The Emerging Consensus About the Need for Debate

Last month I noted that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar had said "it's time for debate" about marijuana legalization. In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, New York Gov. David Paterson says much the same thing:

You can really document what the excesses of alcohol have done on the roadways of our country, and you can't really do that with marijuana. I don't know if I would want to support the legalization of marijuana. But I'd certainly be open to a conversation on the subject.

The online version of this article does not include that quote, which I got from Tom Angell of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Angell's group is featured prominently in a recent New York Times column that may also signal a more antiprohibitionist climate of opinion: Nicholas Kristof, a foreign affairs specialist and a newcomer to the issue, lists three major consequences of the war on drugs: "we have squandered resources"; "we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons"; and "we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad." He concludes that "if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better." He suggests one or two states might "experiment with legalization of marijuana, allowing it to be sold by licensed pharmacists, while measuring the impact on usage and crime." Kristof (who joins a list of newly reform-friendly pundits that includes Jack Cafferty, Juan Williams, and Kathleen Parker) also notes that Sen. Jim Webb, another sitting politician open to legalizing pot, wants Americans to reconsider "our nation's broken drug policies."

If that reconsideration looks anything like this recent CNN debate between former drug czar Bill Bennett and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, prohibitionists should be worried. Bennett emphasizes that drug-related harm is not limited to black-market violence (a product of prohibition) and thefts committed by addicts desperate for drug money (a problem greatly exacerbated by prohibition's impact on drug prices); it also includes the harm caused by drug use itself. To illustrate that point, he cites all those drug users who get arrested and all those pot smokers in treatment (mostly because they've been arrested).

Predictably, Bennett points to data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) that indicate illegal drug use is unusually common among arrestees. As I noted when that report came out, this fact does not necessarily count in favor of prohibition.

When Bennett was head of the ONDCP, there was a similar flurry of media attention to criticism of the war on drugs. But a few things are different this time around: Fear of drugs is no longer near the top of the concerns that Americans mention to pollsters; public opinion seems increasingly favorable to reform, at least when it comes to marijuana; several sitting politicians with national profiles have joined the call for a debate; and the president himself has called the war on drugs "an utter failure" (albeit before he ran for president).

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  • ||

    he cites all those drug users who get arrested and all those pot smokers in treatment (mostly because they've been arrested).

    Pot will destroy your life, because you can get arrested for smoking it. That's why it should be illegal.


    Is that pretty much it?

  • Elemenope||

    Once it becomes OK to debate the issue seriously and soberly in the public-political square, that's the ballgame.

  • ||

    Honestly, the thing that I think will actually cause change is as the politicians eyeball the potential tax revenue while noting that it has become, as LMNOP put it, "OK to debate the issue seriously and soberly in the public-political square". Once they think they can propose legalization without getting their asses instantly handed to them by a response of "you want children on crack!!!", they'll start getting on board with dollar signs in their eyes.

  • ||

    Goddamn it. I hate that song.

  • PC||

    Elemenope | June 15, 2009, 3:54pm | #

    Once it becomes OK to debate the issue seriously and soberly in the public-political square, that's the ballgame.



    So what you're telling me is that there is no shot in hell?

  • ||

    and the president himself has called the war on drugs "an utter failure" (albeit before he ran for president).



    *sigh*

  • Mike||

    First they Ignore you.
    Next they Laugh at you.
    After that they Fight you
    And then you Win.

  • ||

    This one's going to occur by osmosis; one embarrassing, half-assed prohibition defense at a time.

    The prohibitionists would be better off acknowledging the Drug War's failure, and just saying that ending prohibition wouldn't work from a tactical standpoint now that the entire criminal justice system has become addicted to prohibition. You know, institutional inertia, all that jazz.

    Sooner or later the scare tactics are going to stop working.

  • ||

    If you're looking for some validation of the quote:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/nationalaffairs/index.php/2009/06/12/the-straight-dope-from-gov-patterson/

  • Elemenope||

    So what you're telling me is that there is no shot in hell?

    Nah. Mike covered it with the four-steps cliche. We are passing out of the "next they laugh at you" step, and given a confluence of factors (recession, overwhelming evidence on one side of the debate, generational shifts), I expect the actual "after that they fight you" stage to be mercifully brief and embarrassingly one-sided.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Kristof (who joins a list of newly reform-friendly pundits that includes Jack Cafferty, Juan Williams, and Kathleen Parker) also notes that Sen. Jim Webb...



    For me, one of the most interesting things is that the voices of reform are coming from different areas of the political spectrum. While liberals might make up a somewhat larger portion, names like Parker (above) and Tancredo(!) show that conservatives are finally getting Buckley's message - even if they didn't get it from Buckley.

    I think that's a very good sign, as it makes it less likely the "OMG u want the chilluns on crack!!11!!" morons will find a political home. This might be one time when bipartisanship is actually a good thing.

  • ||

    Nah. Mike covered it with the four-steps cliche. We are passing out of the "next they laugh at you" step, and given a confluence of factors (recession, overwhelming evidence on one side of the debate, generational shifts), I expect the actual "after that they fight you" stage to be mercifully brief and embarrassingly one-sided.

    In the '70s I confidently predicted that reefer would be legal by 1990. I had completely underestimated how obstinately stupid the average personm can be when confronted with facts they don't like. I won't make that mistake again.

  • ||

    What's there to debate? Let's tax the shit out of it and then build gee-whiz trains from the proceeds. Oh, and "decriminalization" not "legalization". Only those paleowankers actually want to legalize voluntary substance ingestion.

  • ||

    J sub, in the 70's and 80's, the boomers were becoming a voting block, parents, and middle-aged. Lots of them didn't smoke weed and associated it as KULTUR WAR OMG HIPPIES. That culture war was significantly reduced in their offspring's generation and subsequent ones.

    Weed is no longer viewed as a culture war totem by a lot of the younger population, and that helps a lot.

  • Elemenope||

    Pineapple Express grossed over $100M. Tell me that would have been possible even ten years ago.

  • ||

    Thanks for posting this video. It's been a long time since I've seen someone's arguments so totally and thoroughly decimated like that.

    The most harmful thing about drugs is people like Bennett. I particularly loved the part where he starts to say "Don't interrupt me, I didn't interrupt you," but then catches himself. What a douchenozzle.

  • dfd||

    Thanks for posting this video. It's been a long time since I've seen someone's arguments so totally and thoroughly decimated like that.

    Damn, he lost that argument like it was a roll of quarters at a slot machine.

    Come on Bill, I thought you were going to quit gambling and keep your beatings and humiliation to the privacy of Las Vegas hotel rooms.

  • ||

    # J sub D | June 15, 2009, 5:09pm | #

    # ...I had completely underestimated how
    # obstinately stupid the average person can be
    # when confronted with facts they don't like.

    This is why, by basing our governments on written Constitutions, the people who created this country and its constituent states attempted to remove huge swaths of concerns from the political sphere. The people and their representatives alike can be swayed by passions, misleading arguments, and even the inertia of obstinate stupidity. So best not to allow certain topics to be put on the political table at all.

    Every generation has an important duty to examine every topic for political consideration and honestly determine whether the ground-rules even permit it to on the table in the first place. This duty was fulfilled by an earlier generation, when it admitted that alcohol prohibition wasn't permitted by the Constitution, and that an Amendment would be necessary to proceed. Later, that Amendment was repealed.

    Our more recent generations profoundly FAILED in their duty, when they accepted Drug Prohibition without either 1) realizing that it was not constitutionally tenable; or 2) bothering to amend the Constitution as their forebears did.

    We have similarly failed in many other areas, too, from the establishment of the First-Amendment-flouting FCC through the current bailout/nationalization fiasco.

    We need to analyze and teach the Constitution as being the document that defines, among other things, the political "table" and what is or is not (or can or cannot be) on that table. I think if more people saw the Constitution in those terms, arguments for limited government might prove more successful, if not more popular. Maybe that's just a pipe dream.

  • ||

    # Elemenope | June 15, 2009, 5:20pm | #
    # Pineapple Express grossed over $100M. Tell me
    # that would have been possible even ten years
    # ago.

    I think the inflationary policies of the Treasury and Fed were probably more of an enabling factor, but it is nice to think that attitudes have loosened along with the money supply. That's somewhat of a silver lining, I guess.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Pineapple Express grossed over $100M. Tell me that would have been possible even ten years ago.



    Not to be negative, but Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke apparently grossed $41.5 million. If that was all theatrical (in 1978), it would be better than $100M in 2008 dollars. Of course, if that figure includes all sales up until now, that's a different story.

  • Rich||

    1) Consider Portugal's "experiment". 2) *Everyone* in the Administration and Congress should state under oath and for the record all drugs they have used and are using.

  • ||

    BakedPenguin,

    Calculated by CPI, it's $135M.

    People certainly own up to smoking weed than they used to.

    If I had to choose... I'd rather have legal opiates, than legal weed. Weed's easier to get ahold of.

  • Elemenope||

    Not to be negative, but Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke apparently grossed $41.5 million. If that was all theatrical (in 1978), it would be better than $100M in 2008 dollars. Of course, if that figure includes all sales up until now, that's a different story.

    Fair point. However, the wiki article indicates some other shit at work (odd clustering patterns for sales, etc.); also, the Cheech & Chong movies are generally more about Cheech and Chong acting like doofs than being straight-up about marijuana.

  • ||

    LMNOP, Up in Smoke is a subtly political movie, with Stacey Keach's out of control narcotics officer being a send-up of drug war bullshit.

  • BakedPenguin||

    SugarFree - agreed on your last point. Unfortunately, the opiate user in the public mind is the IV-using junkie, or the guy robbing the drugstore for oxycontin. While many people either use or know someone who uses pot, opiates are a bit more obscure and frightening.

    The Up in Smoke box office may well have been inflation-adjusted already. Box Office Mojo (the link in this post) has it as 1,219th all time, which would be well below $100M.

  • Elemenope||

    the opiate user in the public mind is the IV-using junkie, or the guy robbing the drugstore for oxycontinRush Limbaugh.

    Fixed.

    And you're right. Nobody wants to make his life easier.

  • ||

    or the guy robbing the drugstore for oxycontin

    Ah, crap. Now I'm going to daydream about robbing a pharmacy again.

  • ||

    While many people either use or know someone who uses pot, opiates are a bit more obscure and frightening.

    Almost everyone has been prescribed Vicodin/Lortab/Norco/Percocet at one time or another for dental work, accidents, etc. The real problem is that people hear opiate and think OPIUM, which means HEROIN!!! And as we all know, heroin is the devil.

    I think if the argument were properly couched as "make prescription painkillers OTC" (which codeine is in Canada, eh), it might gain a lot more traction. There are a lot of people who would like to take some hydrocodone for their back pain out there without having to beg some doctor for it.

  • ||

    The first major politician who advocates full-blown drug legalization better have some seriously strong security. He or she will be public enemy #1 for all the interests that profit immensely from the WoD, most of which are unafraid to use violence to protect their business model. I'm thinking of drug kingpins and cops, for starters.

    So yeah, it's going to have to be a widespread grassroots thing, like the repeal of alcohol prohibition was.

  • Elemenope||

    There are a lot of people who would like to take some hydrocodone for their back pain out there without having to beg some doctor for it.

    Or how about the millions upon millions of women who suffer from excruciating dysmenorrhea. Access to hydrocodone OTC is a god-damned ready made women's issue, if they wanted it to be.

    Allies, people! Allies!

  • Elemenope||

    He or she will be public enemy #1 for all the interests that profit immensely from the WoD, most of which are unafraid to use violence to protect their business model. I'm thinking of drug kingpins and cops, for starters.

    Since I'm honestly ignorant about this, I'll ask, was there a rash of violence against legislators who came out for repealing alcohol prohibition? We are talking about basically the same interests at stake.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I think if the argument were properly couched as "make prescription painkillers OTC" (which codeine is in Canada, eh)



    And used to be here. I remember as a kid, I liked Robitussin - Mom didn't have to fight to get me to take a couple spoonfuls.

    ...it's going to have to be a widespread grassroots thing...



    I agree, although for different reasons. I really think we're at "widespread grassroots thing" with marijuana. As for the others,as someone said upthread, the Portugal experience will be a great argument. "Drug use went down in Portugal. Why do you want more people to use drugs, Mr. Drug Warrior?"

  • ||

    Damn it, El. Now I watching Pineapple Express again.

    I always forget the best part of the movie.

    "Fuck Jeff Goldblum, man."

  • ||

    Bill Bennett and his 'Book of Virtue'.... what a fucking total cocksucker.....


    Oh Jeez - 'Joshua Corning' and other Christo-fags will back fill this piece of shit pronto........

  • ||

    Since I'm honestly ignorant about this, I'll ask, was there a rash of violence against legislators who came out for repealing alcohol prohibition? We are talking about basically the same interests at stake.

    It's a slightly different animal, since police departments didn't count on prohibition as a source of revenue to the extent they do with the WoD (with the significant exception of bought cops). Also, ultimately the repeal of Prohibition would require a humongous undertaking, far more than one politician, or even a majority of Congress could accomplish. Note that the 21st Amendment was one of the few that was ratified by state conventions rather than by state legislatures, though that may have been more due to fear of legislators being bribed than concern for their safety.

  • ||

    SugarFree - agreed on your last point. Unfortunately, the opiate user in the public mind is the IV-using junkie, or the guy robbing the drugstore for oxycontin. While many people either use or know someone who uses pot, opiates are a bit more obscure and frightening.

    And to be honest, as a group, junkies are far more dysfunctional than potheads. I'm for legalizing everything up to and including polonium-210, but reality is that reefer is thew only thing we have a chance on at this time.

  • ||

    Christo-fags

    It's the rare wordsmith who can slur Christians and homosexuals with one term. Even an insufferable bigot deserves a tip of the hat for that at least.

  • Elemenope||


    It's a slightly different animal, since police departments didn't count on prohibition as a source of revenue to the extent they do with the WoD (with the significant exception of bought cops). Also, ultimately the repeal of Prohibition would require a humongous undertaking, far more than one politician, or even a majority of Congress could accomplish. Note that the 21st Amendment was one of the few that was ratified by state conventions rather than by state legislatures, though that may have been more due to fear of legislators being bribed than concern for their safety.


    Good points. All I can say is, thank fucking-whatever-power-you-wish that drug prohibition is not backed by a constitutional amendment.

  • Elemenope||

    It's the rare wordsmith who can slur Christians and homosexuals with one term. Even an insufferable bigot deserves a tip of the hat for that at least.

    It's a hate win-fail.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...reality is that reefer is thew only thing we have a chance on at this time.



    J sub - sad, but true. Also, in case you didn't see it, good on you for the classy reply about "Meg". I doubt I would have been so generous had the shoe been on the other foot.

    Then again, with the team you guys have, you can afford to wait. It's one thing in Detroit that does not lack for quality.

    ...thank fucking-whatever-power-you-wish that drug prohibition is not backed by a constitutional amendment.



    Also sad, but true. Nice to think that the power grabbers' end runs may end up costing them.

  • ||

    Marijuana, alone, never killed anyone. Plus, legalizing WOULD NOT be sending the wrong message to our youths as most prohibitionists argue. Legalizing marijuana would control the substance, something your fucking drug war never did. Keeping marijuana prohibitied keeps the police states and employees of Depart of Justice and Corrections jobs.

    ***U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois is introducing a bill that creates a mandatory 25 year prison term for dealers dealing marijuana with THC content of 15% of greater. Wow...

  • ||

    U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois is introducing a bill that creates a mandatory 25 year prison term for dealers dealing marijuana with THC content of 15% of greater. Wow

    Wow that guy is a real blow job.

    In separate news, pot can ruin your life by causing you to gorge on gourmet macaroni and cheese leading to heart disease. Or so I think based on how fucking good it tastes to me right now.

  • Tricky Prickears||

    .S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois is introducing a bill that creates a mandatory 25 year prison term for dealers dealing marijuana with THC content of 15% of greater. Wow.

    They need people to fill all of those Federal SuperMaxs they've built. Not to mention, obligations to private contractors.

  • Tricky Prickears||

    see - A.K.A. Tommy Chong Showtime Documentary

  • Tricky Prickears||

    See pert 1 HERE

  • Tricky Prickears||

    Is this cunt still a US Attorney?

  • ||

    Ive been (so far unsucessfully) trying to download pineapple express over the neighborhood free wireless service. That is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

  • Elemenope||

    Ive been (so far unsucessfully) trying to download pineapple express over the neighborhood free wireless service. That is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

    That I imagine has something to do with whether you are still high or not. Usually the Pirate Bay has some serviceable torrents available.

  • ||

    Both Bennett and Nadelman agreed that marijuana should not be used by young people, so if the premise is that legalization will not increase use among young people, I disagree since alcohol use is rampant. Bennett says talk to the parents. I'm a parent, my kid got hooked on marijuana despite my warnings, with all kinds of problems. Part of the problem is those movies and rap songs--addiction is not fun or funny.

  • monkey on juice||

    "if the premise is that legalization will not increase use among young people, I disagree since alcohol use is rampant."

    Quite frankly, the premise for many of us has nothing to do with use among young people. If you can't parent your kids better, thats not my problem - maybe you should be thankful they're not drinking more or smoking crack. The premise for people like myself is that its a goddamned stretch of mindbending proportions to think that wholly intrastate cultivation and personal use can be constitutionally regulated as "interstate commerce".

    Wickard was a disgraceful power grab that was only made worse by Raich. The commerce clause was meant to be a limit on legislative authority, not the meaningless bunch words in our constitution which those cases have rendered it.

  • ||

    Wow what is your problem pot is no more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes!!!!!!!! So if the government can profit off of it than legalize it!!!!!!!! Oh this is making me mad...

  • ||

    Yeah, "legalize drug and there will be no unregulated drug sales." Has anyone here tried to buy oxycontin on the street lately. It's not too difficult.
    Cheers

    BTW The "debate

  • ||

    Prohibition is the cause of nearly all the drug-related problems in our country today. Marijuana doesn't make people sick and has never, in the history of mankind, ever killed a single human being. Why should responsible users, who are the vast majority, pay such steep consequences for the few who can't control themselves? Marijuana isn't a problem and is in fact one of the best natural substances known to mankind. The problem is prohibition and the "War on Drugs", both of which have cost this country far more than billiions of dollars, it has cost us our families, our trust in our government, our homes, our privacy, our freedom, and our basic human right to enjoy one of God's greatest creations.

    The time to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana has come. Tell your representatives how you feel. Vote for politicians that support ending this greatest of all US fiascoes. And vote-out the blind prohibitionists. If they still think prohibition is a smart thing, then the rest of their mindset is probably just as worthless.

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