Pass the Peace Pipe

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Reefer Madness author Eric Schlosser has a decent op-ed in today's New York Times titled "Making Peace With Pot." I'm always heartened to see the argument made in a mainstream media venue, but it is a little disheartening to note that the general argument—citing slightly different data, of course—could've been (and was) made a decade ago. Yet, as Schlosser notes, we still have the office of the drug czar putting out memos claiming:

"Marijuana is addictive…. Marijuana and violence are linked . . . no drug matches the threat posed by marijuana."

One element we're increasingly seeing in pieces like Schlosser's that is new, however, is the examination of the growing number of countries that have managed to adopt a more sane approach without appearing to invite utter social collapse. That, I think, may be crucial to turning the tide.

I suspect in the U.S., there are plenty of people whose anecdotal experience is roughly like mine: We knew quite a lot of people who smoked quite a lot of pot in college, then somehow just fell out of the habit of using this "addictive" drug once they went out and got jobs. The handful of college acquaintances I can think of who still smoke with any regularity are all extremely successful. But for sound prudential reasons, you won't find a lot of them willing to stand up and say: "Hey, I'm a high-powered, well-paid lawyer at a prestigious firm, and I enjoy a spliff in the evening without any terribly harmful consequences." But it's a different story in countries where that admission doesn't risk legal reprisals. As more and more countries decriminalize, the association of pot-smoking with Cheech and Chong lifestyles will go the way of equating alcohol consumption with mob activity.

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  1. “…the examination of the growing number of countries that have managed to adopt a more sane approach without appearing to invite utter social collapse. That, I think, may be crucial to turning the tide.”

    Maybe a good strategy for convincing wavering policymakers, but not the line to trot out to the general public. People don’t go for policies based on the theory that we should be more like Europe.

  2. Pot may or may not be addicting. Who knows?

    But being an unelected, unaccountable bureacrat with millions of dollars to control and no real need to produce any quantifiable results; now THAT makes Crack look like Sanka.

  3. But being an unelected, unaccountable bureacrat with millions of dollars to control and no real need to produce any quantifiable results; now THAT makes Crack look like Sanka.

    Truer words, you’d be hard-pressed to find. Good ol’ Drug Czar. Yes, please, steal my hard-earned dollars every two weeks, then use that money to run expensive propeganda campaigns! My favorite is the one with the idiot parents “practicing” confronting their kid about his/her marijuana “problem”. It’s JUST a little POT! Um, yes, it is just a little pot. Funny, I don’t see the government stealing my money so that it can run ads telling me that, in order to be a better parent, I have to confront my child about his/her drinking “problem”. But quite frankly, all laws aside, I would much rather have my kid hitting a joint than pounding a fifth. Meanwhile, in another front in the drug war, we’re sending sick people to jail for trying to ease their unbearable pain.

    I like what Balko had to say on the matter:

    “Jesus. What has it come to when we throw cripples and the infirmed in jail for trying to ease their fucking pain? Here’s hoping John Ashcroft and like drug warriors find themselves stricken with a condition that bring immense, unrelenting pain. And here’s hoping their own damned laws come back to bite them in the ass. And let’s have Jeb Bush get the same illness.

    Cruel? Yeah. Probably. But so is handcuffing terminally ill seniors to their beds while federal agents confiscate their medicinal marijuana. So is throwing paraplegics in prision for drug trafficking — when all they’re after is a little relief.

    What country is this?

    I forget sometimes.”

    Me too, Radley, me too.

  4. Julian’s anecdotal experience is similar to mine, with respect to dudes I knew in college, but I think there’s a different story to tell about the dudes who didn’t go to college, also apropos of this item. I had a friend who, after high school, still living with his folks, sold weed to finance, amongst other stupid shit, a “new system” for his car. He was busted, did some months in jail, and now works some shitty job. I’m not sure how different his life would be without the conviction, but, well, I’m sure it doesn’t help any.

  5. The people I knew who smoked pot in college, whether frequently or (like myself) only occasionally, generally did about the same as everyone else. So my experience matches Julian’s in that respect.

    However, my experience with people who kept up heavy pot intake *after* college, or who did it during high school, is that they pretty much fall into the “Cheech and Chong” category. Are they “addicted”? Beats me, but they sure do get bitchy if something keeps them from getting high. College is a good, pretty much consequence-free place to do stupid stuff in; the real world really isn’t.

    Because the truth of the matter is that smoking pot IS stupid. Not because it’s bad for you, but because it’s illegal. Unless something in you really *needs* to get high — which I’d pretty much call “addiction” — why risk your job and/or your freedom in order to do it? This is the attitude shared by most of the former recreational users I know — we’d be willing to do it, but since we don’t *need* to do it, why risk it? So I would say that a “high-powered, well-paid lawyer” who is willing to gamble all of that in order to get stoned has got some pretty serious issues.

  6. I don’t think so–the chances of an affluent professional actually getting busted for possession of the quantities we’re talking about here are all but nil.

  7. “So I would say that a “high-powered, well-paid lawyer” who is willing to gamble all of that in order to get stoned has got some pretty serious issues.”

    …or maybe they like their chances, and it might not be much of a risk at all. How many people smoke pot in this country, relative to the number who are caught? (A lot.) And how many are caught because they were stupid about it? (A lot, I’m guessing.) And how many who get in real trouble are “high-powered, well-paid lawyers”? (Not too many, I’m guessing.)

  8. Julian,
    Not to mention, that in some states (read: California) the consequences are less than being in the carpool lane illegally.

  9. Dan-
    Was it also stupid of Rosa Parks to refuse to give her seat to a white man? Especially considering that she lost her job over that debacle.

  10. “Because the truth of the matter is that smoking pot IS stupid. Not because it’s bad for you, but because it’s illegal [snip]…we’d be willing to do it, but since we don’t *need* to do it, why risk it?”

    Because civil disobedience is warranted when the government bureaucracy itself uses public money to pervert the legislative process in order to perpetuate itself at the expense of the liberty of a large minority of citizens.

    Because some of us would rather live according to our own principles rather than meekly live according to a set of principles forced upon us.

    Without some number of citizens are willing to “risk it,” those states which have enacted decriminalization would never have taken such a step.

  11. relating dope smoking to civil disobedience is sorta fucked up, guys.

    that said:

    “Because some of us would rather live according to our own principles rather than meekly live according to a set of principles forced upon us.”

    hell yes. that’s a lot more important than a fucking job.

    and college is only a consequence-free environment if you’re not the one paying for it. there were plenty of consequences to not getting to jobs #2 and #3 on the weekends.

    so you learn to schedule accordingly. it’s much easier to relax in a dark room and wait for the lemmings to come eat your sense of self if you’ve had all your ducks row’d the fuck up.

  12. “Because some of us would rather live according to our own principles rather than meekly live according to a set of principles forced upon us.”

    “hell yes. that’s a lot more important than a fucking job”

    Smoking pot does not compromise everyone’s employment.

  13. dhex –

    Would you care to take a stab at either of my other points?

  14. “why risk your job and/or your freedom in order to do it?”

    When doing a cost/benefit analysis (even the little quickie ones we do subconsciously when we decide whether or not to cross the street), we consider the changes of achieving the benefits and the changes of suffering the costs. While the professional and legal consequences of getting caught may be a big mulitiplier, the changes of getting caught are such a tiny fraction as to cancel them out.

  15. I call b.s. on college being a consequence free place to smoke pot. My brother got busted for possession (turned out to be an illegal search). He was all set to not fight it and accept the $100 fine and drug aversion class (traffic school for potheads). However, thanks to President Clinton’s law and Bush’s stricter enforcement, he was going to lose all of his financial aid for this bust. He ended up fighting it, won because of the illegal search and all was well. If this had happened to me, I would’ve paid the fine, gone to the class and my employer would be none the wiser (the class removes a first time offense from your record).

    For those of you keeping score (if conviction is upheld):
    Cost for the college student =~ $10,000 in student loans + $100 + 8 hours wasted
    Cost for the employed professional = $100 + 8 hours wasted

    Looks to me like there’s greater risk for the college student (at least in California).

  16. I agree with Julian at 3:53. As one who practiced law in NYC for several yrs in the late ’90s and hung with other uppwardly mobile professionals, and whose law partner did occasional meth, and whose circle of friends included an NYPD detective who smoked pot during the first few days of a one month vacation, I can tell you that most professionals there are not subject to drug tests and many do use. (The cop figured it highly unlikely they’d test him immediately upon returning to duty, a gamble he won.) And, a good number of them smoke pot and/or indulge in other illicit substances.

    But we are unlikely to say so. I don’t even use pot anymore, and was never that much into it — and I no longer much care who knows I ever toked. But that is due to an unusual change in priorities that do not apply to most professionals. Most would not want it known outside of their circle of friends; bar associations react as if you sodomized infants when you announce that you smoke pot, and even more so if you are unrepentant about it.

    –Mona–

  17. frank: ahh…you misunderstand. i meant, hell yes as in that’s a good fucking point constrasted with dan’s insistence on employment and fear being reasonable reasons to smoke or not to. as in following one’s conscience is a lot more important than a job – any job.

    but i still don’t think smoking weed counts as civil disobedience. if anything, the mass groupings of people smoking weed, as i have frothingly pointed out before, have a negative effect on the drug’s public image.

  18. “ahh…you misunderstand.”

    Indeed I do. My bad.

  19. …or maybe they like their chances, and it might not be much of a risk at all. How many people smoke pot in this country, relative to the number who are caught? (A lot.)

    Well, the arrest rate for possession for marijuana users works out to around one arrest per 25 users per year, which would work out to around a one in three chance every ten years for an “average” user. Are my odds of getting away with it better because of the economic and demographic bracket I’m in? Sure. But even if the chances of arrest are one in a thousand… why is that a chance worth taking, just to get high? If, for example, eating apples regularly had a 0.1% chance of eventually landing you in jail, would you eat apples anyway? I wouldn’t. I’d stick to oranges and grapes, which are also delicious but carry no risk of imprisonment.

    Look, if you think the risks are worth it, fine. Smoke weed. Just don’t expect any sympathy if bad things happen to you because of your choice.

  20. I’d like to add something else:

    The argument “it is very important that we legalize pot” loses pretty much all of its steam if you turn around and argue that really not much of anybody goes to jail for it anyway. It pretty much relegates “the war on pot” to the end of the line where social injustices are concerned.

  21. Dan: I disagree. If a law isn’t enforced often and there are no adverse affects to its non-enforcement, then there is no reason why it should be illegal. Just because sodomy laws were very rarely enforced doesn’t mean that they weren’t unjust. I’m from the school of thought that if a law isn’t enforced and things are hunky-dory, then the law needs to go.

  22. dan writes “Look, if you think the risks are worth it, fine. Smoke weed. Just don’t expect any sympathy if bad things happen to you because of your choice.”

    This makes no moral sense. Altering one’s mood has a stronger pull than opting for grapes over apples. Further, if Jim or Sally wishes to alter their mood with weed as opposed to beer, that is *their* decision to make. Alcohol is vastly more dangerous than pot, and a more sensible drug to use, if one is going to consider health risks. So, I guess the guy who ends up addicted to alcohol and suffering from wet brain or rotting liver should exact no sympathy (it is actually exceptional for these to happen except to the most sensitive of relatively heavy drinkers; it is a crap shoot), since he could have smoked weed, which has never killed anyone or driven anyone to drooling idiocy status. Oh, but if he had opted for weed, he could deserve no sympathy since he knew it was illegal. Or, both deserve no sysmpathy because they could have not altered their mood at all. They could have eaten too much. Or have been without need of any diversionary experiences at all.

    Yeah. It is up to the state to make us perfect little Purtitans, and if we are not, no sympathy.

    –Mona–

  23. Dan-
    Mo mentioned sodomy. How do you feel about those who were imprisoned for committing homosexual acts back when they were still illegal? Do you also have no sympathy for them, on the grounds that they could have just chosen to masterbate instead?

  24. Dan,

    Setting aside your casual dismissal of other people getting screwed by the government for no good reason, it is important to legalize pot because of the violence that inevitably occurs when $1 billion year is diverted into international black markets. Although since that violence isn’t in your suburb, you probably don’t give a shit about that, either.

  25. Dan said: ?Well, the arrest rate for possession for marijuana users works out to around one arrest per 25 users per year…. Are my odds of getting away with it better because of the economic and demographic bracket I’m in? Sure.?

    As I mentioned in my post you?re quoting, there are a lot of factors that would make those odds much much smaller. One is not being a complete idiot about where you get your weed or how you use it. Another is the state or town you?re living in. Obviously others include things like race and socioeconomic status. I?m guessing the hypothetical lawyer spoken of earlier, especially one in California, has about zero chance of getting caught if he?s a bit careful.

    ?Look, if you think the risks are worth it, fine. Smoke weed. Just don’t expect any sympathy if bad things happen to you because of your choice.?

    I dunno, I kind of think anyone thrown in prison for doing something that should never have been illegal in the first place deserves at least some sympathy. But that?s just me?.

    ?The argument “it is very important that we legalize pot” loses pretty much all of its steam if you turn around and argue that really not much of anybody goes to jail for it anyway. It pretty much relegates “the war on pot” to the end of the line where social injustices are concerned.?

    Another reason why the war on pot (and other drugs) is most definitely an important social injustice issue, in addition to the ones others have already mentioned in response to your post, is that the argument that you won?t go to jail works well for our rich white lawyer friend. It doesn?t work nearly as well for his poor black inner-city counterpart. This difference in convictions and sentences is of course not unique to drug-related crimes, but in the case of the drug war the differences are well-documented and _huge_.

  26. Yeah, blaming the poor flatfoot isn’t right. Lots of them would love to not have to chase around stoners, and do real police work instead, but they can’t say that.

    See “Catholic Church,” “Culture of Dissent,” “Undesireable Outcomes.”

  27. DAN: Because the truth of the matter is that smoking pot IS stupid. Not because it’s bad for you, but because it’s illegal. Unless something in you really *needs* to get high — which I’d pretty much call “addiction” — why risk your job and/or your freedom in order to do it?

    SinC: My job is not at risk from using pot, since none of my customer base believes I should be subject to arrest and imprisonment for using pot.
    Further, given my level of education on this topic (and I consider myself in ‘expert’ status) it is extremely difficult for law enforcement to arrest me legally, so therefore any loss of freedom would be short lived presuming honesty from law enforcement involved.

    DAN: The argument “it is very important that we legalize pot” loses pretty much all of its steam if you turn around and argue that really not much of anybody goes to jail for it anyway

    SinC: Almost 2000 people a day are imprisoned for simple possession of marijuana in the USA. Many achieve release within same day, while others languish for longer periods. I don’t know if you’ve ever been incarcerated, but I think you would agree that for the average bear, even a 1-3 day stay in jail could be devastating.

    Additionally, references to California laws etc mean little to someone in other more draconian states, including my own, where possession of just 21 grams (about a pack of cigarettes) results in a felony charge. A felony conviction in Florida means a lifetime ban on voting and a lengthy list of professions which you will be barred from for life.

    Finally, I would AGREE with your comment that those arrested deserve little ‘sympathy’ IF law enforcement is:

    a)honestly doing all aspects of their job related to the arrest
    b)Not racially profiling to initiate an encounter with a citizen, as many agencies routinely still do.

    If you want to use marijuana in the USA today, you should be responsible enough to learn basic harm reduction steps, which if applied consistently will result in you being like me, and that is extremely unlikely to be arrested thru legal means. Failure to learn and apply those steps means you are primarily responsible for your being arrested, so don’t bitch.

    Further, if you want to use marijuana in the USA today without fear of arrest, then you better be making regular donations of time and/or money to those people and organizations who are actively working to change the law. Failure to do that tells me you like marijuana laws just the way they are.

  28. A related comment would be:

    Don’t bitch about cops who arrest people for marijuana possession as long as they do their job legally and they do not racially profile otherwise law abiding citizens.

    To do so suggests to me that you want police who, when directly confronted with a crime, will ignore the law and their job responsibilities.

    I sure don’t want that and I’m disappointed if you do.

  29. Nice commenting Steve.

    Further, if you want to use marijuana in the USA today without fear of arrest, then you better be making regular donations of time and/or money to those people and organizations who are actively working to change the law. Failure to do that tells me you like marijuana laws just the way they are.

    Yes, the insurance for Seattle Hempfest went from $3,500 per event to $50,000 per, something about terrorism is causing the grief. The nations largest annual drug policy reform rally needs your help. Let me throw in another shameless plug, Hempfest doesn’t rely on any goverment subsidy other than use of the public park. Hempfest functions purely on private donations, vendor space fee’s and volunteerism.

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