Cannabis and alcohol (reprise)

David Frum and I agree that “But something else is even worse than X!” is not a good reason to ignore the X problem: autos kill more people than guns, but we should still try to reduce the number of people killed with guns. And the fact that alcohol is a much nastier drug than cannabis, both physiologically and behaviorally, doesn’t make cannabis abuse either rare or benign.

But Point #13 in the post Frum links to wasn’t about the comparison between cannabis and alcohol; it was about the causal connection between cannabis policy and alcohol abuse. As Frum notes, alcohol use and cannabis use are now positively correlated. But that doesn’t tell you anything conclusive about whether making cannabis legally available would increase or decrease heavy drinking.

In my view, an increase of as little as 10% in heavy drinking would wipe out any benefits from cannabis legalization, including the benefit in the form of fewer arrests because of the additional crime that would go along with the additional heavy drinking. Frum is aware of that possibility.

But he ignores the opposite possibility, equally plausible in terms of both logic and evidence. If legalizing cannabis (under some specified set of taxes and regulations, including, for example, a ban on lacing beer with cannabinoids) turned out to decrease heavy drinking by 10%, then any “public health case against cannabis legalization” would vanish in – pardon me – a puff of smoke.

Since the benefit-cost analysis of cannabis legalization turns crucially on its effect on heavy drinking, and since that effect is unknown, dogmatic assertions about whether legalization would, on balance, be beneficial or harmful are not justified by the current state of knowledge. (Principled support for legalization on libertarian grounds, or principled opposition to it on cultural-conservative grounds, remain logical possibilities.)

The question seems to me close enough, and the risks limited enough, to justify an experimental approach: letting Colorado and Washington go ahead with state-level legalization to see what happens. Someone else, assigning different probabilities to the possible outcomes or different weights to the categories of gain and loss, could reasonably oppose even experimental legalization as a bad gamble.

But someone who says “I know that the harms of legalization would outweigh the harms from prohibition” (or vice versa) is, it seems to me, fooling himself, allowing his cultural preferences to influence his judgment about empirical matters in just the way Dan Kahan describes.

Comments

  1. Ken Doran says

    In a world where marijuana can move toward legalization, fundamental change in alcohol policy should not be brushed away with “can’t happen”. An explicit policy of taxing alcohol, on the basis of the actual quantity of alcohol in a given beverage, at the highest rate that can be maintained without generating counter-productive black markets would be a wise move for society — and might partner well with availability of marijuana.

    • Mark Kleiman says

      Agreed. Curious that none of the “drug policy reform” groups is willing to talk about tightening the alcohol rules.

      • darkcycle says

        I just sprayed my keyboard with coffee mixed with chocolate bar. That’s peachy Mark.
        Since our entire argument stems from the recognition that prohibitions (and / or excessive regulations) are the SOURCE of our drug problems, not the route to eliminating them, that is absurd. Say it with me…harm reduction, not harm creation. We don’t usually go about looking for new legal restrictions where education and good social policy would have a greater effect.

        • Nick says

          Do you have any idea of what Kleiman’s position on alcohol policy is? “[E]ducation and good social policy” is a pretty good description. One wonders whether you just assume (for some bizarre reason) that he’s suggesting a return to Prohibition.

      • says

        I’m from CLEAR – Cannabis Law Reform (UK Political Party). We’re a Single Issue Party, for the End of Prohibition against Cannabis. But we have our individual views, knowing that alcohol is a big problem, and it would be great to be able to do something about it, but one step at a time, it’s a fight as it is without doubling it up.

        Joel Dalais
        CLEAR – Cannabis Law Reform

  2. says

    We should be skeptical about doing strict cost benefit analysis of human freedom. Otherwise BASE jumping and lots of risky sex should be illegal.

    I doubt it would do much harm to legalize pot, but whether it would or not, it would ratify the principle that people have the right to take risks to have fun.

    • Nick says

      Base jumping is, of course, illegal in many areas precisely because the risks that base jumpers would be taking would tend to involve not only their own safety but that of others.

      As in so many other cases, the Libertarian Argument (i.e. “FREEEEEEEEDOM!!!!!!”) is of limited utility here.

      • says

        Plenty of folks across the political spectrum would disagree that “freedom” is worth little consideration in public policy. Cannabis prohibition is mainly a historical artifact; if it had never been criminalized the case for changing the law to arrest hundreds of thousands of people a year would be wafer thin and laughed away. Libertarians are wrong to discount the harm of most of the other illicit drugs, but cannabis… Take up Kleiman’s grow-your-own policy and move along.

        • Nick says

          The gap between “freedom is worth little consideration in public policy” and “FREEEEEEEEDOM!!!!!!” is big enough to drive a drug policy through.

          • says

            All I’m suggesting is freedom has a value far from zero when making policy and you can’t hand wave that away just because libertarians can grossly over-value it while discounting external harms.

        • Let's get real says

          As a libertarian and a fallabilist (a skeptic who extends his own skepticism to his own beliefs), I’m open to the idea that libertarians can be wrong.

          And an honest cannabis policy reformer should acknowledge that cannabis is not harmless.

          But if alcohol is far more harmful than cannabis, it makes sense to both (a)increase alcohol taxes and (b)liberalize cannabis laws. The less harmful product should not be more heavily/punitively regulated.

    • Mark Kleiman says

      I say that the headline-writer is a fool or a liar. No “crime rate drop” at all: just a drop in arrests. That’s a good thing, but it’s not as if decrim reduced actual criminal victimization.

      • darkcycle says

        Granted. A drop in arrest rate, though, is highly suggestive of a corresponding drop in crime rates. I do not think a reasonable person could conclude that this was an insignificant trend, do you?

        • Nick says

          In this case I think I’m going to have to go with darkcycle. Unless we have some actual reason to think otherwise, it seems logical to assume that arrest rates and criminal victimization rates should move in parallel. If anything, it seems to me that we should expect the drop in criminal victimization rates to be somewhat larger since (again, ceteris paribus) a police force working on a smaller number of crimes should have a higher arrest rate per crime.

          But then the real problem here is that the attribution of this 20% drop in arrest rates to marijuana decriminalization is – how exactly to phrase this – just complete bullshit. Or are we to take it that these marijuana law reforms were so powerful that their effect travelled back in time and caused the 10% drop in juvenile arrests between 2009 and 2010?

  3. Don Berry says

    It’s only reasonable to let states try out a policy of legal, regulated cannabis to see what really happens when adults have the option available. It may lead to results similar to Portugal or the Netherlands where usage actually drops. I don’t know if anyone has tracked the effect on alcohol use in those countries, but certainly if there has been a noticeable shift one way or the other, we would have heard about it.

    • micbearing says

      I don’t think you can assume that legalization would erase those arrests or their consequent costs. Most legalization/regulation schemes would eliminate the arrests that are solely related to dedicated drug enforcement efforts targetting cannabis supply/markets, but I’d wager that many, if not the majority, of current cannabis-related arrests stem from basic police responses to public nuisance activities that they run into or are called upon to deal with. People milling around on corners, loud parties, swervy drivers, suspicious activity in public parks after dark, etc. Cannabis or paraphenalia possession is typically an easy way to make an arrest and quickly take care of a problem incident (from an officer’s perspective), and because the immediate nuisance is the primary issue most of these cases never go further than a PBJ. I’m not sure if there’s any way to verify this claim based on national statistics, but the use of cannabis-related arrest (or “marijuana in public view”) in the NYPD’s incivilities policiing campaign of the past decade seems to me a prime example. Even though the NYPD seemed to resist giving a full-throated explanation of why it was arresting tens of thousands of black and latino youth every year for low level offenses that typically did not go to trial, I think it’s become clear that the motive has far more to do with a (flawed?) policing strategy targetting violent crime rather than drug enforcement per se. Legalizing cannabis possession may remove that “tool” from the officers box, but that in no way means that an arrest won’t take place. Law enforcement has historically demonstrated a remarkable ability to improvise when it comes to legal authority to respond to disorder indicidents. So just because these arrests won’t be clasified as cannabis-related doesn’t mean they won’t happen.

      • darkcycle says

        Undoubtedly some of those were. But I would venture a majority were not. How many “Stop and Frisk” arrests? How many as a result of consensual commerce where the police investigated and initiated? How many as a result of mimor traffic stops? Random checkpoints? How many for the crime of smuggling? Just my observation but if you are carrying contraband and intend to do so without winding up in court, you do your level best to avoid the police. Stupid conduct is much more a product of exposure to alcohol.

      • darkcycle says

        Upon second reading I was struck by this statement: “Legalizing cannabis possession may remove that “tool” from the officers box, but that in no way means that an arrest won’t take place.” Seriously? Are you suggesting that where a more significant crime is in evidence (assault, public disturbance, burgary, strong arm robbery, etc) police will instead make a cannabis arrest? Is it that you think the police don’t have sufficient tools in their box right now to solve a real crime? That somehow, if you cannot pin a substantial crime on a suspect, simply arresting someone (anyone?)for cannabis will make the incident go away? I’m befuddled, is it that police are incompetent? Or is it that the laws are inadequate?

        • Student says

          Dark, your comment is the essence of sophistry and lack of realism. Police officers frequently are suspicious of a person based on things which do not meet the legal standards of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. If you think there will be no damage to the ability of police to detect more serious crimes from legalizing a widely used illicit substance, I really don’t know what to say. If you were to say something serious like “incarcerating people who are procedurally but not morally guilty of a crime is a horror and the police can just go ahead and take the hit on this one,” that would be one thing. Instead we get this.

          • darkcycle says

            Lack of realism??? The police need this “tool” to solve crime? Goodness! What DID they do prior to 1937? My Father and Grandfather were police officers. I grew up atound the culture. I assure you, that is a crutch for the incompetent and a “tool” to boost officer’s personal arrest stats (upon which their evaluations are primarily based). You, sir are the sophist.

          • darkcycle says

            Oh, I might add I spent a good portion of MY career serving as a psychologist in a county jail in a very large urban area.

          • J. Michael Neal says

            The police need this “tool” to solve crime?

            As usual, the drug legalization fanatics resort to pretending that people said things that they didn’t.

          • Student says

            I am not a sophist. I actually support full legalization at the federal level. My support will not drive me to spout outrageous BS like “there will be no effect on policing, no reduction of the number of people police are allowed to intrusively investigate” or “there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to prohibit cannabis.” There are plenty of good reasons, I just do not believe that they outweigh the cons. If refusing to be reduced onto absurdity by my commitment to my beliefs makes me a sophist, fine then… I’m a sophist.

          • darkcycle says

            J.Michael, you’re right. Properly, he said they need this tool to “detect” crime, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. After all 911 has been around for quite some time. Thank you for pointing that out for us.

          • Student says

            Nope, I did not say that they need it, but nice try. I said it would have an effect (or more precisely that it will damage their ability to detect more serious crimes, and damage in that context could mean almost any percent reduction in efficiency). It will. I am starting to doubt your anger and wonder if you be trolling, because this has gone on far too long coming from you.

        • Nick says

          “Are you suggesting that where a more significant crime is in evidence (assault, public disturbance, burgary, strong arm robbery, etc) police will instead make a cannabis arrest?”

          Are you posting from an alternate universe? Because in the universe that I’m located in, micbearing’s comment was very very (incredibly) explicitly and specifically talking about “public nuisance” arrests. Assault? Strong arm robbery? Seriously?

        • micbearing says

          Woah, this thread seems to be going off the rails. First, I put the word “tool” in quotes because that’s how legal authority to stop, detain, arrest, charge, etc. is often discussed by people in the criminal justice system (at least here in MD). I probably hear prosecutors use the term most often. I always thought their use was to a certain extent value-neutral, as in they don’t intend to suggest that the outcome of using the tool is necessarily good or bad. But it’s considered a tool if it could conceivably help to get the job done, and the job is typically making arrests, getting pleas, etc. I’m not suggesting that the primary value of the “illegal cannabis tool” is to help “solve” or detect “real crime,” however you define that. Whether certain activity that the police are called upon to deal with is even technically a crime often isn’t a primary factor, sinces LE are to a certain extent slaves to the demands placed on them by 911 and the pressure they’ll receive if they don’t respond to incidents in a way that citizens are satisfied with. If you’ve worked in the CJ system (esp policing), you probably know that a large chunk of police time/resource isn’t spent investigating serious crimes but responding to 911 calls or dealing with incidents that patrol officers come across in the field. I haven’t looked at my CFS research in a while, but my sense is that a big proportion of these indcidents could be classified under public disorder or nuisance, in response to which police are often compelled to detain people, conduct a search of the people or premises if some feasible legal authority to do so is at hand, and make arrests in order to ensure that the incident doesn’t keep causing problems during their shift (or maybe even to send a message to folks who repeatedly cause problems regardless if that arrest will incur any significant punishment beyond a night in jail). Cannabis and its associated paraphenalia are contraband, so their prescence on a person or in a place makes justifying arrest much easier than trying to apply laws against loitering, disorder, noise ordinances, etc. So, I’m not suggesting that cannabis is used as a cause for arrest in lieu of a more serious charge, but rather that cannabis possession is THE most serious charge at hand and also the most efficient means to another end, i.e. closing out a call for service or other incident. darkcyde seems to think I’m making a normative argument about what police should or shouldn’t do, or what “tools” they do or don’t need. To the contrary, I’m just trying to describe what I believe actually takes place, and how that reality likely won’t be as greatly effected by legalization as darkcyde implied by his original comment.

        • Student says

          No they don’t, but it helps. Based on these comments I am starting to wonder if none of you have ever been on a ride-along. A big part of proactive policing is getting the ol’ snout up in the suspicious looking car and looking around. I was once on a ride-along in which the officer used the fact that a car full of young men clearly had cannabis smoke coming out of it to identify everyone in the car and search them. Turned out one of the guys had a felony warrant not related to cannabis and was in possession of a street illegal “dirk or dagger.” If cannabis was legal, aforementioned gentleman would have spent the night out of handcuffs and in possession of his dirk. Such stories are common. I am having trouble figuring out where you people are coming from with this “marijauana prohibition does nothing for policing mkay” bit, because it certainly DOES NOT come from having any real life experience. Quite the opposite must in fact be true, you must know basically nothing about law enforcement in this country if you think legalizing cannabis will have no effect on arrests for other crimes. It will, and arrests for other crimes will go down. The timeliness of warrant clearing will go down.

          Maybe over time legalization would reduce the mistrust between the public and the police blah blah blah, no-knock warrants blah blah blah, war on drugs has failed blah blah blah and so in the long term make things easier for LEO’s by securing greater cooperation from the public. All of that may be totally true. If, however, you do not think it will have a negative effect on the ability of LEO’s to make arrests for other crimes and to clear warrants TEMPORARILY, then geez, grow a brain or go for a ride-along.

          • Student says

            Oh and I forgot the best part of the story, after arresting the guy with the warrant the officer let the other 3 go, and further allowed them to keep their cannabis without checking for medical cards or anything of the sort. It was never his intention to make a cannabis arrest, he was a committed felony cop using every tool at his disposal to get up in the business of groups of young men out at night. Why? Because he isn’t a dumbass and likes to make felony arrests. I am happy to have him working in my neighborhood.

  4. Igloo says

    Isn’t the Dutch MJ legalization a long-running natural experiment? What is the rate of problem drinking there compared to neighboring countries (or their relatives in Western Michigan?)

    In my visits to Amsterdam, the problem drinking in public was entirely English soccer thug tourists, and I noticed the drinking age is 16 and a general lack of bars full of old drunks.

    • Dan Staley says

      I used to live several hours from there by train. The culture is different in many parts of Europe, and early on drinking is taught as a pleasure and a responsibility, not as a fetish like it is here (IMHO). If you act like an idiot too many times in public, often you are ostracized by the public at large. Sure, there might be a group of poorly-adjusted boys that continue to act boorish, but in the main peer pressure minimizes the issue…

    • Keith Humphreys says

      Isn’t the Dutch MJ legalization a long-running natural experiment?

      No, it is not legalized — see MacCoun and Reuter — the production of cannabis in the Netherlands is illegal and the police are in fact quite tough on growers and suppliers. Only the sale and use of small quantities in designated cafe’s is decriminalized.

  5. Student says

    Heavy drinkers have strong incentive to start smoking cannabis; it is probably the single most potent treatment for the symptoms of hangover (hair-of-the-dog is bad for all of the obvious reasons, but also because use of alcohol during the day is more easily detected by others than cautious use of cannabis, and so is probably unwise as a strategy for managing hangover on work days). Real problem drinkers never feel too great when they wake up in the morning for some mysterious reason, and so I have no doubt that the use of cannabis among alcoholics would skyrocket after legalization.

    • Tonydfixer says

      I do not think that using cannabis to sooth your aching hangover, or the detox that is felt upon awaking is very effective. For the hangover the best would be an opiate/opioid, such as codine, or percoset & if you need to ward off the detox during the day Benzodiazepines like valium, or xanax would work best.

    • Tonydfixer says

      I do not think that using cannabis to sooth your aching hangover, or the detox that is felt upon awaking is very effective. For the hangover the best would be an opiate/opioid, such as codine, or percoset & if you need to ward off the detox during the day Benzodiazepines like valium, or xanax would work best. I did not post yet

      • Freddy says

        I disagree with this comment. Cannabis is known for its anti-sickness properties and would certainly help the hangover. As well as “the munchies”, this would encourage appetite, thus helping the hangover further.

        Maybe it’s time we let nature take its course, in regards to pharmaceuticals. It works for China, more so than it does for us here in the UK.

      • Student says

        Ok, but cannabis is cheaper than illegal opium in any form, is safer, and causes no withdrawal symptoms of its own. Also, hangover and the DTs are totally different things. I have never experienced the DTs and hope to god I never will, but I have experienced a few hangovers and cannabis + water will help you keep the food down while resolving the underlying toxic state. It is the closest thing to the cadillac of hangover cures. My memory might be failing me here, but I think the author of the book “wonder boys” wrote briefly of the self reinforcing nature of problem drinking (which involves hangovers but not necessarily the DTs) and smoking teh reefer. If one had the money to do so, adding cannabis to the problem drinker lifestyle seems like an obvious move, and so I think legalization would increase cannabis use among heavy drinkers with means, probably not so with heavy drinkers who spend most of their disposable income on alcohol. I am not at all convinced that legalizing cannabis would lead to an increase in drinking, but neither is Mark or anyone else for that matter.

          • Student says

            Reaching. I have personally gone cold turkey from a heavy cannabis habit before. Temporary changes in mood and mild sleep disturbance (which can easily be dealt with, even by something minor like an anti-histamine) are of course to be expected… cannabis affects mood and sleep. Clinically significant? Disruptive to your ability to work? sure maybe if you are right on the brink of being unable to do your job all of the time anyway, otherwise not so much. Opiate withdrawal on the other hand, while not dangerous per se, is a horrific and painful experience (this I have no experience of but I have seen narcan administered and let me tell you, people are NOT HAPPY). I stand by what I originally said, cannabis makes the consequences of problem drinking easier to deal with, and it is basically the best agent to do that without costing a ton and risking dramatic further damage to your life. I therefore continue to expect an increase in cannabis use amongst problem drinkers post legalization. Oh also cannabis is easier to obtain than any form of opium in most areas of the U.S.

          • Student says

            Ok so I should have said relatively withdrawal-free, you got me. I have personally gone cold turkey from a heavy cannabis habit before. Temporary changes in mood and mild sleep disturbance (which can easily be dealt with, even by something minor like an anti-histamine) are of course to be expected… cannabis affects mood and sleep, you would have to be quite the dummy to think you were going to sleep the same way during the transitional period. Clinically significant? Disruptive to your ability to work? Sure maybe if you are right on the brink of being unable to do your job all of the time anyway, otherwise not so much. Opiate withdrawal on the other hand, while not dangerous in and of itself, is a horrific and painful experience (this I have no experience of but I have seen narcan administered and let me tell you, people are NOT HAPPY). If I were to somehow put you in a state of opium withdrawal right now, you would fail to show up at work and perform until you were finished withdrawing, I promise. You would fail to show up for your family and transact everyday business. I stand by what I originally said, cannabis makes the consequences of problem drinking easier to deal with, is relatively-withdrawal free, easier to obtain, and safer to use. I therefore continue to expect the use of cannabis amongst problem drinkers with means to increase dramatically in a legalization scenario.

  6. says

    Lots of things that bring value and pleasure to people’s lives can be described as “not benign” (contact/extreme sports) and/or may raise the consumption of alcohol (house parties, dance clubs, sugary drinks). It would be absurd to prohibit adult activities unless they can be proved to be benign and reduce ills of other activities. “Since rollerblade legalization may raise skateboarding use, we should not allow it.”

    We know cannabis is pretty close to benign as intoxicants get; the freedoms of pot users should not be conditional on a legalization scheme offsetting the ills of alcohol. I think in the case of cannabis specifically, Mark greatly underestimates the harm done by making the default position prohibition; whatever the ideal regulation of pot is to be (I agree commercialization isn’t appealing), it should shock the conscience of anyone that understands the drug that anyone is spending time in the CJS for using or quietly selling it to adults.

    • D. Silver says

      We know cannabis is pretty close to benign as intoxicants get; the freedoms of pot users should not be conditional on a legalization scheme offsetting the ills of alcohol.

      This really gets to the heart of the matter which, ironically, in this case is a boring methodological dispute. Mark is assuming a LIFO (last in; first out) principle for policy changes. That is, the idea will be that because cannabis liberalization is so obviously an experiment it will be more amenable to policy revision. We all know that Mark thinks that alcohol is undertaxed and I have a hard time thinking that anyone in the US has a non-deontological reason for disagreeing with him. But raising taxes on alcohol is just damn difficult.

      So Kleiman thinks it’s “worth it” to be very cautious in making the rules for cannabis in the early days of liberalization; it may prove similarly difficult to change them later.

      I have stated my position before: since cannabis as a substance is less harmful than alcohol, any rational policy towards cannabis will be less punitive/coercive in its regulation of cannabis than alcohol.

      In other words, our alcohol policy is way too loose; unfortunately, it’s only cannabis policy that’s on the table right now.

  7. Student says

    In my personal experience, smoking cannabis is much less likely to cause someone to drink, rather the opposite seems to be true. I remember seeing a man I knew beyond a doubt to be an active full time peace-officer take a gigantic bong-load. Would he have done that if he was not totally smashed? I think not.

  8. strayan says

    “In my view, an increase of as little as 10% in heavy drinking would wipe out any benefits from cannabis legalization”

    What kind of an increase in recreational over-eating would it take to wipe out any benefits from cannabis legalization?

    What kind of increase in contact sports would it take to wipe out any benefits from cannablis legalization?

    What kind of increase in recreational swimming would it take to wipe out any benefits from cannabis legalization?

    Stay tuned for these answers and more from the all knowing, all seeing Mark Kleiman.

    • Student says

      Good work, you have proven that the entire field of policy analysis is ridiculous… or that you personally are ridiculous. Can you guess which is closer to the truth, or do you need a hint?

        • Student says

          To say that Dr. Kleiman is familiar with the evidence concerning the effects of alcohol consumption on our society would be an understatement. The opinion of an expert concerning statistics which fall within his area of expertise is just that, an expert opinion. There is a difference between challenging his accounting and claiming outright that he is guessing blind. My question thus becomes… why u mad brah?

          • strayan says

            You can couch it in whatever language you want, it doesn’t change the fact that Kleiman has pulled this figure out of thin air.

          • Freeman says

            DC & Strayan:

            I didn’t read it as a guess. I read it as a personal opinion that *if* policy X caused a 10% increase in social hazard Y, that would outweigh the benefits of policy X, resulting in a net increase in social harm. I mostly read it as a critique of Frum’s failure to acknowledge that it is “equally plausible in terms of both logic and evidence” that policy X may cause a decrease in social hazard Y, along with the personal opinion that 10% would be enough to overcome all other negative effects of policy X independent of social hazard Y.

            We could quibble over the threshold percentages or plausibility of whether X’s effect on Y is likely to be positive, negative, or neutral, and my personal opinion differs somewhat from those presented, but the OP acknowledges that others “assigning different probabilities to the possible outcomes or different weights to the categories of gain and loss” could *reasonably* reach different conclusions, so those quibbles have already been acknowledged.

            I think the three of us can readily agree with the larger point that CO and WA should be allowed to proceed with marijuana prohibition reform, in spite of the differences in reasoning by which we arrive at that conclusion.

        • Student says

          Yes of course you took the article to mean what it meant Freeman, because you actually bothered to read it.

      • Student says

        See Koreyel’s post below dark and strayan. Dr. Kleiman spends the time to memorize the relevant statistics well enough to be able to deliver them without a prompter while being recorded, sans embarrassment. For whatever reason you seem to have assumed that he is unable to move the decimal point over one notch on the statistics he has memorized and consider the new value. That seems to me to be a pretty stupid assumption. If I were you, I would have written something like “are you sure it is better that 10 morally innocent men are hassled or even incarcerated just to prevent injury to one man?” Something like that would get at the value judgement implicit in Kleiman’s 10% remark, which assigns greater salience to the deaths and crime resulting from alcohol use than it does the incarceration of individuals who might be perfectly decent. I am still learning that petulance pays meager dividends despite the initial rush.

        • darkcycle says

          I take issue with Dr. Kleiman’s premise, that an increase in cannabis use due to legalization will give rise to a corresponding increase in the use of alcohol, or have any effect on the damage caused to society BY alcohol. He has sparse evidence that legalization will lead to any measurable increase in pot use, and even less that points to it adding to alcohol abuse. Unless the U.S. is a big, giant frat house, I just do not see that being the case. People who use alcohol responsibly will continue to use it responsibly. People who do not, well, we have no dearth of them, and I expect they will behave the same way they always do. Moving a decimal point will not cure a faulty premise. There is also evidence that suggests the opposite of Dr. Kleiman’s hypothesis, that cannabis use is actually an exit drug from the more destructive substances, like alcohol, for example. But that would entail….gasp…a harm reduction approach. Apparently that is not fashionable here at the “reality based” community. Having seen in my profession the harms of both drugs and drug criminalization, I firmly believe in a harm reduction approach.

          • Student says

            sigh. lrn2read bro. He did not say that it will give rise to an increase in the use of alcohol, he said that the effects of legalization on heavy drinking were unknown. Unless you are fu***** messiah cometh, wielding righteousness and clothed in revealed knowledge, I think he is on pretty solid ground to say that the effect of a possible future event is unknown.

            “alcohol use and cannabis use are now positively correlated. But that doesn’t tell you anything conclusive about whether making cannabis legally available would increase or decrease heavy drinking.”

            “Since the benefit-cost analysis of cannabis legalization turns crucially on its effect on heavy drinking, and since that effect is unknown, dogmatic assertions about whether legalization would, on balance, be beneficial or harmful are not justified by the current state of knowledge.”

            Were you… ahem… eating the devil’s lettuce when you originally read his post? Because you seem to have gotten the wrong idea… by a good long ways.

          • Student says

            This brings to mind another reason to take Dr. Kleiman’s ideas seriously. Angry drug warriors and their enemies both think he is from the opposite camp, whatever that may be. He must be doing something right.

          • Student says

            I realized that you may also have missed the fact that the 10% comment was made in the form of an if-then statement, it was not a prediction of what would occur under legalization.

          • Nick says

            Kleiman: “But he ignores the opposite possibility, equally plausible in terms of both logic and evidence. If legalizing cannabis … turned out to decrease heavy drinking by 10%, …”

            Darkcycle: “I take issue with Dr. Kleiman’s premise, that an increase in cannabis use due to legalization will give rise to a corresponding increase in the use of alcohol …”

            Seriously, how exactly do you think you can take part in a discussion of a complicated topic like this if you cannot even understand what the other people are saying? Data and logic would be nice, but reading comprehension is a bare necessity.

          • darkcycle says

            Okay, Student he SUGGESTED they were correlated, and then proceeded to argue based on their (perceived) current correlation. If a 10% increase, then any “benefit” of legalization would be erased. Still faulty, still the premise for the entire discussion. And “Devil’s lettuce”? No, not in this case. Nice try.
            I’m finished here, clearly anybody who disagrees with the catechism of the high priest Dr. Kleiman is a fanatic.

          • Nick says

            Still faulty, still the premise for the entire discussion.

            Again, you are just 100% wrong here. See, e.g., my comment directly above yours.

            I’m finished here, clearly anybody who disagrees with the catechism of the high priest Dr. Kleiman is a fanatic.

            Except you’re not disagreeing with the catechism of His Holiness, the Blessed MARK. You’re disagreeing with things that no one said and not even doing that in a convincing fashion. Come back when you can make cogent responses to things that people actually say and you’ll get a much warmer reception. Fanatic or not.

        • Student says

          I am at a loss for words. The true Dark Cycle at work here starts when people comment on posts without, you know, reading or understanding a word of what was written. Then idiots like me come in and waste precious time on this majestic rock trying to get you to read before you write. Probably you have achieved your purpose and are just now crossing the finish line, fist raised, suit perfectly ironed, briefcase in hand… successful troll is successful.

  9. says

    Kleiman: In my view, an increase of as little as 10% in heavy drinking would wipe out any benefits from cannabis legalization.

    In the 90-minute talk Kleiman gave at Dartmouth he makes a strong case in support of the above statement.
    (More important perhaps is his “no brainer” call for extra taxes on alcohol. I believe Kleiman calls the extra 20 cents on a beer the essential “takeaway” of the day. (Around the 33 minute mark.))
    At any rate, his ad libbed assembling of facts is masterful.

    Here is a link to the 27 minute mark where he begins building the case:

    http://youtu.be/pnHHYQX8exc?t=27m9s

    So Mark…
    If you had the extra tax on alcohol, how would that effect your 10% ceiling?

    • Mark Kleiman says

      Good point! Yes, there’s probably a combination policy of libreralizing cannabis and tightening up on alcohol that reduces drug abuse, arrests, and crimes. (The difference between booze and swimming pools is that half of our murders aren’t committed wearing swimsuits.) So far, though, I’m not getting support from any of the big drug-legalization groups or any of the drug warriors.

      • strayan says

        I love how the term ‘liberalization’ is used when discussing proposals to slap a sin tax on cannabis when in the same breath, the very same policy (in reference to alcohol) is a ‘tightenening up’ (presumably in an illiberal sense).

        Or perhaps sin taxes are simultaneously liberal and illiberal?

        • Nick says

          “Liberalizing cannabis” refers to decriminalization, not taxation.

          Seriously, you people need to work on your reading comprehension skills.

          • Dan Staley says

            To me, this is a sockpuppet deployed to FUD up the conversation, or an artist testing out new Internet Performance Art. Either way.

      • D. Silver says

        So far, though, I’m not getting support from any of the big drug-legalization groups or any of the drug warriors.

        It wouldn’t be smart coalition-politics to antagonize the drinkers. A big part of the CO/WA winning electoral bloc is not necessarily stoners (cannabis consumers) but party-ers (folks who drink and smoke).

        Democracy sucks and as soon as I think of something better, I’ll let you know.

  10. conspiracy theory says

    Professor Kleiman:

    Data from the Washington experiment is going to be somewhat corrupted by the fact that in the election prior to marijuana legalization, the voters in their infinite wisdom made it legal to sell liquor at every grocery store in the state. Prior to just a few months ago, liquor was sold only in state owned liquor stores that sold nothing else. So if the consumption of liquor goes up in Washington because it is now an impulse buy at Costco or Walmart, don’t blame MaryJane.

  11. Richard P Steeb says

    Allow me to boil it down for you. To keep Cannabis illegal while tobacco and alcohol are freely available would be *MURDEROUSLY STUPID*.

    The prohibition of the most widely beneficial plant species on Earth is a crime against humanity. It shall NOT stand.

    If you doubt either of these two statements, you haven’t read Herer or Storm Crow. Educate yourself.

    • Nick says

      “To keep Cannabis illegal while tobacco and alcohol are freely available would be *MURDEROUSLY STUPID*.”

      Seriously? Did you not even make it to the end of the first sentence of the post?

      Not seriously, while I’m sure that the munchies-fueled increase in sales of sugary snacks following legalization would be in the interests of the sugar beet industry, maybe their public relations efforts on this front could be more subtle. R.P. Steeb? A little obvious, no?

  12. Dan Staley says

    The prohibition of the most widely beneficial plant species on Earth is a crime against humanity

    That’s only the tiniest bit overwrought. It was brought about by a few rich white men to protect their investments and to keep down the miniorities, like so many other things. Surely the fiber would be useful, but it won’t reduce human overpopulation or overconsumption (using your same argumentation, it would increase the production of ecology-harming Cheetos and might raise the temperature of the planet a few tenths of a degree).

  13. Nick says

    Mark, isn’t it inadequate to merely discuss “heavy drinking” in this context? When talking about the interaction between alcohol and marijuana, there’s marijuana-only use, alcohol-only use, and combined alcohol-marijuana use. While I find it quite plausible that there could be an increase in total heavy alcohol use, it seems very likely to me that in that scenario, this would occur in the form of a decrease in alcohol-only use and a (somewhat larger) increase in combined alcohol-marijuana use. Since alcohol-only use and combined alcohol-marijuana use are probably going to have different public health effects (this, at least, seems like something that could potentially be examined using existing data), it might be important to look at not only the total level of heavy drinking but how it breaks down into those two categories.

    Also: shouldn’t principled cultural conservatives be in favor of reverting to the thousands-of-years-old tradition of legal cannabis rather than the relatively recent phenomenon of criminalization? Or is there some kind of statute of limitations on these things? (Sorry, I can’t let an opportunity to mock go by.)

  14. Malcolm Kyle says

    Sorry to spoil the party:

    “Evidence provides no indication that decriminalization leads to a measurable increase in marijuana use.”

    — Boston University Department of Economics

    “There is little evidence that decriminalization of marijuana use necessarily leads to a substantial increase in marijuana use.”

    — National Academy of Sciences

    “The preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people.”

    — The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research

    “The Dutch experience, together with those of a few other countries with more modest policy changes, provides a moderately good empirical case that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalization) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit drug; the argument for decriminalization is thus strong.”

    — British Journal of Psychiatry

    • says

      Decriminalization != Legalization. In the latter you get safe marketplaces, reliable product with legal means of recourse, and advertising. People are nuts to believe legalization wont increase use.

      • rachelrachel says

        There’s no reason you can’t have legalization with a ban on advertising. You could have a control system, where the only place to legally buy the stuff is in a state store.

        Now, it’s possible that the state would advertise as a way of generating revenue, but if there’s nothing that would compel them to do so should they be committed to the policy.

        • Keith Humphreys says

          Rachelrachel wrote: There’s no reason you can’t have legalization with a ban on advertising.

          Yes, there is — the SCOTUS has already held that bans on advertising on legal products are illegal, period. If you legalize, there will be advertising in the USA, full stop.

          • rachelrachel says

            Hi Keith,

            I might be wrong, but I think you could still do it under a government monopoly, or what I called a “control system,” borrowing the terminology from the alcoholic beverage “control states.”

            The only people selling to consumers would be the government, and the suppliers would all be working under government contract.

            I’m not saying that’s the way things are going to break (I think we’ll end up with a licensing system) but it’s a possibility.

          • Keith Humphreys says

            Hi rachelrachel: Agreed — if the government itself sold drugs, it would presumably not advertise, just as the old alcohol “state stores” did not do (at least where I grew up, which had them until about 20 years ago).

            The question about government monopolies is how stable would they be over time. In most states a combination of private companies wanting to sell booze and government officials wanting the tax revenue of the increased sales that private companies generate managed to get rid of the state store system. A drug state stores system would come under similar political pressure.

          • snoey says

            Legalization doesn’t have to extend to sales. A system allowing possession, cultivation and free distribution (“voluntary contribution suggested to help with the expenses”) would get anyone who wanted it plenty of cheap legal pot without billboards or cute animal commercials during timeouts.

      • D. Silver says

        I have an educated guess that it will increase use but also cause demand to shift towards milder, less intoxicating, lower-THC product.

        Since the end of Prohibition, the market for alcohol has shifted away from liquor and towards beer.

      • Anonymous says

        Less dishonest than pretending the effects of one don’t inform us about what to expect from the other.

        • Nick says

          There are obvious reasons to expect use to increase more under legalization than under decriminalization. So unless it’s accompanied by an argument about how much bigger the increase would be, no, a simple presentation of the effects of decriminalization doesn’t inform us about what to expect from legalization.

          • strayan says

            It’s not obvious to me why tax and regulation would lead to an increase in use. Is cigarette consumption increasing?

          • Lars (the above Anonymous was me) says

            Do tell. What are the changes legalization will bring that so dwarf the removal of life wrecking prison sentences for use, making it incomparable to decriminalization? If you say advertising I will first call you ridiculous, and then ask you to compare it to legalization with an advertising ban.

          • Nick says

            We’re talking about an increase following legalization. Were cigarettes illegal recently and I just failed to notice?

            I’m starting to wonder if Student is right and I’m just being trolled.

          • Lars says

            Good god, you’re dense. Why do you think decriminalization tells us nothing about what might happen with legalization? We don’t see any catastrophic effects when we remove the biggest disincentive to use (prison sentences). Hell, we don’t see significant effects at all. That, to a person of normal cognitive abilities would suggest that if we removed the remaining relatively minor legal impediments we won’t see much more of an effect. Why do you (or Humphreys, or Kleiman) not agree? And if you’re going to respond with “But we’re talking about legalization. That’s decriminalization.” again, don’t bother.

    • Nick says

      I think just slightly more intellectually dishonest is taking statements from single publications in a journal or single publications by a member of a department and attributing them to the entire larger organization. Or rather, we’re left with the question yet again: incredibly dishonest or just incredibly confused.

      I’m beginning to understand why Kleiman so frequently expresses exasperation with marijuana legalization advocates.

      • D. Silver says

        Legalization advocates have only recently moved from being ignored, then being laughed at, into the realm of being invited into participation in serious conversations.

        They (we!) still have their/our regrettable habits of taking extreme, black-vs.-white positions and shouting them when it would be much more appropriate to shift our tone from loud moral indignation and POLEMIC into something, ahem, a little more fact-based.

        Remember: less than four years ago, it was hard to get national candidates to even acknowledge this was a position, let alone give a reason to oppose it. (Google Romney’s Colorado video where a reporter asks him his position and Romney asks “don’t you have something serious to talk about?” Arrogant man.)

        The next time you’re speaking with an overly ideological legalizer, say this: Cannabis legalization will have MANY consequences. Anyone who suggests they will be 100% positive isn’t doing serious accounting.

  15. Servetus says

    Divorcing drug use from its cultural context is a good reason to be ignorant of everything that occurs with regard to drug taking behavior. When a culture changes, so does its drugs. As a constraint, culture is a very good predictor of how illicit drug use will pan out.

    Within Western culture, those sufficiently educated in the biochemistry of drugs can be expected to gravitate to those types of drugs least harmful, such as marijuana. Those believing marijuana to be the demon’s seed, an evil agent that turns people into hippies and socialists, will continue to drink themselves to death. Know-nothing rural hoi-polloi will continue to burn the candle at both-ends, and the middle, by using meth. And so forth.

    Marijuana prohibition merely attempts to reduce citizen access to the safer option, and yet it fails miserably. Marijuana is seen culturally as a threat to authoritarianism, a threat to the myth of clean living of the type inspired by the proto-fascist industrialist Henry Ford who micro-managed his employees lives by sending his inspectors to investigate employee’s homes. Marijuana consumption is known to be encouraged by the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect of its illegality. Consequently, there is an artistic genre fielding it, making it a subject of adventure and romance. Marijuana will never go away, thanks to prohibition, which essentially created the cannabis culture it intended to eliminate.

  16. ray glass says

    I for one quit drinking alcohol with the help of marijuana. I can tell you from experience that if you have been drinking and then smoke marijuana your buzz is increased to where you will not be able to drink more alcohol. Being a alcoholic for twenty five years of my life marijuana saved me and with it I was able to quit alcohol now for over 13 years. I have no desire to drink alcohol anymore, but I do enjoy my marijuana. Marijuana will decrease alcohol abuse in most people, but I have found some heavy drinkers in the past do not like to smoke marijuana period they just dont like the buzz you get with it.

  17. says

    There is a world outside America, and cannabis prohibition involves death sentence in Malaysia & Singapore, and death sentence for other drugs common in Middle East. Also total alcohol prohibition exists in Saudi Arabia with jail & whippings for offenders too poor to pay off the right people. In my opinion prohibition just empowers extremists like Taliban or ‘Christian Right’ and also leads to criminality that threatens the state itself because law enforcement is often corrupted by high profits arising from criminalisation.

    As far as the UK is concerned (and other countries) the development of an online pharmaceutical market is just as much of a paradigm shift in ‘Drug Policy’ as Shale Oil Fracking, which has changed much of the argument in the energy industry. The interesting thing about ‘legal highs’ is not only that are effective but expensive, but also much of the stuff comes from China which is normally perceived as into heavy prohibition.

  18. Freeman says

    Do I detect a hint of expressive overdetermination in this post? I thought it was very well stated, with ample consideration for competing cultural orientation.

    I think Dan Kahan and colleagues are doing some very interesting research. Thanks for linking to another essay well worth reading!

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