A friend emails, “Bill Bennett read your book … or, at least, every other page of it.”
Well, yes. Bennett and his sidekick Christopher Beach, in using the Caulkins et al. Marijuana Legalization book to support their argument against legalization, illustrate the point made here yesterday about the contrast between analysis and mere advocacy. To an analyst, every course of action* has advantages and disadvantages, which ought to be carefully weighed against the advantages and disadvantages of its alternatives. To a mere advocate, the course of action he prefers has only benefits, while the courses of action he deplores have only costs.
Since Beach and Bennett chose to base their argument on our book, (albeit without providing a link to it), it’s easy to see their principles of selection in action. They start out by mis-stating the book’s viewpoint and purpose:
In their bookÂ Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, and Beau Kilmerâ€”all of whom support the legalization of marijuana in some fashionâ€”report …
This account suggests that the authors of the Weekly Standard essay never quite finished the book. While the first fifteen chapters, in Q&A format, are entirely collective products (I suppose in this context I can’t say “joint products”), the final chapter consists of four individually-authored essays. Of the four authors, only Angela Hawken favors legalization on the alcohol model. I’m clearly for legalization, but just as clearly against commercialization, concluding “So my first choiceâ€”not what I think will happen, but whatÂ I would like to see happenâ€”is permission for production andÂ use through small not-for-profit cooperatives, with a ban onÂ commerce.”
Beau Kilmer points out how uncertain the whole proposition is, and devotes his essay to arguing that, if legalization is to be tried, it ought to be tried in an experimental mood, with, for example, sunset clauses. He adds:
Given theÂ dearth of evidence we have about legalizing any of theseÂ activities, I am not convinced that jumping from one endÂ of the continuum (prohibition) to the other (commercialÂ production with advertising) is a good idea. Indeed,Â given the concerns about marijuana companies workingÂ hard to promote use, nurture heavy users, and keep taxesÂ low, implementing the most extreme alternative toÂ prohibition could be a really bad idea.
And Jonathan Caulkins – in fact the lead author of the book, though Â Beach and Bennett list my name first – comes down more or less in the Beach-and-Bennett camp, starting his essay with Â “I would vote against legalizing marijuana … ” (though he lists a grow-your-own approach as a possible “middle ground”). Jon concludes:
About half of all days of marijuana use come from peopleÂ who self-report enough use-related problems to meet criteriaÂ for substance abuse or dependence with respect to marijuanaÂ or another substance. Does the happiness a controlled userÂ derives from using marijuana on a typical day offset the unhappinessÂ of someone else spending a day harmed by and/orÂ struggling to control problem drug use? In my opinion, theÂ answer is no. In a free society there are plenty of other ways toÂ have fun without insisting on a right to use something thatÂ becomes a stumbling block for others.
Why should Beach and Bennett want their readers to believe that the authors ofÂ Marijuana LegalizationÂ are all legalization advocates? Continue reading “Cannabis, Bill Bennett, and the technique of selective reading”