In a CNN opinion piece, former drug czar Bill Bennett criticizes "my friends at National Review" for suggesting that drug prohibition has "curtailed personal freedom." You should pay close attention to his argument, because Bennett (like fellow prohibitionist Newt Gingrich) has a Ph.D.—in political philosophy, no less:
The question is: "Whose freedom?" The drug dealers', sure—the drug consumers [sic], no.
As any parent with a child addicted to drugs will explain, as any visit to a drug rehab center will convey, those caught in the web of addiction are anything but free.
Bennett's reasoning is airtight, as long as you accept his premises that all drug users are addicts, that addiction is slavery, and that adults are children. Keeping in mind that there is no difference between drug use and drug abuse, it is indeed troubling that legalizing marijuana in California "would cut the price by as much as 80% and increase use from as little as 50% to as much as 100%." To be fair to Bennett and his ambiguous prose, I think he is suggesting that marijuana consumption might double, not that every man, woman, and child in California would start smoking pot. He cites a 2010 RAND Corporation study that said "researchers cannot rule out consumption increases of 50 percent to 100 percent," although it also cautioned that "there is considerable uncertainty about the impact of legalizing marijuana in California on public budgets and consumption, with even minor changes in assumptions leading to major differences in outcomes."
RAND's model estimated current consumption as 450 or so metric tons a year, so a doubling would make it around 900, which is alarming if the thought of people getting high and laughing at stupid movies terrifies you. Lest you think, based on your own direct or indirect experience with marijuana, that it's not that big a deal, Bennett is here to tell you that you don't know what you're talking about, because "marijuana is much more potent and causes much more damage than we used to know." More on that meme here.
In case Bennett's CNN essay does not satisfy your thirst for lame prohibitionist arguments, he and Joseph Califano, chairman of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, have an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal that asks, "Do We Really Want a 'Needle Park' on American Soil?" If you are unfamiliar with Needle Park, you are lucky, because it means you never had to endure the tedious talking points of drug warriors in the 1990s. Bennett and Califano explain:
Legalization in other countries has had disastrous results. In the 1990s, Switzerland experimented with what became known as Needle Park, a section of Zurich where addicts could buy and inject heroin without police interference. Policy makers saw it as a way to restrict a few hundred legal heroin users to a small area. It soon morphed into a grotesque tourist attraction of 20,000 addicts that had to be closed before it infected the entire city.
Suppose that, instead of repealing the 18th Amendment, the U.S. had continued to bust bootleggers and raid speakeasies while setting aside a Booze Zone in Central Park where people could openly buy alcohol and drink unmolested by the police. That area would have become pretty unpleasant pretty quickly. Would that have been a reasonable test of legalization?
Califano also trots out two of his favorite lines:
1. "A child who reaches 21 without using illegal drugs is virtually certain never to do so." Califano thinks this means that if the government could somehow stop all Americans from trying drugs until they turn 21, no one would ever use drugs. It does not mean that.
2. "Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous." That first part is halfway true: Drugs would be "dangerous" (what isn't?) even if they were legal, but they would be less dangerous because the hazards associated with the black market (unreliable quality, violence, arrest, etc.) would be eliminated. As for the second part, what can you say to someone who stubbornly insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the government classifies drugs based on a cool-headed, scientific assessment of the risks they pose? I take a stab at it here.
[Thanks to Joshua Rosenberg and Richard Cowan for the links.]