April 21, 2014

#Marijuana legalization not a walk in the park — take note #GlennGreenwald, #libertarians

Mark Kleiman/Wikipedia
Mark Kleiman, one of the top scholars in America on drug policy and public policy, and certainly no shrinking violet on social libertarianism, has some definite words of "whoa, now," for the likes of Glenn Greenwald who paint an almost utopian result of drug legalization.

Kleiman's focused only on marijuana, not harder drugs, and even there, he says that legaalization is not a panacea, and might not even be that close. In part, he invokes images of "Big Pot," paralleling Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol, with vested financial interests in keeping those who are addicted in a state of addiction.

And, that's a good starting point. Contra some libertarians and other who say pot isn't addictive, Kleiman says, try again:
There's only one thing wrong with legalizing weed and that's that a certain number of people will get in trouble with it. ....
I mean will wind up with cannabis habits that are bad for them.  Many of them will know it.  Some of them won't.  Also that teenagers will use more of it.  We don't really want to get back to 1979 when 10% of high school seniors reported that they were daily or near daily cannabis smokers.
A lot of people on the pro-legalization side are still in denial about the cannabis abuse problem.  The numbers are about 33 million people will say in a survey that they've used cannabis in the last year.  About half of those, about 16 million, say they've used it in the last month.  Of those, about a quarter say they use 25 days or more per month.  In a different survey that folks over at Rand did the people who smoke many days per month also use a lot more per day.  That very heavy user group accounts for 85 or 95 percent of the total cannabis consumed.

About half the people who are daily or near daily users just from their own self-reporting in the surveys meet clinical criteria for abuse or dependence.  Cannabis is interfering with their lives and they've tried to cut down and they can't. 
If anybody had intellectual reason to soft-pedal this information, it's a libertarian think tank like Rand, so I think we can say these numbers are pretty solid.

As for those analogies I mentioned? Here's Kleiman:
It's not just that the problem users are profitable, it's that nobody else is profitable.  More than 80% of what you sell is going to go to people who are smoking too much. That is true of alcohol today.

When the booze companies tell you they're in favor of responsible drinking they must mean they're planning to go out of business.  Responsible drinkers don't build breweries.  Breweries are built by [sic] people (who?) drink four or more drinks a day average year round.  The top decile of the alcohol population accounts for 50% of the alcohol consumed.  Put it a different way, 46% of all drinks consumed in the U.S. are consumed as part of drinking binges.
Maybe that should be "for" instead of "by," but I think we get Kleiman's point of view.

Whether it's Mexican cartels or legalized distributors, people who peddle an addictive substance, whether alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, have a vested interest in getting people addicted.

That, in turn, leads to Kleiman's bottom-line assessment, and implicit call-out to folks like Greenwald:
Anybody who tells you, you can legalize cannabis and not have more drug abuse is fooling himself. Of course we're going to have more. The question is how much more?
So, let's be honest.

Let's also be honest that when a Greenwald or a Carl Hart talk about a Portugal, and its drug counseling boards instead of criminal courts, they NEVER talk about how much setting up something like that would cost in the U.S.

Hart? He strikes me as just happy to bask in the recognition and fame of being a new-found black libertarian, and basically ignorant of larger libertarian issues, at least for now, as I've blogged before.

Greenwald? He damn well has some idea, or knows where he could get some idea, about how much this would cost. He also knows better than to argue with Kleiman one-on-one on details of drug policy.

This is about more than just calling out a noted libertarian like Greenwald.

Here in Texas, Rick Perry's made a comment or two about decriminalization, at least, and Wendy Davis had someone belated reaction, while Greg Abbott had the big sound of silence out of his camp. If Texas isn't prepared for a potential increase in addicted marijuana users, and what to do to address that, then it may have more problem then it bargained for. And, on the dollars side, we know that Texas is pretty cheap on governmental funding in general.

It's nice to see someone who knows what he's talking about on drug policy telling us to all tap the brakes on utopian claims about legalization.

Kleiman wraps up by talking about purity and standards issues with decriminalized or legalized pot. He suggests that, within a decade or so, if the country and pot distributors are smart, we'll have marijuana e-cigs.

My personal stance is that I favor at least decriminalization, and am open to full legalization of at least smaller amounts of marijuana.

But, I agree with Kleiman that this isn't anywhere near a panacea.

I'm also with him that, if we're going to do this, we need to measure pot for THC content, just like tobacco for nicotine and booze for ethanol.


Simon said...



Simon said...

So I don't think questions of cost automatically kill this proposal nor any additional problems.

Also we don't have your prison industrial complex so I'd imagine the saving from not having so many non violent drug offenders in jail would be greater.

Also considering the policy approach to managing alcohol and tobacco which are far worse I don't really see a problem.