Former Obama Staffer Says Legalizing Marijuana Would Decrease Civil Liberties

kevinsabet.comkevinsabet.comThe Baker Institute at Rice University has been hosting an online debate this month to answer the question, "Will legalizing marijuana improve civil liberties?" While all four participants have a different opinion on what the legal status of marijuana should be, three of the four are in agreement that the way drug laws are enforced--particularly, the absurd degree of flexibility granted to law enforcement officers--poses a threat to civil liberties, and that liberalizing pot laws--to one degree or another--would restore civil liberties. 

Only the fourth and final participant in the Baker Institute's debate bothered to argue that removing or reducing penalties for marijuana possession would reduce civil liberties. That person is Kevin Sabet, a former staffer in Pres. Obama's White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the co-founder of Project SAM, and the "quarterback of the anti-drug movement." Here's his pitch:

The argument that legalization would improve civil liberties rests on the notion that if marijuana was legal, there would be less of a need for the criminal justice system intruding on the lives of otherwise peaceful marijuana smokers. But it is unclear that legalization would greatly reduce criminal justice (specifically law enforcement) involvement in society. Already, only about two-tenths of 1 percent of all prison inmates appear to be incarcerated in prison simply for marijuana use.

Since legalization would increase use, it is important to briefly dwell on the possibility that legalization might decrease civil liberties, especially for vulnerable populations like children. Marijuana smoking during pregnancy has been shown to decrease birth weight, most likely due to the effects of carbon monoxide on the developing fetus. Marijuana addicts 1 out of every 6 children who ever try the drug. Marijuana affects the developing brain in acute ways; one recent study found that persistent, heavy young users had on average 6-8 lower IQ points by age 38 relative to non-users (even if heavy use stopped in adulthood).

Marijuana’s harm extends beyond that done to the individual. Marijuana intoxication at least doubles the risk of getting into a car accident; costs from marijuana-related hospital stays are substantial; marijuana addiction costs the state money for treatment; etc.

John Stuart Mill famously wrote that “… over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” Mill argued that “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of the community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Since marijuana can cause addiction, forcing people to lose control over their own self and in the process inflict harms onto others, its use can decrease overall civil liberties. And since legalization would undoubtedly increase marijuana use in society, we might expect a reduction, not increase, in civil liberties if marijuana was legalized.

Right up front, it's important to note that Sabet is being deceptive when he suggests that prison is the only way the government intrudes on the "lives of peaceful marijuana smokers." Monitoring and mandatory testing (which Sabet supports) is an intrusion; terminating the parental rights of marijuana-growing and -using parents is an intrusion; asset forefeiture is an intrusion; mugshots are an intrusion; handcuffs are an intrusion. Three-quarters of a million annual pot arrests--even if only a fraction of them led to incarceration--equals three-quarters of a million government intrusions.  

But there's a huge definitional problem here, too. Negative rights--which is what civil liberties are, and what the Bill of Rights is a collection of--exist to protect U.S. citizens from their government and its agents. This is why the First Amendment begins with "Congress shall make no law..." and not "Mike shall make no choice..." In the event that addiction reduces my ability to make healthy choices, my constitutional rights to speech, religious observance, and assembly, and to be spared unreasonable search and seizure, remain intact. In the event that irresponsible drug use causes someone to hurt me, or me to hurt someone else, those rights are what keep us from being cruelly punished or locked away without a trial, while the criminal code nominally assures that justice is done. 

Simply put: Drug users cannot erode civil liberties. Nor, for that matter, can Kevin Sabet. Only government has that power.  

H/t Diane Wattles Goldstein

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  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Love how that clueless dickwad quotes Mill.

  • CatoTheElder||

    It's pretty ridiculous to cite Mill to oppose legalization of marijuana.

    In fact, Mill explicitly rejects the arguments for alcohol prohibition in On Liberty as follows:

    So monstrous a principle is far more dangerous than any single interference with
    liberty; there is no violation of liberty which it would not justify;
    it acknowledges no right to any freedom whatever, except perhaps to that
    of holding opinions in secret, without ever disclosing them: for the
    moment an opinion which I consider noxious, passes any one's lips, it
    invades all the "social rights" attributed to me by the Alliance. The
    doctrine ascribes to all mankind a vested interest in each other's
    moral, intellectual, and even physical perfection, to be defined by each
    claimant according to his own standard.

    The same reasoning applies to drug prohibition.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Mill argues directly for drug legalization in On Liberty:

    [T]here are questions relating to interference with trade, which are essentially questions of liberty; such as ... the prohibition of the importation of opium into China ...; all cases, in short, where the object of the interference is to make it
    impossible or difficult to obtain a particular commodity. These
    interferences are objectionable..."

    Could it be any clearer what Mill actually would have thought about marijuana legalization?

  • Alyna_Cleo||

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  • Auric Demonocles||

    Drug use can erode alt-text implementation.

  • Rich||

    Since marijuana can cause addiction, forcing people to lose control over their own self and in the process inflict harms onto others, its use can decrease overall civil liberties.

    Via this "logic", *anything* can decrease overall civil liberties.

    Perhaps the "quarterback of the anti-drug movement" had better be checked for concussion.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Joining the military forces people to lose control over their own self and in the process inflict harms upon others far more profoundly than marijuana "addiction".

    Same applies to any form of government "employment".

  • juris imprudent||

    If Sabet is the quarterback, I want Ricky Williams carrying the ball.

  • prolefeed||

    Since marijuana can cause addiction, forcing people to lose control over their own self ... its use can decrease overall civil liberties.

    Kind of begs the question of whether people choosing whether or not to ingest a relaxing drug that makes them feel good is a loss of liberty compared to the government trying to forcibly take away that choice.

    "If I perceive any negative outcomes to your actions, that means you have lost your civil liberties!!!1!"

  • Redmanfms||

    "If I perceive any negative outcomes to your actions, that means you have lost your civil liberties!!!1!"

    Spaces has actually made this argument almost word-for-word on more than one occasion.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    If they are talking about really legalizing it, as in complete deregulation for adults (as defined as anybody who can enter a contract), then yes of course it expands liberty.

    If you are talking about another stinking license, and an entire regulatory bureaucracy to go with it, then hell no it does not expand liberty, it only expands statist control of a segment of the population. It preserves the police state system and every other bad thing that goes with a prohibition, while providing a false veneer of legality.

  • ||

    Are you saying the repeal of alcohol prohibition was not a gain for liberty?

  • Goldwyn Smith||

    Well it was probably a net loss when comparing the situation to what is was like before Prohibition.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    I answered this at 6:39PM Eastern http://reason.com/blog/2013/05.....nt_3772560

    Borrowing a phrase from Sheldon Richman, "baseline rights" are still violations of rights.

    1. PROHIBITION was not a gain for liberty.
    2. Failing to restore the level of liberty that existed before the prohibition is still a setback for liberty.

    This "go along to get along" crap with the regulation happy statists does not gain you liberty, it does not gain you anything.

    If a second bowl of gruel from your masters is liberty in your book, you need a new book.

  • Goldwyn Smith||

    Well I doubt that legal pot will be as unregulated as it was in the 1920s.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Only if nobody demands that level of regulation.

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    I've already read a hand-wringing article on NBCNews website about the need for state health and safety inspectors to quickly come up with safety regulations to protect the public health.

    For years, the government's approach to public health has been to shoot people for smoking pot. Now, suddenly, they worry that we can never survive if we smoke weed that hasn't been inspected first by the FDA. What if we smoke moldy pot and get sick!

    The fact that we survived years of the Feds actually putting poison on the stuff is irrelevant, and the zeros of emergency room visits per year due to smoking unregulated moldy pot don't matter either, not when there is bureaucratic turf to be carved out, complete with new government jobs to control, and new regulations to get to enforce!

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    And more directly, NO the way alcohol prohibition was repealed was far from a NET gain for liberty. It was a net gain for regulators, the tax man, and a host of other control freaks.

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    I'd issue a retort, but I need to get to the PA State Liquor store before it closes so that I can stock up on Jim Beam and lottery tickets.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Marijuana smoking during pregnancy has been shown to decrease birth weight, most likely due to the effects of carbon monoxide on the developing fetus.

    What, no credit to Mayor Bloomberg and his sugary drink regulations?

  • Floridian||

    Did you see the study that linked MJ use with lower blood sugar and decreased rates of obesity. I should send nanny Bloomberg that article and watch his head explode.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    No, I did not see it but I like the way you think.

  • ATXChappy||

    "legalization might decrease civil liberties, especially for vulnerable populations like children."

    "Will someone please think of the children?". Helen Lovejoy

  • UnCivilServant||

    I did think of the children, and rejected the claim that they should have any say in this matter.

  • Dweebston||

    only about two-tenths of 1 percent of all prison inmates appear to be incarcerated in prison simply for marijuana use.

    Because incarceration is the only civil liberties issue in evidence when it comes to drug prohibition. Dogs authorizing warrantless searches should raise no eyebrows, nor should no-knock raids, the overweaning police state, mandatory treatment and the court costs that go along with it, or the larger question framing the issue, whether individuals are at liberty to dispose of themselves and their spare time as they see fit. No, there's nothing to see here.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Listening to Kevin Sabet kills off brain cells. I'm dumber for having read that.

  • Inigo M.||

    To paraphrase a quote from "Billy Madison," -- Everyone who heard his remarks is now dumber for having listened to them.

    By his reasoning, the government should also step in and regulate bed times and sleep habits for every one of us. After all, being sleepy behind the wheel of a car has been shown to be as dangerous as driving drunk. How about it, Kevin? Do you have plans to make sure I get to bed by 10:30pm on weeknights?? (It actually wouldn't surprise me much if the gov't proposed a program for that.)

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Curfews have been around for quite a while.

  • sarcasmic||

    Freedom is slavery. The more people you must ask permission of and take orders from, the more free you are.

  • John Galt||

    Liberty is absolute compliance. Doing only as you are told reduces your likelihood of lengthy incarceration for thought crimes by nearly 13 percent.

  • Gordilocks||

    Try being a truck driver for a living. We have to tell the state when we pull over to take a shit, and *they* tell us when we are supposed to be tired or awake.

  • sarcasmic||

    I couldn't do it. Be a trucker that is. Being subject random searches and interrogations from asshole state troopers who feel they're not doing their job unless they fine you a week's wages would drive me to murder.

  • Monty Crisco||

    You're quote Mill to argue AGAINST him? Orwellian... oh, wait:

    "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

    -George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism", 1945

    Kevin Sabet: statist intelligentsia member since 1996!

  • Almanian!||

    Shorter Kevin Sabet: "derp!"

    Former member of Fucktard Nation is a fucktard. Shocker. Also, news at 11.

  • Curtisls87||

    By his logic, we should reinstate the prohibition of alcohol, as its current legal status "decreases civil liberties." Really how can any self-respecting liberal defend this administration's policies in this area?

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Its current legal status certainly decreases civil liberties in comparison to pre-prohibition.

  • Curtisls87||

    Very, and sadly true.

  • OldMexican||

    But it is unclear that legalization would greatly reduce criminal justice (specifically law enforcement) involvement in society.


    I don't understand why would this matter. This is just a non sequitur, not unlike saying that we should not let people drive motorcycles without helmets because allowing them to does not mean we will have less judges.

    Since legalization would increase use, it is important to briefly dwell on the possibility that legalization might decrease civil liberties, especially for vulnerable populations like children. Marijuana smoking during pregnancy has been shown to decrease birth weight,


    So first he presents the proposition that more marijuana use would mean less civil liberties and then proceeds to EQUIVOCATE by implying that birth weight is a civil liberty(!) You heard it here first, folks!

  • ||

    I imagine the law enforcement involvement in society comment was a response to someone else, since that is something I have commonly heard advanced in favor of legalization.

  • GetABrainMorans||

    To keep your civil liberties, we must remove your civil liberties.

    Slavery is Freedom

  • Mark22||

    That's a meaning of the term "civil liberties" that I'm not familiar with. Maybe that's the problem: Obama and his party just mean completely different things when they talk about "wealth", "freedom", "civil liberties", and "constitution" than we commonly understand those terms to mean.

  • sarcasmic||

    Wealth is the property of other people.

    Freedom means asking permission and taking orders.

    Civil liberties are what others are obligated to do for you.

    And Constitution is the latest product from Charmin.

  • John Galt||

    Former Obama Staffer Says Legalizing Marijuana Would Decrease Civil Liberties

    Obama says: Choom-choom.

  • ShanghiJones||

    Sabet's contrived logic, that some who use marihuana will injure others, therefore, no one should have the right is absurd. First, it seeks to punish individuals for conduct in which they never engaged. Second, it can be applied to the use of virtually any substance or good, from alcohol to cars, even to religion.

  • wwhorton||

    There are some pretty strong parallels to the gun control debate. Progressives are trying to regulate gun ownership to death, and they're doing it under the logic that, since some people might use guns for unethical purposes, no one should own guns. Except the police, federal agents, and soldiers, of course, none of whom are capable of wrongdoing. So, I should be prohibited from owning an "assault weapon" in case I might use it for naughtiness in the future, and because it is possible to use it for naughtiness. Since one possible use for a gun is murder, only murderers would want guns, hence no one who wants a gun should be allowed to own one. Gotta love that logic.

    And just wait, now that Fearless Leader is providing our health care for us, cigarettes are gonna be on the way out, too, and I'll bet we'll start seeing some crackdowns on booze. I never would've thought that a Democratic president would be the one standing athwart the tide of legalization, but it just goes to show that The Who had it right about the new boss. Welcome to the "liberal" paradox: the most Puritanical, buttoned-up, liberty-hating fun police are the people from the "hip" party.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Already, only about two-tenths of 1 percent of all prison inmates appear to be incarcerated in prison simply for marijuana use.

    Curious, is Sabet including "possession with intent to distribute" (aka possession of more than a miniscule amount) in this total?

  • sarcasmic||

    That would be intellectually honest, so I doubt it.

  • wwhorton||

    I'm sure he's only counting people in prison for like misdemeanor possession or some deceptive bullshit like that. Besides which, I'm not sure why imprisoning someone for intent to distribute doesn't count as a situation where civil liberties are harmfully impacted by keeping marijuana illegal.

  • ||

    They certainly don't make it easy to find out. The citation is to this page, the 2004 survey, but I just spent a few minutes searching through its results and I'm coming up empty. I'm sure it's a completely bullshit stat--note that he even says they are incarcerated for use—what is that, then, just people who violate their parole?

  • godzleaf||

    That fruitcake Sabet never ceases to entertain; unfortunately in a horrifying kind of way though.

  • Mensan||

    Kevin Sabet is either one of the most disingenuous lying sacks of shit alive today, or one of the stupidest ignorant sacks of shit alive today, or both.

  • WomSom||

    These guys really seem to know what time it is.

    www.GetYourAnon.tk

  • juris imprudent||

    How do these progtards do it - every face more punchable than the last.

  • sam the man||

    "Marijuana intoxication at least doubles the risk of getting into a car accident; costs from marijuana-related hospital stays are substantial; marijuana addiction costs the state money for treatment; etc."

    I don't know how to cross out text, but if I could I would definitely put "alcohol" in place of "marijuana" and submit it as an argument for reinstating prohibition. Surely Kevin Sabet would agree.

  • JSebastian||

    Unbelievably twisted logic. All of the things he indicts marijuana for, exist with legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco products. Alcohol and tobacco are far more addictive than marijuana. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Its functionally an opiate, stimulates the same neural pathways and receptors as other opiates, and has been successfully used in opiate withdrawal therapy.

  • drmaddogs||

    Kevin Sabet is beyond being deceptive, review a few facts indicative of his agenda. The ONDCP receives about 50 Billion a year, for the Drug War. Kevin's association with an Office that has participates in Presidential elections should open some eyes to just how the ONDCP influences elections. Certain Organizations funded by the ONDCP have been involved with Campaign Fund management for decades for the Presidency. Romney, one Organization funded by tax derived ONDCP funds was running the head of Campaign Fund management.

    Ron Paul brought suit for an answer, why the DEA was allowed to state inaccurate and thereby misleading information concerning Cannabis? ONDCP's answer was the "mandate", the DEA had in dealing with drugs gave the DEA authority to say anything that helped them accomplish that mandate.

    'Anything' is lying.

    A 50 Billion dollar a year tax financed Office, helping elections of those whom will support their tax funded existence, lying to the public, with an associate(Sabet) from said elected official (President) also associated with said Office(ONDCP) while being associated with the Organizations responsible for helping elections.

    Tax dollars, totaling trillion dollars for the drug war, is utilized by an office that lies? Helping elect officials?

    Americans, granted, have become exhausted, worn down by the constant misuse of tax dollars. When it comes to having to hear Kevin Sabet open his mouth, the very worst of America's political underbelly is shown.

  • garand555||

    "only about two-tenths of 1 percent of all prison inmates appear to be incarcerated in prison simply for marijuana use."

    How many are in prison for dealing, hmmmmmmmm? And "use" could potentially not include "possession." In fact, how many states simply ban the possession and not the use because you have to possess it to use it anyway? Stupid word games, this man plays.

  • Freedomist||

    Project SAM cofounder and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy was a cocaine addict, an oxycodone addict, an alcohol addict, and was arrested twice for DUI within 2 weeks. It seems odd he would choose cannabis to villify.

  • Freedomist||

    While Patrick Kennedy was US Rep he received a +3 and +20 rating from NORML indicating a pro-legalization stance. What happened?

  • ||

    How do you think could anything have happened to Patrick Kennedy.He was a U S Rep with a +3 and +20 rating.Only the Government has the power to erode the civil liberties and just no one else.

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