Harms, benefits, and the barriers to reasoned policy discourse

Daniel Kahnemann illuminates why drug policy is so hard.

Daniel Kahnemann’s magisterial Thinking, Fast and Slow is so full of insights it’s hard to pick out just one, but I was especially struck by the finding that the mind finds it hard to properly process information about benefits and harms. Information about benefits makes information about harms less believable, and vice versa. It’s as if the mind tries to divide objects into categories of “helpful” and “harmful,” and resists information that blurs that line.

That finding – which, I suppose, is simply a variation on the theme of cognitive dissonance – helps explain much of the discourse about drug policy, and especially about the therapeutic potential of abusable drugs. Whether some combination of the chemicals in cannabis, in some delivery vehicle, would prove safe and effective to treat some condition is not, as a logical matter, tightly bound to the question whether cannabis should be legal for use ad libitum, as alcohol is. Methamphetamine is therapeutically valuable and abusable; powdered rhinocerous horn is neither. So it ought to be possible to conduct two distinct debates: one about the pharmaceutical application of cannabis and the cannabinoids, the other about trading the pains of the current illicit market for the problems of a licit market in cannabis for non-medical use.

But the proponents of legal cannabis for non-medical use have successfully used the claim of medical efficacy as an entering wedge to legalization, and their opponents dim-wittedly enabled them to do so by blocking medical research and poking ignorant fun at “Cheech and Chong medicine.” The absurd result is that cannabis may well become legal for getting high before anyone in the U.S. is allowed to breed cannabis for medical research.

The psychological finding doesn’t make me feel any better about the blindness of pot advocates to its risks or of drug warriors to its benefits, but it does help me understand why members of each group could sincerely hold beliefs I find nonsensical, or why they might find polemical advantage in pretending to hold such beliefs. If admitting that cannabis in some form has medical utility makes it harder to persuade 14-year-olds not to get stoned all the time, I can make sense of parts the reluctance of parts of the prevention community to acknowledge the obvious, along with the reluctance of some enthusiastic anti-prohibitionists to admit that commercial availability and aggressive marketing will inevitably translate into higher rates of abuse.

But to understand is not, in my case, to forgive. If it requires some intellectual and moral discipline to acknowledge that actual policies have both advantages and disadvantages, then people who decide to engage in policy debates need to tone up their intellectual and moral muscles. You can’t keep running a republic if the public refuses the task of rational self-rule. Reasoned debate isn’t easy, or even pretty, but it beats the hell out of tyranny or civil war.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

46 thoughts on “Harms, benefits, and the barriers to reasoned policy discourse”

  1. commercial availability and aggressive marketing will inevitably translate into higher rates of abuse.

    You mean like this?

    Again, I ask, where are the bodies? Exactly what is it about cannabis abuse patterns that you want us to crap our pants over? ‘Cause out here in the real world, there’s a real war going on with a real body count, and this guy’s reporting deals with the kind of things that have me crapping my pants:

    Ultimately, another innocent, unarmed person was shot dead by a cop in the course of a highly-volatile raid on a private home. But according to police and the local prosecutors, the cop wasn’t responsible. Nor, they said, were the policies that sent the SWAT team into a man’s home at night to enforce laws against consensual crimes in the first place. Certainly, the victim wasn’t responsible. Which can only mean that the occasional innocent, unarmed grandfather of 12 gunned down in his own home while watching basketball in his pajamas is a price Massachusetts officials are willing to pay to prevent people from getting high.

    1. Hear hear. Mr. Kleiman, I’m sure there are anti-prohibitionists who have the views you mention, but there are plenty of us who understand full well that lots more people will abuse cannabis if it’s legalized. But the balance titls far too firmly towards legalization. The current negative comsquences of prohobition are so vast, expensive, and painful, that increase cannabis abuse is a small price to pay.

      Those who abuse it will not die from their abuse. They are unlikely to become physically confrontational with others. They may suffer negative consequences in their lives, but those negative consequences pale in comparison to spending years in jail and the myriad negative consequences of living your life with a felony on your record.

      It seems you operate from the premise that prohibiting the consumption of a relatively benign substance is an activity the government should engage in if it could succeed in achieving it’s goal, but since it can’t we must come up with a more reasonable solution, somewhere between legalization and prohibition. I submit your premise is false.

      And I really don’t see how you can possibly debate it given the knowledge you have. We all know how harmful alcohol is. We all know that alcohol prohibition was a disaster and reversing prohibition is considered a no brainer good call. There are enormous negative consequences to alcohol consumption. But generally speaking we have a reasonably functioning society that includes alcohol abuse. Why would it not be the same thing for cannabis abuse?

      We can assume we have an upper bound for the negative consequences of cannabis abuse in a legal system. That upper bound would be the negative consequences of alcohol abuse. We can also assume we will not come close to that upper bound.

      We can also observe that prohibition has resulted in abuse of our constitutional rights and an escalation of a war mentality between law enforcement and the citizens it is meant to serve and protect.

      All facts point to prohibition being far worse than legalization. It’s time to try legalization. I’d rather work on fixing a broken legalization scheme than a broken prohibition scheme.

      1. Comment deleted: Please criticize the ideas put forward rather than demonizing the writer.

        1. Is labeling those who disagree with a participant in a debate as intellectually flabby “demonizing”?

          Cranky

        2. And, it occurred to me this morning, everything about Dominoes and the parade of horribles that would occur if we didn’t show Ho who was boss was vastly overstated by people who wanted us to stay in Vietnam forever.

          And yes, the commie takeover was bad for a lot of folks, including some who hadn’t allied with us, the foreign invaders. But in the end, on balance, the harms resulting from ending the war were far far less than the harms we had caused by waging it in the first place.

          That’s the bottom line: Drug War = Vietnam.

          We’re long past the point where we should declare victory and get out. It’s time to just get out.

          1. The problem with this analogy is that failure to plan for the end of the War in Vet Nam (and Iraq and Afghanistan and…) and the aftermath cost many lives. It is thus not inspiring to say we should not think/plan/prepare, just take a sudden action and hope for the best, because countries have historically done so wonderfully after we invade and leave.

          2. not inspiring to say we should not think/plan/prepare, just take a sudden action and hope for the best

            If the (mainstream/establishment) debate was open to the possibility of legalization and the disagreement was mainly over the transition and post-transitional setup, then maybe that debate could be had.

            As far as the overall WoD is concerned, for the establishment, it’s either stick the course or face the apocalypse.

            In the UK media, I have seen over the years, consideration of prohibition as fit for subject to a cost-benefit analysis with the (theoretical, at least) possibility of legalization as an answer. I haven’t seen that in the US media (for libertarians, drug policy is shaped by ideology). When US politicians talk of the WoD as a failure, what they mean to do is tone down the more overt punitive aspects of the criminal justice system rather than render a judgement on the concept of prohibition in itself.

  2. This tendency of either/or, black/thinking is so useful in daily life. Making decisions almost demand it. So one can see how the mind would have an advantage in evolving it as a strategy. But with the advent of metacognition, the peistemological challenge of trying to search out all the nuances that branch off in all directions can become debilitating. In a funny irony, turning of the metacognitive process returns the original advantage.

    1. I’m sure not being able to correct typos in comments really peists you off.

  3. Just curious Mark, what in your mind separates an abusable substance from an abusable food?

    1. Do I think there’s a clear separation? Of course not. Do I think some reasonable distinctions can be drawn. Of course.

  4. There is another part to this finding which concerns emotional arousal. If you show research subjects an ambiguous situation, such as two lines that are almost but not quite the same length and ask which is longer, or a colored square that is 35% blue and 40% green and 25% red and ask them which color covers the most surface area, the tendency to take a strong position (i.e., “Hands down that square is mostly blue!) and defend it increases with emotional arousal. When we are calm, we are better at recognizing complexity and close calls. When we are upset/angry (As people often are in political debate) we are more prone as a species to black and white judgments.

      1. That presupposes a situation without nuance, as opposed to what is more common: Believing one has only one option when in fact there are many.

    1. This is of course exacerbated by the Internet, where we lack a lot of the cues essential to normal face-to-face communication. We can’t see facial expressions or body language; even tone of voice is filtered out.

      1. That is a good observation. Along the same lines, and experiments of computer-based communication shows that people are more inflammatory and aggressive when they are anonymous, which generates more affect, which feeds the cycle further.

  5. It would help, if we’re trying to be real, look at the facts, and propose effective policy solutions, if we quit using the term “abuse” as if it were some sort of generalizable category where we can put all the things that bother people about substance use and deal with it by punching the button marked “Regulation.” It would be more useful if the specifics of what someone calls “abuse” were listed.

    Otherwise, you’re lumping apples, oranges, rotten tomatoes, etc all together. There’s a vast gap between DUI (alcohol) and “Dad always buys a dime bag of weed on payday.” And it is certainly stupid and wasteful to try to pro forma address “abuse” of marijuana with the same tools used versus alcohol, because “that’s how it’s done” or “that’s only fair ” — or both worst and most common of all under our system, because it’s what’s politically expedient.

    Part of this issue is because some legalization advocates are choosing to depend on appeals for dealing with marijuana “just like alcohol.” There are a few good reasons to do so and lots of bad ones. Developing effective, just policy for dealing with abuse of any kind is far from a one size fits all situation.

  6. Fence sitting is so much easier when it’s not a picket fence…

    Mark works hard at trying to work in the middle of the road and if he stays there he may get run over.

    From what I’ve seen of Mark’s writings he generally takes the anti-prohibs to task with more vigor than his prohibitionist compatriots. Mark is a smart, well educated man. Alas he suffers the same fate as the rest of us – he’s human. So as objective as he may like to think he’s being, he’s as invested in his beliefs as those he criticizes.

    Personally I think his energy would be better spent trying to get pharmaceutical advertising removed from the air waves. When Mark talks about “aggressive marketing will inevitably translate into higher rates of abuse” he is assuming “aggressive marketing” will occur. Well gee whiz Wally, it’s the 21st century and we are now a consumer society and aggressive marketing is the norm.

    It was 80 years of aggressive marketing that propelled Prohibition II into the gargantuan it is today. The prohibition of drugs was begun on such flimsy intellectual and ethical grounds it needed an aggressive campaign (official gov’t propaganda) conducted across generations to make its vile taste palatable to the avg citizen.

    As an example of how I see Mark’s fears over “aggressive marketing” never occurring I need only point to cigarettes/tobacco. When we as a nation decided cigarettes are actually very yucky and unhealthy, we didn’t prohibit tobacco. We did however begin an educational campaign and we removed tobacco advertising from mainstream media and aggressively marketed the miery tobacco causes to personal health.

    With nary a shot fired, no homes raided and no Corgies or elderly folks shot by SWAT, we drastically cut down US tobacco consumption.

    One point that Mark gets totally wrong is this imagined scenario: “the proponents of legal cannabis for non-medical use have successfully used the claim of medical efficacy as an entering wedge to legalization.”

    No Mark… legalization advocates (such as myself) threw our weight behind medical because A) it is medical, and B) by god if anybody should get pot, let’s get it to the patients first. The opposite of what Mark says there is where the truth is… patients used legalization and its advocates as a process to medical availability.

    Whether I smoke pot or drink beer is (as the late Peter McWilliams so eloquently put it) nobody’s business. AND whether I smoke pot or drink beer matters as much as what brand of beer I drink (as in it doesn’t matter to anyone but me). Why does alcohol (a substance from which one can suffer a fatal overdose, unlike cannabis) have a monopoly on legal intoxication?

    1. With nary a shot fired, no homes raided and no Corgies or elderly folks shot by SWAT, we drastically cut down US tobacco consumption.

      But millions went to their deaths along the way and continue to do so, particularly among the nation’s and the world’s poor. If you want to claim tobacco control as a great success — 6 million people will die this year from smoking — how many people would have to die before you called it failure?

      1. Keith… now you’re getting it mate. Kinda…

        I’m saying that education worked to reduce those harms and fatalities. Do foreign countries (I know Oz does) conduct anti-smoking campaigns similar to ours? Do their TV programs show people speaking from tubes in their throats?

        I grew up in a world (and a household) where ashtrays were furniture.

        I understand that in your perfect world all things harmful would be prohibited. But such a regime would require a factual listing and comparative ranking of substances and activities. In such a world we would ban tomacco, alcohol, fast food, pharmaceuticals, sky diving, river rafting, all contact sports… the govt’s job is not to protect me from my own mistakes. W/o mistakes there is no growth. W/o growth, no innovation, no limit-pushing thoughts or actions could ever arise.

        But we do make mistakes. It’s part of who we are as humans. Besides, had the gov’t never wrongly prohibited cannabis, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

        Which begs the question, “why IS hemp illegal?”

        1. “why IS hemp illegal?”

          Pure and simple? Because the government says so.

          If you do not obey, this proves to be a litmus test of your loyalty. Particularly if you’re regarded as less than fully “white,” then violation of the law viz marijuana is all that is needed to determine your deeper guilt. If you’re “white,” then you get a bye the first time, if you do your white bread “respect the badge” shtick. And then a whole bunch of mostly “white” folks stand around clucking their tongues as the miscreants who “need a lesson” in civics.

          What does this have to do with actual marijuana? Not a thing. Prohibition has no justification in a just and equitable society that respects basic human rights.

          Someday, this nation just might live up to its myths. In the meantime, the government will NOT suppress us successfully. And the day is coming soon when it will be impossible to find 12 random jurors to say “guilty” at trials of those charged with marijuana offenses. Try regulating that. You may just want to get this legalization thing over with as painlessly and with as little drama as soon as possible. Because once we go there, then government will be getting spanked far more regularly about a lot of stuff.

          But they just don’t have a clue sometimes. Obama’s appeal to trusting Congress and the courts over this mass dragnet of your phone numbers and calling patterns to reassure citizens about trusting their government in general? Has the man’s press handler’s checked the approval ratings of those folks? Substantially below his — or they were until recently. He needs to take the kind of action that appeals to the needs dreams and demands of voters across the political spectrum. Call off the war on marijuana now and get back those badly needed points of approval ratings. It might just be the start of coming to compromises on some of this other “culture war” stuff and allow us to get on with the business of being free in America.

          That’s all marijuana is — ammunition in the culture war. Get over it.

        2. I understand that in your perfect world all things harmful would be prohibited.

          Oh dear, I thought you were someone with whom I could have a serious discussion. As you say people do make mistakes. My bad.

          1. Apologies Keith… (and I included my whole name so I’m not speaking anonymously) it’s that lack of physical clues thing – expressions etc – raising it’s ugly virtual head again. I was being facetious (more facetious than snark). I’d love to have a serious discussion with you.

            But if we’re to have a discussion you need to help me understand the motivation on the part of prohibitionists to continue opposing legalization of a substance described by the DEA’s own administrative law judge, the late Francis Young, as “one of the safest therapeutic substances known to man.” Even those who claim middle of the road status still support “prohibition-lite” leaving pot heads like me in the wastelands of Limbo. I smoke pot but I sure don’t need treatment and I sure don’t need jail. Like the not-so-old saying goes – “if a person has a problem with drugs, jail is the last thing they need. If a person doesn’t have a problem with drugs, jail is the last thing they need.”

            If we are to discuss the harms of cannabis then there needs to be a scale of harms. If not, then common sense is thrown out the window and ideology trumps fact.

            I’m just a blue collar guy with some college and a whole lot of life under my belt. I’ve spent the last 15 years as a Rockmed volunteer, providing 1st aid and crisis service for concerts and large outdoor festivals. I’ve dealt with drunks (way too many of those) and trippers and worked shows of all genres of music, from country and Christian rock to head banging metal and groups like the Dropkick Murphys, Tech9 and Floater. Over all those years I’ve had ONE client that came to us because of pot. One… that’s life out here in the real world.

            Out here in the real world… I have friends who were raided by 4 dozen officers in full military SWATified mode. Cops came away with less than 1/8 ounce of weed…

            If we are to compare the harms from pot to the harms from Prohibition? Prohibition loses, hands down. Pot doesn’t bust down doors and shoot dogs with short legs. Neither does pot plant evidence on innocent grandmothers. If we are to compare usage rates in countries with punitive penalties for pot to those countries with less restrictive policies, prohibition loses.

    2. This sort of aggressive marketing doesn’t bother me that much. Par for the course, and much preferable (to me, anyway) than “Ask your doctor if this list of unpleasant and often potentially lethal side-effects is right for you” every ten minutes on the TV, though the libertarian in me can accept the latter in spite of my annoyance.

      Personally I think his energy would be better spent trying to get pharmaceutical advertising removed from the air waves.

      To be fair, he’s against it, of course. But I doubt anybody is surprised he’s been conducting public interviews for the last few months as Washington’s pot-regulation advisor and not as an outspoken pharmaceutical marketing opponent seriously working to end the practice.

      I can understand the reluctance of some enthusiastic anti-drug-marketing academic policy analysts to take on the powerful pharmaceutical industry head-on when it’s so much easier (and more profitable) to defend the status quo against the possibilities of marijuana marketing. But to understand is not, in my case, to forgive. 😉

        1. Gee, how gracious of you..

          I share your sentiment. Go read the OP again. What I concluded with was a paraphrase, and the last sentence was a direct quote.

      1. This sort of aggressive marketing doesn’t bother me that much.

        And its effects on others don’t concern me. Right? Because no man is an island–he’s a peninsula.

        1. And its effects on others don’t concern me. Right?

          Sure, I’m a little concerned. But like I said, not that much. I find it useful to apply a sense of proportion to the question.

          Anything is dangerous when taken too far; you can die from ingesting too much water. How concerned should I be that bottled water is mass-marketed? Not that much. Caffeine kills, taken to excess, is known to be habit-forming, and affects the brain and behavior of those who ingest it. Now how concerned should I be? Perhaps a little more, but still not that much. Cannabis kills fewer victims than caffeine overdose, has similar habit-forming effects, but as an intoxicant, it’s use can have other ill effects on society at large which are potentially more harmful than caffeine’s stimulant effect. Now how concerned? Again, a little more, but certainly less than, say, beer (or Viagra!) ads on TV, given the difference in relative potential harms of the drugs in question. False advertising bothers me more; if Acapulco Gold were found to contain stems and seeds that you don’t need, or if it were objectively shown that it was not, in fact, badass weed, then I’d have a bigger problem with it. 😉

          I don’t have such a low opinion of my fellow citizens that I feel so many are so helpless to resist the siren song of mass-marketing that they really need those who think they know what’s best for us to rise and save us from ourselves in such situations. YMMV. Ask your doctor if playing the role of nanny to your fellow “equal” citizens in a “free society” is right for you.

    3. From what I’ve seen of Mark’s writings he generally takes the anti-prohibs to task with more vigor than his prohibitionist compatriots.

      From what I’ve seen of Mark Kleiman’s writings he generally takes the anti-prohibs to task with more vigor than prohibitionists (who are not his compatriots) in this particular forum where almost no prohibitionists ever post, such that trying to take them to task here would be completely pointless. From what I’ve seen, the content of his rhetoric in other settings, with different audiences, is substantially different than it is here.

      The inability of people to conceive of the idea that what someone communicates in one context is not the entirety of their thought on a subject is particularly aggravating and does not speak well of their thought process.

      1. “The inability of people to conceive of the idea that what someone communicates in one context is not the entirety of their thought on a subject is particularly aggravating and does not speak well of their thought process.”

        Whoa there J.M… you take that finger and point it right back at yourself, ’cause you done did here what you criticize me for, “[t]he inability of people to conceive of the idea that what someone communicates in one context is not the entirety of their thought on a subject is particularly aggravating and does not speak well of their thought process.” And btw,I qualified my statement “From what I’VE SEEN of Mark’s writings…”

        How much of MY writing have you read? Not as much as what I’ve read of Mark’s writings I’d wager. My thought processes are fine, thanks for asking.

        It’s pretty basic actually. Pot is here. It’s not going away. It can be regulated like anything else or… it stays criminalized, still won’t go away and the cartels (and their ilk) profit. Those who argue against legalization are arguing for continued criminal control.

        That our government kills, incarcerates, confiscates and obfuscates over a common, easy-to-grow plant (with a lengthy history of human consumption) is in itself criminal.

  7. = = = But to understand is not, in my case, to forgive. If it requires some intellectual and moral discipline to acknowledge that actual policies have both advantages and disadvantages, then people who decide to engage in policy debates need to tone up their intellectual and moral muscles. = = =

    Out of curiosity, does that apply to yourself as well? It does seem to this not-wet-behind-the-ears observer that you assign a probability to your analysis being correct at 98% of better, and assume that anyone disagreeing with your analysis to be intellectually flabby. Have you ever considered the possibility that your analysis might be incorrect, your premises might not be as strong as you believe, or that you have missed some major side effects in your cost/benefit analysis (ref the infamous failure of decision tree analysis in the hard disk drive industry due to incorrect weighting of chances of a breakthrough technology breaking through)? Similarly, have you thoroughly documented your assignment of value to the current situation of millions of citizens imprisoned and otherwise deprived of rights due to small-scale marijuana “crimes”?

    Cranky

    1. Only someone who doesn’t know Mark could ask that question, so you must not. Speaking as one who does, he’s never been someone who has trouble admitting error or changing his mind in light of new facts.

      1. Keith,
        Perhaps you could point me to Mr. Kleiman’s publications in which he assigns utility values to (1) the number of US residents currently imprisoned or denied their civil rights due to marijuana violations and (2) the harms caused by the various forms of marijuana use [occasional, moderate, and heavy) and performs an explicit cost/benefit comparison between the two. Thanks.

        Cranky

  8. I completely disagree with most of what Mark says and only read the website looking for devastating or humorous rebuttals.

    But his absurd declaration that rhino horn cannot be abused reveals a commonplace bias against marijuana. People don’t like weed because it gets you high without being dangerous enough. This is why we constantly read about the ‘danger’ that kids will learn about weed and want to try it. Why is that so dangerous? Because it’s not very dangerous. Get it?

    Just why is it that rhino horn can’t be abused? Because it cannot be used with regularity? Because users would never risk legal sanctions in their pursuit of the substance? What percent of rhino horn dabblers go on to become denizens? And where is the evidence that prolonged or high dose use of rhino horn is even safe? All because it doesn’t get you ‘high’?

    Mark would be decidedly no fun to share a joint with. “Admit it! Why won’t you admit this is harmful!” “Look, I already said it was killer, bro.”
    In the false dichotomy sweepstakes, my numbers are all-in on the insensate greedheads over the temper tantrum tyrants!

    1. I completely disagree with most of what Mark says and only read the website looking for devastating or humorous rebuttals.

      You win today’s contest for most humorous rebuttal, IMHO. That line about sharing a joint…. I’m still ROTFLMAO!!!

  9. Re reasoned debate…..you sound like those “newscasters” on NPR who are forced by the politics of their employers to present both sides of every issue, resulting in airing some of the most outrageous counter positions to show that they are being fair and reasonable. Why is it that every time I read this blog, your position seems to slip and slide around? Is this what you would describe as nuanced?

  10. The problem I have is that problems of pot abuse aren’t on the same scale as pot prohibition. It is like asking someone to balance the possibility of unlicensed hairstylists spreading head lice against the probability that starting another war in the Middle East might cause some problems. It doesn’t really make sense to complain that opponents of useless Middle East wars aren’t focusing on head lice enough. Sure head lice are a real problem, but it isn’t the same league.

    I realize that head lice policy isn’t linked to war policy, but frankly I’m having trouble coming up with an analogy which looks as bad as Mark’s position.

    I guess I would look at the headline question differently. Yes investigating medical marijuana COULD be a separate issue, but it exposes the ridiculousness of the Prohibitionist crusade–they aren’t willing to even consider the idea of balancing benefits and harms. Perfect policy comes through give and take of sides which are seriously willing to look at and weigh different costs and benefits. The harms of the Prohibitionist side are MUCH greater than the harms of even a completely hands off legalization. That isn’t arguing that there would be no harm in legalization. We can’t get anywhere near a good policy outcome while the prohibitionists get to deny the cost benefit analysis. Conversely, even if we let the strict legalization people win, we end up much closer to a good policy outcome even if they wrongly deny that there are costs. That is why an allegedly even handed approach about tsk tsking those who don’t pay enough attention to the cost benefit analysis strikes such a sour note.

  11. re: “Reasoned debate isn’t easy, or even pretty, but it beats the hell out of tyranny or civil war.”

    Amen brother. Unless you mean something like, “If they don’t listen to my ‘reason’ and obey — i.e. not smoke pot — , then we’ll be forced (forced!) to use tyranny and weapons of war on those dopers.” (Which is basically the SWAT-replete situation now.)

    re: “the reluctance of some enthusiastic anti-prohibitionists to admit that commercial availability and aggressive marketing will inevitably translate into higher rates of abuse.”

    When I consider police, arrests, jail, prison, forfeiture, prison slavery (UNICOR etc), as well as prison torture (like what Marc Emery is getting right this moment), I have a real hard time getting upset over some overblown Big Bad Corporate Marijuana. I reflect upon Everclear grain alcohol and Seagrams etc and think, “So What?”

    I have fond memories of the nearby Big Big Alcohol brewery I grew up near (fond memories and the brewery smelled nice too I thought – the Anheuser Busch brewery in Williamsburg, Virginia).

    I do however have a most difficult time understanding the blind spot (speaking of them) which I see in so many apologists for government pot policy: a wretched blind spot for the effects of the prison they soft-sell (yet nonetheless insist on).

    Prison for pot.

    How does the punishment of prison (or instant execution in a SWAT raid) come anywhere near fitting the “crime” of marijuana?

    It doesn’t.

    You know what I think? I think this “Big Marijuana” bugaboo is just something to say when people press prohibitionists to justify prison for pot.

    An ad-hoc, ex-post-facto excuse, this “Big Marijuana”. Prohibitionists cooked it up to justify prison for pot.

    Such smacks of Anslinger’s ever shifting excuses for marijuana’s badness: it makes you an axe murder, no; it makes you a commie, no wait: really, it makes you take heroin. It makes you jump up and protest war – except when it makes you too amotivated to move.

    And now the marijuana boogie-man of the week is “Big Marijuana”. Sure, buddy: sure. Just like Corona beer is a-comin’ to get you. Fear greatly, you should.

    Prohibitionists can’t justify prison for pot, so they (shrewdly from a public relations point of view) make a great big fuss about “Big Marijuana”, instead.

    1. I don’t think it’s actually all that shrewd, because the phobia it attempts to exploit isn’t really all that widespread outside the left.

      “If we legalize pot, it will be sold like beer, by corporations, with fancy Superbowl game ads!”

      “Uh, yeah. So?”

      “There will be brand names, and product placement!”

      “Well, yeah. So?”

      “PEOPLE IN SUITS WILL MAKE MONEY OFF IT!!!!!”

      You see what I mean? Bugaboos are supposed to be scary, this one isn’t unless you’ve got the relevant corporate phobia. Which Mark has, but I question how many people think ADM is scarier than the Medellin cartel.

  12. BTW, rhinoceros horn powder is not harmless. It doesn’t do anything for potency &c, but supplying it kills rhinos. These majestic creatures are endangered; there are only around 20,000 white rhinos and 5,000 black left.

    1. One of the reasons for the diminishing population of rhinos and similarly endangered species is that they are largely no one’s personal property. The American bison population dropped from about 60,000,000 in 1492 to about 750 in 1890. Now there’s over a half million bison. Almost all in private hands.

  13. re: “The absurd result is that cannabis may well become legal for getting high before anyone in the U.S. is allowed to breed cannabis for medical research.”

    Sagacious wording there doctor, “in the U.S.” — you’re covering your er, bases there when you slip in that little qualification there “anyone in the U.S. is allowed”.

    I agree: that’s another shrewd bit of prose on which you are to be congratulated for that subtil, sensitive wording. I think we need to give credit, where credit is due.

    We can sniff at that non-U.S. allowed “medical research” (but darn that internet! information leaks out like the June 9 article in the Jerusalem Business Report, “New Study: Cannabinoids Protect the Brain and Heart From Injury,” as just one recent example from Israel in the news.)

    But it would just be more cognitive dissonance for the hoi polloi to attempt to process information like that: other nations like Israel have embraced medical marijuana and its research and have many tangible results.

    But that confuses people.

    So don’t remind American readers of all *that* — agreed. Good public relations (see: Bernays, Lippman, etc.). Shrewd, if you asked me.

    As far as U.S political language goes, keep it simple (even it if means forgetting facts like U.S. Gov’t medical marijuana patents, along with plenty of U.S. medical marijuana research examples also). I agree there too: Keep It Simple (for the herd).

    It would just stoke cognitive dissonance and bewilder the herd to mention prison for pot, Israeli government (and private) medical marijuana research — not to mention copious U.S. medical marijuana research in the journals, right now.

    So don’t mention it. Keep it simple.

    Not “anyone in the U.S. is allowed to breed cannabis for medical research” and no medical research has never ever been done in the only country that exists (or matters really: We’re Number One) “the U.S.”.

    Keep it simple.

    No medical marijuana research has ever been done in the U.S. because, as you say: nobody “in the U.S. is allowed to breed cannabis for medical research”.

    Clever political language: simple, concise; not a confusing message. Don’t mention jail or counter-examples like MMJ research in Israel. Check.

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