The Underwhelming Reality of Medical Marijuana Laws

Legalizing pot will not bring about the end of civilization.

In 1996, as California voters considered whether to make theirs the first state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, they were warned that they were on the verge of creating a grim wasteland from which they might never escape.

Brad Gates, sheriff of Orange County and head of a group opposing the ballot measure, called it an "irresponsible" change that would unleash uncontrollable drug use and produce a "nightmare for law enforcement." President Bill Clinton opposed it, and his drug czar called it a "cruel hoax." But the measure won anyway.

That was 17 years ago, and today, it's clear that the critics were under the influence of some hallucinogenic substance. As a way of destroying the California way of life, Proposition 215 has been a bust.

In one respect, the opponents were right: The program is so lenient that getting medical marijuana is easy for anyone claiming a medical need, from chronic pain to insomnia to anxiety. A CNN reporter said it took him 20 minutes to get the required card and recommendation from a doctor, with no physical exam. Some physicians advertise their willingness to certify patients for cannabis.

So the effect is pretty close to legalizing pot for all adults who want it. But the apparent consequences of this outwardly drastic change amount to a non-event.

As The New York Times reported Sunday, "Warnings voiced against partial legalization -- of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use -- have proved unfounded." By now, there's a stack of research indicating that allowing therapeutic use of cannabis has had no notable ill effects.

One fear was that the law would encourage kids to smoke weed by suggesting it's not dangerous. But a study of California and other states by D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon and Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado Denver reached the conclusion that "the legalization of medical marijuana was not accompanied by increases in the use of marijuana or other substances such as alcohol and cocaine among high school students. Interestingly, several of our estimates suggest that marijuana use actually declined."

Another risk was that the state would be overrun with stoned motorists weaving randomly down the highways, wreaking death and destruction. But the same scholars, in a separate investigation of medical marijuana states, detected just the opposite effect: a reduction in overall traffic fatalities of at least 8 percent in the first year.

They suspect that some people switch from alcohol to cannabis -- and that pot smokers are either less likely to drive while impaired or, if they do drive, are less likely to crash.

The epidemic of crime that cops expected failed to materialize. The state's crime rate has fallen by nearly 40 percent since 1996, and violent crime has been cut in half. Crime fell nationally as well, but not quite as much as in California. The same pattern holds even if you look solely at the period after 2004, when dispensaries became common.

None of this has changed the tune of those who were against it all along. In 2009, the California Police Chiefs Association put out a report repeating the litany of horrors, including the allegation that "minors who are exposed to marijuana at dispensaries or residences where marijuana plants are grown may be subtly influenced to regard it as a generally legal drug, and inclined to sample it." Or they may not.

The group says that "many violent crimes have been committed that can be traced to the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries" and that "criminals in search of prey" are "commonly encountered outside" them. Yet somehow the Golden State has gotten dramatically safer.

Some areas have more such shops and the resulting traffic than neighbors prefer, which also happens with liquor stores and convenience stores. But even alongside the dens of iniquity, trouble is not the norm. A study by UCLA professors Nancy Kepple and Bridget Freisthler found no evidence that marijuana outlets generate crime in the surrounding areas.

All this news is a good omen for states that are considering legalization of recreational use of cannabis, something Colorado and Washington embraced last year. It's also reassuring for residents of Illinois, which will allow medical use starting Jan. 1. But if you're expecting a more liberal policy to be a big deal, you're in for a letdown.

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  • Free Society||

    Ceterum censeo foederati imperium esse delendam

  • Free Society||

  • anon||

    What is this a map of?

  • Free Society||

    Self-described and self-mapped anarchists, with the color depending on what kind of anarchist you consider yourself to be. So in my estimation the only real anarchists will be marked with yellow or orange.

  • anon||

    Oh. Meh, I'm no anarchist by any means; I don't want to depend on the mobs to determine whether my property is mine or not.

    Then again, depending on our current state of government is about as effective, so...

  • sarcasmic||

    True anarchy would last about as long as it would take for a bunch of thugs to band together and kill off any competing gangs of thugs. This last word in violence would give them license to steal, which they would call taxation, and viola you've got government.

  • ||

    What do you bass your assertion on? Gang violins may start small enough to be thwarted by organized citizens. It is those organized citizens that would quickly form a new government. Always worry about your neighbor.

  • anon||

    l enough to be thwarted by organized citizens.

    What, exactly, do you think a government is?

  • sarcasmic||

    What's the difference between a gang and organized citizens? Skin color?

  • anon||

    Yeah, I guess government is a gang too.

  • anon||

    Also, I don't fish my assertions.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yeah, I guess government is a gang too.

    That's all it is. It's a gang with the last word in violence. Sure we get to choose from a multiple choice list of people who supposedly call the shots, but in the end it's just a gang of thugs. Nothing more.

  • sarcasmic||

    And what the heck is that gang doing with their violins? Boring people to death?

  • anon||

    Did Lou Reed ever play the violin?

  • Acosmist||

    You said something about violas. Only fair to talk about violins next.

  • Old Hippie Ent||

    I hope you didn't take too much treble composing that response.

  • Free Society||

    1) government need not be the source of law, nor has it always been so.

    2)Anarchy is not a society devoid of law, it just devoid of political monopolies

    3) If you're worried about criminal gangs, we have those now, both in power and on the streets. No one said eliminating the government all at once will yield anarchy. That's a statist fallacy worse than the ever classic "but who will build the roads?"

    Society and culture would need to change before anything will change politically.
    But a free society would exist on the support of freed capital, freed insurance, freed arbitration and voluntarily funded protection agencies.

    While it may be true that 'without law there can be no freedom', it's also true that government monopolies are not the only viable creators and enforcers of laws. As any libertarian could tell you; they're even worse at holding themselves to the laws they enforce.

  • sarcasmic||

    But a free society would exist on the support of freed capital, freed insurance, freed arbitration and voluntarily funded protection agencies.

    It's that protection agencies part where I believe you are wrong. Who protects you from the protection agencies? What if you don't want to pay them and they want to be paid? What happens when they run afoul one another or compete over turf?

    Once a protection agency is the last word in violence, it has license to steal. What are you going to do? Call another protection agency?

    Anarchy goes against human nature. It is human nature for the strong to band together and plunder.

    That's where anarchists, Marxists, and progressives get it wrong. They think they can change human nature.

    Even us libertarians are living in a fantasy land when we think government can be limited. It can't. It can only limit itself, so it is only limited by the self restraint of people with power.

    Self restraint being a quality that power seekers tend not to have.

  • Free Society||

    Who protects you from the protection agencies?

    The competitive forces of the market. We live in an age of great social connectivity. Tyrants can't easily be openly tyrannical in high-tech, freedom oriented societies. Word of criminal protection agencies would not serve those agencies well in the market. Thus there would be strong tendency for such organizations to vanish from the earth like a fart in the wind.

    Once a protection agency is the last word in violence, it has license to steal. What are you going to do? Call another protection agency?

    Protection agencies and arbitration firms are separate entities. Each relying on markets and the appearance of justice for legitimacy and existence. Protection agencies that rape the cattle and ride off on the women would be in extremely low demand.

  • Free Society||

    Anarchy goes against human nature. It is human nature for the strong to band together and plunder.

    We can blather about the truth of human nature all day long and get nowhere. One thing is certainly true about people; there is a demand among people, in all societies and in every conceivable demographic, for justice. People everywhere have a demand for justice in their dealings with others. There no reason to think producers couldn't fulfill that demand without a government monopoly.

    Even us libertarians are living in a fantasy land when we think government can be limited. It can't.

    Which is why I abhor the state on pragmatic grounds in addition to my moral qualms. Even if there were no conceivable alternative to political monopolies of aggression, we owe it to our humanity to try.

    And look at the US government; it started out (ostensibly at least) as one of the most limited governments in human history. The wealth creating capacity of that relatively free society was like nothing ever seen in the world. About a couple hundred years later that government has an unrivaled ability to destroy wealth and is the most powerful government in the history of the world.

    You can hope for a wise, old Cinncinatus to come to sit on the throne of political power, or you can advocate the destruction of the throne altogether.
    Personally, I believe that I owe it to my own humanity to advocate the abolition of coercive government.

  • sarcasmic||

    There no reason to think producers couldn't fulfill that demand without a government monopoly.

    Protection is just a fancy word for violence. Markets fail when the product is violence because because you can literally kill your competition. Who can do anything about it when you have the last word in violence? Market forces also fail because you can deprive your customers of a choice when it comes time to pay. If they don't want to pay, you just take. Who will do anything about it?

    There's a word that is used to describe competition between protection agencies. It's called war.

    When a new protection agency tries to replace an established protection agency, it's call civil war.

    You can destroy the throne all you want, but it's just going to be replaced with the protection agency that manages to kill off its competition.

    That's why a wise man once said that you can't escape death and taxes. There will always be a gang of men with the last word in violence, extorting money from you in the name of protection.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Yeah, abolish the existing initiation-of-force-monopolizers and *someone* will move in to fill the vacuum. Either it will be someone chosen by the "clients" to enforce public order in line with the rule of law, in which case we're back to an elected government with all the advantages and disadvantages, or it will be a self-appointed person or group with better arms and tactics, or a mob backed by a bare majority, who will not be accountable electorally to the people they're protecting.

    So the best case scanario is that anarchy will mark a period of transitio between one government and a better government. Even if that happens, the anarchic society can't be defended as an end goal.

    The worst case scenario is that a flawed government will be replaced with a worse government - see the contrast between, say, the US and Venezuala, etc.

  • Free Society||

    Protection is just a fancy word for violence. Markets fail when the product is violence because because you can literally kill your competition.

    You can indeed kill your competition. You can also toss away your livelihood for all the good it will do you. Companies engaging in this sort of practice would be persona non grata in any market where the people are moral enough to value the freedoms and rights of others.

    The ability of the market to prevent this sort scenario as a common occurrence would be directly proportional to the value that the market (society) places on peaceful commerce and non-aggression.

  • Free Society||

    There's a word that is used to describe competition between protection agencies. It's called war.
    When a new protection agency tries to replace an established protection agency, it's call civil war.

    You can equate any entity that deals in force to a state if you'd like too, but it won't make it so. States are formed and held together through nothing but coercive force. Protection agencies, being formed through voluntary interaction have incentives that states don't.

    You can destroy the throne all you want, but it's just going to be replaced with the protection agency that manages to kill off its competition.

    I love your certainty. I reckon there must have once existed a Roman slave who said "You can give us a Caesar who bans slavery, but then he'll quickly be replaced by one that legalizes slavery." As true as it may have seemed at the time, he couldn't possibly have known how drastically (for the better) times would change.

    Just as I'm sure people in 1800 didn't often surmise that one day city governments wouldn't need to employ people to shovel shit out of the streets.

  • John||

    You know we have "medical opiate" laws. How are those working out? I think anything short of outright legalization is a dead end.

  • anon||

    Read somewhere recently the feds are even cracking down on oxycodone because CHILDRUNZ!

    Man, I am in a shitty fucking mood today.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Every time some shmuck uses the "for the chidenz" tack with me as an excuse to slather on another coating of dystopia I ask them "what the fuck is the point of raising them then?"

  • John||

    When I look at the sorry state of state control of pain meds, I think maybe we are better off just leaving pot illegal.

  • anon||

    Dude, NC has made e-cigs taxed and controlled just like regular cigs.

    E-cigs are basically water vapor and nicotine. Small doses of nicotine has a mild stimulant effect comparable to caffeine, with addictive properties just as similar.

    See where we're headed with this?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Funny, I hit NC at just the wrong moment as a smoker. The first month I arrived you could still get name brand smokes for about $2.50, then, suddenly, Bev Perdue. In NC, FFS.

  • John||

    If you make the regulations and taxes onerous enough, you are right back to having a black market.

    You know where we are headed? People going to prison for selling or possessing marijuana that doesn't have a tax stamp or was not purchased at a state authorized dispenser. Yeah, that is so much better than what we have.

  • Mike Parent||

    Unlike those substances marijuana will not kill any users. Do you really believe that we should continue to cage 3/4 Million and waste $20+ billion, annually, and keep on infringing on our rights by keeping it illegal?

  • ||

    the *codones by themselves aren't exactly the nuclear warheads they're made out to be either. Throwing in toxic levels of NSAIDs so that recreational users/abusers can fry their livers for the sin of their indulgence makes them much more dangerous for that demographic than they need to be.

  • Zeb||

    They've been cracking down on oxycodone for a while now. The new thing is that they want to reschedule hydrocodone and make it harder to get.

  • Nazdrakke||

    As a way of destroying the California way of life, Proposition 215 has been a bust

    But on the other hand the efforts of Sacramento have been a smashing success.

  • anon||

    It must really suck to be too poor to move out of California.

  • ||

    This really comes as no surprise, Polticians who know absolutely nothing about marijuana claim to be experts and substitute their opinions for public opinion. With the rising trend of "legal" prescription drugs killing 1 in 1000 who use them. I make it gives the less harmful natural drugs a bad name. Big phram companies will always fight to keep a basically free substance from being legal, or who else would pay millions for worthless drugs?

  • anon||

    Really? .1% is the death rate?

    I'd really expect it to be around 1 or 2 percent at the least, considering the lists of side effects and interactions.

    That's fucking laughable at the very least.

  • John||

    And of course the people taking them tend to be you know sick. If I am dying of cancer and take some nasty form of Chemo and the Chemo kills me, you can truthfully say the prescription drug killed me. But I don't think that means quite what you think it does.

  • anon||

    If I am dying of cancer and take some nasty form of Chemo and the Chemo kills me, you can truthfully say the prescription drug killed me.

    Well yeah, I've gotten to the point where I assume numbers are toyed with in exactly this fashion.

    I mean... .1%?

    Who can bring themselves to give a shit?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Drug Rehab is big (government teat sucking) business, my friend.

  • sarcasmic||

    I have a hard time believing statistics related to drugs and alcohol.

    For example I was hit by a car that ran a red light, but because I'd had a few beers the cop gave me a DUI.

    So that accident would have been lumped into the alcohol related bin, while the alcohol had nothing to do with it. It was caused by a fifteen year old kid jumping a red light. If he had killed me, then my death too would have been ruled as alcohol related.

    So I view those stats as bullshit.

  • anon||

    I agree with your particular sentiments on that Sarc. It's very related to the DUI nazi's and DUI related deaths; they neglect to consider that perhaps car safety features/etc might be the cause for decline in fatalities as opposed to more laws that people ignore anyways.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Don't those stats also include drivers with any level of BAL, even if they're under the legal limit?

  • sarcasmic||

    Probably. I was under the legal limit. Blew a 0.08 when DUI was 0.10. But that doesn't matter when you don't have five grand sitting around to purchase your innocence. Unlike a friend of mine who blew a 0.15 after causing an accident. He was able to slide five grand to an attorney who was friends with the DA. Charges dismissed.

  • Acosmist||

    That's just a per se limit, champ.

  • Zeb||

    Same thing is done with drug or alcohol "related" ER visits. If the patient mentions having used any drug or alcohol use, even if they are there for something that had nothing to do with drug use it is counted as drug related. That's how you end up with an absurd number of marijuana related ER visits for drug warrior idiots to cite.

  • ||

    Big phram companies will always fight to keep a basically free substance from being legal, or who else would pay millions for worthless drugs?

    I don't use pot myself, but if you're getting your marijuana for "basically free", you should think about starting a distributorship.

    But of course you're spot on otherwise. Teh Big Pharma! would clearly have no motive to corner the market on a dirt cheap chemical that sells like hotcakes. I mean, errybody knows Teh Big Pharma! did prohibition!

  • marshaul||

    Snark fail.

    First of all, the original drive for prohibition was an actual social phenomenon (to some degree anyway), not really driven by any corporate interest (lots of money was not made by legitimate, government-lobbying businessmen during prohibition). The push for drug prohibition was initially tied to/followed alcohol prohibition (only it stuck around for drugs).

    So, the fact that heroin was criminalized does nothing to argue that "big pharma" might not have an interest in maintaining other forms of prohibition today.

    Consider that marijuana is unpatentable (and note that the grossly inferior synthetic cannabinoids, which CAN be intellectual property, were "scheduled" for prescription use in no time).

    Marijuana is a product which anyone can grow. "Big pharma" likes imaginary property wrapped up in patents so that they can compete in a distorted market. To then, marijuana represents competition, not a potential goldmine.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Not for Cosmos ;-)

    (read the write up)

  • Nazdrakke||

    -Does the 4WD work?
    Hell yes. Like a Dickensian Orphan

    Nice.

  • Almanian!||

    DAMN your quick fingers...

  • Nazdrakke||

    Mwhahahaha

  • anon||

    -Why are you such a dick?
    Everything is relative; you should see my friends.

    So true.

  • Almanian!||

    That is a steal at that price. My plant made the axles for it...still does :)

    Money line:

    "Does the 4WD work?
    Hell yes. Like a Dickensian Orphan."

    DUDE'S A REASONOID!

  • Almanian!||

    OT: Man, I TOTALLY remember where I was when I heard Lou Reed died. I was right here, at work, fucking off and trolling "HyR", and I saw a post from John.

    Then, I saw, like, 1000 posts from Reason staffers.

    So I'll never forget where I was when Lou Reed died.

    ALSO, WHERE'S MY 'OBAMACARE SUCKS' ARTICLE, GOD DAMNIT?!

  • sarcasmic||

    Lou Reed is dead? When did that happen?

  • Almanian!||

    It's all a blur now. Was it today? Yesterday? Does anyone really know what time it...was?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Who's Lou Reed?

  • sarcasmic||

    Some overrated musician who is liked by hipsters who think they're better than conformists because they all listen to the same music and read the same books.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Craig: You're Jay, right?
    Jay: Yeah
    Craig: You're Seth's boy?
    Jay: Yeah
    Craig: Hey how you doing man, good to see you
    Jay: Likewise, likewise
    Craig: I'm Craig man, this is Emma
    Jay: Oh hey, hi there
    Craig: What, you just in town, visiting?
    Jay: Yeah, just for a little, little visit you know, I try to not come down here very much you know, like, I don't love it here
    Emma: You don't like LA?
    Jay: Just not really into the...LA lifestyle
    Craig: What lifestyle are you into?
    Emma: Look at him, he's like, he's like a hipster, right?
    Jay: No...no! No I'm not a hipster, at all
    Craig: Yeah, yeah you do seem to hate a lot of things. And the bottom of your pants are awful tight.
    Jay: No, i just don't like los angeles, that's all
    Craig: I bet you hate movies that are universally loved
    Jay: I...I don't even
    Craig: You like Forrest Gump?
    Jay: No, no that's a horrendous piece of shit
    Emma: Life is like a box of chocolates, no?
    Jay: Yeah no I'm familiar with it
    Craig (distraught): ...you never know what you're gonna get

  • John||

    Lou Reed was still alive?

  • ||

    This is exactly why I decided to not support MPP. This whole Medical Marijuana deal was based, to me at least, on the false principal that drugs are OK as long as they are medicine and those who know better can control them.

  • SugarFree||

    You think that the recent surge in support for legalized marijuana came out of some freshly discovered respect for rights? It came out of people seeing that widespread medical marijuana use didn't lead to Reefer Madness.

    It was a necessary evil.

  • ||

    I'm not sure. I still feel it's much more of a generational shift based on personal usage during youth.

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