I remember when criticism of anti-drug policies was pretty much taboo in mainstream media. Now the shoe is on the other foot. The “drug policy reform” crowd is to be congratulated on the rout it has inflicted on its “drug warrior” opponents. But the current media diet is no more intellectually nourishing than the one it replaced.
Rick Hertzberg provides a sample. I’m considering assigning it as the final exam the next time I teach drug policy, asking the students to identify the fallacies and factual errors. Here’s a sample:
1. Barack Obama inhaled and now jokes about it, so federal enforcement of marijuana laws makes him a hypocrite. (The federal government arrests growers and sellers, not users. There’s no suggestion that Obama ever sold pot.)
2. Cannabis should be in Schedule IV, not Schedule I. (No drug can be in anything but Schedule I unless it has accepted medical use. Obama ought to be criticized for not getting the DEA out of the way of medical research, but rescheduling isn’t an option unless you either do the clinical trials or change the law.)
3. “Just about everybody who gets busted for pot spends time locked up.” (Many possession arrests – which are most marijuana arrests – are “non-custodial,” resulting in a ticket and a court date rather than a trip downtown in handcuffs. Few result in convictions. That’s not to deny that pot-possession arrests create heavy costs.)
4. “Marijuana-associated suffering enters the picture only when prohibition does.” (Rlly? Srsly? Cannabis dependency isn’t typically as bad as alcohol dependency, but it’s hardly a walk in the park, and it’s not a very rare outcome: about 9% of people who start smoking as adults, and perhaps 15% of those who start smoking as adolescents – median age at first use is now 16 – will wind up as heavy daily smokers for periods of months or years. At any one time, more than 2 million people in this country find that their cannabis use is interfering with their lives.)
Hertzberg is a smart and serious reporter. So when one of his pieces reads like a Marijuana Policy Project handout you know the “anti-prohibition” crowd has made huge strides. But to those of us who dissented from the old orthodoxy (still embodied, of course, in most public policy and in the research agenda of the National Institute on Drug Abuse) and also dissent from the new orthodoxy, it’s just a tad depressing.
Somebody should write a short, easily-accessible book with the basic facts about cannabis and cannabis policy.