Allen St. Pierre, over at NORML blog, reports on an interview with Deputy Drug Czar Tom McLellan that is uniquely… absurd. This has already been discussed briefly in comments here, but I wanted to have a post devoted to it. The interview was by Harold Pollack for The New Republic
Here are some portions…
The issue of marijuana has been interestingly framed by legalization activists. Itâ€™s been framed as, â€œMarijuanaâ€™s not bad for you. In fact, itâ€™s really medically good for certain people.â€ That was extremely cleverly done, because we could debate that all day long with existing evidence. How bad is marijuana? Is it as bad as alcohol? Does it even have some medical benefits for people that have nausea or glaucoma and all that?
Well, thatâ€™s not whatâ€™s at issue. Whatâ€™s at issue is: there are efforts being made to increase the availability, and thus the use, the penetration if you will, of marijuana use. In order to show that availability expansion efforts are sensible and that we should reverse policies and laws and everything else, it seems to me the argument to be proven is, â€œItâ€™s good for you.â€ That should be the standard, rather than â€œMarijuanaâ€™s not that bad.â€ Name for me another substance that you would say, â€œItâ€™s not that bad, so letâ€™s reverse state laws. Letâ€™s increase availability to a product that really is targeted to young people.â€ For that, you should have to prove that itâ€™s genuinely good, not just â€œnot that badâ€.
It’s “good for you” should be the standard for legalization? How absurd. Are Hostess Twinkies good for you? Is climbing a tree good for you? And, of course, under McLellan’s world-view, the answer to those should probably be “no.” But in a free society, the answer to all of those, including marijuana, is “yes.” (Doesn’t mean harmless, but does mean that it provides positive value to the individual in some way.)
And, of course, if he’s concerned about marijuana being targeted to young people, why is he opposed to regulating it?
And our position is very simple on this, and I think, frankly, you canâ€™t refute it. Marijuana is not good for you. You have to get that one exactly right. I didnâ€™t say, â€œMarijuanaâ€™s not that bad.â€œ I said, â€œMarijuanaâ€™s not good for you.â€ And more people using marijuana is not good for society. And I believe these to be facts, by the wayâ€¦.
Facts? You haven’t even defined the terms. What does “good for you” mean?
It is possible to reduce availability, not eliminate, but reduce availability. Itâ€™s already been done. It is possible to prevent abuse of marijuana, and itâ€™s possible treat marijuana and other drug addictions. If you do those things, you have a better socially functioning society.
Sure you can reduce availability, for about two weeks in a very localized area. But that’s about it, and it has no long-term effect on use.
Notice how he snuck in “other drug addictions” to cover up the fact that he had nothing?
The other artful thing thatâ€™s been done by advocates about marijuana is that it has been pitched on one side of the base, â€œYou know, marijuanaâ€™s not that bad for you. OK? And by the way, the only alternative to legalization is mass incarceration, which is really bad and itâ€™s really expensive and all that.â€
Itâ€™s a beautifully crafted, misleading argument. Our argumentâ€™s entirely different. Nobody wants mass incarceration of marijuana users. Jesus, Mary, and Josephâ€“what a waste of money that is. But, marijuanaâ€™s not good for you. So we need policies that keep marijuana illegal, are sensible, and that reduce availability and use of marijuana. And those policiesâ€“unlike the current legalize and tax proposals being floated â€“could generate revenue for the public. A city or state could generate a lot of revenue through fines for marijuana users.
Nobody wants mass incarceration of marijuana users? AND he’s proposing a cash cow from marijuana fines. Should we be promoting the fact that the Deputy Drug Czar is calling for Massachusetts-style decrim with fines for use but no criminal sanctions?
Of course, he’s not (but we should call him on it anyway).
People like him talk about not wanting to incarcerate our way out of a problem, but they never actually propose cutting back on incarceration. And the notion that fines would be better cash revenue for local and state governments than taxed legal sales, is really absurd.
Pollack: In my own public health work, I donâ€™t really do that much with marijuana. Itâ€™s striking to me that marijuana is such a touchstone of drug policy debate.
McLellan: Itâ€™s the center of the universe. Yeah (laughs). With all the really serious problems that weâ€™ve got facing usâ€“prescription drug use probably among the top, and you know, name the other drugs, why weâ€™re spending this time on this nonsense about medical marijuana and legalization. Itâ€™s the damnest thing to me. I canâ€™t get over it. Itâ€™s almost as though there were a contingent of people out there really eager to keep it at the front of the newspapers. Well, it isnâ€™t us. We donâ€™t want it there.
If it’s nonsense that you don’t want to spend time on, then stop doing it. It’s the federal government that’s been spending billions of dollars fighting this war on marijuana. The vast majority of the drug war spending is on it. If you don’t like it, stop doing it.
And yes, as long as you keep fighting us, there will be a contingent of us eager to keep it at the front of the newspapers. Because when we do, you lose.
Pollack: Thereâ€™s a culture war in which marijuana is one of the key fronts.
McLellan: People make a living debating this on stage. You know? Thatâ€™s hard for me to believe, that thereâ€™s a living to be made going around debating about marijuanaâ€™s benefits and why you ought to legalize drugs and crap like that. Itâ€™s just like a silly discussion to me.
Allen St. Pierre fields this one nicely:
-Mr. McLellan appears genuinely amazed if not chagrined that there are citizens who exist that disagree with the prohibition of cannabis; that there are actual organizations of citizen-stakeholders advocating for alternatives to the self-evidently failed status quo of cannabis prohibition, complaining that some â€˜make a careerâ€™ of advocating for obviously needed policy changes.
I suggest Mr. McLellan pause for a moment, look around his ONDCP office, and fully realize that he, and tens or thousands of anti-drug bureaucrats and law enforcement personnel employed by the federal government (ie, ONDCP, DEA, NIDA, Customs, TSA, Border Patrols, VA, SAMSHA, NDIC, EPIC; and hundreds of government organs funded by the taxpayers, like CADCA, NFIA and Partnership for a Drug-Free America) are careerists as wellâ€¦.However, unlike reformers, who employ privately donated dollars (maybe $15-$20 million donated in total to all drug policy reform groups annually), Mr. McLellan and his other career prohibitionists employ tens of billions annually of taxpayerâ€™s money.
If McLellan wants to stop being distracted by the “silly” discussions about marijuana, there’s a simple thing that can be done. Just have the federal government say that it’s not going to pay attention to marijuana any more and leave it to the states. Period. Fine with us.