Speed Freaks Are Scarier, but There Are a Lot More Potheads

|

Marijuana is the most serious drug problem in America! No, methamphetamine is! Hey, can't we just agree that they're both serious problems?

That's the thrust of an ongoing spat among drug warriors in which both sides are right and both sides are wrong. It is entertaining to hear federal officials urging Congress not to be swept along by the latest drug panic, while state and local officials ridicule the Bush administration for its obsession with marijuana. Those who want more money for anti-meth efforts argue that speed is worse than pot. Those who defend the current priorities argue that, while marijuana may not be as bad as meth, it leads to meth and other scary drugs. Then there is the question of effectiveness:

"It seems to be very unlikely that increasing attention to marijuana is going to greatly affect marijuana use, but getting out in front of meth while the epidemic is still in the nascent stages might," Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at U.C.L.A. and director of the university's drug policy analysis project, said in an interview.

But Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said, "If you don't reduce the use of marijuana, you can't possibly reduce illegal drug use because marijuana is far and away the most used drug."

In other words, if the government targets a drug that is not very popular, it is more likely to be successful, but not in a way that will make a noticeable dent in overall drug use. What to do, what to do? Continue to argue, I hope, but I suspect the Bush administration will feel compelled to get alarmed about meth, and pretty soon the president will be following in his father's footsteps by holding up a plastic bag of whitish chunks on TV. Since meth is not big in D.C., though, the DEA may have trouble luring a dealer into Lafayette Park.

[Thanks to Alan Vanneman for the link.]

NEXT: Taking a Gamble

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I’ve been smoking pot for about ten years now. When am I going to walk through that “gateway” and start using other drugs?

  2. Marijuana tastes great, but meth is less filling. That is why the Prez is hung up on steroids – he can’t choose between the recreational drugs.

    In my opinion, the true gateway drug is life itself. Once you pop out of the womb you will try a lot of different things to find out what makes you happy. When the government reaches the same conclusion they will end their asinine war on drugs. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of this great awakening.

  3. Barely through my third cup of coffee and second cigarette and I am bombarded by two weirdnesses involving drugs (I’m counting the previous item on smoking courtesy) of Mr. Sullum.

    Jacob Sullum is going to drive me to drink before noon. Think I’ll sue for possible liver damage. Now what did I do with that hypodermic….

  4. Sometimes I wonder–that idiot Reagan really thought he was doing the right thing when he declared war on drugs. Would he still have done it if he knew what would happen as a result? Cold medicines become prescription-only; innocent people beaten or killed in bungled SWAT raids; pain doctors jailed for prescribing pain medication; sick people thus denied the medicine they need to make their lives bearable; the US having the highest prison population in the free world, with something like one-eighth of all prisoners in the WORLD being jailed in the US on drug charges. . . would he still have thought the “war” worth fighting?

  5. whoever said meth ain’t big in dc never hung out with GWU med students.

  6. What they’re going to do is simply increase spending and go after both. Since when did budgetary issues stop this White House from doing anything?

    Those who defend the current priorities argue that, while marijuana may not be as bad as meth, it leads to meth and other scary drugs.

    As an aside, it was nice to hear Max Kellerman on ESPN Radio yesterday arguing against the “leads to” rationale. He wasn’t denying that MJ might “lead to”, but was saying that alcohol also “leads to” and thus the “leads to” argument gives no support for making MJ illegal while keeping alcohol legal. (It came up in a discussion concerning Randy Moss’s MJ use vs. his position as a role model, which Kellerman was reacting to with a “so what? we all drink too…and are casual drinkers banned from being role models?”

  7. Crush,
    “Once you pop out of the womb you will try a lot of different things to find out what makes you happy. When the government reaches the same conclusion they will end their asinine war on drugs. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of this great awakening.”

    The womb isn’t the problem. The government needs to pop it’s head out of it’s ass….

  8. [Apologies for the long post. Promise I won’t do it again.]

    I offer, for what it’s worth (not much), my plan for a comprehensive drug law reform program. Note that my ideas are NOT truly libertarian because they require government involvement. So, JMoore’s Drug Laws…

    Instead of arbitrarily banning substances, legalize them all, with some stipulations:

    1. Quality of drug must be controlled to assure no harmful contaminants (like alcohol currently is).

    2. The drug may only be sold in conjunction with its preferred delivery system (as alcohol and nicotine currently are). The reason for this is to eliminate the dangers inherent in heroin use, among others. Under my drug law, it would be illegal to sell heroin, but a dealer could sell a sterile syringe loaded with it.

    3. No drug delivery system may contain a pure drug. The reason for this is that, since most users of coke, etc, are used to greatly diluted stuff, it would be best not to turn them loose on pure material or we might have a series of overdoses littering the streets. Besides, with the legal drugs (alcohol, tobacco), part or most of the “fun” is in the other ingredients.

    4. Everything to be taxed, but not too high. High taxes create black markets which will not hesitate to skirt rules 1-3, above.

    5. All drugs must contain highly-visible warnings appropriate to their unique qualities. The proposed warnings for some selected drugs are as follows:

    Heroin–“Warning! This shit will fuck you up today, tomorrow, and next year. Use this shit and you could become a filthy junkie, and if you do, you will lie in alleyways all day while rats piss on you and chew away your fingers. Think before you use this, you stupid chickenfucker!”

    Alcohol–“Warning! This will make you drunk. If you’re pregnant, it could kill your baby. Use too much and you will say stupid things, do stupid things, and you might just get yourself in more trouble than you ever thought possible. Don’t be stupid!”

    Cocaine–“Warning! This will make your friends hate you because you won’t be able to shut up. Use it too often, and you may stop using anything else, including food. Do not smoke or inject this because it’s a sign of being a dumbass. You don’t want to be a dumbass, do you? Caution: may also cause nosebleeds.”

    Nicotine–“Warning! Although this drug is seldom dangerous in single uses, prolonged use will kill you in a slow, painful, and utterly gruesome way (see attached picture of lung cancer autopsy). It will also make you stink like a sewer.”

    Marijuana–“This will get you stoned and make you unable to operate heavy machinery. You may also get somewhat paranoid. Some evidence suggests it may shrivel your balls (if you’re a guy, of course).”

  9. Jennifer ..

    .. Reagan may have ramped up the effort, but, if I recall, it was our buddy Nixon who first declared “war on drugs” ..

    .. we’ve been fighting for freedom for a lot longer than you may think . .

    .. Hobbit

  10. In other words, if the government targets a drug that is not very popular, it is more likely to be successful, but not in a way that will make a noticeable dent in overall drug use.

    Right – Califano’s not concerned with outcomes, just use. He’s pissed that someone, somewhere is getting high. It’s intolerable to him.

  11. I’ve been smoking pot for about ten years now. When am I going to walk through that “gateway” and start using other drugs?

    Want to do some coke at the Manhattan Hit & Runner convention on the subway platform in late August/early September?

    KIDDING, kidding!!!

  12. Crushinator,

    When will they realize that the true gateways to drugs are authority figures and annoying nannies? Lord knows that’s what drove me to the weed.

    Jennifer,

    I stepped through the gateway. Several times. And loved it. But the only reason I could is because the guys with the keys to the pot gateway also had the keys to the acid, X, heroine, opium, speed, shroom, special K, mesclin and cocaine gateways. By the way kids. It’s not crack if you cook it yourself and roll it in a joint (white guy drug rationalization #125).

    The drug warriors have turned pot into a gateway drug. They pushed it underground so it is black-marketed alongside stronger stuff. Then, they over hype the danger so when you inevitably try it and find it to be benign, you question everything you’ve heard about every other drug.I was in DARE for fuck sake. Once I found out they were full of shit about weed, I tried it all.

  13. Since meth is not big in D.C.

    Where the heck is meth “big”? I see anti-meth messages on every goddamn telephone booth in Manhattan lately – yet I have never known anyone to use it.

  14. Interesting how Kleiman himself describes this story.

    Anon

  15. Rhywun

    I’ll bet you saw more of those signs in Chelsea and the Village, didn’t you? It has apparently been a big scare in the gay commune for the last couple of years.

  16. ralphus,

    You described the gateway dynamic very well. If the authorities did not make such a big fuss about weed then no one else would either. The more they tell you to “ignore the man behind the curtain” the more you feel compelled to look behind the curtain. When you find out the wizard is no scary monster, but rather a harmless avunculoid, you conclude that all of the drug prohibitions are total bullshit.

    Please fogive me for regurgitating your comment. Remember – imitation is the the sincerest form of flatulence.

  17. Jemez–

    Yes, Nixon started it but the whole ting seemed to be fizzling out in the Seventies; back then there were a lot of people who assumed that at least pot would be legal by 1990. Reagan breathed new life into the WOD, and Reagan was the one who decided drugs were so eeeeeeevil that Americans should have to sacrifice their dignity and pee on command to test for them.

  18. The idiot factor in the whole gateway/worst-drug-ever controversy is that if all the pot and meth in the world evaporated today, they’d be replaced by tomorrow. There are way too many substances that actually or supposedly get people high to ever make progress by prohibition. Even if prohibition worked, which it never has.

  19. Cannabis warning: “May make you fat, or defeat any anorexic/bulimic urges.”

    Re the failure of mj decrim, it’s all the fault of that damned Carter staffer for snorting the coke. (There’s logic for you.) Or maybe Carter was just an easily embarrassed, roll-over pussy (Selective Service, anyone?).

  20. I believe the drug wars got off to a bright shining start in 1914 when the Harrison narcotic act was passed. In other bad news from that decade the 16th ammendment formalizing income taxes was passed in 1913. So the 1910s were not a very good decade for freedom.

    If you had told me in the mid 1980s, when the new improved drug war was kicking off, that we would end up were we are today (cold medicine by prescription, etc) I would have thought you were crazy. These days I find myself wondering just how far these bats**t crazy drug warriors are willing to go.

    This is reason number 1,335 I detest the traditional news media. They have never done any honest research or reporting on on the actual effectiveness of drug prohibition. What they have done is happily regurgitate every hyped up bs crisis the drug warriors have fed them. I don’t trust their reports on the drug war, on the environment, on economic issues, on social issues, on technolgy issues. Almost any report they do will probably have a thimble full of truth in a 5 gallon bucket of breathless bulls**t.

  21. Rhywun-It’s very big along the I-5 corridor in WA OR and CA. The west seems to have more of it mostly because it’s easier to make meth out in the woods than it is in the middle of a residential area. They still do, of course. I dunno, maybe growing up down the street from a meth house has poisoned me against this fight, but I have a really difficult time getting upset about meth cookers and dealers getting busted. A meth house can render the surrounding areas uninhabitable for years after the fact, and cost the owners a significant sum of money to clean up, if indeed it can be fixed. My grandfather more or less lost a house that he rented out because some of his tenants were cooking meth inside. The police were slow to act when he complained, so the house was seriously damaged. As a result, it’s difficult fir me to muster any sympathy for anyone involved in the meth trade.

  22. This is reason number 1,335 I detest the traditional news media. They have never done any honest research or reporting on on the actual effectiveness of drug prohibition.

    I think you’d be surprised. My experience has been that people in the nooze biz tend to either drink, smoke, or (to a somewhat lesser extent) toke.

  23. Larry A,
    You are so right. The list of stuff to get high on is endless, as is the media’s capacity for hysteria about it. Have you seen the news articles about the horrible epidemic of cough syrup abuse that’s creeping upon our vulnerable youth as we speak? I thought I was going to die laughing when I read some newspaper hyperventilating that thirty percent of kids had tried cough syrup at least once!

  24. Mediageek,

    Usual disclaimers about disliking institutions and not individuals, etc.

    I know there are people who drink, smoke and partake of their favorite intoxicants in the news media. I am sure a good portion of people within the news media realize what an ineffective disaster the drug war has been.

    However, for the news media as an institution the template for the bulk of the reporting on this issue has been to regurgitate the latest press release from the DEA, ONDCP, or anti addiction advocacy group followed by breathless stories on what the disaster substance of the week is. All of this is done while completely ignoring the costs of the drug war approach to the problem.

  25. Until some genius can think of a way for all the drug warriors and all the grandstanders to “save face” AND find other paying work, nothing will change.

    There’s no sense arguing against them — somewhere deep in their reptile brains they know they’re wrong. Just find them something to do, and a way to bow out of the argument gracefully, as though they “won” somehow.

    Pride and vested financial interests are all that’s left of the Drug War, but they’re the two most intractable elements of any weird paradigm.

  26. Knocking down simplistic gateway theories does no one any good.

    There are seven possible versions of the gateway. A couple of them are indeed plausible.

  27. Where the heck is meth “big”? I see anti-meth messages on every goddamn telephone booth in Manhattan lately – yet I have never known anyone to use it.

    There’s been tons of it in California for years and years. I lived in San Diego county in the mid and late 90’s and it was everywhere. OF course, the estimates were surely overblown (on the news one night they said 1 in 7 adults in SD County was a meth addict! And this was in 97-98 or so).

    Go any hideous desert town in eastern Calif and you’ll probably breathe some in through the air vents at any bar or restaurant you might chance upon.

  28. True. And that is a disconnect I found myself wondering about on more than one occassion.

    Perhaps it isn’t ignorance. They know the facts about the drug war, but for whatever reason do not report them.

  29. Yup, now kids are even choking themselves to unconsciousness to get a high. Poor kids must not have any connexions. That’s why I never understood huffing paint or something…I could always get real drugs, why would I want to do that?

    Meth is huge here in AZ…I’ve known a shitload of meth heads. Of course, that could partly be because of the circles I seem to find myself.

    Anyway, the authorities are fucking assholes. I used to wonder if they’re simply deluded, but I actually think they’re evil.

  30. “A meth house can render the surrounding areas uninhabitable for years after the fact, and cost the owners a significant sum of money to clean up, if indeed it can be fixed.”

    What exactly are the toxic byproducts?

  31. Maurkov- It depends on the process, but often the chemicals that are used to produce meth can be absorbed into the wood and carpets of the house that it’s produced in. If the levels in the house are high enough, the health department can require the owner to tear the house down and dispose of it as toxic waste. If the chemicals are dumped into the soil, and it is above a certain level deemed safe by the muncipal or state government, then it has to be removed and replaced. And, if it’s too high, or over too great an area, then they can just declare it too polluted and refuse to allow any use of the land whatsoever.

  32. Where the heck is meth “big”?

    I believe my native state of Missouri is Number One in production — woo hoo! But mostly out in the hinterlands away from the cities, I gather. I still don’t know if there are any big users here.

    I know a guy who runs a small resort out in Lake of the Ozarks. He says he occasionally runs across a probable meth manufacturer/dealer there — they typically have huge, fast boats (“cigarette” boats), no teeth, and a couple female hangers-on of the “rode hard and put away wet/butterface” variety. “No teeth” of course is the infamouts “meth mouth.” Which would only suggest the manufacturers are the biggest users.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.