Marijuana Policy and Traditional Liberalism

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a long-time advocate for people with addiction and mental illness, is leading a new group calling for a different approach to marijuana policy.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana will advocate for alternatives to incarceration, expanded mental health and addiction treatment and the provision of non-smoked cannabis medicines to sick patients (without waiting for FDA approval) at taxpayer expense.

It will also oppose legalization, not wanting a Big Tobacco-like industry in the marijuana sphere.

From the viewpoint of traditional liberalism, which Patrick and his family have championed as well as anyone in my lifetime, this is the logical policy mix (see Adam Serwer in the same vein). Curbing incarceration and using the power of government to aid the sick are honorable pillars of American liberalism. Entrusting public health to corporations in contrast is both naive and much more in line with a libertarian/pro-business conservative mindset.

UPDATE: Comments are back on, thanks to Steve or whoever fixed that. I have re-titled the post to better reflect its content, our blogging interface has been chronically broken and frustrating lately but an upgrade is just around the corner.

Comments

  1. Mark Kleiman says

    It’s not hard to imagine a group advocating smarter marijuana policies. But if that group wanted to go about it the smart way, they’d start with acknowledging the current problems: 800,000 arrests per year and a $15 billion illicit industry, some of it violent. And then they’d propose policies that might actually reduce some of that damage. Promising the 800,000 arrestees treatment for a disease most of them don’t have, and offering to reduce the collateral consequences of having a criminal history, doesn’t really address the question.

    Yes, legalization would tempt people to smoke pot, and for some of them that would prove to be a bad choice. But illegality tempts people to deal dope, and on average that’s a much worse choice.

  2. Gustavo says

    “…From the viewpoint of traditional liberalism, which Patrick and his family have championed as well as anyone in my lifetime, this is the logical policy mix (see Adam Serwer in the same vein). Curbing incarceration and using the power of government to aid the sick are honorable pillars of American liberalism. Entrusting public health to corporations in contrast is both naive and much more in line with a libertarian/pro-business conservative mindset…”

    So Mr.Humphreys, if decriminalization is your approach (because if you don’t support legalization and you don’t support prohibition, decriminalization is the only other option), where do you suppose the Marijuana will be coming from? Because now you’ll have a bigger market for the drug because it has been decriminalized, no jail threat and more users will find themselves trying the drug so the supply will have to increase, which means more money for gangs and drug cartels to produce harder drugs thus not really helping the situation at all; actually your approach makes it worse. Total legalization would accomplish what you want, education and prevention, and it will at the same time cut into drug cartels profit and help reduce over all drug use taking out the most popular drug out so there’s no hook for the drug dealers to use to lure people into harder drugs which is their profit. The only sensible, reasonable option is full legalization.

    • Richard P Steeb says

      Exactly. Under the 18th amendment, possession and consumption of alcohol were NOT illegal. Without legal production and distribution, you get carnage. See Mexico.

      Cannabis prohibition is an anachronistic atrocity. It shall NOT stand.

  3. Lars says

    From the viewpoint of traditional liberalism … this is the logical policy mix.
    It’s like you’re trying to drive me to libertarianism.

  4. Cranky Observer says

    Remind me again what is so horrible about informed adults using moderate quantities of mood altering substances [1] to improve their lives? What is the “moral issue” that requires legal sanction, mass arrests, felony prosecutions, mass incarceration, and life-ruining? Why exactly is “former Congressman Kennedy” qualified to make these moral judgements for me?

    Cranky

    [1] A relatively benign substance in the case of marijuana

    [2] Does anyone know if the accounts of Mr. Kennedy’s issues with non-benign mood altering substances listed in his Wikipedia entry are accurate? If so, then he should be ashamed of coming within 3000 miles of this issue.

    • Mark Kleiman says

      Cranky, I’m hardly on Keith’s side of this argument, but your comment simply misses the point. No reasonable person (admittedly, that leaves out a bunch of voters and politicians) is bothered by adults using pot in moderation. But most of the pot consumed is not used in moderation; it’s part of a pattern of substance abuse disorder. (Same is true for alcohol.) And about 40% of the pot consumed is consumed by minors. So if the only legal option is for moderate use by adults, you’ve left most of the current market in the hands of criminals.

      And yes, Patrick Kennedy has been open about his own problems with drug abuse. He cites himself and his children as people who would be at risk were more intoxicants made legal and heavily marketed. I don’t see how that disqualifies him, any more than a burn victim is disqualified from talking about fire safety.

      • Freeman says

        I don’t see how that disqualifies him, any more than a burn victim is disqualified from talking about fire safety.

        Richard Pryor as a fire-safety spokesman? ;)

      • says

        “it’s part of a pattern of substance abuse disorder”

        Some, I would argue most chronic use is self-medication of anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc., and while there may be healthier ways to cope; identify the source, take up TM, adjust diet, cut back on diet soda, break off relationship, etc., many would instead use more problematic alcohol or pharmaceuticals if not for cannabis.

        “you’ve left most of the current market in the hands of criminals.”

        You’ve left the underage market in the hands of criminals, just like the underage market for alcohol and tobacco is in the hands of criminals now. One assumes that under a legal regime, chronic adults, who use medicinally or have a substance abuse disorder, would not be excluded from the legal market.

        Most alcohol and tobacco is diverted one way or another from the legal market, bought and shared by adult friends and family, nipped from an adult’s stash, fake ID, and so forth. Diverted cannabis has the advantage of having been quality controlled, taxed and accounted for, and the profit margins are much smaller. Under legalization, one would expect more self-sufficient growers, yes?

        Under a legal regime, the prevalence of underage use and abuse might well go down, and the age of initiation might go up … once the novelty has worn off.

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