Drug Legalization

Prohibition: The Real Reefer Madness

The nation's drug warriors plow ahead, driven by fear of a world where addicts clog the gutters.

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Seeking to scare the public away from legalizing the stuff, the Obama administration notes that in 2009, marijuana was "involved in" 376,000 emergency-room visits nationwide. Be afraid, be very afraid: This represents less than 0.3 of 1 percent of all ER visits, and 3.3 million fewer visits than are caused annually by recreational sports. Figures such as those help explain why voters in Washington and Colorado were not frightened, and passed referenda decriminalizing pot.

Oregon rejected a similar measure, just as California did two years ago. But the tide may be turning. On Tuesday, five Michigan cities (Detroit, Flint, Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo) and Burlington, Vt., also passed measures relaxing pot laws. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have approved marijuana for medical use.

Americans are of two minds—at least—about what people should be allowed to put in their bodies. Paternalists in New York; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Richmond, California; and the offices of groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest think government should restrict your soft-drink intake. Tobacco smokers are the new Untouchables. But marijuana has a countercultural vibe and is not sold by huge multinational corporations—at least not legal ones, at least not yet. So even though it is bad for you, many progressives do not see much wrong with it.

Illegal multinationals do sell pot, however—quite a bit of it—and it is surprising that Mexican drug cartels did not create super-PACs to lobby against legalization this fall. According to one Mexican think tank, legalizing pot in all three states on Tuesday would have "cut the cartels' income by … about 23 percent." A RAND analysis reached a similar conclusion about California's pot proposition two years ago.

Mexican drug lords aren't the only ones who would see their finances affected. Three decades ago, one incarcerated person out of 10 was a nonviolent drug offender. The ratio is now up to one in four. Marijuana offenders make up only a slice of that slice, yet Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron still estimates that legalizing the wacky weed would save nearly $9 billion a year. Legalizing all drugs would save $41 billion.

But at least that money is well-spent, right? Er, um. … Since 2005, federal spending on the war on drugs has risen 25 percent in nominal terms. Also since 2005, the rate of illegal drug use has risen 10 percent. Marijuana use "is the highest it has been in eight years," the Obama administration noted last year.

Little wonder, then, that U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske admitted two years ago the drug war he spearheads "has not been successful." Or that last year the Global Commission on Drug Policy—whose commissioners include former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former Secretary of State George Schultz—agreed the war on drugs "has failed." Or that this July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also said "the war on drugs, while well-intentioned, has been a failure."

Despite all this, the nation's drug warriors plow ahead, driven by the fear that doing otherwise would be inviting a world where addicts would clog the gutters and third-graders could buy smack at the corner quick-mart. They ought to look at Portugal.

Portugal decriminalized drugs—even the hardest ones—11 years ago. Offenders are now cited for administrative rather than criminal transgressions. A 2009 Cato Institute paper by Slate's Glen Greenwald examined what has happened in Portugal since. And?

The worst fears of drug-war hawks never materialized. Drug use has remained steady or, "in many categories, has actually decreased." HIV infection rates and drug-related mortality rates have dropped. The bogeyman of drug tourism—in which "planeloads of students" fly to Portugal to toke up or shoot up—never showed up. In short, "none of the parade of horrors" predicted by opponents came to pass, while "many of the benefits" predicted by advocates did.

This likely is because "decriminalization was never seen as a concession to the inevitability of drug abuse. To the contrary, it was, and is, seen as the most effective government policy for reducing addiction and its accompanying harms." Persons caught with drugs in Portugal are brought before "dissuasion commissions" whose "overriding goal" is to "avoid the stigma that arises from criminal proceedings. … At all times, respect for the alleged offender is emphasized." Those found to have a substance problem are sent to treatment rather than prison.

That's a sharp contrast to the approach in most of the United States, where the federal government "steadfastly opposes drug legalization." So says the current administration, headed by a man who brags that he once "inhaled (marijuana) frequently" because "that was the point." At least his inhaling had a point, which is more than you can say for our jail-'em-and-forget-'em drug policy.

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  1. Luckily, now that the whole election junk is out of the way, Obama can de-schedule marijuana and pardon all the non-violent offenders in prison!

    1. Luckily, now that the whole election junk is out of the way, Obama can de-schedule marijuana and pardon all the non-violent offenders in prison! double down on the drug war, file lawsuites against the states of CO and WA, and send DEA goon squads into those states to break some heads

      Whoo, I am tired after all of that fixin.

    2. You say this with sarcasm, yet people actually whole heartedly believe that statement. When the goon squads inevitably show up, people may finally see behind the curtain.

      1. I am sort of counting on an ugly showdown here, that will unite more people behind state rights. I was being sarcastic, but also actually believe the statement to be based somewhat in reality.

        1. Nope. His apologists will say, without missing a beat, that he still secretly wants to end the WoD, but it would damage the dem brand forever b/c of all those horrible law’n’order conservatives, so he’s forced to keep up the thing going so that dems everywhere don’t get painted w/ the “soft on crime” touch of death.

          And yes, I have actually heard this from somebody. Granted, it was on the internet, so god only knows if it was a real lefty, or a troll. Sad that I can’t tell the difference.

          1. Had the same discussion/ mild argument with my wife on election night. She said Obama can’t just unilaterally end the WoD, because the GOP/conservatives/Christian Right would plotz. I explained that he is the CEO, and he could send a memo out to the DOJ, DEA, FBI, ATF, etc. stating that it is now the policy of the USA to not investigate, enforce, or prosecute people for crimes involving marijuana. After all, she agrees that Bush was able to unilaterally start two wars. The Prez can do all sorts of shit. He can start a war in an afternoon, he sure as shit can end the WoD in an afternoon.

            I’m not sure she understands. Cognitive dissonance.

            1. Presidents are allowed to start wars, not end wars, unless the war is won.

              /sarcasm

            2. she agrees that Bush was able to unilaterally start two wars.

              I must have missed the constitutional amendment we passed that merged both houses of congress with the executive branch.

              Inb4 “THE ATUMF WASN’T A REAL WAR DECLARATION!” (Congress was also forced to continue funding as well, since the executive controls the purse strings in our system)

    3. He’d never do this to the public sector employee unions. Nope, gotta keep them jails packed with fresh minorities or else we might have a fiscal cliff of some kind! The Prison-Industrial Complex never forgives and it never forgets.

  2. Three decades ago, one incarcerated person out of 10 was a nonviolent drug offender. The ratio is now up to one in four.

    Since this is a claim frequently disputed by drug warriors, it would be nice to cite a source. Is it coming from the RAND analysis alluded to in the previous paragraph?

  3. Please, DEA, raid a WA state pot store once they get them set up. I want to see the state police arrest some DEA agents. Oh man, I really want to see that. Will it happen? I don’t know. But I want it to.

    1. That would be very interesting indeed. I wonder why nobody has tried it in California.

      1. CA pot stores aren’t run by the state. Critical difference.

        1. That’s sad, though. That the state only protects its own interest.

          1. “the state only protects its own interest.”

            Sad, yes. But kinda at the core of the Libertarian ethos. Right up there with “government does things badly”.

          2. That’s sad, though. That the state only protects its own interest.

            Why would a large criminal gang protect something other than its own interest?

    2. That is really the kind of confrontation I am looking for as well. Arrest the DEA agents for theft and destruction of state property. What a glorious mess that would be.

      1. Wouldn’t work – federal courts would step in to order the release of all the federal agents. Obama would then send in troops if necessary to enforce the federal courts – and he’d have the state officials arrested and prosecuted. And the jurors would be solemnly told that the morality of it all is irrelevant. Assuming they use jurors at all instead of a series of injunctions which don’t need juries for enforcement.

        1. That would be some great entertainment – a deep blue state getting crushed by Obama drug warriors.

          I wonder if anyone would learn anything?

          1. Nope. “The Republicans made them do it!”

            1. “They learned it by watching Dems!!!”

        2. Obama would then send in troops if necessary to enforce the federal courts – and he’d have the state officials arrested and prosecuted. And the jurors would be solemnly told that the morality of it all is irrelevant.

          If the jurors came from the Seattle area, they would likely vote to acquit, unless the feds pulled some stuff during voir dire to excuse anyone who is a liberal.

  4. It’s time to get into the drone biz. I see a whole new fleet of drones on the horizon with CO and WA states names on them.

    1. 1. Americans have a right to bear arms.
      2. Drones are arms.
      3. Americans have a right to bear drones.

      1. Think Home Depot sells DIY drone kits?

        1. They will soon enough, once they realize it’s legal.

        2. They would make a great Heath Kit

          1. We had one of those TVs. My dad built it into the wall of our den, with access to the back in the closet of his office on the other side of the wall.

      2. Maybe so. But we definitely would drone bears if we felt threatened. Sarah Palin has probably done this already.

        1. Caribou drones?

  5. What!? Legalize marijuana and take away jobs from all those people in Mexico that are just trying to earn a living? Where’s the ACLU???

    1. I thought was disbanded when Obama was elected?

    2. They’re doing the jobs Americans won’t do!

  6. Hey. Anyone here wanna get high?

    1. Go away, we know who you are, Leonhart, you beeootch.

  7. This represents less than 0.3 of 1 percent of all ER visits, and 3.3 million fewer visits than are caused annually by recreational sports.

    …and since smoking pot greatly decreases the likelihood of one participating in recreational sports, shouldn’t we encourage more pot use, not less?

  8. Maybe Obama is evolving on the issue.

  9. Obama administration notes that in 2009, marijuana was “involved in” 376,000 emergency-room visits nationwide.

    If emergency-room visits are REALLY a public concern, how many emergency-room visits was nice, safe, legal alcohol “involved in”?

    1. Chuck Schumer has assured them that only happens when you mix it with Red Bull.

        1. We all turn into asians?

    2. Yah, also why is that a problem since the miraculous new Obamacare will result in a 99% reduction in emgency room visits?

    3. Also, “involved” just means that the patient mentioned marijuana at some point while at the ER. It doesn’t mean that it had anything to do with why they were there.

  10. Obama administration notes that in 2009, marijuana was “involved in” 376,000 emergency-room visits nationwide.

    That’s out of about 136mm total ER visits, or, unless I botched a decimal, 2 tenths of one percent.

    1. Not only that, it is highly unlikely that MJ was the reason behind just about any of those visits. Often a patient will have a serum toxicology screen when brought into the ER, and it might be positive for cannibinoids. Some of my colleagues might then add “marijuana abuse” in the diagnosis list, along with the real reason for being there (I never do).

      For example, say someone comes the ER because they accidentally cut themselves while carving the T-giving turkey, and they need a few stitches. Perhaps a routine set of labs are sent including the tox screen. A positive MJ comes up, and so the doc adds “marijuana abuse” to “arm laceration” in the diagnosis. Boom, marijuana is now “involved” in the visit, although it had absolutely nothing to do with why the patient was there.

      The only times I have seen marijuana be the actual reason for the visit is when a person has “accidentally” overingested pot brownies and is freaking out about their bellyache.

      1. It’s possible to be so stoned that you do stupid stuff like cut yourself while carving turkey.

        But, the percentage of those “involved in” cases being CAUSED BY weed is probably in the single digits.

      2. A couple of days ago, while really high, I was playing tug of war with my dog. He let go, and I bashed my nose, but good.

        I didn’t go to the ER, but let’s not pretend like there isn’t a pot-related injury epidemic out there.

        1. Cavpitalist| 11.12.12 @ 4:45PM |#
          …”let’s not pretend like there isn’t a pot-related injury epidemic out there.”
          Sarc or stupidity? You decide.

  11. If having used marijuana the same day or even a few days before an ER visit makes the ER visit a marijuana-related medical problem (even if it’s for a flu shot) then, I have to wonder…

    How many ER visits every year are related to breathing air? We should ban the stuff immediately.

  12. I was smoking a joint and this asshole cop ran up and fractured my skull with his night stick. I guess that’s marijuana-related.

  13. “Seeking to scare the public away from legalizing the stuff, the Obama administration notes that in 2009, marijuana was “involved in” 376,000 emergency-room visits nationwide.”

    Yeah, and if you smoke cigarettes and get run over by a truck, it is a ‘tobacco-related’ death.
    Lying assholes (no, I don’t smoke)

  14. If somebody is dying a horrible death anyway, why not just shoot dope and smoke pot and drink yourself into oblivion? On a long enough time line, we’re all going to die, might as well presume it’s going to be a horrible death and start doing drugs now.

  15. One thing I’ve noticed recently; I’ve had it thrown up at me by some Liberals that the Republican party I’m nominally a member of is just as inclined to tell people what they can consume as the buttinski Left, and there is some justice to this. But the Republican Drug Warriors, by and large, are pushing for enforcement of laws against the sale and consumption of drugs that they do not use. The Democrat Drug Warriors, it seems to me, are all too often casual users who don’t think that the Common People can be trusted with access to the drugs they use themselves. Obama seems to be a case in point. One of the few things I liked about him during his first election run was that he didn’t deny smoking marijuana, and even made fun of the question a little. But he is still presiding over a federal push against the drug. Maybe he thinks its too good for the Commoners?

    I think both kinds of Drug Warriors are wrong, but the “Do as I say, not as I’ve done (and not regretted)” style of some Democrats really sets my teeth on edge.

  16. Denver has over 500 job postings for accountants. I do not have the experience required for many of these jobs, but if I can find a decent entree level position, then I’ll vote with my feet!

  17. I think it’s time we start legalizing Marijuana everywhere. Stop living in fear and start thinking about how great the future will be! LEGALIZE IT!

    Why don’t we just start legalizing it everywhere? Why are so many people still stuck in this FEAR stage…? Stop worrying, start hoping. LEGALIZE IT!

    If you live in a state where Marijuana isn’t legal yet and still want the same type of highs, I suggest checking out uIntoxicate.com. It has amazingly detailed legal highs reviews and where to get them without getting ripped off!
    Also! I’m starting up a new forum dedicated to my fellows stoners. Come on over and join the high conversations! We’re quite new, but VERY welcoming.

    CHECK IT: http://uintoxicate.com/
    STONER FORUMS: http://www.stonersofthestates.com/forum/

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