Drug War

Is This Really the Best Prohibitionists Can Do?

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Last month I marveled at the inability of six former drug czars to muster a cogent argument against marijuana legalization in an 800-word Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. The Heritage Foundation gave Charles "Cully" Stimson eight times as much space, and the resulting hash further illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of drug prohibitionists. Stimson begins his case against Proposition 19, California's pot legalization initiative, by citing a three-decade-old paper written by Heritage policy analyst Stuart Butler that, in the style of that era's anti-pot propagandists, gathers every datum, anecdote, or rumor that reflects badly on marijuana into an undifferentiated heap:

It is all too common to hear of a marijuana user who appears to have lost all will to succeed….Marijuana use does appear to foster alientation, towards both the family and society in general. In school and college settings, the tendency of users to form subcultures hostile to prevailing social customs and activities is well known….After one to three years of continuous use the ability to think has become so impaired that a pathological form of thinking begins to take over the entire thought process.

And so on. Stimson apes Butler, hauling out pretty much every classic cannabis canard, including allegations about brain damage, memory loss, the lingering effects of THC, birth defects, immune system impairment, cancer, heart disease, violence, addiction, and escalation to cocaine and heroin. For a serious treatment of such issues, I'd recommend Mitch Earleywine's Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence or Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan's Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts.

Stimson's attempt to argue that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol is embarrassing. Although I have reservations about denigrating drinking in an attempt to legalize pot, there is no question that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol by several important measures, including the risk of acute poisoning, impairment of driving ability, and the health effects of long-term heavy use. Stimson asserts that alcohol is different from marijuana because "for most people, it is not addictive"; but according to the government's own survey data, that is also true of marijuana (and every other illegal drug). In fact, data from the National Cormorbidity Survey (PDF) indicate that drinkers are more likely than pot smokers to become addicts. Stimson also claims that alcohol, unlike marijuana, is "rarely consumed to the point of intoxication," which proves only that he does not know what intoxication means.

Cataloging every misleading, dubious, or flat-out wrong assertion that Stimson makes in the course of his excursion into marijuana policy is a daunting task. It would be easier to list all of the true things he says. Here is one that leaped out at me:

Charles D. "Cully" Stimson is a Senior Legal Fellow in the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

There may be a few more. Stimson is correct to note the tension between the tax windfall promised by Proposition 19's backers (an argument I have never found very appealing) and the goal of eliminating the black market. He is right that drug prohibition fosters violence (although he does not put it quite that way), and he's right that it's not clear exactly how a legal pot market will develop under the threat of federal prosecution (although it is clear that the feds do not have the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition throughout California on their own). But even in his ostensible area of expertise, Stimson helps perpetuate two constitutional myths: 1) that the Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to criminalize instrastate production and possession of marijuana (a theory he has told me he does not actually buy) and 2) that the Supremacy Clause requires states to impose their own criminal sanctions on people who violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. More on that fallacy here.

In an Alternet essay, Steve Fox, co-author of Marijuana Is Safer, refutes Stimson's claim that alcohol is. Fox calls Stimson's position paper "batshit crazy" and tells readers they'd better check it out for themselves while they can. "Because it is truly so absurd," he writes, "I believe it will be taken down from the site soon." For the sake of their cause, antiprohibitionists should hope Fox is wrong.

A couple of years ago, I debated drug policy with Stimson in the Los Angeles Times.

[Thanks to Bill Piper at the Drug Policy Alliance for the tip.]

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  1. And they missed the most-important argument for prohibition – protecting Bill O’Reilly’s kids!!!!1!!

    Sigh – I grow weary watching the War We Can Never Win go on, and on, and on…

    1. Are you kidding??? The “Drug War” is working just exactly as it was designed to work. It is providing employment to many thousands of people who would otherwise need to be doing something constructive and it is enriching those it is supposed to enrich. I might add, and most people should have figured this out by now, the truth of things counts for next to nothing in the scheme of things. The world does on operate on truth. And “liberty and justice for all” sounds like a really grim joke, all in all.

  2. 1) that the Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to criminalize instrastate production and possession of marijuana (a theory he has told me he does not actually buy) and 2) that the Supremacy Clause requires states to impose their own criminal sanctions on people who violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.

    (1) once sounded as stupid as (2) does today. Keep that in mind.

    1. Shhh, you’re scaring me.

  3. It is all too common to hear of a marijuana user who appears to have lost all will to succeed….

    I know how he feels. I earn a fairly good wage in a non-union aerospace job. I’m happily married with two highly energetic young children. I have a brown belt in judo and make it to the gym before work three days a week (the other two is judo practice after work). I wonder what my life would be like if I was actually ambitious. I think I knew once, but I forgot…

    1. Obviously you’d being trying to organize the place and get a cushy job of local rep.

    2. but how much stuff do you own? Only by that can anyone gauge success. Pfft, happiness. You’re not really happy. That’s the devil weed talking.

    3. Notice how the marihuana user is driven to defend his laziness? This is typical and oft-observed behavior, resulting from the warped world view directly caused by marihuana.

      1. Wow, talk about confirmation bias! The post above is a dictionary picture example of that phenomenon.

  4. This is not about facts. There will be no changes until the current generation of marijuana opponents are dead and buried. Scientific changes are rarely about facts; they usually only come with generational changes, when the younger generation gains power. Hard to sit and wait, but the fight here is for younger minds.

    1. There will be no changes until the current generation of marijuana opponents are dead and buried.

      Some hippie said this in 1966.

      1. lulz – exactly!

      2. A party loving guy like Clinton didn’t do anything to end the drug war.

    2. This is not about facts.

      Yeah, which is what makes Stimson’s pathetic attempt at pretending it is about facts pretty damn funny/sad.

  5. Can someone explain to me why the Heritage Foundation published such an error-riddled rant as this?

    Special thanks to Heritage Intern Anthony Napolitano for his invaluable efforts in the researching, writing, and editing of this report

    YOU MEAN SOMEONE ACTUALLY RESEARCHED THE MAIN POINTS AND THEN STILL PUBLISHED THIS INSULT TO LOGICAL STANDARDS?

    1. That’s what interns are for, Tman: Doing the grunt work and taking the blame.

    2. Because socialism, that’s why.

      Don’t get into bed with the Heritage Foundation unless you like to be fucked with a Hitler strap-on, kids.

  6. So much for Keeping Dope Alive.

  7. “Children, drugs are bad, mmmmkay?”

  8. “It is all too common to hear of a marijuana user who appears to have lost all will to succeed….”

    LOL. How pot-use work out for the past few presidents? How about Bill Gates? Ted Turner? Bloomberg? Countless successful, hard working muscians, artists, and actors? Michael Phelps? Michael-freaking-Phelps the most decorated olympic athlete of all time!?!? Al Gore!?!?…The man gave us the internet AND saved the planet from certain flooding!!

    Of course there are the roughly 100-or-so-million Americans, most of which are middle class and above, hardworking, tax-paying, and family-oriented. Then again, we Americans do keep electing the same morons over and over again… so maybe the anti-pot folks are on to something…

    1. But come one, we’ve all heard that stereotype.

      That means it must be true right?

    2. Good god, if smoking pot will cause Nanny Bloomberg to lose all will, I’m buying.

  9. It is all too common to hear of a marijuana user who appears to have lost all will to to go get hammered at a bar when they can watch HD on Demand at home safely….Marijuana use does appear to foster a much needed break from both the family and society in general. In school and college settings, the tendency of users to form subcultures that go to the beach, parks, concerts, or just hang out and stuff are prevailing social customs and activities is well known….After one to three years of continuous use the ability to tolerate the hyperbolic, utter nonsense vomitted up by Drug Warriors has no rational place in one’s entire thought process.

  10. I was always a beer/liquor guy in college, and had bought into some just say no propaganda enough to have largely avoided pot in college. I had friends who were enthusiasts, but didn’t ever get into it myself, and was probably offered a hit about 4 times in college.

    The fifth time was at my first real job, where an after-work happy hour at the sports bar had moved to one of the marketing guys’ house. At this point, a bong is produced, and two marketing guys, the director of marketing, the director of product development, and the VP of sales all start taking hits. Of the two that I’m still in contact with, both own their own companies or consultancies, and are doing very well.

    All of these people were connected with society, worked hard, and were pretty awesome.

    I still didn’t try pot until I was about 30, and decided that if I was going to keep advocating for its legality, I probably should get some first hand experience. It’s OK, I guess, but I still prefer beer or bourbon. Certainly it’s not a menace to society.

    1. Never tried it, see no reason to let that prevent me from advocating for its legality.

      Ive never smoked ANYTHING and plan on keeping it that way.

      1. Vaporize that shit.

  11. Only drawback I can think of,someone needs to invent Diet Pot.

    1. That’s called Mexican middy brick schwag, I think.

  12. Stimson apes Butler, hauling out pretty much every classic cannabis canard, including allegations about brain damage, memory loss, the lingering effects of THC, birth defects, immune system impairment, cancer, heart disease, violence, addiction, and escalation to cocaine and heroin.

    The forgot about the one that it makes want to hang out with black people.

    1. I thought integration of the races was a good thing.

      1. Are you serious? If white people started hanging out with black people, white people might learn to dress and dance better.

        1. Nah, white boys got no rhythm.

          1. No man alive is whiter than Neil Peart. (I know you’re joking, but he really is.)

            1. Neil’s not white; he’s clear.

              1. And still has no rhythm.

                He’s a fucking metronome and is more accurate at keeping time than an atomic clock, but he has no feel.

                A better example would be Gavin Harrison.

                1. Terry Bozzio all the way.

    2. Hold on, there… some of us “black people” are just as drug-warriorworthy as white people!

      1. Rangel is openly white. He just happens to be black.

  13. batshit crazy

    Best English term invented in the last 50 years.

  14. Is This Really the Best Prohibitionists Can Do?

    No, but I believe another Gin & Tonic will inspire me further.

  15. Just what we need. Drug crazed negros raping white women. We should start executing these pot heads… for the children.

  16. Hasn’t Heritage given space to the pro-legalization argument in the past?

    1. Unless that argument is actually close to threatening the status quo…

  17. I was going to finish reading this post, but then I got high.

  18. Pot has been known to impair the thinking of prohibitionists who avoid using it.

  19. Remember kids, Just Say No. Drugs are Bad. Evil.

    But first, if you could take this Ritalin to help “calm you down” because, like, you have too much energy! Unmanageable these kids! While you do that, Mommy’s gonna go pop a downer and take a nap.

    So, remember kids, don’t do drugs! Especially mind-altering ones…unless WE tell you to.

  20. The prohibitionists are constantly setting low personal standards and then failing to achieve them.

    Prohibition is making the situation far worse than it would ever be under proper legalized regulation of any of these substances. Stimson’s support of drug prohibition provides the money gangs use to buy guns, and the money that the enemies of this great nation use to finance hijackings & bombings. Taking away their drug money by regulating drugs for adult use will strike a blow to crime at every level. This is none other than sound public policy.

    Alcohol prohibition in the US run from 1919 to 1933 – Now google ‘The Great Wall Street Crash’ and see when that happened!

    Note to all supporters of prohibition: if your argument sounds ridiculous even to you, and to such an extent that you don’t even want your name attached to it, then save us all the trouble of reading your silly nonsense and find yourselves another lost cause. I know you feel it sucks to see support for your beloved prohibition fading rapidly, but your stupid ideas are what got us into this mess in the first place, so to continue to spew your cognitive dissonance isn’t going help at all.

    To support prohibition is such a strange mind-set. In fact, It’s outrageous insanity! –Literally not one prohibitionist argument survives scrutiny. Not one!

  21. Yes, that really is the best they can do. Prohibition is morally bankrupt as well as a complete practical failure.

    There is no longer even such a thing as a “good faith” position in favor of it. Anyone who backs continuing prohibition is either ignorant or willfully malicious.

    1. Considering what prohibition has done to erode civil liberties and to degrade our constitution, I consider prohibitionists to be traitors.

  22. Stimson also claims that alcohol, unlike marijuana, is “rarely consumed to the point of intoxication”

    …..

    ……….

    Seriously… I challenge any reasonable human being to read that out loud without dissolving into giggles.

    1. Or tears as the sheer stupidity of it.

  23. I didn’t realize alcohol didn’t cause birth defects. Now I can tell my friend’s pregnant wife that it’s cool if she does shots with us.

  24. It is all too common to hear of a marijuana user who appears to have lost all will to succeed….

    That’s not a ‘stereotype’, that’s real. And if you smoke, you know that guy. He spends 99% of his time baked.

    Of course, the guy who spends 99% of his time sloshed has a whole lot of problems as well–but we learned our lesson about banning alchohol(after creating a ‘booze’ culture that is the twin of the ‘drug’ culture).

    How hard is it to see that using the actions of abusers to describe the norm doesn’t work at all? Jack the Ripper used knives to cut up his victims, should cutting people up be considered the normal reaction to being handed a knife?

    1. That’s not a ‘stereotype’, that’s real. And if you smoke, you know that guy. He spends 99% of his time baked.

      That guy would be sitting on the couch, high or not. It’s not that pot makes people lazy, it’s that lazy people really like pot. I’m speaking from ongoing experience — in both laziness and stonyness.

      Generally agree with your post, but the “pot makes you lazy” thing actually is a bunch of shit.

  25. I thought I had mentally prepared myself for the tsunami of bullshit that was going to hit for the anti-Prop 19 campaign. I was wrong. I find myself regularly screaming at the radio and television whenever the prop is covered. It is really fucking amazing how many outight lies a person can get out of his or her mouth in one sentence.

  26. “Marijuana use does appear to foster alientation, towards both the family and society in general. In school and college settings, the tendency of users to form subcultures hostile to prevailing social customs and activities is well known…”

    Has it ever occured to these goons that the existence of an entire government apperatus designed to ruin the lives of people who chose to use a relatively harmless drug, based entirely on lies and misinformation, might be one of the reasons for this alienation? And of course, normal teenagers and young adults who don’t use pot NEVER feel alienated. I mean really, alienation is practically a given in this age range anyway.

    And regarding alienation from one’s family. I would again argue that when this happens, it has more to do with the lies and misinformation spread about the drug than anything else. It results in shame and judgement, which is a recipe for conflict if a parent and their children are operating on different wave lengths.

    If pot were legal and accepted among society, not just subcultures of users and in popular culture, would it still be associated with counter-culture behavior and alienation? Doubtful.

    And of course three years of continuous use will have some effect on a person’s cognative abilities. Although everything I’ve read on the subject indicates nothing permanent. But compare the habitual drinker to the habitual pot smoker after three years. My guess is the former will be in much worse shape than the latter.

    I don’t even know why I still take these arguments seriously.

  27. the Supremacy Clause requires states to impose their own criminal sanctions on people who violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.

    But, I thought that it prohibited states from imposing their own sanction on people who violate the federal immigration laws.

    Color me confused.

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