Thursday, March 6, 2014

Any Alaskans Want To Comment On This Claim About Marijuana and Employment in the Last Frontier?

Another long-time pothead (by his own admission) agrees with Governor Moonbeam about the dangers of legalizing marijuana based on the economic consequences:
Take it from me because I have been one: Potheads are blockheads. You can choose to be one if you wish, but you’re not doing you, or anybody close to you, any favors.
What I find especially interesting is a very long comment by Art Chance (who is prone to long and thoughtful comments) on the article concerning the effects of widespread marijuana use in Alaska, which has effectively legalized marijuana except for very large quantities:
The ready availability of pot has created an underclass of low-wage, low-skill workers who can only work in places that don't drug test. Alaska, like most Left Coast states have very expensive workers' compensation insurance. In occupations were there is an significant danger of accidents and injuries, an employer simply MUST have pre-employment and safety incident drug-testing. More dangerous businesses also have random testing. Most truck driving and operation of other motorized equipment also entails pre-employment, incident, and random drug testing. Almost all the lucrative oil industry and mining jobs require a background check, pre-employment, safety incident, and random drug testing. Consequently, if you're going to have a good-paying private sector job, you can't smoke pot even if it is de facto legal. The drug of choice for those who have a job that drug tests and who simply must get high is here called "Spice" and since its ingredients are rather ad hoc, there isn't effective testing - yet.
Like most energy producing states, Alaska has very low unemploiyment and there should be strong upward pressure on entry/low-skill wages but there isn't except where drug testing is required. Drug testing keeps a large cluster of workers at or very near the minimum wage in food service, most retail, and other low-skill, low-danger jobs. Employers don't have to pay more because they could hire somebody at 8 AM, fire him at 10 AM and have his replacement on the job after lunch. You'll see the same thing happen in Colorado and Washington and in other states that actually or effectively legalize marijuana. 
Any comments from Alaska readers about Chance's remarks?  My experience over the years is that while not everyone who smokes pot behaves like they are auditioning for one of Cheech & Chong's movies, there are enough in that category that those movies were funny.  They were stereotypes, but stereotypes that many of us who grew up in California recognized.  And yes, many of them ended up working at very, very low-end jobs -- often far below their potential.

I have one particularly strong memory of shortly after California decriminalized marijuana, perhaps 1979 or 1980, and I needed a tow.  The tow truck driver that AAA sent out to retrieve my car was smoking a joint while hooking up my car.  When we got into the car, I noticed that he had jury-rigged a car stereo into the electrical system of the tow truck so badly that an electrical fire started, with smoking rising from the wiring.  At which point, he offered me a toke.  "No thanks."


  1. To be very frank about people who smoke pot (some of whom are friends), marijuana doesn't effectively alter the social fabric in Anchorage and the MatSu much at all. The "large cluster of workers" in minimum wage are there for two reasons.

    Either 1.) they don't possess a degree and have experience, or they possess a degree in a field which may have a high number of entry level positions, definitely has an extreme bottleneck at the mid-level, and usually has a high number of positions at the highly-experienced level, and are stuck until they get a degree, get lucky, or go out of state to get the mid-level/ promotion to high-level experience. (Also known as the perpetual hand-wringing of "why are all our college grads/young people fleeing the state?") This includes IT, aviation, architecture, several disciplines of engineering... well, includes me, too, now.

    Or 2.) they're the same folks whose cultural mindset leaves them occupying low-rent flats, trailer parks, and shantytowns all over the world (and some folks who've just hit a long series of bad breaks). This cluster of folks who are connoisseurs of pot and working dead-end jobs in Alaska are the same folks who can tell you which liquor stores have what cheap rotgut on sale over the last three weeks, etc. If pot disappeared from the planet tomorrow, they wouldn't suddenly transform into upright white-collar middle class citizens; they'd switch to something else (like meth. Why, guys? Why? You idiots, you had so much going for you!).

    As far as the ant-pot's version of the anti-gun lobby's "blood running in the streets!" hysteria, uh, no. Look, I once asked my hairdresser, who is the nicest guy and a sharp businessman, owns his salon, if there was anything I could get for him. He smiled, and said his usual source was down with a cold, and since he can't keep a houseplant alive, did I have a good source? I sadly pointed out I was in a drug-tested field, and offered wine instead.

    And that's about it - you get really high-end pot that's used in about the same way as $25-buck-chuck; to occasionally relax after work, or at a party by otherwise clean and sober people. You get the cheaper stuff that's abused in the same way as Night Train and Thunderbird. Either way, be a menace on the road and the cops will nail you to the wall for DUI, so drink/toke responsibly, eh?


  2. Hairdresser?

    That in itself marks a type of cultural divide.

    I have been to a number of barbers (and none in the last 30 years when I started cutting it myself) in my life, but not a "hairdresser".

  3. Yes, it might mark the male-female divide. I've been going to hairdressers since I was getting perms in the 80's. My brother, now, he's been going to barbers since the first time in uniform when one shaved his head. :-)

    I bring up my hairdresser because he's a lovely example of a hardworking, successful businessman. I could mention a few architects, interior designers, folks in the financial industry, researchers, statisticians, lawyers, IT guys or any number of white-collar jobs in Anchorage, but he was the example I chose off the top of my head because a business owner ends up working far harder and far longer than the cubicle dweller who can go home at 5pm.

    While there are a number of cultural differences between Anchorage and Nashville, Chicago, and San Francisco (the lower 48 cities I've worked in), the weather and the logistics chain make far more difference than the legality or illegality of pot. Frankly, even the level of drug testing required, in the industries I have regular contact with, is the same.

    Colorado, right now, is suffering from a bunch of supposed adults acting like 18-year-olds on their own for the first time. "I can do anything I want and Mommy and Daddy aren't here to stop me! Nyah! In your face!" They'll end up getting arrested for stupidity-related crimes, die, grow up, or continue scraping along at the bottom and complaining that "the man" is holding them down, while ducking responsibility for all their bad choices. And then things will settle back to normal. (And, like Alaska, some of them will double down on the stupid of alcohol abuse and pot abuse, and get into meth. And then they'll wonder why their high school friends don't want to come around anymore.)

  4. Clayton, I agree with you on the ill effects of pot, but not on the desirability of keeping it illegal. For me, the corruption of our police and the huge amounts of money made by criminals is an erosive force in our society far worse than the losses from pot.
    I had several friends in high school, smart, sharp kids, lose several years of their lives wasted in a daze. One kid lost his life, and I think pot, or maybe other drugs, was partly to blame. So I do know where you are coming from. I have teenaged daughters now, and honestly worry more about alcohol than pot.

  5. I am not suggesting that marijuana is a bigger problem than alcohol. From watching lives destroyed, I would say that they are a similar order of magnitude. Perhaps one is a bit less destructive than the other, but both are pretty serious.

    I agree that there are enormous costs to the society from illegal drugs -- but most of those costs are not from marijuana's illegality, but the grossly addictive drugs, such as meth and heroin. The problem is that nearly all the arguments that apply to marijuana apply just about as accurately to meth.

    There has to be a better way to deal with this than what are doing now. I am pretty sure that legalization isn't it, however.

  6. I suspect an occasional bad example is probably a better deterrent than laws. Such bad examples can become better known when they don't have to hide.

  7. MMJ legalization will take over all over the US and world sooner or later. Its just a matter of time.