Meet the Only Pundit on Earth Who Thinks the GOP Can Win Voters by Ramping up the Drug War

Global PostGlobal Post"Republicans once again should take a strong stand against drug use and legalization," writes former Bush 41 staffer Peter Wehner in the Washington Post. "Virtually no lawmaker in either party is doing so."

If you're like me, you probably want the next paragraph to explain why no one in Washington, D.C. is railing against legalization. But Wehner doesn't even take a crack at the question. Instead, he shuffles through a list of talking points that held sway during his tenure in the Bush 41 White House, but which were pretty much dead by the time "Got the Life" was retired after 65 days on Total Request Live. (That was a joke about the 90s.)

And yet Wehner would have you believe that legalization can be stopped in its tracks using these arguments; they "simply need to be deployed." So let's deploy them:

1.) "The vast majority of people who are addicted to harder drugs started by using marijuana."

This is a reverse version of the old gateway claim, which Wehner likely didn't use in its original form because we now know that alcohol is more of a gateway drug than marijuana. So instead of saying that the vast majority of marijuana users go on to use harder drugs, Wehner says that most people who use hard drugs started with marijuana. That's like saying the vast majority of mass shooters started by playing Duck Hunter; or, that the vast majority of sex workers started by playing with Barbies. The claim is only meaningful if there's a verifiable causal relationship between the two activities. In this case, there's not: There were 18.1 million regular marijuana users in the U.S. in 2011 (which means they used it in the 30 days prior to being surveyed) 1.4 million regular cocaine users, and 281,000 regular heroin users. The causal relationship between marijuana and hard drugs is very, very weak. 

2.) "Drug legalization will lead to more cases of addiction, which shatters lives."

Even under prohibition we can't stop people from developing chemical dependence on drugs. What we do have control over is how we treat the small number of people whose chemical dependence leads them to commit crimes. Currently, we consign the bulk of these addicts to prisons or homeless shelters, where drugs are plentiful. One of the best arguments for drug reform--as evidenced by Portugal's decriminalization strategy--is that there are more holistic and humane ways to help these people.

It's also worth mentioning that the addiction rate for most illicit drugs is lower than people realize: 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, and 9 percent for marijuana. Alcohol, with a prevalence for dependence rate of 17 percent, is more like cocaine; and tobacco, with an addiction rate of 32 percent, is worse than pretty much everything.

3.) "One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal. If drugs become legal, their price will go down and use will go up."

In 2011, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 18.1 million people reportedly used marijuana, but according to the FBI, only 658,000 people were arrested that year for marijuana possession. The same disparity exists for harder drugs: Roughly 2 million people reportedly used heroin or cocaine in 2011, but only 260,000 people were arrested for possessing heroin, cocaine, or one of their derivatives. This tells us not only that illegality is a weak deterrent, but that making it an effective one would require arresting millions more people than we currently do. Millions

As for the price of legal pot: The news coming out of Washington state and Colorado suggests that excise taxes will be high, which means the price of legal pot will be close to black market rates. If I thought Wehner's biggest concern is that legalization would result in a free-for-all, I'd tell him not to worry one bit. As Mark Kleiman (who is consulting Washington state on their regulations) put it: "[A] legal cannabis market should be run to protect public health and safety, not to maximize revenues." That's likely what we'll see in every state that taxes and regulates pot.

But it appears that Wehner actually sees drugs as a front in the culture war. Bad simply because they're bad, regardless of what the science says. That's the only explanation I can come up with for why he spends roughly half of his alotted op-ed space arguing that

Drug legalization...would send an unmistakable signal to everyone, including the young: Drug use is not a big deal. We’re giving up. Have at it.

[D]rug use is wrong because it is morally problematic, because of what it can do to mind and soul. Indeed, in some liberal and libertarian circles, the “language of morality” is ridiculed. It is considered unenlightened, benighted and simplistic. The role of the state is to maximize individual liberty and be indifferent to human character.

I don't know if Wehner thinks parents in Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize marijuana want their children to "have at it," but that's essentially what he's saying. He's also saying that it doesn't matter if legalization and decriminalization are successful. I don't suggest the GOP follow his lead. 

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  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, if they ramped up the drug war and executed everyone who does drugs, sells drugs, or doesn't support the WoD, I suppose that would be "winning," in a sense. Though I daresay the GOP has plenty of members in one or more of those categories.

  • Zeb||

    If they did that, they'd probably run into the problem of having more people to execute than the willing executioners woudl be able to deal with.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's where the drones come in.

  • Zeb||

    Ah. That's where the plan really comes together.

  • ||

    Zeb you stole that from Pedo-bot.

  • ||

    Also known as the Singapore strategy.

  • ||

    It worked pretty well for China, and I have heard we need to be more like them.

    *pinches chin, cocks head a bit and looks thoughtfully at the ceiling*

  • gaoxiaen||

    In some places in Yunnan Province it is a feral weed growing alongside the road or in city parks and flower beds (with big buds in the fall). No one actually cares about it.

  • ||

    Old fart struggling to stay relevant and powerful within a group that is poised to leave him behind. Same old, same old.

  • deified||

    I have a powerful imagination so the phrase "old fart" is unusually... evocative.

    This is your final warning.

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    I thought, at first, that the Wehner in question was Jann Wenner from Rolling Stone. He could always be counted on to do things to destroy the Republican party, as doubling down on the WoD would.

  • fish||

    1.) "The vast majority of people who are addicted to harder drugs started by using marijuana."

    I don't care.

    2.) "Drug legalization will lead to more cases of addiction, which shatters lives."

    I don't care.

    3.) "One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal. If drugs become legal, their price will go down and use will go up."

    I don't care.

    I call this the modified Episiarch principle.

  • Zeb||

    None of that is worth even a minor inconvenience to anyone not involved. I don't care if 90% of everyone is addicted to heroin. It is still completely wrong to punish anyone for using, possessing or selling drugs to a willing adult buyer.

  • fish||

    ....I LEARNED IT FROM YOU DAD!!!!! I learned it from you.

  • ||

    Actually they started by using alcohol.

    And I venture to say that almost all of them drank milk before that.

    So I blame the dairy industry.

  • John||

    Breast milk, the ultimate gateway drug.

  • fish||

    Big Tobacco...Big Oil....Big Pharma.....and now the fourth horseman of the apocalypse Big Moo!

  • John||

    1.) "The vast majority of people who are addicted to harder drugs started by using marijuana."

    So?

    2.) "Drug legalization will lead to more cases of addiction, which shatters lives."

    And this is my problem why?

    3.) "One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal. If drugs become legal, their price will go down and use will go up."

    And as a non drug user I am supposed to have an opinion on this?

    The whole premise of the drug war is that it is somehow my responsibility to pay taxes and hire police to save drug users from themselves. No thanks.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Hate to shit on an thread about the irrelevant musings of a political hack but:

    "Tens of thousands of health care professionals, union workers and community activists hired as "navigators" to help Americans choose Obamacare options starting Oct. 1 will be paid up to $48 an hour..."

    "It is still not clear how many navigators will be required. California, however, provides a hint. It wants 21,000."

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/.....le/2526167

  • John||

    Pay off supporters. It is the Chicago way.

  • NoVAHockey||

    if this is anything like Part D, the casework involved will be a disaster.

    I got detailed to GA for awhile to enroll low-income people into Part D. between working with Social Security and finding a plan, on a good day I helped about 6 to 10 families. and I was pretty efficient.

  • Brandon||

    48*21,000*2000

    2,016,000,000. Dollars. For base salary. For "navigators." For one state. For one year.

    "Deficit Neutral."

  • Jordan||

    Tony probably agrees, since he spent yesterday telling us how addictive McDonalds hamburgers are and why people should not be allowed to buy or sell addictive substances.

  • fish||

    I'm not eating at McDonalds today...or tomorrow either!

    I Beat Addiction! Ask me how.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yet KFC still tasks me, with its addictive fried chicken and secret spices and herbs.

  • fish||

    ....secret spices and herbs

    Just watch it with your gang code drug talk around here chief!

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's not me, it's that damned Colonel Sanders, with his wee beady eyes and that smug look on his face.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's found in carbon dioxide, a known contributor to global warming, carbon monoxide, a known toxin, and dihydrogen monoxide, a known killer, found in lakes, streams, rainwater, and even in our bodies!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Sorry, wrong place.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I hate when that happens.

  • Matrix||

    it's crack... they put crack in the batter.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Secret crack and spices.

  • Zeb||

    I don't think crack is very active orally.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Here's a fact that the America-hating lamestream media won't report: Out of all drug abusers, child molesters, and serial rapsists, 100% started out by being addicted to oxygen to the point where they couldn't function without it. In fact, if they hadn't been allowed access to oxygen, they might not have gone on to commit their dastardly deeds. How can you possibly talk about relenting in the war on oxygen?

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's a known corrosive and plays a major role in combustion.

  • John||

    It is one of the most flammable substances known to man.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's found in carbon dioxide, a known contributor to global warming, carbon monoxide, a known toxin, and dihydrogen monoxide, a known killer, found in lakes, streams, rainwater, and even in our bodies!

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    I liked reading this comment better the first time.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Worst of all, it can get you high.

  • tarran||

    Until Challenger, all the deaths on U.S. spacecraft could be traced to oxygen pollution.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And even Challenger involved cold air, which included cold oxygen and carbon dioxide (and the equally suspect nitrogen and dihydrogen monoxide vapor). Not to mention the O-ring. "O" as in the periodic chart symbol for. . .oxygen?

  • ||

    Challenger also experienced a severe wind gust which caused the booster to flex at the point where the O ring was seated.

    BAN WIND GUSTS!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wind. Another way oxygen kills.

  • Raston Bot||

    How'd they know what shampoo Christa McAuliffe used? They found her head and shoulders.

  • mr lizard||

    And the atoms travel in pairs, so it has a conspirator.

  • Bam!||

    "One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal."

    Prove it.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Drugs are readily available in any school, bar and probably even any church in America. WOD is about power and money. 'Cause it sure is hell isn't stopping anyone who wants drugs from getting them.

  • ||

    I have an acquaintance who is very pro drug war because her brother in law is a meth addict. When I pointed out that meth is illegal and he's still doing it, I got silence.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, I had caught up with an old buddy of mine who's pretty conservative. His ex was a crackhead who left him to raise two kids by himself. He's really uninterested in anything I have to say about the WOD. I guess he's entitled to that. My main points to him were that it doesn't work and that it makes it harder for people to get the help they need. He doesn't really disagree with my points but he just can't take the next logical step. Too embittered to.

  • JD the elder||

    You were lucky. Usually all you get is a lot of hot air about how if drugs were legal, we'd have EVEN MOAR addicts.

  • Zeb||

    I'm sure there would be more addicts if drugs were legal. But being an addict woudl be a much less harmful thing.

  • Ska||

    Duck Hunter, Riggs? The dog in the bushes is laughing at you.

  • SugarFree||

    Idiocy is a gateway to punditry. Round up all the idiots and we can get this pundit problem cleared up in just a few generations.

  • juris imprudent||

    They even have a court decision from their favored justice "three generations of imbeciles is enough"!

  • AlmightyJB||

    I think someone should outlaw gravity 'cause that would work just as well as drug prohibition. What the fuck makes these idiots so daft. And actually I bet mj legalization may well decrease other drug use. Every other drug I started buying was after being turned on to it by someone I was buying pot from. I was not actively looking for it. And would probably not have actively looked for it if I wasn't already there buying pot. This idea that you NEED something harder after you're "hooked-on" pot is complete bullshit made up in the imaginations of people who don't know wtf they're talking about.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "This idea that you NEED something harder after you're "hooked-on" pot is complete bullshit made up in the imaginations of people who don't know wtf they're talking about."

    Actually, I think the argument would be that after trying pot and seeing how harmless and fun it is, a lot of people would conclude that all the crap the gov't told them about other drugs was BS too.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Which is the thing about bullshit propaganda isn't it. Once everyone sees the man behind the curtain, games over.

  • gaoxiaen||

    And for the most part it is BS.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "The vast majority of people who are addicted to harder drugs started by using marijuana."

    Correlation without causation. Next?

    "Drug legalization will lead to more cases of addiction, which shatters lives."

    Your life is your to do with as you please. If you want to "shatter" it, that's your business, not mine.

    "One of the main deterrents to drug use is because it is illegal. If drugs become legal, their price will go down and use will go up."

    First, there are more marijuana users being arrested today than their were when the drug war started which suggests the first part of this statement is false. As to the second, Wehner has yet to establish that marijuana use is inherently bad.

  • Zeb||

    "Your life is your to do with as you please. If you want to "shatter" it, that's your business, not mine."

    I don't know why people have such a hard time getting this. People go on about how drugs are bad because it makes people abandon their families and be lazy assholes and bad spouses and all that. But none of that is illegal. So how does it justify making a substance not only contraband but highly criminal to possess?

  • StackOfCoins||

    "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered"

    Still a great putdown for old shits like this op-ed writer.

  • Raston Bot||

    I read that as GOD at first. Works that way too.

  • Doctor Whom||

    In his dialogues, Plato taught that no man is a citizen alone. Individuals and families need support in society and the public arena.

    We all know that no developments have been made in political philosophy since then. Also, so-cons never rail against "Platonic philosopher-kings" on the courts.

  • ant1sthenes||

    There the socialists go confusing state and society again.

  • deified||

    Later Plato ("The Seventh Letter" "Statesman") wasn't even down with The Republic.

  • ||

    "Got the Life" was retired after 65 days on Total Request Live.

    God damn it. Now it's in my head. GOD DAMN IT.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Try letting another song push it out.

    Just as catchy as Korn, yet not as terrible.

  • Jordan||

    And Lizzie Hale is hot. In case you missed that.

  • juris imprudent||

    Apparently there are times it is good not to be up on all that once was popular in music.

  • ||

    Free advice to the GOP.

    Losers;
    Opposing SSM
    The Drug War
    Saying you are for smaller govt and then expanding it
    Blue Laws

    Winners;
    Fighting tooth and nail against encroachments on the second amendment
    Constitutional principles
    Rule of Law

    They really are the party of stupid.

  • fish||

    They really are the party of stupid.

    And that's why, to steal a line from Bill Hicks; "It's time to christen their dumpster"...

    .and send them into history with the Whigs..

  • robc||

    Blue Laws

    A weird coincidence, blue laws seem more prominent in blue states.

  • Jordan||

    Toss abortion onto the loser pile.

  • Virginian||

    False. Abortion gets the GOP more votes then it costs them.

    If the GOP ditched their abortion plank, it would cost them millions of abortion voters, and get very few in return.

  • Zeb||

    I honestly don't know, but I could see that going either way. I know a lot of people who are not super left-wing but who completely rule out voting Republican because abortion.

  • sarcasmic||

    Marijuana is a gateway to other drugs because it is illegal. It's a gateway to the black market. If it was legal, then I bet "hard" drug use would go down. Why? Because the black market would shrink without marijuana profits. Hard drugs are relatively easy to find only because marijuana, the gateway to the black market, is very easy to find. Make that gateway smaller and fewer people will pass through it.

  • Firstname||

    Marijuana ... Gateway Drug to the White House! Since the last 5 presidents have used it you better light one up right now if you ever expect to be president.

  • johnl||

    Last five? GHWB? Maybe not.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Why didn't he include the old standby?

    The Negros smoke it and they think they're as good as us.

  • Taktix||

    Isn't this the asshat from that Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode on the topic of the War on Drugs?

    lemme see... yep!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkYTK0s7ZUw

    Wehner, fer christsake. Wehner! WEINER!

  • egisterin||

    Your link regarding addiction rate for most illicit drugs is wrong; the information seems to have come from Experts Tell the Truth about Pot (tinyurl.com/bqzmbzd), based on Comparative Epidemiology of Dependence on Tobacco... (tinyurl.com/d7y9tdf) (see page 8)

  • gaoxiaen||

    Since you went through all the trouble of finding it, couldn't you enlighten us?

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