Keith Humphreys, who has been blogging over at Mark Kleiman’s place (and yes, this blog consistently performs a Mark Kleiman Drug Policy Watch function) has been joining in with Mark in lamenting the sad state of affairs that is the less-than-honest arguments used by both sides of the legalization debate. “Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?” (OK, so they don’t actually talk like Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).
Of course, this is usually done by pointing out a specific example of lying on the part of the prohibitionists, and then balancing it by saying “and the other side is just as bad.” Or, they may trot out an argument that is used by some legalizers (legalization may bring in as much as $X in taxes, for example – something that we’ve never given much of a damn about compared to reducing the harms of prohibition), point out how that full dollar amount is unlikely to be achieved and use that as justification to tar all legalizers as dishonest.
As always, they pose as reasonable moderates who abhor the excesses of prohibition, and long for a legalization of marijuana that fits their specific requirements (ie, is not legally sold by anyone, ever), while still resisting any efforts to consider real reform, which means replacing prohibition with an actual regulatory scheme. But always, they complain about arguments on both sides lacking valid support.
Let’s see how Keith does in presenting the facts in a debate about legalization. He pointed out that he was nicely captured by Paul Rogers in this debate with Joe McNamara, so I thought we might look at it.
Let’s start with one of my pet peeves in dishonest arguments:
Q: Mother’s Against Drunk Driving opposes Prop 19. Is highway safety an issue?
KH: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did a roadside survey and showed on a weekend evening something like one in six people had a legal or illegal substance in their system. At least some of them are going to be high. When you are driving down the road, are you happy that one in six people have a drug in their system? I’m certainly not.
OK, Keith. You worked in the Drug Czar’s office. You know how data works, and clearly you learned how to work data. Which means straight out lying. Let’s review the study you reference once again.
â€œThe reader is cautioned that drug presence does not necessarily imply impairment. For many drug types, drug presence can be detected long after any impairment that might affect driving has passed. For example, traces of marijuana can be detected in blood samples several weeks after chronic users stop ingestion. Also, whereas the impairment effects for various concentration levels of alcohol is well understood, little evidence is available to link concentrations of other drug types to driver performance.â€ (Page 3, boxed for extra visibility)
â€œCaution should be exercised in assuming that drug presence implies driver impairment. Drug tests do not necessarily indicate current impairment. Drug presence can be measured for a period of days or weeks after ingestion in many cases. This latency of drug presence may partially explain the consistency between daytime and nighttime drug findings.â€ (Page 3)
This study didn’t measure anything other than a base line to use in future studies. Nothing meaningful in itself, except in terms of intellectual curiosity. Most of us have some kind of drug in our system at one point or other.
In other words, it is intellectually dishonest to use this study in the way you did (and the way the drug czar did until I corrected him). Period. Oh, sure, you can say “Well, I didn’t claim that they were all stoned. I just said that some of them were probably stoned.”
Then why reference the study? You could have said that you assume that some drivers on the road are stoned, and nobody would have disputed that, but no, you had to go and use a study dishonestly so as to appear to back up your story. That’s a powerful and obnoxious odor in the room.
KH: However you respond to addictive substances there will be costs. You can’t make tobacco illegal. You can’t go back. But I could say “400,000 dead a year.” Is that working?
And just what does 400,000 dead a year have to do with marijuana?
The horrible [gang] violence in Mexico has killed probably 30,000 people in Mexico in the last six years. But 40,000 Mexicans a year die from smoking, according to the Mexican Department of Health. In the United States, tobacco products kill 400,000 people a year. So if you look at who is going to end up in the grave prematurely, it’s wrong to think that if we move from an illegal market to a corporation we will reduce death. We won’t.
Again, what does that have to do with marijuana? Tobacco causes lung cancer. Marijuana doesn’t. Period. So why bring up all these dead smokers as a reason for not saving dead Mexicans from violence?
Ah, but you have a connection…
In a lot of the world people smoke cannabis and tobacco together. What do you think will happen to health when there are products that are cannabis-tobacco mix products like they have in Europe? When Madison Avenue is cut loose on cannabis? When you have marketing to kids?
In what fantasy world do you live? Sure, across the pond, that may be the way they like the cannabis, but not here in the States. And given the negative public relations that surrounds tobacco and the tobacco companies right now, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that such a move would be forthcoming. In fact, legalisation in England might allow a situation where you could actually have public service announcements warning people not to add dangerous tobacco to their relatively safe skunk.
At one point, Joe McNamara pointed out that the big danger with decrim (fines for possession, but still criminal to sell) rather than legalization is the problems involved with the sales of marijuana being controlled by the black market and that a legal industry would reduce the harms. Keith responded:
KH: To say that a legal industry will make the product safer, then you have to say that the tobacco leaf is more dangerous than a Marlboro. It is the legal industry that makes that raw tobacco leaf into a deadly product.
JM: That’s not a good comparison.
KH: It’s a very good comparison. It’s the one we have.
Um. No, it’s not.
It’s abundantly clear that Humphreys shares Kleiman’s fear of the tobacco industry (although I dare say that Mark would never descend this far into mendacity).
McNamara got him good right off the start, though, in a way that helps us really see what’s going on…
KH: Number one, this is about the business side, rather than the user side. The legislature has already decriminalized marijuana, so it’s going to be like a parking ticket in California.
(The California legislature approved SB 1449, by State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, on August 31, sending it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. The bill would reduce possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, meaning those in violation of the law would not be arrested, booked or forced to appear in court. They would continue to pay a $100 fine.)
So you should really be voting on this based on whether you want an industry that delivers marijuana. Because what will be legal, which is legal in no other part of the world for marijuana, will be marketing, lobbying, sports endorsements, celebrity endorsements, labs that spend all day trying to figure out how to make the product more flavorful and addictive. And if it sounds like I am describing the tobacco companies, I am. But that’s the question that’s really before us. Do you want that industry? What’s been our experience with tobacco, and are we satisfied with that experience such that we want to repeat it with cannabis?
Q: Your thoughts, chief?
JM: The industry is already here. The industry as it is now produces incredible amounts of crime and violence.
That’s right. Keith Humphreys would rather have large, violent, criminal enterprises control the distribution and sales of marijuana than risk even a long-shot possibility of an American corporation selling it.
That’s pretty bizarre.
It’s also pretty paranoid. There’s no reason that cannabis legalization is going to result in Philip Morris. It could just as easily (in fact, perhaps more likely) result in Starbucks. About the only things that cannabis and tobacco have in common is that they can be smoked. But then, cigars can be smoked and they’re marketed and managed a whole lot differently than cigarettes.
The culture surrounding cannabis is going to produce a different kind of commercialization than cigarettes.
It’s also unrealistic to think that the rise of a Cannabis Morris could occur today with the same dangerous characteristics of chemically manipulated cigarettes as they were developed and marketed in the past century. We’ve been through that once and are aware of it, and unlike in the 20th Century, we’ve got a raging Nanny State that is examining everything we even consider consuming with a magnifying lens on steroids.
We’re also much more of a socially conscious consumer society that is interested in things like gourmet and organic together, and is willing to pay $4 for a coffee. That’s more likely to result in a craft beer version of cannabis than a Budweiser. And yes, I’m mixing coffee and beer and cigars and cigarettes because cannabis is none of those things. It will have its own characteristics of commerce. It won’t be Marlboro.
Keith Humphreys does a nice job now and then of pointing out the problems with prohibition, and is quick to note when he parts company with the excesses of prohibitionist views, and that I appreciate. However, the arguments that he uses to oppose Prop 19 himself range from the hysterical to that powerful odor of mendacity.