George F. Will – all drugs are identical, yet infinitely additive

George Will has a particularly stupid column in the Washington Post: The drug legalization dilemma with recycled talking points from the likes of Mark Kleiman.

There are a whole lot of flaws in his arguments – here’s the main one:

So, suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are. And suppose the level of addiction were to replicate the 7 percent of adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency. That would be a public health disaster. As the late James Q. Wilson said, nicotine shortens life, cocaine debases it.

Still, because the costs of prohibition — interdiction, mass incarceration, etc. — are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Society is not, however, like a controlled laboratory; in society, experiments that produce disappointing or unexpected results cannot be tidily reversed.

Note first that under the Will/Kleiman world-view, all drugs – from marijuana to heroin – will be accepted and marketed in the same identical way that alcohol is under a legal regime. They can’t even imagine different models happening in society. And so we must suffer for their lack of imagination.

Then, of course, in their world-view each new drug will result in a new abuse-population segment equivalent size to that of alcohol abuse with no overlap. Logically, then, if we legalized 20 new drugs, 147 percent of the population would then be suffering from abuse and dependency.

Of course, that’s absolute rubbish.

The truth is that abuse and dependency are driven by a lot of factors and are not specifically tied to the availability of drugs. There is a certain portion of the population that is more likely to abuse drugs, and they will likely abuse drugs regardless of their availability. Changes in that portion have more to do with social structure and than drug policy. This has been proven in world-wide models.

Legalizing a drug doesn’t mean that you have a new population of abusers. Instead, some who now abuse alcohol will switch to the other drug. Some will combine. Some will abuse the new legalized drug who abused it when it was illegal.

The largest increase in number of users of that drug will come from the casual non-problematic use. Criminalization is much more likely to deter non-problematic use than it is to deter abuse.

And that final point about society being messy, so we can’t just try legalization for awhile because we might not be able to reverse it… how convenient. And fucking offensive.

Imagine that argument being used for other social changes… “Oh, yeah, negroes have it rough, but we can’t really take a chance on freeing the slaves, because what if it turns out to be socially disruptive to me and my white friends? We’d never have the political will to reverse the decision. They should just continue being slaves and accept that as being part of the price of our free society.”

There are other points of stupidity and dishonesty in Will’s OpEd, such as his discussion about tobacco.

Another legal drug, nicotine, kills more people than do alcohol and all illegal drugs — combined. For decades, government has aggressively publicized the health risks of smoking and made it unfashionable, stigmatized, expensive and inconvenient. Yet 20 percent of every rising American generation becomes addicted to nicotine.

Note that he uses tobacco to show health risks, and yet conveniently fails to mention that American society has dramatically reduced alcohol use and abuse without criminalization.


Furthermore, legalization would mean drugs of reliable quality would be conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people. So there is no reason to think today’s levels of addiction are anywhere near the levels that would be reached under legalization.

Why would clean drugs of safe dosage in controlled setting result in higher levels of addiction? Will doesn’t say. He once again implies that availability=addiction, something that is demonstrably untrue.

Throughout, he conflates alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine (and other drugs), even though all three drugs are dramatically different in terms of their effects

And finally, the specter of public health disaster from an unknown supposedly massive group of people just waiting to become addicts at the drop of a legal drug in George Will’s fantasy world still isn’t justification for the worldwide disaster that is the war on drugs.

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60 Responses to George F. Will – all drugs are identical, yet infinitely additive

  1. Francis says:

    “Then, of course, in their world-view each new drug will result in a new abuse-population segment equivalent size to that of alcohol abuse with no overlap. Logically, then, if we legalized 20 new drugs, 147 percent of the population would then be suffering from abuse and dependency.”

    Spottswoode: From what I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.N.C.E has gathered, it would be 9/11 times 100.
    Gary Johnston: 9/11 times a hundred? Jesus, that’s…
    Spottswoode: Yes, 91,100.
    Chris: Basically, all the worst parts of the bible.

  2. Francis says:

    Shorter Will: “We can’t legalize marijuana because tobacco kills hundreds of thousands every year and alcohol makes people violent and reckless behind the wheel.”

    I’m convinced.

  3. Francis says:

    Btw, Pete the title of your post “all drugs are identical, yet infinitely additive” is a BRILLIANT summary of the flawed premises that underlie so many prohibitionist arguments! Well-said!

  4. Francis says:

    “A subsequent column will suggest a more economic approach to the ‘natural’ problem of drugs.”

    What a tease. Any predictions on what Will’s secret plan to win the drug war will be?

    • Matthew Meyer says:

      My first thought was buy up all the opium poppies in the world. It’d be cheaper than the WosD, and it might work to reduce supply…the first year…

      • Francis says:

        Hmmm, God I hope he’s not that stupid. We’ve tried to fight drugs by attempting to reduce supply (i.e., crop eradication, interdiction, etc.) and we’ve also tried to reduce demand (i.e., incarcerating users and occasionally even mixing in a little “treatment” and “education”). But attempting to fight drugs by increasing demand (which is what having the government buy up “all” the opium would do), that’s um… creative thinking.

        Or maybe he’ll suggest a “balanced approach” or “smart enforcement,” you know, something really outside the box. The guy’s clearly a visionary.

      • Ed Dunkle says:

        I tell this to everybody and they think I’m crazy. All the US has to do is buy the opium poppies from the farmers in Afghanistan at triple the market rate and the U.S. will win every heart and mind in the country. But I guess Halliburton wouldn’t profit so we won’t do that.

    • Ed Dunkle says:

      Praying to a shrine of Nancy Reagan, probably.

  5. Peter says:

    Poor old George, he ought to get out a little more…

  6. Pol Pothead says:

    To win the drug war we should adopt 0 tolerance policy. Kill the counter-revolutionaries. My shit don’t stink. My gay partner agrees. Some are more equal than others. Vote Obama to stop racism. Execute the negro reefer addicts on International Reefer Awareness Anti-Drug Day. Freedom is slavery.

  7. Arghy says:

    And WHO exactly listens to that old lying zionist worthless tool?

    Oh wait…nevermind.

  8. primus says:

    Sounds like he’s a troll used by the publication to generate indignant letters to liven up their LTE section.

  9. This completely ignores the different modes of use of opiates and cocaine, and the effects of prohibition into shifting use towards the most concentrated and dangerous modes.

    The Drug War is criminal mercantilism to protect cigarette and pharm interests
    Drug War Supporters Disregard Pharmacokinetics
    Drug War Criminal Mercantilism Public Health Subversion
    Drug War Promotes Drug Abuse Over Drug Use
    Drug War Supports Neglect History of Vin Mariani
    The Narcs Gave Us Crack- Richard Cowan

  10. Franz says:

    Arghy is right.

    Will never stopped being the prim little pussy for power he was when he started at National Review kissing Buckley’s behind.

    Odd fact was at least Buckley had the honesty to go out on his yacht and TRY marijuana. It put him to sleep, and he stayed that way for the next forty years…

  11. Ben says:

    The real problem with this tripe is threefold:

    1) Marijuana has a known addiction rate, and it is not 7%. It is lower than for alcohol, tobacco, or any of the hard drugs. More like 3% – 5%.

    2) Marijuana is used by far, far fewer people than alcohol.

    3) To the extent that some current non-users might begin to use marijuana post-legalization, a large chunk of that use would REPLACE alcohol consumption. And that’s a public health WIN.

    Not to mention… Millions are ALREADY SMOKING MARIJUANA. The public health effects he imagines arrived decades ago. It wouldn’t suddenly arrive with legalization.

  12. 4) some current non users of cocaine powder become users of cocaine indirectly through coca, and some are currently Tobacco users- another BIG WIN

  13. I think George is talking towards decriminalization would stop this drug gorilla war thats effecting so many low income and property valued neighborhoods! The social Implications are many but the current drug policy is only good for people who can afford to live away from open air drug markets!

  14. strayan says:

    How does George Will explain the fact we aren’t all paint sniffing addicts?

  15. N.T. Greene says:

    Doesn’t everyone know that most MSM arguments are based around the idea that instead of dealing with counterpoints… you just ignore them? It’s not about establishing facts, it’s about editorializing.

    That’s kind of the problem overall, as I see it. We’re rarely having open discussions based around FACTS, not opinions.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      The trouble with that assertion is that the prohibitionists believe that their opinions are facts, and that insistence is proof. How does one debate the facts with an opponent who can’t differentiate fact from opinion?

  16. CJ says:

    the beginning part that brought about the lack of imagination comment… i dont understand – so, because i dont like pot, and my doc is OMG heroin i’d have to suffer difficulties in the prohibition free world… ???? So, I’d have to maybe, get a prescription?? like medical marijuana you mean?? I’d have to be further inconvenienced because im not apart of the larger majority that think pot is the only drug deserving of legalization? And this isn’t a hypothetical. I am a heroin lover and always will be and have been for a long time (working on two decades now) i am involved in reform and i really really cant stand this. No, the writer of the article is ABSOLUTEY WRONG about everything he’s said. He is a stupid, prohibitionist like Kevin Sabet and all the others. I only need to bring up the point that once upon a time, HELLO, you COULD buy pot and morphine including diacetylmorphine (which is NOTHING more than morphine + diacetyls – what are those? in a manner of speaking, acids that bring morphine to your brain faster thus, just to keep this very simple, make it a fair amount more potent but within seconds the diacetyls are GONE, vaporized, history, terminated, dinosaur-esque. They’re gone. Diacetylmorphine/diamorphine is HEROIN – heroin nothing more than the brand name like xbox is a video game system, ps3 is a video game system, they’re both video game systems. heroin is diacetylmorphine. its REALLY just morphine – a fair, i wouldnt even say decent, amount more potent) the argument for legalization loses sight of the fact that it was all collectively legal, ALL. You pot lovers had no problems and neither did folks like myself and this planet managed to not live in anarchy and chaos for those thousand + years infact, it’s quite possible that MORALITY was stronger than ever during the millenia plus that all drugs were available. Infact, quite often when history is used as a base for current and future points, philosophical or not, that time period being quoted, was a time when all drugs were available. Pot and heroin. Let’s not lose sight of that. Yeah I realize pot people are frustrated because they’re the majority, their DOC is very harmless but the lack of foresight shown sometimes is really frightening. Prohibition will continue if pot is legalized. It will be even worse. Lets lose that American sense of entitlement and selfishness for a moment to realize there are in fact other drugs than pot and that they were all legal once, the world didnt fall off its axis and they should all be legal again otherwise what are we talking about but a different form of prohibition? For example, i have hep C. the first rule of medicine is “do no harm” – using some imagination and in a figurative future whereby prohibition has finally fallen apart and now everybody can smoke pot but maybe cocaine and heroin users need a prescription – well, LOL i am FAR from the only heroin user with Hep C, lol believe me. What is that minority (but nevertheless a respectable enough percentage of a population not to be ignored) to do, when, we go about respecting these new rules and appeal to get a heroin script and are told we cant. We cant because of Hep C. Would the druggist say that? No. The drug dealers NEVER say that though NOT SURPRISINGLY the dealers atleast offer a “are you ok” “hey be careful” and lots of other encouraging, supportive and CARING comments/questions. Anyhow – then what? Well, then the cycle of prohibition continues because we’ve been doing it with hep c for god knows how long and the changes in prohibition have that pot loving majority happy but alas we’re still screwed. Yeah that guy who wrote the article is a piece of garbage prohibitionist. i agree. Prohibition needs to end and not in the quick fix way of the “generation me” or whatever the “me-now generation” ok ok lets make pot legal i accept the deal, cause i want my legal pot, right now!! NO! That’s not OK. thats NOT an acceptable deal. Not even close to an acceptable deal.

    (edit – and when im talking about the writer being a prohibitionist idiot piece of trash im referring to GEORGE F not pete – god no. i love pete. infact, i was commenting on some other site and mentioned pete as a great reformist so i just thought i should clarify – although, i do think sometimes pete does have a bit of the pot only tunnel vision…sometimes…said with the utmost respect of course)

    • claygooding says:

      I have been fighting marijuana prohibition so long I can’t remember when I wasn’t anymore,since 1968.

      Marijuana advocates have accepted that trying to legalize all drugs is a no-win situation,up until recently and I am not sure that even the recession and resulting budget cuts will make any injection drug viable in the first round of stopping prohibition.

      While all people have been exposed to people taking smoke into their lungs,very few have injected drugs or been around when someone else does,,the familiarity to people smoking weed is understood by most people,,even smoking opium may receive more support than injecting drugs.

      I lucked out,I was exposed to needle drugs in VN and saw first hand the damage caused by injecting drugs and swore at 18 to never use a needle but that does not mean I wouldn’t smoke some opium.

      I now try to post ending prohibition for all drugs except when the article is expressly for marijuana legalization but I don’t think it will all happen at the same time.

    • darkcycle says:

      CJ, not a lot of “Pot only” reformers here, buddy. I very badly want some legal access for Heroin users (lets not forget that while diamorphone is not available by prescription in the US, it’s twin brother, oxymorphone is, as are fentanyl, and about a dozen other powerful analogs. So while there has been access through prescriptions for opiates, there has been absolutely NO access to Cannabis for seventy years now, ’til MMJ laws). But NOBODY here is going to get their entire wish list filled by reform.
      Since you hypothetically already have access by prescription, then a reasonable reform to the laws surrounding the issuance of those prescriptions (to include harm reduction and safe access for addicts and recreational users)could fill the bill. Pot isn’t that way, it’s the only drug that is completely, totally, off limits to anybody for any reason.
      I’ll also point out that I’m a little offended that you seem to lump all of us reformers into the pot only catagory. Seeing as how just two days ago, I had the misfortune of adding another name to the lengthening list of my friends or aquaintences who have died of heroin overdose.
      To be fair, there are a lot of folks who think “hey there’s no reason pot should be illegal” who balk at the suggestion of legalized heroin or cocaine. Not too many of those up on this blog, though, so at least take it a little easy on us, huh?
      I’m never in my lifetime going to have complete, unfettered access to cannabis the way that “God” intended it. There will be some restrictions on age and use that will be imposed, there is just no way ’round that fact. I understand that and I accept that. Same as you are going to have to accept that society is probably never going to allow unfettered access to your drug of choice. The restrictions that will be imposed on that will be needfully more tight, since heroin carries additional quantifiable risks in terms of physical dependency and overdose, etc. So don’t expect to walk to your local seven eleven to score (if you walk to your local seven eleven to score now, well, that will have to change).
      I understand your frustration, though, and I think that while you will find a lot of folks in the general who believe pot should be legal, and heroin shouldn’t, there aren’t many people like that working in drug law reform. Harm reduction, old chap. It’s what the drug laws should really be all about. …oh yeah, be careful, okay?

  17. Francis says:

    There’s a really great response to the George Will column from Jacob Sullum over at reason. Very much worth the read.

    • darkcycle says:

      No way! they accepted your definition…mine was flatly rejected! HA! Good one, Malc!!
      Now we need to get “Francis’ Law” in there!

      • darkcycle says:

        OOOHH. OUCH. OUCH-OUCHY-OUCH. That stings.

      • Francis says:

        That was weeks ago! You were just ahead of your time. But NOW the “Francis’ Law” meme has thoroughly permeated the interwebs. I mean, I’m seeing it EVERYWHERE… ok, mostly in my own comments, but still… 😉

        • Duncan20903 says:

          I wonder how long it too Mike Godwin to get people to take his joke seriously? At least Francis’ Law is demonstrably very real.

    • allan says:

      *I bow…*

      how about trying “excrementalism”… something along the lines of the belief that piled high enough, Prohibition bullshit can drown out any voice of reason and block all sight of facts and common sense. Of course just like the Emperor and his new (and non-existent) clothing excrementalist beliefs are fictional, self-delusional and are laughed at by those who do see.

  18. joe says:

    george is a boot licking idiot. how else does he stay on tv and in print.

  19. Matthew Meyer says:

    OT: is Maia Szalavitz really implying that the Obama administration is raiding pot dispensaries in order to make a more compelling case for Obamacare? She can’t really be saying that, can she?

    • Francis says:

      No, I don’t think that’s what she’s saying. (The headline doesn’t really seem to fit.) I think she’s just pointing out that the “federalism” issue that’s implicated by both Obamacare and the dispensary raids (i.e., what are the limits of the federal government’s power under the commerce clause) can produce mixed results for (anti-Obamacare, pro-WOD) conservatives and (pro-Obamacare, anti-WOD) progressives.

      In an ironic twist, the legal precedent that allows federal raids on state-permitted medical marijuana providers may be the key ruling that will enable President Obama’s health care plan to survive the Supreme Court. The government has repeatedly cited the case in its briefs and in oral argument: Gonzales v. Raich, a 6-to-3 ruling in 2005 that resulted in some odd ideological pairings.

      From a libertarian perspective, I’ll just say the following. To (pro-Obamacare) progressives: “a government big enough to give you everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.” And to (pro-WOD) conservatives: “was sticking it to the ‘hippies’ really worth gutting the constitution you claim to revere? Enjoy your Obamacare. And thanks a lot.”

      • darkcycle says:

        Francis, Obama care is an atrocity wrought by the insurance industry and a faulty congressional process (60 vote super majority, etc.). Healthcare reform, (thanks to Obushma, now an impossible hope) is absolutely critical, we pay more for a lower standard of care than any other developed country.
        In that I believe the government’s job is to address issues that directly affect the well being of society as a whole, such as education and healthcare, I am a socialist. As pertains to issues that involve the conduct of individual persons within society, I adhere to Crowley’s maxim: Do as thou wilt, but harm no other. (I depart from Crowley in that he did not believe that inaction could constitute harm)Crowley and John Dee (my ancestor) both got a bad rap, courtesy of the Catholic Church.

  20. allan says:

    Coalition Urges Obama to End “War” on Medical Marijuana

    The letter to Obama is endorsed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), and the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

  21. Chris says:

    See you at hash bash in ann arbor tomorrow!

  22. allan says:

    oh lord… please save us us from this plague of idiots:

    Illegal drugs ravage nation, destroy human potential!

    hmmm… a plague of idiots… has a certain ring to it. I can see a feature movie, future sequels… “Return to the Planet of the Idiots,” “Conquest of the Planet of the Idiots”…

    So that link reads just like the title indicates it will. Summed up = “damned hippies, everything bad about the world is their fault.” Have fun, take your eviscerating tools. Only 2 comments so far.

    • darkcycle says:

      Allan, when I read that, I laughed so hard I ruptured a gut. I’m sorry, I just could not take it seriously enough to compose an actual critique. But at the same time, I couldn’t let it go unanswered, so here’s what I wrote:
      “Okay. This is what you get when you learn United States History from reruns of “Leave it to Beaver”. Stay in school, kids!”

  23. claygooding says:

    It worries me that the prohibitionist are scraping the bottom of the barrel with their collective/additive rhetoric and has me seriously worrying about ANYONE that has recollections or knowledge of history believing one word of it.

    That article needs the prohibitionist’s offer to assist them when it is time for the long jump on a short rope.

  24. Triumph of the Swill says:

    Here is some stupidity from an alleged higher institution of learning:

  25. darkcycle says:

    Do marijuana users make safer drivers? One insurance company study seems to say so:

    • claygooding says:

      It will be after we are taking our dirt nap but one day if traffic continues to plague our urban areas it will be required to smoke a joint 15 minutes before driving in DC,Chicago,LA,Atlanta and NY.(Too many to list all that need it now)

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