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March 2009



CNN piece on legalization at noon Eastern

Thanks to daksya in comments for the head up. Noon today, Eastern time, on CNN Mark Kleiman will be debating somebody from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition on drug legalization.
Mark has already charted the course of the debate, including what his opponent’s arguments will be. Oddly, he seems, in my mind, to be conceding before the debate begins.
Mark says the LEAP rep will (parenthetical responses are Mark’s):

1. Assert that prohibition results in violent drug markets that wouldn’t exist under legalization. (True.)
2. Point out that Mexico and Afghanistan are suffering badly from the drug war, in ways that threaten U.S. national security. (True.)

Well, if they agree on the big points, then what’s left?

3. Claim that since “anyone who wants drugs can get drugs now,” legalization wouldn’t increase consumption, or that if it did increase consumption it wouldn’t increase abuse. (Ludicrously false, as the example of alcohol illustrates.)
4. Claim that legalization would reduce access for kids by limiting the supply to legal an therefore regulated channels. (Ludicrously false, as the example of alcohol illustrates.)

You see, Mark has this bizarre notion, totally unsupported by any facts, that everything is alcohol. That somehow, any new legalized substance will automatically reach the societal use/abuse level of alcohol, and do so without affecting the levels of alcohol use/abuse.
This is nonsense.
Alcohol is one drug. Heroin is another. Cocaine is another. Marijuana is another. Each has its own profiles for use and they’re different. Even alcohol has differences of use/abuse within itself (compare beer to single-malt scotch, for example). There is also substitution that occurs when legal status changes. Some alcohol users may switch to cocaine, some to marijuana. Sure, there will be shifts, and some drugs will see increased use/abuse, while alcohol may see decreased use/abuse all depending on a host of factors.
But in general, those who are likely to abuse drugs (whether due to psychological, financial, genetic or other factors) are going to do so whether a particular subset of abuse-potential drugs is legal or not. Their drug of choice may change, but their numbers won’t change significantly. Certainly not enough to offset all the other benefits of ending the war on drugs.
I think Kleiman may also be wrong here in asserting what the LEAP opponent will say. The LEAP rep is actually more likely to assert that drugs are potentially very dangerous and need to be regulated. Kleiman thinks that prohibition can regulate drugs, and that’s just false.
His final point – that his opponent will:

5. Refuse to specify the set of taxes and regulations that ought to replace prohibition.

This is silly and childish on Mark’s part. It’s not LEAP’s job to set taxes and regulations. There are tons of models and all of us would be happy to discuss which models would work the best in different situations (and no, nobody with half a brain thinks that alcohol would be the model for all drugs). The reason we often don’t talk specifics, is that we’re usually shut down before we get that far as we’re constantly told that even an “open, honest national dialogue on ending the prohibition of narcotics” is unacceptable.
And we’re not just told that by politicians in Texas.
You know, when it comes to suggesting options of taxes and regulations for legalized drugs — some concrete information for politicians to consider — if only there were a type of person with a skill set — an academician maybe, or somebody who works with a think tank. People who specialize in, say, public policy.
It looks like I’ll miss the debate. Document it here. I’ll put up a transcript later if one is available, and Mark promises to post the video.
Update: It’s going to be Jack Cole and according to Tom Angell, it’ll be at 12:15 on CNN International. This should be good.

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