A fascinating Freakonomics at the New York Times this afternoon by Stephen J. Dubner: On the Legalization Ö or Not Ö of Marijuana
He asks a number of people on both sides of the issue: “Should marijuana be legalized in the U.S.? Why or why not?” and gets detailed responses from Dr. Lester Ginspoon, Dr. Robert L. DuPont, Allen St. Pierre, Dr. David Murray, and Richard Lawrence Miller. Some high powered players on both sides.
One disappointment with Dubner’s article is his semi-complaint:
You will find that their replies routinely contradict one another, even on statements of fact. This is a limitation of nearly any debate of this sort, and while these contradictions illustrate what makes the issue a potent one, you may also be frustrated (as I was) by them.
Well, that’s simple. What you do then is check out the facts and say which one is a liar. I have very little patience with reporters who ‘report’ things in ways like… “Flat-earthers say the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth, while round-earthers say the earth is round and revolves around the sun. Unfortunately both are dogmatic in their positions and refuse to compromise, leaving us frustrated.” If there are facts at issue, then research them and come up with the truth. Not everything is subjective, and there are, within the marijuana legalization debate, economic and social truths as clear as the one that describes our solar system.
One thing that is absolutely clear when reading these essays is that the prohibitionists are really reaching to come up with a credible argument at all.
Grinspoon and St. Pierre do a fine job in their detailed supported arguments; Miller gives up and goes for the sad truth:
At the risk of being long-winded, I wanted to let you know why I‰m not citing any studies here. Reformers know about studies, and opponents disregard them, so I see no benefit in mentioning any.
Murray spouts the usual ONDCP propaganda, but the award by far for ridiculousness goes to DuPont:
Legalization of marijuana would solve the marijuana problem the way legalizing speeding would solve the speeding problem: it would remove the legal inhibition of a dangerous behavior, and thereby encourage the behavior.
That is one of the most stupid analogies I’ve every heard. And yet he continues with it, going even further…
Just as many people who speed do not have accidents, many people who smoke marijuana do not have problems as a result of their use, especially those who use the drug for brief periods of time and/or infrequently. The same is true for drunk driving Ö it is estimated that the drunk driver‰s risk of an accident is about one in 2,000 episodes of drunk driving. Nevertheless, speeding and drunk driving are punishable by law because of the serious consequences of these behaviors. In all of these cases, legal prohibition serves as a reasonably effective deterrent to the behavior. For those who are undeterred by prohibition, the enforcement of the law produces escalating consequences for repeated violations.
That’s right. Using marijuana is like drunk driving. You might be OK some of the time, but you just might smash a multiple-ton steel object into innocent people while smoking that joint on your couch.
Of course, all the speeding and drunk driving analogies to marijuana are as stupid as the “Well, why don’t you legalize murder and rape while you’re at it?” nonsense.
First of all, marijuana is relatively harmless to both the user and those around the user, particularly when used responsibly. Second, there’s not much of a black market for rape, murder, speeding or drunk driving. If you arrest a drunk driver, there’s not a cartel in Mexico sitting there ready to supply more drunk driving at a price to fill the need. If you put a rapist in jail there isn’t a new rapist that will step up to meed the demand for rape.
DuPont’s analogies with speeding and drunk driving are simply ways to avoid talking about the real issues — the vast costs of prohibition compared to the extraordinarily mild risks of marijuana use.
Then DuPont goes even further over the edge:
Today in the U.S., the criminal penalties for marijuana use are mild, far more so than for speeding and drunk driving, and are usually limited to the payment of a small fine. The few people now in prison solely for marijuana use have almost all been charged with more serious offenses, and then pleaded guilty to this lesser offense.
I beg your pardon? Do you know of anyone who has been denied financial aid or lost their job for going over the speed limit? ‘Cause I certainly know some who have from possession of marijuana.
And this nonsense about how those who use marijuana don’t get tough penalties? That ignores the way the law tends to define almost everything as trafficking. Pass a joint to a friend? Trafficking. When I was in college, people bought marijuana by the ounce (usually for about $20). Today if you were caught with an ounce in most places that would be trafficking. The federal government supplies Irv Rosenfeld with 300 marijuana cigarettes each 25 days — an amount the federal government has determined as appropriate for personal use. If you were arrested with 300 marijuana cigarettes…
DuPont continues his essay with lots more nonsense. Go and read it all. As I wrote before, it’s good to know their arguments. To understand their techniques.
Also check out the comments. With one or two exceptions, the commenters seem to be seeing right through DuPont and the drug warriors.
And that’s a good thing.