This article has been discussed at length in the comments here by those who hang out on the couch, but I was slow to get around to reading it — to be honest, I didn’t feel very excited about slogging through it. But I finally took a look:
The Real Dangers of Marijuana by Jonathan P. Caulkins in National Affairs.
Caulkins is part of a fairly tight group of drug policy pundits “in the academy” who, over the years, have claimed a middle ground by regularly condemning both sides in the drug policy debate, even if they had to invent straw men to “balance” the sides. Because of this, over the years, I have often referred to them as “intellectually dishonest” — the one insult that seems to aggravate them the most. It’s likely that part of the reason for their false middle positioning is pragmatic, as it helps give them consulting cred for opportunities with RAND, AEI, etc.
Here’s a great example in Caulkins’ piece of blatant faulty comparison:
Choosing prohibition means choosing black markets; choosing legalization means choosing greater drug dependence. It is trite but true: A country can choose what kind of drug problem it wants, but it cannot choose not to have a drug problem.
They’ve written books together, articles together, etc., and, while they do have their disagreements from time to time, you can usually count on them to stand together in their balanced opposition to both prohibition and any real opposition to prohibition, as well as the impossible demand to have the answers to all possible future questions about legalization before making significant changes in policy (as Mark Kleiman positively approves over at The Reality-based Community).
Another thing they seem to share is a strong (some might even say fascistic) nanny-state approach to policy when it comes to any kind of recreational drug. They will invariably identify a minority of the population who, for one reason or another (reasons they tend to avoid discussing at length) have a dysfunctional relationship with that drug, and then decide that policy should dictate extreme restrictions for the entire population (not just the affected population).
For example, Caulkins specifically notes that “marijuana is, for the most part, not directly harmful to third parties” and “its health harms are, for the most part, minor.” For most people, that would be a sure indication that any restriction should be very narrowly tailored. And now, of course, that legalization is inevitable, Caulkins no longer objects per se, but instead suggests that marijuana should be, as Kleiman suggests “tolerated grudgingly.” Caulkins approvingly notes “That means allowing adults access to some legally produced supply, hopefully on liberal enough terms to undermine the black market, but with restraints and hoops for users and suppliers to jump through that will be seen as features of the regulatory regime, not wrinkles to be ironed out.” Never a thought of narrowly tailoring any solution to specifically dealing with those who have a problem with marijuana. Instead, all users and suppliers are to have difficulty under Caulkins’ thinking.
This is bad policy. And just like prohibition, it involves using a sledge hammer instead of really addressing any actual problems.
Here’s a bit in the article I found rather humorous:
With the exception of the Drug Enforcement Administration, most opposition comes not from government but from non-profit groups like National Families in Action, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the Institute for Behavioral Health, and the Hudson Institute. The governmental heavyweight, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is quick to point out marijuana’s dangers but even quicker to disavow having any official position on policy questions like legalization or decriminalization.
That really downplays governmental opposition. First of all, the DEA is huge. Second, there is the matter of all the rest of law enforcement in the country, which has been, to a large extent, bribed by the federal government to toe the anti-legalization line. Then there are agencies like the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service that have gotten in the way of state legalization efforts, the U.S. attorneys, Congress, the military… Yeah, not much governmental opposition there.
Now, let’s get to the title that I put on this post:
“It is clear we would all be better off if Jonathan P. Caulkins did not exist.”
What a horrible statement! I’m sure that Jonathan has family and friends who love him very much and the notion that they’d be better off if he didn’t exist is offensive. Why would I even consider making such a statement just because I disagree with a small impact that he has in this world? Why not just oppose those specific points without completely negating any value that he might have as a human being?
The purpose of the title of the post was to draw attention to Caulkin’s statement:
“It is clear we would all be better off if marijuana did not exist.”
In this one statement, he betrays any sense of intellectual honesty.
Who is he to decide that the entire world would be better off without the existence of marijuana just because he has identified a small subset of the population who deal with it dysfunctionally? What kind of arrogance is that?
For many people, marijuana is a valuable and wonderful thing with which they have a fully functional relationship (much as Jonathan’s friends and family may have with him). To deny or ignore that is to completely miss the boat in developing actual legitimate public policy.
By making this statement, Caulkins has shown that he’s not interested in good public policy, but rather, like a petulant child, imposing a particular viewpoint on everyone.