Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Interesting Piece On The Perils of Decriminalizing Marijuana

By a police officer.  It's worth reading in full, because he makes the point that when he debates decriminalizing marijuana, it does not take long before the advocates essentially agree that many aspects will have to remain unlawful--as long as they get theirs:
When I argue the legalization question with someone I always start at the top layer. “So, you want to legalize marijuana, just open the gates, so to speak.”  I get the “Oh hell yes!” answer.  “Fine, so everybody can smoke dope right?”  The other guy is reaching for his pipe was we speak.  “Absolutely!”    I continue, “So, everybody, including twelve year olds??”  The guy hesitates.  “Uh, no. Not kids. There should be a limit.”   I looked pleased, “Great. So what’s the age limit and who enforces it?”  Now the other guy looks a little baffled, “The cops?”  I nod.  “Ok, should the kid go to jail?”  The guy shook his head “Oh no, just a fine or something.”   It is my turn to look confused, “Kinda like right now wouldn’t you say?”   Now the other guy is really befuddled.  “I guess.”   I continue with the argument. “So, you can smoke dope but an underage smoker gets busted.  Let me ask you, if smoking dope is legal then I guess dealing it should be legal to.”  The other guy is back on track. “Sure, I mean how else do we get it?”  “OK, what if the dealer, a pure capitalist and entrepreneur if there is ever one, decides there is money to be made is selling weed to underage users.  What should happen to him?”   “DUDE, he should go to jail.  I mean, that ain’t right!  Right?”   I couldn’t agree more.  “So, the drug dealer, usually the guy that gets jail time now, will get jail time under your system to?”  “Yep!” the guy was convinced.   ”So, what you are saying is about everybody else can get fined or jammed up for dope except you.”  “Exactly!”


  1. The cop's argument (”So, what you are saying is about everybody else can get fined or jammed up for dope except you.”) only works by restricting the definition of "about everybody else" to minors and those who sell to minors. That would make it just like tobacco or liquor. Not very convincing. His arguments are a lot like the arguments against ending Prohibition.

  2. His point is that very large numbers of pot dealers that are currently going to prison for selling are likely to continue to go to prison for selling to minors. The only way that this wouldn't be true is if such dealers suddenly started obeying a law against selling to minors. This would be possible, if minors were a trivial part of their potential market.

  3. That's a very weak point. Do liquor store owners who sell to minors go to prison? What part of the potential market for alcohol do minors makes up? A very small one. Why would pot be any different? If it were legal and sold under the same strictures as beer or wine, I can't see that minors would have any more access to it than alcohol. Growing pot is surely no more difficult than brewing beer, and yet lots of kids aren't out brewing their own beer to get around the law.

  4. His point was that even pro-pot sorts support prison for selling pot to minors, and the general public would likely insist on such strict punishments for sales to minors as a condition of decriminalization.

    Minors make up a relatively small part of the market for alcohol because there is no legal market for it. Yet we have a substantial problem with alcohol consumption by minors, and they would have comparable access to it that they have with alcohol--and it is already a big problem. Minors buy and smoke a lot of pot--and it is illegal. Clearly, that use will increase when only the transfer to a minor is a crime.

    Lots of kids aren't brewing their own beer for the same reason that professional criminals don't make their own guns. Nor do I expect kids to start growing their own pot anymore than they already do.

  5. First off it's a stupid argument that he gets away with because he's arguing with dope smokers who are dumb enough to argue with a cop.

    As things stand today a purveyor of recreational pharmaceuticals has no incentive NOT to sell to "minors". Once you change the incentive structure you will change that. Now, I strongly suspect that once you can get something certified as to quantity and quality from your local liquor store or pharmacy your street dealer will drop that particular product line and focus on lines with a higher rate of return.

    Kids will (still) get it from parents, older siblings and friends who are either of age or etc. Or they'll use fake IDs. Or they'll break in and steal it. Some kids in my school stole their chosen recreation off a hospital loading dock.

    In broad daylight.

    And only got "caught" when one of them died of it.

    The urge to get high is *very* strong in some people. People (kids) sniff glue, gasoline, freon, and other solvents. Frankly given a choice *only* between huffing and smoking pot I'd go with the pot. And yes, I realize this was is (sort of) a false choice, and that ideally we'd be able to convince the kids to get the proper medication, or to find enjoyment in things like exercise, or line dancing or work.

    Yeah, right.

    I'm not completely sold on the idea of legalization from the "it'll be better" perspective, but I am pretty much against prohibition from the "where do the feds get the f'ing right" perspective.

  6. I disagree with you on this issue. I do not think minors should go to jail for smoking pot, nor do I think dealers should become felons selling them pot. And, yes, I think pot-smoking kids are stupid and may well be ruining their lives. I know a kid who graduated high school a couple of years ago and desperately wanted to become a Marine. The Marine Corp turned him down after his drug test (standard procedure for those wanting to enter the armed forces) and told him to come back in two years and try again.

    I also think that if marijuana was legalized, it is likely that more kids would try it. Plus, I think that more adults might use it. It might well become a rather obvious social problem, although arguably it already is. A worse problem though, is the militarization of our police forces, which has largely occurred because of the influx of huge amounts of Federal money to fight the so-called War on Drugs.

    I have known of kids drinking relatively large amounts of alcohol at age 11 and 12. They are likely on the way to ruining their lives. However, they don't go to jail, though their parents might, depending upon circumstances. We don't have a War of Alcohol, thankfully.

    Like most government-sponsored wars, the War of Drugs bleeds our society in many ways.

  7. Before I became a retired "police officer" I had occasion to be indoctrinated by the same straw man arguments this piece is overburdened with. My father lived through prohibition in the 1920s and related that the WCTU used the same hackneyed defense of that fiasco as this author uses regarding pot. Somehow society has managed address the legalization of alcohol and there will always be those who are irresponsible. If pot can be legally obtained at a licensed local liquor store, back yard pot gardening suddenly is no longer a cash cow and voilá the government collects revenue to otherwise waste. Problem solved.

  8. Clayton: I think it'd work, really - and that article presents untenable straw-men.

    (Untenable because, as others have said, we already HAVE that setup for other drugs, and it seems to work pretty well, and oddly the "hypocrisy" of adults being able to buy a beer but 14 year olds not doesn't seem to be an issue.)

    Minors aren't the biggest market for marijuana, not remotely.

    Legalize it, and it'll be sold in stores, not by street (or equivalent) dealers, just as existing legal-but-regulated drugs are.

    Minors will, of course, still get it illegally, just as they get tobacco and alcohol illegally now. (And without "dealers" to speak of, for just the same reasons...)

    (And likewise, minors will get a hand-slap for low-level possession or use, just as they do now for tobacco or having a beer.

    Minor-in-possession, at least around here, gets them a ticket and a talking-to, not jail time.)

    I've heard it reported that in many areas it's actually easier for minors to get marijuana than tobacco or alcohol, for reasons that are both obvious on reflection, and ameliorated by legalization.

    Cost-benefit analysis (comparing the cost of prohibition vs. its ineffectiveness, with the non-zero costs of legalization - and the benefits of it as well) suggests that abandoning at very least that part of the "war on drugs" is a net win.

    (And then there's the war on cold medicine - er, methamphetamines... I predict black-market pseudo-ephedrine in a few years at this rate, purely used as cold medicine rather than as a precursor.

    Truly, we see confirmed that there's no problem the State can't make worse by trying to fix it with handwaving.)

  9. The proper way to approach drug reform is not to do a massive change. That's what the Democrats did with Obamacare and look where that's getting us. The proper way is to nibble at it from the other end of the spectrum.

    Would your police officer support ending the DEA/FDA games with researchers to enable medical research with marijuana? Now how about patients who want to use marijuana and other drugs for pain relief and other medical benefits? Should we have schedule 1 listing reform so that these drugs can be appropriately used by licensed professionals in mainstream applications like pain relief?

    Next, let's take a look at low THC marijuana, also known as hemp. Should we really be spending money on hemp eradication and standing in the way of reintroducing hemp as an agricultural crop mostly used for its fiber but which also can be consumed (without getting high) as a food product?

    Now that we've legalized the medical, agricultural, and food product uses of this plant, let's take a look at recreational uses. The line between low thc and high thc plants is something that probably should be set by law. Start drifting the line up and you'll start getting recreational uses appear (like near beer in otherwise "dry" counties) and see whether significant bad effects start showing up.

    Frankly, I don't worry about the hemp chocolate bars that is currently selling. At a certain level of THC, kids probably should be restricted. This level should be set scientifically, something that's difficult to do when research is restricted.

    The proper behavior, proper legal levels, intoxication standards, all that should emerge from a series of long-term adjustments to drug policy.

    I bet that there are very few people who would support the current system given an incremental reform regime that would be rolled back if the nightmare scenarios start coming true.

  10. I'm a bit of a "hard-core" libertarian, so a lot of these arguments don't sway me.

    Prison time--for anyone? I'm for getting rid of prisons altogether, and replacing them with a system of fines that benefit only victims (the State should not benefit from criminal activity, at all)! Murderers, rapists and other serious offenders of the law would become outlaws, and would be subject to some form of death penalty, likely carried out on the whim of someone related to the original victim.

    Lawsuits? I'm completely fine with those. If you sell to my child, I sue you. If I use it myself, it should be grounds for both unemployment and divorce. And my children should have grounds to sue me. Since I, like you, believe there's a connection with mental illness, I would go so far as to say that evidence of use of marijuana should even be grounds for insurance companies to not pay out for treatment!

    As for that stupid tax argument: I'm constantly on the lookout for getting rid of taxes completely. The idea that increased revenue to government isn't going to offset the costs to society resonates with me.

    Of course, as such a hard-core libertarian, I have to resign myself to the fact that society will not likely put up with such radical changes; indeed, the direction seems to be to try to increase dependence on official government, rather than to seek out self government. For now, I'll have to resign myself to incremental changes--and legalizing drugs is the least of my concerns!

    But then, as a hard-core libertarian, I tend to be quite annoyed by the types of libertarians stereotyped by the police officer, who want to legalize everything so that they could live their hedonistic lifestyle. Such libertarians seem to believe anything a person does is good--whereas I believe it's up to every individual to learn the difference between good and evil, and then do the good, and that any society where individuals aren't encouraged to do that--no matter what system of government is in place--is doomed to fail.

  11. Speaking as a strong opponent of drug legalization, I have to say that much of the linked article is straw-man logic.

    There are huge advantages to being "on the books". One can use the normal banking system, take credit card payments, and get a business loan for capital. One doesn't have to conceal one's facilities. One can build larger and more efficient facilities. One can use ordinary freight or delivery services. One is protected against robbery by the law.

    Under Prohibition, the alcohol trade had many of the characteristics of the present-day dope trade - but after Repeal, lawful operation seamlessly replaced the bootleggers.

    The only exception was the on-going moonshine traffic in the South, and that was a minor problem.

    If dope was legalized, though, I don't think the result would be the same. There was a long and respectable history of alcohol production and sales, and lots of legal vendors ready to resume activity.

    There is no such history with dope. The only people who have ever trafficked in it are career criminals.

    Furthermore, alcohol consumption can be and usually is a harmless pleasure. (Most of the cost of alcoholic beverages is for the other flavorings; raw ethyl alcohol is far cheaper than vintage wine, single-malt whiskey, or even mass-market beer.)

    This is far less true of dope. Marijuana is probably not much more dangerous than alcohol - it takes sustained use to do real harm.

    But cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are all destructive and corrupting even in small doses. And people take them only for the intoxicating effect.

    Those who deal in such stuff are not criminals only because it is prohibited, but also because no one of good moral character would do it.

    Legalizing prostitution has never made pimps into good citizens; legalizing dope will not change the characters of dope traffickers.

  12. "There is no such history with dope. The only people who have ever trafficked in it are career criminals."

    Prior to 1914 All substances now classified as "narcotics" except the recent synthetic drugs were sold across the counter at corner drug stores. The bottom line is the question: "who owns your body?" Also qui bono from prohibition? Answer: criminals and career government functionaries. Appropriate warning labeling and controlling access by minors as with alcohol is both the economic and moral solution.