heavy pot smoking creates problems, you should take your own advice and get out more – seriously, I can’t believe you doubt that.

    Provide a credible link.
    I, and many people I know, have been partaking for decades. Successful, healthy, grounded people. Pillars of society. Company owners. Leaders of industries.
    I’m betting you don’t get out nearly as much as you think you do.

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  76. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    That seems sort of self-evident, given that he qualified his remarks by saying “prolonged” and “heavy”.

    Given that marijuana is typically consumed by smoking it, unfiltered I might add, I don’t think anybody would refute that doing that heavily and on a long-term basis would have deleterious health consequences. I mean come on, you’re inhaling smoke, laden with tar and a host of carcinogens (a host of which are not water soluble, so bongs aren’t entirely helpful in that regard either). Of course that is eventually going to cause health problems.

    That doesn’t imply that those using it are somehow bad people, but they are probably deluding themselves if they think that long-term use isn’t going to cause some degree of health problems for them down the road. I’d think that would be self-evident – you’re inhaling fricking SMOKE man. :-D

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  77. Grewgills says:

    @C. Clavin:
    Given that you are productive and healthy, I’m guessing that you don’t wake and bake daily then ride the high till bed time.
    A lot of healthy successful people have a regular nip of scotch, a few beers, or like a glass of wine with dinner. Light or casual use of most drugs will not have any detectable deleterious effects. Heavy prolonged use of anything can and likely will have deleterious effects.

    Moderation in all things, including moderation

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  78. C. Clavin says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    A big part of the problem here is that, like gun violence, we haven’t really studied this.
    So, like gun violence, we just don’t know the answers.
    Of course you are making logical assumptions. But assumptions none-the-less.
    Keep in mind that tobacco has many additives…and burning a cigarette creates over 4000 chemical compounds. A joint…additive-free…about 1/10th of that.
    Sure…if you are stoned 24/7…there are probably going to be effects.

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  79. Anjin-San says:

    @ George

    Certaiainly prolonged, heavy pot use causes problems. What it does not produce, and what alcohol abuse does, is bodies piled up at the morgue, and battered wives and children in the ER.

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  80. george says:

    @Anjin-San:

    Fair enough, though that only applies to a small percentage of drinkers; most of us drink (just as most people smoke pot) with no harm done to either ourselves or others (in fact, there seem to be benefits in both for most).

    If you’re looking at outliers injuring others due to abuse, there certainly is more from alcohol. That’s hardly surprising both because its use is more acceptable and it encourages violence in some( but not the majority, who end up becoming sappy and talking too much but not violent) of its abusers. But if pot was smoked to the same extent as alcohol was drunk, the driving/workplace accident rate would be the same; the domestic violence would still be higher from alcohol – some stoned people do get violent btw, I’ve seen that in action. Its rarer than with drinking, but still happens; possibly some people will use any excuse to get violent, if you take away alcohol and pot they’ll use drinking pop as an excuse to lash out.

    But limiting activities for the majority because of an irresponsible minority strikes me as going about things the wrong way; even kids instinctively know that that is basically unfair.

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  81. anjin-san says:

    @ George

    Just show us the data on how many people die from pot use every year. Oh, and credible proof that it can be additive, as you say it it. Actually, show us any data at tall to support your claims about the dangers of pot.

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  82. anjin-san says:

    @ George

    I should mention that I spent a couple of years studying to be a chemical dependency therapist. Sorry, but your claims about equivalence between the dangers of alcohol and pot are nonsense. Yes, a majority of people can use either in moderation without chaos in their lives. When you get into abuse territory, the harm done by alcohol greatly exceeds that of pot. Really, by orders of magnitude. 27,000 deaths a year from cirrhosis of the liver for example. Can you provide numbers on how many people bong themselves to death every year?

    I would also point out that a lot of people who think they are moderate drinkers are fooling themselves. I tended bar and managed bars and clubs for over 20 years, I have some experience with this, as well as with over 20 years clean and sober.

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  83. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    Fair point. Okay, I’ll modify my statement based on what you said: for most people neither alcohol nor pot is harmful (in fact both are probably beneficial in small doses). If abused, alcohol is worse.

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