Once again, the Change.org website held an open forum for voting on which issues Americans want the Obama Administration to address. The results were announced and – once again – ending marijuana prohibition was one of the top issues voted on. In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper discovered the same thing when he agreed to respond to questions from the online community. He was expected to respond to these questions today.
This isn’t happening because George Soros is paying large sums of money to skew these surveys or because hackers are rigging the vote. But on the other hand, it’s also not happening because marijuana prohibition is the most pressing issue in the world right now (although it has far more impact on the world around us than many of us realize). It’s happening because the issue of marijuana prohibition is the topic where the general public most readily recognizes that the words and actions of our government are thoroughly detached from reality. It’s an issue that garners a large amount of agreement between liberals and conservatives, and for which the dividing line between those who support prohibition and those who oppose it tends not to be along that ideological axis, but instead about whether or not people pay close attention to it.
When former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske was named as Obama Administrator’s drug czar, there was a glimmer of hope that all of this might change. Kerlikowske was the police chief for a city where marijuana law enforcement was the lowest priority – by voter initiative – and yet there were no negative consequences; a city that holds a festival every August where over 100,000 people gather in a park to smoke pot, buy drug paraphernalia, and make speeches in support of legalizing the drug. He was the police chief who had previously met with medical marijuana patients and made it clear that he knew that they were as far from criminals as people could possibly be. But now as drug czar, he’s done a complete 180 and has even questioned the medical use for marijuana.
Looking back, Kerlikowske’s unwillingness to make real changes should have been expected. It’s been pointed out time and time again that it’s technically within his job description to lie in order to keep making the case that marijuana should remain illegal. But that doesn’t necessarily make it ok for him to do so (and it also doesn’t help Obama much in convincing young voters that his administration is really about changing the way Washington functions). The best solution here remains to remove the position of the drug czar entirely – or to re-invent it with a radically different charter.
In the meantime, we’ll continue seeing laughable propaganda pieces in the old-guard traditional media, like this one in the Christian Science Monitor, which Kerlikowske’s predecessor as Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper, criticizes here. On top of Stamper’s points, I want to specifically call out some of the most egregious errors in the Christian Science Monitor piece:
On medical marijuana, which has strong public backing in opinion polls, the former Seattle police chief said that “science should determine what a medicine is, not popular vote.” As Kerlikowske pointed out, marijuana is harmful – and he has the studies to back it up.
Here’s a nine-page list of medical organizations, from the Institute of Medicine to the American College of Physicians to the American Medical Students Association, who all agree that the components in the marijuana plant have medicinal value – and that when used properly can have benefits to people with a variety of ailments. As mentioned above, when Kerlikowske was the Police Chief here in Seattle, he used to meet with patient groups and clearly knows this.
Legalization supporters argue that no one has ever died from an overdose of this “soft” drug. But here’s what “science” has found so far: Smoking marijuana can result in dependence on the drug.
Ignoring the fact that the second sentence of that paragraph doesn’t rebut the first one – and the fact that the study that they cite to claim that 30 percent of marijuana users are dependent is questionable, at best – the likelihood of becoming dependent on a drug isn’t a very persuasive argument for prohibition. If so, we’d have to outlaw tobacco and alcohol again – and completely ban the vast majority of prescription pain medications out there. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, tobacco, and most other pain medications. The Lancet Journal in the UK ranked marijuana as being more safe than both alcohol and tobacco. And as any police officer can tell you, a person who is drinking alcohol is far more of a threat to the general public than a person who is smoking pot.
It’s a claim that’s too good to be true, just as the exclamation point implies. Look at the nation’s experience with regulated alcohol. America collects nearly $15 billion a year in federal and state taxes from alcohol. But Kerlikowske says that covers less than 10 percent of the “social costs” related to healthcare, lost productivity, and law enforcement. And what about lost lives? Let’s not add marijuana to the mix of regulated substances.
So, following the Christian Science Monitor’s logic, we should outlaw alcohol again right? Well, no, of course not, and that’s why this argument is nuts. Why is that? Because the law enforcement costs of trying to implement alcohol prohibition were significantly greater. And since prohibition didn’t stop most people from drinking alcohol, the healthcare and lost productivity costs were still there. That’s why we ended alcohol prohibition, because it didn’t work. The equation isn’t much different for marijuana. In fact, because marijuana is a much safer drug, the healthcare and lost productivity costs are even less.
The Dutch – so often praised by marijuana advocates – have had to greatly ratchet back the number of legal marijuana outlets because of crime, nuisance, and increased pot usage among youth.
This is completely incorrect. Holland has implemented new restrictions on where coffeeshops can be, but youth marijuana use rates are far lower in Holland than in the United States. And the only “nuisance” has been that people from other countries like Germany have been coming to border towns to buy it legally. This is a problem that would simply disappear if it were legal elsewhere. And to emphasize the silliness of the earlier point on “social costs”, Holland rakes in nearly half-a-billion Euros in tax proceeds from their coffeeshops, but their “social costs” from drug use are no different than any other European country.
Individuals who reach age 21 without using drugs are almost certain to never use them. But according to a study by a leading source on young people and drugs, Monitoring the Future, marijuana use among teens has increased in recent years, after a decade of decline. Teens perceive less risk in use – not surprising when states approve of it as medicine. Risk perception greatly influences drug use among young people.
The numbers simply don’t back up the Christian Science Monitor’s theory here. If what they were saying is true, usage rates among young people would have increased in states that have medical marijuana laws. In fact, the opposite happened. The states that have enacted medical marijuana laws saw teenage marijuana use rates decline.
None of these talking points from Kerlikowske and his willing megaphones in the press are new. It’s the same tired old crap that gets rolled out every time drug warriors try to defend its indefensible policy on marijuana. Whether Kerlikowkse is doing this because the law requires him to – or because the Obama Administration still finds it prudent to have him do this – he’s clearly distinguishing himself as the Obama Administration’s most shameless propagandist. For a President who came into office committed to leave behind the days of ideology trumping science, there’s no one undermining that perception more right now than our former police chief.