A very interesting debate in four parts between Sean Dunagan (former DEA analyst and LEAP member) and Kevin Sabet (former ONDCP staffer and prohibitionist).
One of the nice things about this particular video debate is that they also have the transcripts available, in case you prefer to read than listen/watch (usually my preference).
In the four parts, they cover a fair amount of ground. Parts 1-3 are the most predictable. Sean Dunagan does a good job getting the important points out there. Kevin is his usual self – often agreeing with his opponent at points to seem reasonable and then countering with a list of fallacious arguments a mile long.
One fallacy he likes to use is the Perfect Solution Fallacy, where he denigrates a proposed solution because it won’t solve all the problems.
Here’s one of the most extreme and obvious examples, where the host asks him a question of balancing costs:
JAY: Let me ask a question. Let’s for the sake of argument say that if there was decriminalization or legalization of some form, use would go up. So what? And what I mean by so what: is it worth—even if it has negative consequences (and I would say it would), is the consequences of, for example, the destruction of so many inner cities through gang culture based on drug control, the destruction of Mexico, what’s happening in Central America—like, if you’re balancing a complex problem here, is the war on drugs worth it?
SABET: Yeah, so there are two issues with that. One is that you just made an assumption that all that will go away if drugs were legalized.
What??? No, he didn’t.
SABET:…They’re making money from multiple things. To think with that assumption that you just made that they’re going to go away if only drugs were legal, because it would be like alcohol and tobacco, is to totally not understand and see what the economic impact and how these organizations are in our society.
That’s a really obvious disconnect from the question in a pretty offensive way.
Later on, he does it again
But one of the things, even if you end up taxing it, as have been many of the proposals, the idea that this underground market is necessarily going to go away is ridiculous. The profits they’re making are so big, they’ll lower their price to match—it’s worth it for them to lower their price to match or even go slightly below the government
The argument is not that the underground market will go away entirely, but it certainly is going to be radically diminished, and that’s a huge, huge benefit. But Sabet throws in the Perfect Solution Fallacy to avoid getting in a balancing the costs discussion.
The idea that we’re going to be able to legalize drugs and solve Mexico’s problem right now—which is, I would say we both agree, a huge issue—the idea that that’s going to happen under legalization is totally, again, missing the point. It’s simplistic in that it doesn’t get to the core issues of corruption and the core issues of what’s happening in Mexico.
Or his answer to serious questions about heroin maintenance programs and inner city problems…
I think we can do better than giving heroin to people in controlled settings and assume that their misery’s going to go away in a place like Baltimore.
He uses that several times more.
Unfortunately, Kevin’s use of these fallacies in arguments serves him well, because it often keeps the debate from getting to the real issues. I think Sean Dunagan actually should have avoided getting into the long discussion about numbers of use because that’s a distraction (I’m not blaming Sean, it would have been extremely hard not to get sucked into it) — it’s a distraction from the real balancing-the-costs issue and it ignores the fact that use is a rather meaningless factor when discussing harm.
Part 4 of the debate got into some interesting territory by bringing in Megan Sherman, who grew up on the streets of Baltimore, discussing the larger problem of policing in the inner city. Megan sees the destructive policing issue to be the important one to be solved prior to discussing legalization, but I think she fails to understand the degree to which drug policy allows and encourages bad policing practice.
One minor point from earlier in the debate. I got a real chuckle out of Kevin’s attempt to paint RAND as a completely independent source with “nothing to do with government.”
First of all, the RAND Corporation, which is a nonprofit, independent organization that has nothing to do with government, did a major study on the impact of legalization and what would happen in California when they were going for legalization of marijuana, and found that there would be a significant increase in use because of prices would fall. So, I mean, economics 101, drug policy 101: drug prices under legalization fall and use goes up. Youth are especially sensitive to price. So that—you know, and they who do not have a stake in the political or policy game said that that would happen.
Right. And the Heritage Foundation is bipartisan.