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March 2005



Why the Market Argument is Bogus in Raich

While waiting for the Supreme Court decision in Raich, it’s still fun to do a little speculating. So I was interested to read Mike’s post at the Ashcroft v Raich category of the Crime and Federalism blog, discussing the government’s market argument.
While Mike disagrees with the reasoning of the market argument, he claims that it will prevail with the Justices (9-0 or 8-1). Here’s how he describes it:

Congress has chosen to enter the broader market of regulating controlled substances. Once of these controlled substances is marijuana.

Every time a person purchases medical marijuana, he does not turn to the illicit drug market. Because fewer people purchase drugs illegally, demand for illegal drugs decreases. This decreased demand causes the prices to go down. In a similar vein, Judge Posner observed: “[L]aw enforcement activity raises the cost and hence price of illegal drugs and as a result of the price increase reduces their consumption.”

Since the price of illegal marijuana has decreased, people who could not have afforded marijuana, can afford the reduced price. Thus, there are more drug users.

Congress has a legitimate interest in keeping drug prices high (as part of its scheme to keep drug usage low).

Therefore, Congress may regulate non-commercial marijuana use to keep prices high, and thus demand, low.

Strangely, this is a fair representation of the government’s market position, which I find completely absurd. Here, for example, is an exchange during the oral argument:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: If we rule for the Respondents
in this case, do you think the street price of marijuana
would go up or down in California?

MR. CLEMENT: I would be speculating, Justice
Kennedy, but I think the price would go down. And I think
that what — and that, in a sense, is consistent with the
government’s position, which is to say, when the
government thinks that something is dangerous, it tries to
prohibit it. Part of the effort of prohibiting it is
going to lead to a black market, where the prohibition
actually would force the price up. And there is a sense
in which this regulation, although not primarily designed
as a price regulation — the Controlled Substance Act, I
think, does have the effect of increasing the price for
marijuana in a way that stamps down demand and limits the
— and in a way that reduces demand. And I think that’s
all consistent with Congress’ judgement here.

Yep, very similar. The thing is, for Mike’s prediction to hold, it seems to me that the Justices would have to have very thick skins considering how ridiculous they’ll look.
Consider this. For the market argument above to hold true, you must accept the following:

The government’s strategy requires that medical marijuana patients purchase marijuana from criminals. If grandma in her wheelchair doesn’t go out to the corner and score some pot, then Congress’ legitimate interest will be undermined.
If the government’s strategy requires more people to use marijuana to keep the prices high (so they can reduce consumption), then any success would automatically be a failure. If they keep consumption high, thereby raising prices, then consumption will be reduced, but that will lower the price, which will increase consumption. Oh, No!

Surely, the Supreme Court Justices must have a little bit more sense of self-worth than to actually write an historic commerce clause ruling in support of such a ridiculous circular argument? I would hope so.
Now this doesn’t mean that the government can’t legitimately use the argument in other situations that price increase is a desired means toward reducing consumption. For example, they could argue that crop eradication increases prices, thereby reducing consumption. But they can’t legitimately argue that they need people to use illegal marijuana in order to keep prices up, to reduce consumption.
At least, not without educated people laughing in their faces.

Anslinger, I mean, Walters, hits a new low

One of yesterday’s entries on the drug czar’s blog:

The Red Lake Shooter and Drugs

Some disturbing content on the Red Lake shooter’s blog has come to light. Jeff Weise, the teenager who allegedly shot and killed 9 people at Red Lake High School, Minnesota wrote, “I’m nothin’ but your average Native American stoner. I’m […]

We put our freedom in their hands

The Las Vegas Review Journal is justifiably suspicious about this atrocity:

Editorial: Metro cop planted drugs in suspect’s car Sheriff says suspensions will suffice

While officers were in the process of arresting local resident Mark Lilly last July on suspicion of selling harmless legal substances and claiming they were narcotics, an official police spokesman now […]

Jacob Sullum takes on the Times

Check out this excellent rebuttal at Hit and Run to yesterday’s stupid New York Times article on medical marijuana.

Yesterday, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s imminent decision in Ashcroft v. Raich, the medical marijuana case, The New York Times ran a bizarre story that suggests cannabis is more likely to drive a patient insane […]

New York Times Writer Can’t Read

Dan Hurley’s article tomorrow in the New York times is a strange, unbalanced article about medical marijuana, giving a lot of space to opponents, and then claiming there isn’t enough “clinical” evidence to support medical marijuana. The problem is that he can’t even read his own article. Take a look first at some of the […]

Up to 50% of Canadian Press Reporters have Sex with Chickens

Via Hit and Run comes this bizarre factoid presented by Lorraine Turchansky in the Canadian Press

Up to 50 per cent of users can be addicted after the first dose of crystal meth…

What does that mean? Up to 50 per cent? Can be? Zero fits that definition. The only thing that can be determined […]

Even with Blinders On, Two New Studies Can See the Rotting Carcass of our Drug Policy

Are We Losing the War on Drugs? An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy By David Boyum and Peter Reuter American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Released March 25, 2005)

How Goes the “War on Drugs”? An Assessment of U.S. Drug Problems and Policy By Jonathan P. Caulkins, Peter H. Reuter, Martin […]

More idiocy

This editorial in the Sentinel and Enterprise (Fitchburg, MA): More cops needed to win drug war
It’s an editorial that calls for a strong stance in the drug war and calls for more money to be spent to win it.
Now here’s the example that they use in the editorial to demonstrate how serious the problem is:

For people like Paul McNamara, a Fitchburg police officer, the war on drugs in North Central Massachusetts is not an academic exercise.

McNamara found himself fighting for his life one day while working on Fitchburg’s STRAIT (Strategic Tactical Response and Intervention team) unit.

A man attacked McNamara and Sgt. Joaquin Kilson on Crestview Lane after they stopped him for having an open container of beer.

“It was a fight for our lives,” McNamara told the Sentinel & Enterprise. “It went from an encounter of, ‘What’s your name,’ and ‘You know you can’t be drinking here,’ into hand-to-hand combat very quickly.”

McNamara said the man came to Fitchburg to buy drugs, but he must have already been high when he arrived.

“We were on the ground fighting, the three of us, and we didn’t know where our weapons or radios went. A woman nearby handed Sgt. Kilson his radio,” McNamara said. “It took four or five of us to arrest him.”

McNamara and numerous other officers and law enforcement officials literally put their lives on the line every day to fight illegal drug trafficking and use.

As far as I can tell from this story, the only “drug war” danger they faced was the beligerance of a beer drinker, and their own incompetence in losing track of their weapons and radios while wrestling with him.

Stupid Drug Wars

“bullet” Mexico: Arizona Daily Star

Mexico is mobilizing 6,400 soldiers next week to its northern states in response to a vicious drug war that has left nearly 200 people dead this year, officials said. …

Using Humvees, four-wheel-drive trucks and helicopters, the soldiers will work with agents from the Mexican Federal Attorney General’s Office to destroy drug crops in southern Sonora and launch operations against the clandestine runways drug traffickers use on the border south of Arizona.

The military buildup on the northern border will last one to two months, then the extra soldiers will leave, he said.

It comes during a tenuous time when Mexico’s powerful drug lords battle for control of lucrative areas along the border with the United States.

OK, let me get this straight. There’s violence between rival drug lords due to the profitability of the black market, so you solve that by sending in a bunch of soldiers to destroy crops and then leave? And this will do what to drug prices and profitability? And the violence of the rivals will stop? Hello? Is anybody home?
“bullet” Afghanistan: New York Times

The American military will significantly increase its role in halting the production and sale of poppies, opium and heroin in Afghanistan, responding to bumper harvests that far exceed even the most alarming predictions, according to senior Pentagon officials. …

To support the new effort, the Defense Department is requesting $257 million, more than four times the amount last year, in emergency financing for military assistance to the counternarcotics campaign, in addition to the $15.4 million in the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal 2005, which began last Oct. 1.

Cato responds:

In “Drug Prohibition Is a Terrorist’s Best Friend,” Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato’s vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, explains that “the harsh reality is that terrorist groups around the world have been enriched by prohibitionist drug policies that drive up drug costs, and which deliver enormous profits to the outlaw organizations willing to accept the risks that go with the trade.

“Targeting the Afghanistan drug trade would create a variety of problems. Most of the regional warlords who abandoned the Taliban and currently support the U.S. anti-terror campaign (and in many cases politically undergird the Karzai government) are deeply involved in the drug trade, in part to pay the militias that give them political clout. A crusade against drug trafficking could easily alienate those regional power brokers and cause them to switch allegiances yet again.”

Scientists Still Trying to Discover the Cause of Idiot Reporter and Judge

“News” Article in The Daily Telegraph (Australia) by Angela Kamper:

Chloe died because we all failed her

SMOKING marijuana drove Timothy Kosowicz mad and he strangled an angelic little girl. …

“This seems to be yet another example of the link between cannabis use and mental illness, a link which from my judicial experience and […]