Review – Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, part 2

“Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark A.R. Kleiman

This is part two of my review. Please read part one to see where I talk about some excellent things that are in this book, along with some general problems. Today, I want to take a closer look at one particular small passage.

It has to do with whether or not most of those who are likely to be pre-disposed to dependent drug behavior will have already found their opportunity to become dependent prior to legalization, meaning that even if legalization results in a large increase in the number of users, it won't necessarily result in a large increase in the number of abusers.

This is something I've talked about often as a response to those who fear the unknown spike in post-legalization usage (for all currently illicit drugs), and the book addresses it, sort of…

But isn't everyone with an addictive personality already addicted to something?

Sorry, but this argument for legalization is mere wishful thinking. While it's true that people with drug addictions tend to have some personality traits in common, many of those traits (such as secretiveness) tend to develop and become entrenched only after the addictions–as effects, not causes. Certainly there are differences across individuals and population groups in susceptibility to specific addictive behaviors, and some of those differences seem to have a genetic basis. But those are tendencies, not the irrevocable decrees of fate.

The answer fails to address or (perhaps) understand the question.

As the authors note, there are certain people who, due to genetics or due to their “situation” in life, are more susceptible to dependent behaviors. These people don't need legalization for those behaviors to surface. Alcohol is legal and readily available to anyone. Illicit drugs are also far from difficult to obtain. There are very few Americans who haven't had opportunities to partake in some kind of drug, and therefore, the opportunity to feed any latent dependent tendencies.

It is highly unlikely that marijuana legalization, for example, will result in someone with a predisposition to dependency trying drugs for the first time.

Take a look at the same thing from the reverse side. What are the marginal effects of prohibition? Are drug abusers likely to be easily deterred by prohibition? Of course not. The most likely to be deterred are the casual users – the equivalent of wine-with-dinner-and-a-drink-with-friends-after-the-show-Friday-night users. Illegality deters the people who are the least problematic, and has very little effect on the problem users. So when you legalize, you are lifting the deterrence specifically for the least problematic users.

This means that while an increase in post-legalization use may result in some increase in dependency, it would likely be a far, far smaller group.

Let's say, for example, that 10% of those who currently use marijuana have some kind of dependency issues (which, as we know, are very mild with marijuana). The book uses 9%, but 10% will be easier. Now, let's assume that legalization will result in a 50% increase in the number of marijuana users. Clearly, based on the above arguments, there's no way that 10% of that increased group will be abusers. It would be a fraction of that. But let's say, for the purpose of argument, that a full 6% of that increased group will be abusers (way too high, in my opinion, but let's look at it anyway).

See the chart below. The first bar shows that for every 100 users, 10 are dependent (the remainder are labeled “recreational”). The second shows when you increase the number of users by 50% (with 6% of the increased population portion as abusers) that for every 150 users, 13 are dependent.

As this graphically demonstrates, even in a pessimistic analysis, even large increases in users post-legalization are unlikely to result in a world full of zombies.

Add to this the fact that post-legalization, all efforts can be directed at helping those who are dependent, as opposed to the prohibition sledge hammer of going after all users. There are benefits to regulated legalization that can actually reduce the number of dependent drug users. We could even theoretically see a net savings. This is critical, as that would undermine the only weak argument left for the paternalistic prohibitionist.

To be fair, the authors of the book (for the most part) do not seem overly concerned about a massive explosion of dependent marijuana users, even while overestimating the numbers. They note that marijuana dependence is significantly milder. But their inflation of likely dependent numbers is very concerning to the overall analysis in the book, and additionally, the marginal effects will be even more important to understand as we get into discussions down the road of legalized and regulated cocaine and heroin.

The author who appears most concerned about increased numbers of marijuana users is Jon Caulkins, who seems to fear an epidemic of damaged children of stoned parents.

I'm not sure where he gets that fear. It's not something you hear much about, except in ridiculous over-the-top ONDCP-funded television commercials.

It makes me wonder if there are a lot of those damaged kids who have now grown up…

Yeah, my childhood was horrible. My parents laughed a lot, and they made us listen to jazz and Pink Floyd and then we'd eat ice cream. And we had to go to music festivals…. I don't want to talk about it.

Still to come– I'll talk about the section on marijuana and alcohol.

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23 Responses to Review – Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, part 2

  1. kaptinemo says:

    There might be more users after legalization…and thus, more abusers.

    And there might be a monster under the bed. And there might be a boogeyman waiting in the closet. And I have to carry a stick with me when I go to the can, because I’m terrified there might be a water imp hiding in my commode, waiting to bite my nuts off.

    (Long string of profanity, punctuated by rude gestures)

    How many safety helmets, how much plastic foam, how many knee and shin guards would such people have you wear before they are satisfied that you are ‘safe’ enough just to step outside your own doorway?

    Jeez, this country wasn’t settled by wimps. Nor was it settled by Nervous Nellies. Some people are hand-wringing about a legal, regulated market, when the black market supplies all manner of horrors on a daily basis? Horrors that far outstrip anything that legal market could produce? Some folks lack a sense of perspective…

    I said it before and I’ll say it again: drug prohibition belongs in Grandpa’s grave with him. It’s a concept whose day was done the moment it was first proposed, but there’s always a few people who never get the lesson. The problem is that they force the rest of us to have to go through the long, laborious and miserable process of them arriving at the point we reached long ago and making the same conclusion we did…after so much blood, death and suffering that was needlessly endured.

    • kaptinemo says:

      One more thing: when will these goofs be called out for supporting a policy based upon racial bigotry and little else?

      When will these apologists for a demonstrably failed policy be called on the carpet for proposing YET ANOTHER additional buzzer, light, bell, whistle, lever, button, etc. to a Rube Goldberg machine that never had a chance of working in the first place?

      You cannot make an apple pie from a lump of mud, and no amount of Gub’mint propaganda developed by an academic is going to get me to entertain the idea of eating it. And if anything resembles that lump of mud, policy-wise, it’s drug prohibition.

  2. darkcycle says:

    Seems to me that this line of reasoning relies on there being a huge cohort of people who WANT to use pot, but never have. Presumably these people are deterred by the fear of legal sanctions, and not their own sense of trepidation. I find that difficult to swallow. Because the prohibition on marijuana has NOT meant that it is in any sense hard to get. It is available anywhere at any time. Even in prisons and schools. In fact it could be considered highly unusual for a fully functioning adult in this country to have NOT had multiple opportunities to experiment with cannabis. Many settings present a near zero risk of intervention by police or agents of prohibition.
    I find it more likely these people have found personal reasons for NOT using pot. We can be sure they have been exposed to it, and had opportunities to use it which present very little risk. I simply cannot see where this new cohort of potential addicts could come from. The authors start with the fact that large percentage of the population has not used pot, and automatically assume that first, they are likely to be addicted at the same rate as those who actively seek drugs out, and second that it is fear of legal sanction that deters them.
    That is nonsense from a behavioral perspective. People who seek drugs out are likely to have addictive personalities. People who do not seek drugs out are quite a bit less inclined to addiction. Our first experiences with altered mental states occur in childhood. Some people go on to pursue those altered states, most do not. Those people are likely to become addicts. But life sorts those people out, regardless. Addiction is fully fungible. That’s why in therapy we refer to a patien’s “drug of choice”. It acknowledges the fact that in the absence of the DOC, an addict will use whatever drug they are able to get. That somehow the legalization of a substance would make more of those people strikes me as an odd thought.
    This was much longer that I had thought or hoped it would be, but I hope I made sense. I’ll have more coffee and come back to this one.

    • And moreover, these people who want to use pot but are deterred by the threat of legal sanction ALSO abstain from alcohol, presumably because they don’t enjoy its effects.

  3. Peter says:

    A little background on Caulkins’ drug warrior credentials from his faculty page at Carnegie Mellon:

    “He chairs the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Data, Research, and Evaluation Committee and is a scientific advisor for Australia’s Drug Policy Modeling Project, PIRE’s Prevention Research Center, the Allegheny Country Jail Collaborative, and the Partnership for a Drug Free America Social Marketing Advisory Board.”

    • kaptinemo says:

      The last says it all. PFDFA. The professional liars (coma victim brainwaive touted as cannabis user’s, etc.) who’d wither in a docket if they had to worry about perjury, as almost every word they’ve spoken and written is bull.

    • Common Science says:

      “Yeah, my childhood was horrible. My parents laughed a lot, and they made us listen to jazz and Pink Floyd and then we’d eat ice cream. And we had to go to music festivals…. I don’t want to talk about it.”

      From age 6, our son grew up immersed in theatre – on stage, backstage and in the pit. Until he was about 14, when he showed proficiency in guitar, flute and alto – he only heard acoustic music playing in the house. He started composing at 13 and was licensed to teach speech arts at 16 after a number of years excelling in provincial drama competitions. Jazz cats, in various bands at the local Elks Hall, saw to it that as a minor; he stay out of the sight lines by the dartboard so that he could jam in the later sets when the drinking crowd would thin out.

      He grew up hanging out with his father’s animator friends and attended a number of Vancouver Jazz Festivals. Just before he became of legal drinking age this spring, we hit the clubs in New Orleans in an exhausting cultural immersion of the birthplace of American music. He is on the dean’s honour list heading into his 4th year of Jazz & Music Studies in university. Before September – he is once again busy transcribing music for his instructors classes, his own funk band, and is a program coordinator at a musical theatre school, whose ‘Les Mis’ production involving young thespians from across Canada will see him also playing a couple of instruments in the pit.

      Oh the obvious damage my numerous dalliances with the herb superb has inflicted on my son!

      • darkcycle says:

        I understand drugs, CS. But the fine arts? You konow what theater leads to, don’t you?
        It leads to no good (and a couch full of wierdos).

        • darkcycle says:

          I just came back and read that. Perhaps I should proof read. But “quickies” are so satisfying. Apologies, and I hope my wife, the English Lit. teacher doesn’t see that.

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  5. When you are in the middle of a war it is easy to make a villain of your enemy. This fear of damaging children has never really been well born out in studies. The opposite seems to have heavier weight.

    Exposing marijuana myths:A Scientific View of the Evidence by John P. Morgan and Lynn Zimmer


  6. Servetus says:

    Much of what passes for arguments favoring tactical drug enforcement against common citizens hangs by a thread. The thread in this case is the question of who owns a person’s body and health, the citizens themselves, or the state?

    Under the drug prohibition practiced in the U.S., it’s clear the enforcers believe in state control and state ownership of one’s body and health. A similar kind of pseudo-medical system was one of the defining characteristics of Hitler’s Nazi Germany:

    “This [Nazi system] signified nothing less than a paradigmatic change for medicine and health care as a whole.

    The idea of medical services for the health of the individual and the simultaneous recognition of the right to control one’s own body was removed politically by the concept of the health of the people. ‘Your health does not belong to you!’ ran the corresponding slogan, and with the framework of a massively promoted medicine of performance, good health became a duty. Good health was no longer of value in itself, but rather the precondition for optimum capability in performance and productivity. ” — Norbert Frei, National Socialist Rule in Germany: The Führer State 1933-1945, (Blackwell, Great Britain, 1993), p 223.

    Taken to its logical extreme, the German State’s ownership of its citizens’ bodies and health became the basis for the Nazi euthanasia program operating between 1939 and 1941, code named Aktion T-4 , which involved ‘mercy’ killings of people deemed to be ‘unfit for life.’

    The imprisonment of drug users is similar in its function to the Nazi program, in that prohibition is designed by default to be eliminationist, to remove targeted minorities or undesirables from participation in society without any realistic regard for their health.

    • Matthew Meyer says:

      Contemporary Comfort Eagle ideology has it that we own our own bodies, but that our actions with our own bodies may affect others in ways that are damaging to the “social body” and are therefore susceptible of state intervention.

      I think it’s a big difference between the drug war and the Nazis, both in the practical consequences and in the ideologies involved. Drugs are bad, says the Comfort Eagle, because they make us unfree choosers, compulsive consumers, and irrational agents.

      At the same time, the Comfort Eagle doesn’t feel bad for crushing these unfree consumers because, paradoxically, their situation (including their treatment by the state) is thought to be a result of choices for which they must be held responsible. (“One criminal robbing another. Meh.” went one comment I saw today about a home invasion for cannabis.)

      Privately, many in the Upper Echelons of the Comfort Eagle Apparatus suspect particular drug-using groups of having a special affinity for these devilish substances because of their own, ahem, dark essences, but this is a very different thing from a declared policy of ethnic / racial cleansing.

    • kaptinemo says:

      And Richard Miller does a very good job of laying out that kind of mindset and where it ultimately leads in his 1996 book Drug Warriors and Their Prey

      He’s been terrifyingly prescient of late…

  7. Dante says:

    So, the prohibitionists don’t want to legalize drugs because that would be bad for the health of the people.

    To accomplish this, they put the people in unhealthy prisons where the people get sick and die, or they simply shoot the people dead. And their little dogs, too.


  8. Byddaf yn egluro: says:

    Google Marijuana & Belize, please!

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  10. strayan says:

    Age of initiation or ‘first use’ is a risk factor for developing a substance dependence. For example, the younger someone is when they start smoking tobacco the higher their risk of becoming cigarette dependent. It is plausible that the risk of dependence (ignoring genetic predispositions and other social determinants) could be retarded by policy designed to increase the mean age of first use. I would welcome such a policy.

    The policy of cannabis prohibition has resulted in quite the opposite – the mean age of first use has steadily decreased with successive birth cohorts (in Australia at least). This is a major policy failure. According to the Australian government adolescents aged 14-19 years “more likely to have ever tried cannabis (25.5%) than tobacco (16.2%)”. Why are more adolescents using cannabis than tobacco and why are cannabis users getting younger? I would like someone who thinks that cannabis prohibition reduces the risk of developing a cannabis dependence to explain how prohibition deters people from becoming dependent.

    • darkcycle says:

      I know those studies, strayan. “Age of first use” studies mask another phenomenon (IMHO). Those studies concentrate on the person’s first experimentation with drugs or alcohol, resulting in intoxication. They don’t consider having a sip of daddy’s beer, or a glass of wine at the holidays. I would contend that the child is already seeking the intoxication effect.
      A child’s first experience with “intoxication” comes from dizziness on the playground, and experimenting with hyperventilation. All kids find those effects first, and observations are that some kids respond very differently to those self induced states. Also, a large number are introduced to cold medications, like benadryl, at a very early age (don’t get me started on mothers who dope their kids, but trust me, it happens ALOT). I’m not saying the studies are wrong, but they could be identifying a behavior that may well already be an established pattern. Those kids are possibly having that first experience because they are seeking it out at an earlier age. Until we have tried the experiment (isolating a random group of kids and making sure they had no experience with drugs at all), we can’t say for sure what is being measured there.

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  12. Emma says:

    Pete, you use a 50% increase in marijuana use as an example. In the Kleiman et al book, they actually say that a 50% increase would probably not be a problem, but they think the increase could be as much as 200-300%. This is in the section on benefit-risk.

    It’s important to distinguish between increase in number of users and increase in total amount of cannabis consumed. I think Kleiman et al are mostly focused on total amount used.

    • Pete says:

      Yes, and I am focused on the number of users and abusers, which I consider to be a more relevant statistic than the absolute quantity consumed.

      Even if the number of users increased 200-300%, my thesis still stands showing that as numbers of users go up, the percentage of that increase in users that are dependent is likely to plummet. So that even huge increases in number of users will result in very minor increase in abusers.

      An additional problem with the Kleiman et all emphasis on quantity is the assumption that marijuana is a simple quantity drug. While there will be some place for a Budweiser of marijuana, most marijuana users under legalization are going to be more like craft beer or single-malt scotch consumers – becoming connoisseurs of different strains and effects.

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