Bill Bennett Takes Drug Policy Advice From Bruce Springsteen

Responding to Pat Robertson's recent call for marijuana legalization, former drug czar Bill Bennett says "regulating marijuana like the way we regulate alcohol (or cigarettes) will only result in the increased use and abuse of marijuana, particularly among youths." We know this, he says, because "the late, great political scientist, James Q. Wilson," said so. Furthermore, "arguing that adding a dangerous substance to the legal marketplace will reduce its usage is to renounce all common sense."

Did Robertson argue that? Not in the New York Times interview that Bennett quotes or in his widely cited comments on The 700 Club, his CBN show. Instead the evangelical broadcaster and former Republican presidential candidate focused on the injustice and wastefulness of locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses. He went a little overboard in claiming that a marijuana user "could get 10 years for possession of a joint," but his general point about the harshness of mandatory minimum sentences was correct. Bennett responds by noting that people guilty only of possessing marijuana account for a small percentage of state prisoners, without addressing the penalties for other drugs or the humiliation, inconvenience, expense, and ancillary punishment associated with pot busts, which totaled about 854,000 in 2010.

Robertson said he was troubled by the double standard for marijuana and alcohol. “If people can go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of alcohol and drink it at home legally," he told the Times, "then why do we say that the use of this other substance is somehow criminal?" Bennett, despite his Ph.D. in philosophy and his books about virtue, has never presented a cogent moral argument to justify this distinction. Instead he says things like this:

Why should we promote the legalization of a substance that can irretrievably harm our children's brains and makes our citizens less intelligent, less productive and less safe? Open and unrestricted drug use cannot coexist with a free, safe and productive society.

In addition to the empirical assumptions embedded in those sentences, there is a value judgment: Bennett believes that we should aspire to live in a "safe" society and that it is the government's responsibility to help us achieve that goal, whether we like it or not. It seems to me that we can have a free society, or we can have a safe society, but not both.

In addition to his scary political philosophy, Bennett comes equipped with irrelevant data:

Among cannabis users in treatment in the United States, 80.5% are not married, 90% have obtained an education of 12 years or less; 25% are unemployed and 46% are not in the labor force (of which 55% are students). Of the cannabis users who entered treatment services from 2000 to 2008, nearly a quarter report psychiatric problems.

I bet alcoholics in treatment (or winos on the street) would show similar patterns of dysfunction. What does that tell us about the typical drinker? Absolutely nothing. Likewise, "cannabis users in treatment" can hardly be treated as representative of pot smokers in general.

Bennett says Robertson is wrong to call the war on drugs a failure, because drug use, as measured by government-sponsored surveys, sometimes goes down. It also sometimes goes up. How do we know that either change can be attributed to government policy? The beauty of these numbers is that they can always be used to justify more spending on drug law enforcement. If they go down, that shows the drug war is working and therefore deserves greater financial support. If they go up, that shows we need to redouble our efforts. Similarly, Bennett closes by declaring that "surrendering, like Robertson suggests, is not an option."

What a great all-purpose response to criticism of any government program. Has it failed to reach its goals? Surrendering is not an option. Has it squandered public resources? Surrendering is not an option. Has it arbitrarily interfered with individual freedom? Surrendering is not an option. Has it unjustly imprisoned millions of people? Surrendering is not an option. Has it eroded civil liberties and undermined respect for the law? Surrendering is not an option. Has it fostered corruption, violence, and disease? Surrendering is not an option. 

Tired of arguing with dogmatic prohibitionists? Guess what.

[Thanks to Max Minkoff for the tip.]

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  • Joe M||

    When is this fucker gonna die? He's responsible for a huge swath of human misery.

  • Raston Bot||

    he's 68 and an obese tub of shit. his heart can't hold out for much longer.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Open and unrestricted food use cannot coexist with a free, safe and productive society.

  • Joe M||

    It "makes our citizens less intelligent, less productive and less safe".

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  • ||

    Ah, being lectured at by a gambling addict about recreational drug use. Sometimes the universe can't help but shovel the lulz at you.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I ain't laughing.

  • ||

    Not even a rueful chuckle?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Well... okay. Hehehe...

  • ||

    Chuckle, no. Bronx cheer, yes.

  • ||

    I don't recall him being a gambling "addict." I recall him being accused of gambling, which then confused people that thought he was a Baptist instead of a Catholic.

    Well known that Catholics are okay with gambling, which is why the Baptists think that Catholic bingo night is evil.

  • Harry A. Ness||

    When you promote the view that all drug use is drug abuse, the same moronic logic should apply to you.

  • the bilover||

    Bennett's gambling became an issue when it was revealed that he had lost millions at various casinos. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

  • AuH20||

    The productivity thing pisses me off. The government does not own my labor. If my employer is satisfied with it, then it's none of the government's goddamn business.

  • Tim||

    Yes, and being more productive leads to greater pay, less productive to less pay. It has it's own built in reward system. And yes, the government does not own my labor.

  • Barry D||

    If your employer ISN'T satisfied with it, it STILL isn't the government's business.

  • ||

    Tell that to Tony. The government owns your ass lock, stock, and barrel because you haven't moved to Barbados and renounced your citizenship.

  • In Time of War||

    As I understand it the IRS doesn't even care if you've done that. All your monies are belong to us.

  • ||

    All your monies are belong to us.

  • ||

    Let's not allow Sundays off for religious observance. Productivity increases.= Religion is a problem.

  • Killazontherun||

    Time to shit can, James Q. Wilson. Too many right wing pundits of late since he bought the farm a few weeks back are attempting to revive his arguments to justify horrible and expensive policy. Is there anything more Q Wilsony than the security theater of TSA?

  • Killazontherun||

    Random gamboling commas like hippies trotting through a well manicured lawn.

  • ||

    Is there anything more Q Wilsony than the security theater of TSA?

    You mean the Toilet Safety Administration, I assume. Careful; don't fall into that toilet!

  • Tony||

    I'm familiar with the Springsteen song, No Surrender, but not Surrendering Is Not an Option. Is that on the new album?

  • ||

    "Did we surrender when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

  • shamalam||

    We didn't have that option! Dammit, pay attention.

  • Barry D||

    "Springsteen song" is an oxymoron.

    Songs have melodies and people sing songs.

  • Zeb||

    You call that music?! Get off my lawn!

  • Barry D, circa 1919||

    "Stravinsky symphony" is an oxymoron.

    Symphonies have structure and violinists are supposed to follow tonal harmony.

  • Ex nihilo||

    "arguing that adding a dangerous substance to the legal marketplace will reduce its usage is to renounce all common sense."

    Portugal disagrees - between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well."

  • Doctor Whom||

    You know you're desperate when your only answer to logic, evidence, or both is a hand-waving assertion about what "common sense" says.

  • Zeb||

    Portugal didn't add anything to the legal market place. They decriminalized possession. I think your point stands, but if we're going to criticize drug warriors for making shit up, we ought to try to be accurate in our criticism.

  • np||

    No, but effectively it did since growing your own MJ (or coca, etc) is also not illegal. Only trafficking is. If they cannot throw people in jail for smoking a joint or any drug at all, they can't really do so for trading it with each other (and in practice, they don't bother) In any case, Portugal is only one example. There are many others with more explicit legalization.

  • Zeb||

    If you can grow stiff, then it is better than I thought. But their approach involves a lot of forced treatment and they can still fine you for possession.

    But it's a hell of a lot better than outright criminalization and good evidence that the insane drugwar is not the only think keeping society from falling apart.

  • Zeb||

    "grow stuff" Whether or not you can grow stiff is no concern of mine.

  • ||

    Glad you corrected that. I was going to tell you to go smoke a stiffie.

  • Ex nihilo||

    I was arguing with his assertion that adding a dangerous substance to legal markets doesn't drive down usage. Portugal's experience is that it does drive down usage. I try to be accurate in my criticism and think I am in this case.

  • ||

    Also WTF do statistics about treatment clients tell us about consumption in general? If you said nothing, you're right.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Right. Of gambling treatment clients in Maryland, 60% are unmarried, despite a median age of 38. Ooh, scary!

  • Barry D||

    Even most gambling addicts know that some risks aren't worth taking?

  • Joe M||

    Difference between losing the house and losing to the house.

  • Zeb||

    It should not be surprising that the losers who smoke pot are the ones who end up in treatment (most likely because of a court order, or as an attempt to avoid other penalties).

  • skr||

    Wrong! It tells us that of all those that consume, only stupid people get caught and forced into drug treatment.

  • sarcasmic||

    Bruce Springsteen sucks.

  • KDN||

    Wildly overrated, but puts on a great live show.

  • Barry D||

    He's the best male cheerleader that the country has ever known. Seriously.

  • shamalam||

    I thought that was George W?

  • sarcasmic||

    I hate his music so much I couldn't sit through it.

  • Ska||

    I saw him at Bonnaroo in 2009 and I have to admit it, yes, he does put on a good show. They also played Santa Claus is Coming to Town on a June night in TN, which was just weird.

  • Barry D||

    That's about the most complimentary thing I can think to say about him, at least what he has done professionally. I know and care nothing about his personal life.

  • Tony||

    Closet Republican hates liberal musician. More at 11.

  • Barry D||

    No, not a musician. Bruce Springsteen.

  • ||

    Sorry, Tony's got u on this one.

  • Barry D||

    Must be an East/West thing. All the Jerseyites seem to love the guy. I grew up on very different stuff.

  • Zeb||

    I think that there is some territory in between loving the guy and denying that what he produces is music.

  • Barry D||

    I don't have anything against him. I don't know him. What he produces is "music" insofar as it includes sounds made by instruments and voices. But my dog banging on the door and barking does, also. Springsteen has a half-octave vocal range, for one thing, and his songs have no beginning, middle, or end.

    John Cage was a musician, too, but I'm not sure how many people would consider him such, in the pop music world that Springsteen's recordings infest.

  • Zeb||

    I know. It's just sort of a pet peeve of mine when people say that something is not art because they don't like it. Anyone who wouldn't consider John Cage or Bruce Springsteen (or some kid who just learned two chords on the guitar for that matter) a musician is being stupid, in my opinion. Whether they are god musicians is another question.

  • ||

    And Dylan, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed, etc. are not real musicians either, because they can't sing like Kelly Clarkson.

    Come on, give me a break.

  • sarcasmic||

    Homo sucks liberal guitarist's cock. The end.

  • ||

    something about his voice annoys me - and I listen to Dylan and Young.

  • sarcasmic||

    dead dog lying in the ditch
    cigarette smoker has an itch

    secret whores with ancient vices
    lucky's has the lowest prices

    i'm gettin higher
    i'm gettin higher
    in the world

  • ||

    I find everything before Born in the USA tolerable, getting better as you go back further. But I may also be the only person on earth who prefers Bruce's version of Blinded by the Light to Manfred Mann's.

  • Ska||

    You're just wrapped up in the douche, another *mumble* in the night. ; )

  • Anomalous||

    I also prefer Springsteen's Blinded by the Light to Manfred Mann's.

  • ||

    Blinded by the Light
    Adam Raised a Cain
    Rosalita
    The Flood
    Thunder Road

    Older Springsteen is much better. I have listened to him since the early 70's before he was "The Boss".

    He started to suck about the time he started doing arena shows.

  • Barry D||

    "Why should we promote the legalization of a substance that can irretrievably harm our children's brains and makes our citizens less intelligent, less productive and less safe?"

    Society not only promotes the legalization of public schools, but also forces each of us to pay for them.

  • White Tuna||

    "makes our citizens less intelligent, less productive and less safe"

    Isn't that what prohibition does?
    Less intelligent: denies people college loans
    Less productive: denies employment to convicts
    Less safe: the greatest harm of smoking weed is getting arrested

  • Anomalous||

    ^This^

  • ||

    See? It's dangerous.

  • J_L_B||

    It seems to me that we can have a free society, or we can have a safe society, but not both.

    Given that most people fear the violation of their rights by armed thugs more than government, getting people to vote for liberty may be tough unless threats from those violent thugs are mitigated.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    It's hard to mitigate violent thugs while continuing to vote them more and more power.

  • J_L_B||

    Noted, but as mad as people are at politicians (an approval rating equivalent to a shoe size) they still reelect about 85% of the house each time.

    They're worried about the violent armed thugs, the type that will shove a gun in your face to steal your car, and they will accept any level of government needed to stomp on such an individual (although less so here than in most countries).

  • sarcasmic||

    How much person on person crime is there? Really.

    Look through the police log.

    The vast majority of crimes are crimes against the state.
    Violation of conditions of bail (having a drink most likely).
    Drinking and driving (not that I condone the practice, but until they hit someone there is no victim).
    Warrant (most likely didn't show up to court for a traffic violation).
    Disorderly conduct (catchall for being an idiot).

    Crimes with actual victims are few and far between when compared to crimes against the government.

  • J_L_B||

    I know, but most people don't bother to read those things.

    Their view of of the level of crime comes from the local news broadcasts makes is seem like the inner cities feature a daily gun fight at the ok corral.

    Combine that with the mindset that some people are just all around bad, and if they were convicted of something minor, they're probably also guilty of some random act of violence we could never associate to them.

  • Socialistic Individual Sparky||

    Let's not forget "my guy is right, it's all those other idiots".

  • romulus augustus||

    More like "My guy is pretty much an asshole, but you should see the guy whose running against him fromt he other party!" So kick him out in the primary?? Good luck trying to get your newcomer shining knight win the endorsement over the incumbent who has been doing what his party establishment wants to the last ten years.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    You're assuming that they're looking at "guys" rather than just the Team they represent.

  • sarcasmic||

    I fear armed thugs with badges more than I fear criminals.

  • J_L_B||

    I don't know if this more a product of the consumer and producer of the violence associated with cops. Since most people who vote for local government live out in the suburbs, and most of the police involved violence happens in the inner cities (which the aforementioned voters only view through the powerful telescope of the local 5 o'clock news), it makes me wonder if they swat this issue aside for that reason.

    Imagine what would happen if a SWAT team raid went wrong in a rich sururban neighborhood. Perhaps you might actually see some heads roll and people behind bars.

  • sarcasmic||

    I fear cops because I've had one whisper into my ear how much he'd like to fuck me up.

    I've overheard a drunk cop complaining to his buddies that he had never had the opportunity to kill someone, and they consoled him that he'd get his chance.

    I've watched cops beat the living shit out of people and destroy their property for no apparent reason.

    I am convinced people who do not fear the police until they interact with them.

    But by then it is often too late.

  • sarcasmic||

    who

  • J_L_B||

    I get it man, like my uncle told me, in no society are the most intelligent ever found working as policemen.

    But people have heard of violent inner city thugs do everything you just described and fear them just as much or more.

  • sarcasmic||

    in no society are the most intelligent ever found working as policemen in government.

  • ||

    Imagine what would happen if a SWAT team raid went wrong in a rich sururban neighborhood.

    Such an event has occurred, to a politician no less.

    Nothing Else Happened.

  • Kaffeinated Kristen||

    Yeah, I was gonna say...WTF has above commenter been living?

  • Coeus||

    Imagine what would happen if a SWAT team raid went wrong in a rich sururban neighborhood. Perhaps you might actually see some heads roll and people behind bars.

    Ask Mayor Calvo about that.

  • ||

    better question: hey, Mayor Calvo, how was your dogs' funeral?

  • ||

    It seems to me that we can have a free society, or we can have a safe society, but not both.

    Verging on Iron Law territory. I may submit this one to the Iron Committee for redrafting.

  • Socialistic Individual Sparky||

    Ben Franklin says thanks.

  • ||

    F+S=K, where F=freedom, S=security, and K is a constant called the Niven constant, named for the sci-fi writer.

  • Socialistic Individual Sparky||

    Ben Franklin says "fuck you, I thought of it first".

  • mad libertarian guy||

    You mean a rabid drug warrior with a gambling problem thinks we ought to buckle down and finally get serious in the war on drugs?

    Color. Me. Shocked.

  • Randy||

    It certainly is ironic that the man that bought us The Book of Virtues once occupied a government office whose sole mission is to advocate for continued prosecution of the WOD. That and his deceitful responses to Rev. Robertson's statements tells you all you need to know about Bill Bennett's "virtue".

  • ||

    Bennett, despite due to his Ph.D. in philosophy and his books about virtue, has never presented a cogent moral argument to justify this distinction.

  • codee ferguson||

    BS, kids of any age can currently access drugs, how would increased regulation INCREASE the likelihood of minor use??? wake up!

  • sarcasmic||

    Because having drugs behind a counter guarded by someone who checks for a customer's age makes drugs more available than having them sold by black marketers who don't care how old their customer is.

    Makes perfect sense.

  • ||

    If it exists, kids can get it. Plenty of kids get alcohol.

    If Bennett really believed his own bullshit he would be screaming for the return of prohibition. For the children of course.

  • skr||

    True, but it was still easier for me as a kid to get weed, acid, and e than beer.

  • ||

    What about all those kids pitching pennies and playing penny-ante poker. The horror!

  • ||

    If Bennett really believed his own bullshit he would be screaming for parents to actually PARENT their children.

    ftfy.

  • ||

    oh, threaded comments, you scamp.

  • Zeb||

    SO the best argument he can come up with is "we've been doing it for a long time, so we should keep doing it"?

  • ||

    and yet that argument didn't work for slavery. wtf.

  • ||

    A PHd in philosophy from the Univerisity of Texas, Austin, arguing tradition. Not only, as mentioned above, has this man caused a a fuckton of misery, he is an idiot to boot. And a Harvard law grad. They must grow some special kind of stupid at Harvard.

  • the bilover||

    Why should the country take drug policy advice from a compulsive gambler?

  • Bill Bennett||

    No reason, but I bet it will.

  • ||

    You called your bookie first though.

  • ||

    ""Among cannabis users in treatment in the United States, 80.5% are not married, 90% have obtained an education of 12 years or less;""

    What kind of dope is he smoking to make that claim with a straight face?

  • ||

    What's the marriage rate and education level in the general population?

  • ||

    His numbers probably come from the fact that most MJ arrests are made on people under 30, and many of them are teens who get offered jail time or enter a "program". The WoD is the best friend to those who OWN those BS "programs" which allegedly chase the demons of MJ out of these kids.

  • ||

    The whole world watches while we pepper-spray, taser, and cudgel our own citizens for exercising their birth-right to assemble peacefully; The whole world watches while we strip-search and anally probe our own wheelchair-bound great grandmothers on suspicion of being terrorists; The whole world watches while heavily armed & masked government thugs break into our homes to ridicule, bully, threaten and murder us for using or growing a medically efficacious weed.

    The prohibitionist model is one of blind ignorance, abject failure and economic collapse. Its underlying ideology is one of fear, envy, greed and hate.
    Never have so many been endangered and impoverished by so few, so quickly!

    * Do you wish to greatly reduce, even almost eliminate the market in illegal narcotics? Then please help us to dismantle Prohibition enabling us to Legalize, Regulate and Tax!

  • ||

    Who cares what they think? they can keep their whore mouths shut or we can come bootstomp their faces too.

    Bring it, World, we're merica, we don't give a damn!

  • Coeus||

    From the comments of the article:

    being a LEO I can tell you that a good portion of the officers I know would approve marijuana being made legal. My only issue is developing a reliable field sobriety test for it.

    Do these fuckers even care if you're impaired anymore? Tha fuck happened to walking a line?

  • ||

    If you want to find a war on drugs that actually makes sense Mr. Bennett, how about going after the Big Pharma executives. The poisons the pharmaceutical companies put out kill far more people than anything on Schedule I. Pablo Escobar is a saint compared to these scumbags.

  • ||

    for example, mow many people have died from using penis pills?

    but hey, it's perfectly acceptable for people to accept the associated medical risks, in the name of boner-enhancement.

  • ||

    Which is why viagra should be considered a recreational drug.

  • juris imprudent||

    Tired of arguing with dogmatic prohibitionists?

    Hell yes, does that mean we can start shooting them instead?

  • ||

    It's ironic how the ones that would benefit most from using the enlightenment that Cannabis brings are the same ones that outlaw us users that know the truth about it.

  • ||

    i didn't think anyone else has used this spelling of "wylie" since the 1890's.....

  • Libertarian||

    If I were a pudgy, middle aged guy with millions of dollars, I think I'd avoid the spotlight and smoke cuban cigars and read books in my mansion. What drives these jokers to spout their social engineering????????

  • Appalachian Australian||

    Not everyone wants to sit around in a top hot and tails, smoking cigars, and adjusting their monocle.

  • ||

    Bennett is a career prohibitionist. He's a graduate from the "Goebells' School of Propaganda." as the author said, he'll never surrender.
    It's time to make him totally irrelevant.

  • ||

    I want this gluttonous, both eater and gamboling, fuck to shove his virtues up his fat ass then die. Hey fatty, I'm gonna smoke a bowl just for you.

  • ||

    Just once could a real journalist. Ask this one question: PROOVE IT.

    Just because they say they most rediculous things (for over 30 years) doesn't mean it's true. Go back to the infamous report from the 1970's that Nixon ordered, he didn't like the fact that they found no way was this a gateway drug, nobody has ever died from overdose of it, and the fact the government has known this plant has the capability to CURE certain types of cancer for over 30 years should tell you something. And nobody should ever ask what the intentions of th us government

  • Joe M||

    Real journalists aren't the ones conducting these interviews.

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