Polarization, denial, and the cannabis debate

Shorter Dickinson and Sullivan: “Let CO and WA alo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ne!!!!” But cannabis abuse is a reality.

Two long essays – one by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone and one by Andrew Sullivan – share the theme of “Let Colorado and Washington alo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ne!!!!!” I mostly agree. But the rhetoric and reasoning in the two pieces reflect the polarized nature of the drug-policy debate.

Sullivan refers to people making money by growing and selling pot in violation of federal law as “law-abiding citizens.” Many of them are in fact otherwise law-abiding. But the Controlled Substances Act law is still the law, even if you disagree with it.  And Sullivan certainly isn’t outraged that the federal government enforces, e.g., environmental laws or truth-in-lending laws, even in states whose own rules are looser; is someone who fills in a protected wetland without a federal permit in a state that requires no such permit “law-abiding”?  Only if each of us gets to pick his own laws.

You can also read both essays through without ever learning that pot dependency is a real problem or that a large share of the current market involves sales to people with drug problems and to minors. Sullivan comes closest when he says that cannabis “is no more potentially damaging to a human being than alcohol,” which is a pretty low bar to have to clear.

As long as the opponents of our current insanely punitive drug laws remain in denial that the laws are (grossly suboptimal) responses to real problems rather than mere racist-statist artifacts of the culture wars (and as long as the drug warriors remain in denial about how badly their project is going and how much needless suffering it causes), it’s going to be hard to get serious policy discourse started.

But some of us keep trying.

Update A friend asks whether my even-handed denunciation of the mendacity on both sides of the debate doesn’t amount to a false equivalence, since the legalizers are currently much more aggressive. It’s true that what might be called the “balance of bullsh!t” has shifted; twenty years ago it was the prohibition side that had a huge megaphone for statements contrary to fact. That remains somewhat true within the corridors of power (not just in DC and the state capitals but also at the UN), but in the mass media, and especially in the on-line sector, it’s the legalizers who can find an outlet for any pseudo-fact they care to invent.

For example, see Alejandro Hope’s comment on the thread below: apparently Tim Dickinson converted his statement that pot legalization would cost the Mexican DTOs some revenue but that “the effect would not be devastating” into the claim that it would be “a devastating blow.” Alejandro comments: “in this specific case, denial veers very close to falsification.” I’m not sure “falsification” is the right diagnosis; I’d put it down to self-delusion on the part of Dickinson and his editors. “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”

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

63 thoughts on “Polarization, denial, and the cannabis debate”

  1. Of course, the drug laws can be both suboptimal responses to real problems AND racist-statist artifacts.

    1. Wait, you mean it’s possible to say one thing and do another? They can claim to be trying to protect children, but make the only dealers not care about the age of the person selling or buying. They claim legalization would increase access, but kids themselves report it’s easier to get weed at school than beer at home. They can claim to be preventing addiction, but we see only the forced unnecessary drug treatment of responsible adults done solely to avoid jail time. They claim that no one goes to jail for drugs, but it’s half of everyone in prison and we have the largest prison population in the world. If you want to talk about facts, it’s all there in government studies. Pretending to not be able to read between the lines on what the actual goal of any of this… I guess you could do that and claim the truth isn’t fact.

  2. What Scrooge said.

    The problems pointed out are real, but I’m not sure it’s quite fair to say that the laws we have were responses to those problems. I think the laws were more responses to other, unreal problems ginned up by Anslinger and Hearst: like marijuana use creating murderous Mexicans and sex-crazed negroes.

    But your point is taken. It’s probably counter-productive to keep pointing that out. It sounds crazy, and it annoys the drug warriors, whom we should probably be trying to calm down, instead, so that we might reason with them.

  3. It also might be worth pointing out that the drug wars are less racialized than they used to be. Nowadays, they are driven more by magical thinking by parents who fear for the future of their children. The fear is quite rational in a land of increasing income inequality and decreasing social mobility. The magical thinking is belief that regulating sex, drugs, and rocknroll will solve the problem.

    1. That’s an interesting take. Wrong, but interesting. I think maybe a look at the census of any U.S. prison could be helpful there. If the Drug wars are less racialized, we should see a pretty even distribution of Caucasian and minority drug offenders behind bars, as well as comparable sentences for comparable crimes (think Crack in a ghetto vs Powder cocaine in an affluent suburb). It would seem that your assessment is in error.

  4. Sullivan comes closest when he says that cannabis “is no more potentially damaging to a human being than alcohol,” which is a pretty low bar to have to clear.

    If repeated often enough, does an absurdity become “consensus reality”?

    Alcohol is potentially damaging to the human body in the extreme. Cannabis doesn’t even compare. Denial of these facts serves what purpose?

    1. Yeah. Pot dependency is a “real” problem on the same level as Red Bull dependency. In other words, not nearly sufficient to justify any paternalism.

      1. Back in consensus reality, the estimate of people who *self-report* that their cannabis use is seriously messing with their lives is roughly 3 million.

        1. What’s the source for this? I see a variety of Qs in the NSDUH 2011 dataset categorized by type (whether having emotional problems, legal problems, physical…etc?), and among past month users, those saying Yes, range from a quarter to three-quarters of a million.

        2. “Seriously messing with their lives”? Professor, we are talking about DEPRIVING PEOPLE OF THE RIGHT TO USE THEIR BODIES THE WAY THEY WANT TO, AND DEPRIVING PEOPLE OF A PLEASURABLE RECREATIONAL ACTIVITY. It isn’t enough that pot “seriously messes with their lives”.

          If it killed them? Sure. If it maimed them? Sure. But if it has roughly the same sorts of bad effects (lateness for work, laziness, straining one’s relationships) as, say, a taste for sexual indiscretion? Really? That’s enough for the FEDERAL government to march right in and stop people from enjoying THEIR OWN FRICKING BODIES?

          “Seriously messing with their lives” is a statement unworthy of you. Document the ACTUAL health effects, and show us that the substance is dangerous in the sense of having severe adverse physical health effects coupled with severe addiction. If it is, I’m all for stringent regulation.

          But it’s not. The stuff is addictive and a little bad for you. Just like chocolate or fatty food.

          1. Dilan, this is the first time I’ve seen you acknowledge that “stringent regulation” for particularly dangerous drugs is a reasonable policy.

            I agree with you that the harms of marijuana aren’t sufficient to make it illegal. But marijuana overuse does make it rather easy to piss your life away, in ways that chocolate and coffee don’t.

          2. Seen obesity stats lately? And, you know, pissing your life away is actually something people are legally entitled to do.

            Further, given a choice between people pissing their lives away in freedom, and pissing their lives away in prison, is this a difficult choice?

            I think the real problem here, is public policy being made by folks who never quite grasped the idea that you’ve got your life and stuff, and other people have their own lives and stuff, and the latter is their business, not yours.

            That is the real gulf here we can’t seem to bridge. Between those who understand the concept of minding your own business, and those who either don’t understand it, or have rejected it.

          3. Brett, I’m all for legalization of marijuana. I just know it’ll have social costs and I’d like to acknowledge them.

            And no, I don’t think we’re all little isolated atoms. To some extent, my life is other peoples’ business. To some extent, their lives are my business. No man is an island. (He’s a peninsula.)

          4. John:

            I am not a libertarian like Brett. I think there’s a valid argument that some substances are too damgerous for public sale. But where the substance is useful– and allowing users to experience pleasure is a legitimate use– that bar needs to be very high. Pot is simply not “dangerous” in the sense that would justify the government appropriating a person’s body.

          5. I figure that, since having a son, I get to call myself an isthmus, but generally agree with the sentiment.

        3. To put it another way, I don’t think you can think properly about marijuana until you separate the policy from the moral condemnation that people feel towards the activity. That, after all, is how we got federal prohibition in the first place– because of a moral panic back in the day. Absent harm to other people, morality is never, by itself, a sufficient justification to limit people’s freedom.

          The question is, if nobody had ever come to the conclusion that marijuana were immoral, if everyone thought it was a perfectly moral and good activity to use marijuana, what would the regulations look like. What would we do then?

          And I think the answer is clear that we would allow commercial sale of it. We wouldn’t start from the premise that we must do everything to stop people from harming themselves, because we don’t, as a society, try to stop people from running risks they wish to run. We might fund treatment for addicts, we might have labeling restrictions and laws against sale to minors.

          The only reason why people can’t think of pot in this way and insist on saying that if there’s any risk to users who voluntarily use this stuff, the federal government must come in and appropriate their bodies and order them to conform is because the substance is seen as IMMORAL, not because it is seen as risky.

          1. I don’t think you can think properly about marijuana until you separate the policy from the moral condemnation that people feel towards the activity.

            That’s exactly right. As Mark has said (I think I have this right), the primary reason for marijuana remaining so illegal as it has is “Screw you, hippie”.

        4. Back in consensus reality, what is the number of people who *self-report* that their caffeine use is seriously messing with their lives, in that they feel that they cannot properly function in the morning without it?

        5. Can you please link to the source of this information? I was under the impression there were 10 million admitted regular cannabis users based on survey data. 3 million reporting that the drug messes with their lives seems astonishingly high unless “messing with their lives” is defined rather liberally.

          1. Well, regularly engaging in any illegal practice IS going to tend to mess with your life, due to the fact that it’s illegal, if for no other reason.

  5. Clearly the drug laws and correlating policies of mass incarceration have had astonishingly racist effects. I personally think that it was, and frankly still is, intentional. One merely needs to read the contemptible Bennet, DiIulio and Walter’s Body Count on “super predators” to understand this and no, I do not believe that John DiIulio is a merely nice if misguided academic. Contemptible. Even were it not intentional, I don’t see how it helps their case on the racist effects of the laws. Even less helpful, per scrooge, is that it was a “sub-optimal” response.

  6. Astonishing that, 45 years later, the meaning of “We had to destroy the village in order to save it” can disappear so completely down the memory hole as to be unavailable to a noted academic.

    The insanely punitive laws — which means deranged state viciousness at taxpayer expense, the size of which is a good part of what is destroying your institution — are in fact NOT responses to real problems, except of the drug war’s making. Rather, they are fear-based responses to imagined terrors that had the felicitous outcome of bringing about enough of the terrors to justify ever more resources and expansion of the police powers. And so, here we are, roughly that same 45 years into the ongoing failure, with no end in sight, and the ivory tower boys blaming the victims for making it hard to get rational discourse going.

      1. Thanks to Pete Guither for making my point for me. He doesn’t care whether a statement is true or false, only whether it helps his political cause.

        1. How can degrees of devastating be true or false? Is devastating now a finite number?

          The true denial comes from those who still cling to the notion that somehow criminal prohibition is salvageable as a solution to drug problems if only we find a better, kinder, gentler way of doing it. And so, instead of actually working on a new and better approach to replace it, we’re forced to constantly argue over things that apparently can’t be known for certain (such as the degree to which cartels will be handicapped or the degree to which some unknown population will suddenly become addicted in some future unknown regulatory model).

          But these are actually irrelevant to the central problem.

          The fact is that criminal prohibition is the problem that we’re trying to solve. The drug problem is a separate problem. As Peter Christ once said: “Legalization is about solving our drug war problem. Then we can actually deal with our drug problem.”

          Mark Kleiman doesn’t think that anyone is serious unless they first agree with his belief that criminal prohibition can be a legitimate approach to dealing with the drug problem (and apparently they must regularly say so).

          Mark, when you come up with a way that criminal prohbition can be used to effectively deal the drug problem without attacking the vast majority of drug users who are not problemmatic users and feeding a massive black market, then I’ll be interested in working out details of prohibition with you. Otherwise, I’m going to fight to get rid of this destructive beast so we can work on finding a better approach.

          1. Pete, when you’re prepared to criticize a reporter who quotes a research report as saying the opposite of what it actually says – and prepared not to do the same yourself when it suits your purpose – then I’ll be interested in what you have to say. Otherwise, I’ll continue to consider you a minor-league Romney. Your convictions, no matter how profound, or even how correct, do not entitle you to your own facts. Which was the point of the post.

          2. Mark, I never said the reporter was right in his statement. You’ve apparently decided to imply that of me yourself. What I said was that debating that particular topic is a distraction. I’m a strong believer in the facts, particularly when relevant to the discussion, and I correct people who misuse the facts on both sides of the argument on a regular basis. But no, I don’t spend my entire time issuing statements about every factual error. And yes, I am an advocate, so I do spend more of my time correcting facts on the other side than on my side. To expect otherwise would be insanity.

            And I try very hard myself not to misuse facts myself, despite the fact that these “facts” you speak of are so fluid and uncertain that you wrote an entire book on the uncertainty of them.

            But you continually berate advocates not just for being wrong about facts, but for not focusing on those you prefer (which appeared to be the original purpose of your post).

            Facts are useful, but they’re not everything. Sometimes you have to argue a philosophy. Unfortunately, you, and those supporting prohibition, want to derail every useful policy conversation by pushing for a detailed analysis of unknowable certainties. This is a stalling maneuver, very effective, that has been used by drug czars for decades. They discuss one aspect of drug policy (addiction, use by teens, drugged driving, uncertainty of tax income) and get everybody arguing over that instead of talking about the big picture of a policy that is wrong for its purpose.

            It would be like requiring same-sex marriage advocates to discuss the potential changes in AIDS in the population if gay marriage is legalized, or women’s rights advocates to know the future ramifications of family life if women are allowed in the workforce, or abolitionists to know what would happen with criminal rates for African Americans. Focusing on those facts is a barrier to effective change of destructive policy.

  7. All that is missing from this thread is a warning that BLACK GOVERNMENT HELICOPTERS ARE WATCHING US!!!! You’ve got your work cut out for you Professor.

  8. Mark: “Only if each of us gets to pick his own laws.”

    Torture, financial fraud,…….the elites seem to do just that.

  9. The thing that mystifies me is why we just don’t organize around one public policy change: Petition Congress to change marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug. This way, doctors can prescribe it for those with pain from chemo, etc. I have never smoked marijuana, and have no interest, and frankly, wonder why other people do. It’s just that I get frustrated when we talk all around the issue when we can help focus most if not all of the change in the laws of different states by going from 1 to 2.

    1. Schedule II would put cannabis in the same category as morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Doctors could prescribe it, but they would also have to report all their prescriptions to the DEA.

      Such a change would eliminate the pretext for the state medical pot laws, because presumably sick people who needed it would be able to get it.

        1. It would be a step in the right direction, if the purpose of the med pot laws were to help sick people.

          In many states, what is being put through is an intentionally flawed bill with loopholes that will allow recreational smokers to obtain the stuff. For example, unlike with any other medical drug you don’t need a prescription, you need a doctor’s “recommendation.”

          Schedule Two would put an end to that.

          1. First, your blanket statement about your perception of the purpose of medical mj law is offensive to the many people who benefit from medical marijuana. My former business partner’s mother would be dead today without it.

            Second, it’s based on Dr.s’ recommendation rather than prescription because of the federal laws we’re trying to change. It is federally illegal to prescribe a schedule 1 narcotic. Recommendation is a loophole around that prohibition so that people like my friend’s mother can get what they need while we wait in vain for the federal government to reschedule it, which we’ve been lobbying for for decades. It is unfair to criticize this aspect of the mmj laws.

            Third, to the extent the mmj laws are abused, rescheduling mj to 2 would eliminate only some of that, and the rest would be covered by insurance that we all pay for in higher premiums. Just one example, my lower-thirties son-in-law asked his doctor about Viagra during a checkup a couple of years ago. The doctor said “all you have to do is ask me for it”, and he walked away with a prescription that his insurance covered. According to my step-daughter, he certainly doesn’t need it, and it’s use was purely recreational. This happens with “mother’s little helper” pills all the time. There’s nothing magical about drug scheduling requiring prescription that prevents recreational abuse. Prescription drug diversion is one of today’s fastest growing drug abuse problems.

            To be clear, I’m not arguing against rescheduling or against insurance coverage for those who really need the medicine. I think both are positives, and I would welcome any rescheduling of mj. But it isnt’t really necessary to reschedule the plant itself. The most effective mj medicines for a lot of conditions contain only CBD extracts which don’t get the patient high but are highly effective where other treatments fail. This is the sort of medication my friend’s mother benefits from — she most certainly would not enjoy the high.

    2. There is a pending case between the ASA and the DEA on exactly this issue. People have been trying to do this for decades but the DEA has the power to just ignore all scientific evidence and delay the hearings on then decide whatever they want. This is the “right way” of going about legalization touted by people who probably know it doesn’t have a chance because it can be stalled like this seemingly indefinitely. Those who understand that know that legalization will be done by going state-by-state and legalizing, just as with alcohol prohibition.

      1. Also, schedule 2 would only make cannabis as legal as cocaine and meth. Watching the DEA try to argue that marijuana is more dangerous than those two drugs in congress was HILARIOUS. From even a plain reading of the requirements to keep it schedule 1, it doesn’t belong.

    3. Mitchell,first off,sorry late to the party,,if the congress removes marijuana from Schedule 1 the DEA/NIDA lose control of what studies can be made on organic marijuana and the marijuana the tests can be made with. Under schedule 1 any studies have to be approved by the DEA/NIDA and as NIDA reported,,they don’t do studies for medical reasons,only harm studies allowed and must be done with government grown cannabis that most users would call schwag.
      If congress takes control of the studies allowed it is game over.

  10. Mark,

    I think the problem of denial runs deeper. On November 27th, I exchanged a series of direct messages in Twitter with Tim Dickinson on our study (http://imco.org.mx/images/pdf/reporte-tecnico-legalizacion-marihuana.pdf) about the potential impact of state-level legalization on the revenues of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. I even sent him this brief clarification (in English) of its findings (http://imco.org.mx/images/clarification.pdf), which states the following: “That development [displacement of Mexican marijuana exports] could have a non-­trivial impact on the revenues of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The effect,however,would not be devastating.” And yet, Dickinson chose to write the following: “A study by the nonpartisan think tank Instituto Mexicano Para la Competitividad found that legalization in Colorado and Washington would deal a devastating blow to the cartels”. Sorry but no, the study does not say that(not even close).

    So, in this specific case, denial veers very close to falsification.

    Best regards from Mexico.

    1. Hi Mark and Alejandro.

      The use of the word “devastating” was my own take-away from reading the original report in Spanish describing the cartels being deprived of ~ 25 percent of their drug revenue — which the report described as “significant” and “substantial” and the “biggest structural blow/shock [choque]” since the 1980s.

      I see (only now, unfortunately) that in bullet point 10(d) of the 3-page clarifying statement Alejandro had sent to me that he has a specific, semantic objection to the word “devastating.” That’s fair enough. And I will bring it up with my editor to lobby for a tweak.

      That said, it would have been far more civil for either or both of you to have brought this to my attention directly _before_ resorting to name calling in this forum.

      Regards from San Francisco,

      Tim Dickinson

      1. Tim,

        Sorry for the form of my objection. I should have attempted to contact you prior to posting here. Having said that, let me restate my argument: a) under certain conditions, state-level legalization in WA and CO could reduce the drug export revenues of Mexican cartels by something less than 25%; b) I do think that could be reasonably termed both significant and substantial; c) in economics, a structural shock is defined as an event that produces a significant change within an economy or sector, despite occurring outside of it (http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economic-shock.asp#axzz2EVibxoP4). The term does not necessarily imply a negative outcome (e.g., increased Chinese demand for commodities was a positive structural shock for the Brazilian economy). Marijuana accounts for 20-33% of the value of Mexican illegal drug exports, but about 90% of the volume. A major reduction in that illegal trade, brought about by state-level legalization, would indeed constitute a significant change in the Mexican drug smuggling sector: there would probably be a reduction in labor intensity, the geography of the drug trade would shift, relative prices would change, the overall cost structure of the industry could be impacted, etc., d) however, change should not be confused with devastation (understood in the usual meaning of the word as destruction or ruin). Marijuana legalization would transform the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (in interesting and, as of yet, unpredictable ways), but it would certainly not eliminate them (not by itself, in any case).

        Again, sorry for my poor manners, but this is a point that needed to be made.

        Best regards.

        1. Hi Alejandro. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. And apologies for the dissonance over “devastating.” Please understand that there was no intent to misrepresent your study. All best. Tim

  11. In regards to the update, wherever you think the balance of bullshit lies, there’s no question who’s on top in the balance of killing and/or locking away to rot. It’s not even a contest.

        1. I’m reading the comments, waiting for the link to the three million self-reported seriously-messed-with-by-pot fact. M.A.R.K., please don’t disappoint those of us who still think you actually care about facts.

      1. So, Mark, are you claiming that the pot re-legalizers are kicking down doors in the middle of the night, or warehousing people in prisons? Is it not a fact that the prohibitionists are doing exactly that?

  12. Gosh… here I am, just a blue collar guy, a couple years worth of college spread over the years and I can see that the professor needs to remove that burr under his saddle and take a big breath.

    Bad beginnings for laws seems kinda counter-intuitive, no? Especially really racist, fraudulent and fictionalized hysterics type beginnings… and then, after a century or so, when those same corruptly founded laws are causing social and civil mayhem (with a very obvious racial component) they need to be, at minimum, re-examined.

    We hear often enough that “this is a topic of legitimate debate” yet for some reason, we just never quite seem to get to that public debate. Why is that? Mr Obama kinda laughingly dismissed us and we said, “ok” and went about our business. Now we have the voters in 2 states (at least) telling Mr Obama that we REALLY do want to have that discussion.

    If we go back and look at the studies, from La Guardia to Shafer to the late judge Young’s, they all say about the same thing – the effects of cannabis (physiologically and socially) are not severe enough to warrant criminalization.

    When the NIH went looking for the adverse effects of cannabis back in the ’70s, they instead “found that THC slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers, and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory mice, and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent.” But then the DEA quelched the study and buried it. 25 years a study finding a promising cancer fighter gathered dust, because it was marihuana. Now THAT’S a REAL crime.

    In similar efforts NIDA utilized the talents of UCLA’s Donald Tashkin to ferret out those pesky harms of marihuana… and low and behold… he and his researches found out that pot smokers have LOWER rates of cancer…

    Weird, huh?

    Plus – and remember I’m not a expert with letters attached his name – the potential for overdose from cannabis is 0. Zero. Nada. None. Nicht. Heck you can OD from water. Yet there are still folks comparing cannabis and alcohol. We have riots around the university here at Halloween every few years, fueled by alcohol. Did anyone catch the riot at the Space Needle Thursday morning (Legalization Day)? No? Oh… well that’s ’cause there weren’t none. Won’t be neither.

    I’m sorry professor but I figgered out long ago when someone was yanking my chain. The drug war is all chain and yankin’. Manure is what my farmer neighbor calls it. Prohibition causes the problems it claims it’s here to eliminate. Isn’t that kinda weird?

    The drug war? How about hits like “The House of Death” or “Fast and Furious” or “Funding the Contras”? Ooh… how about Peter McWilliams dying in his tub, gagging on his vomit because the government says “marihuana is not medicine.” Kathryn Johnston, an 80 something year old grandma (Atlanta) shot by police who then planted weed on her. Or the Columbia, MO SWAT raid that shot a boy’s dog (a vicious welsh corgy, every cop’s nightmare) in front of him and then only found a personal amount of weed on his dad. And these are not atypical stories…

    There’s a reason some folks have an attitude, professor. Although I suppose until you have experiences with the criminal just-us system like many of us out here have had (can you say Patrick Dorismond?) you just, won’t, get it. But hey, thanks for listenin’

    1. So who says he is listening? Even if he is sitting there scanning the words with his own eyes, he isn’t going to accept anything you have said. There is none so blind as he who will not see, none so deaf as he who will not hear. And another pithy saying: You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time…If you believe that prohibition has any chance of working whatsoever, you fall into the first group, and are thereby shown to be a tool of the state (All Hail The State—The State Can Do No Wrong)

    2. Wait, allan…you mean this is more than an intellectual exercise? There are people attached?

    3. Dr. Tashkin found that pot smokers have HIGHER rates of cancer than non-smokers, not lower as you have it. But when cigarette smoking was factored out (pot smokers are more likely to also smoke cigarettes) there was no difference.

      Because pot smoke contains known carcinogens, the speculation was that there were compounds in pot smoke that had a protective effect, counteracting the effect of the carcinogens.

      And, yes, of course it’s possible to overdose on marijuana. It’s just that the consequences of such overdoses are less severe than for some other drugs.

      1. au contraire (re Tashkin):

        “We expected that we would find that a history of heavy marijuana use–more than 500 to 1,000 uses–would increase the risk of cancer from several years to decades after exposure to marijuana,” explains physician Donald Tashkin of the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead researcher on the project. But looking at residents of Los Angeles County, the scientists found that even those who smoked more than 20,000 joints in their life did not have an increased risk of lung cancer.

        And no, it’s not possible to OD on pot. Well, unless the cartels drop a 2,000 pound bale on you…

        “Tetrahydrocannabinol is a very safe drug. Laboratory animals (rats, mice, dogs, monkeys) can tolerate doses of up to 1,000 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram). This would be equivalent to a 70 kg person swallowing 70 grams of the drug—about 5,000 times more than is required to produce a high. Despite the widespread illicit use of cannabis there are very few if any instances of people dying from an overdose. In Britain, official government statistics listed five deaths from cannabis in the period 1993-1995 but on closer examination these proved to have been deaths due to inhalation of vomit that could not be directly attributed to cannabis (House of Lords Report, 1998). By comparison with other commonly used recreational drugs these statistics are impressive.”
        Iversen, Leslie L., PhD, FRS, “The Science of Marijuana” (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 178, citing House of Lords, Select Committee on Science and Technology, “Cannabis — The Scientific and Medical Evidence” (London, England: The Stationery Office, Parliament, 1998).

        1. and I should add this one as wee:

          “Cannabinoids, constituents of marijuana smoke, have been recognized to have potential antitumor properties. However, the epidemiologic evidence addressing the relationship between marijuana use and the induction of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is inconsistent and conflicting. Cases (n = 434) were patients with incident HNSCC disease from nine medical facilities in the Greater Boston, MA area between December 1999 and December 2003. Controls (n = 547) were frequency matched to cases on age (+/-3 years), gender, and town of residence, randomly selected from Massachusetts town books. A questionnaire was adopted to collect information on lifetime marijuana use (decade-specific exposures) and associations evaluated using unconditional logistic regression. After adjusting for potential confounders (including smoking and alcohol drinking), 10 to 20 years of marijuana use was associated with a significantly reduced risk of HNSCC [odds ratio (OR)(10-<20 years versus never users), 0.38; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.22-0.67]. Among marijuana users moderate weekly use was associated with reduced risk (OR(0.5-<1.5 times versus <0.5 time), 0.52; 95% CI, 0.32-0.85). The magnitude of reduced risk was more pronounced for those who started use at an older age (OR(15- or =20 years versus never users), 0.39; 95% CI, 0.17-0.90; P(trend) < 0.001). These inverse associations did not depend on human papillomavirus 16 antibody status. However, for the subjects who have the same level of smoking or alcohol drinking, we observed attenuated risk of HNSCC among those who use marijuana compared with those who do not. Our study suggests that moderate marijuana use is associated with reduced risk of HNSCC."
          ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19638490 )

        2. Your quote on the overdose supports the notion that it’s impossible to DIE from on overdose of pot, not that it’s impossible to HAVE an overdose. In other words, it’s impossible to have a FATAL OVERDOSE but possible to have an OVERDOSE. Your citation says absolutely nothing about whether it’s possible to overdose on marijuana.


          From the American Cancer Society website: “Marijuana overdoses do not cause death, but may cause mental impairment and distressing emotional states, such as paranoia, hallucinations, and disconnection from reality. Overdose can also cause fast or disturbed heart rhythm, sleepiness, clumsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, and low blood pressure.”

          On the Tashkin thing. As your SciAm article states, the Tashkin study showed no link between pot smoking and lung cancer, which is just as I said: “But when cigarette smoking was factored out (pot smokers are more likely to also smoke cigarettes) there was no difference.” Your earlier statement was that “he and his researches found out that pot smokers have LOWER rates of cancer…” That would be true if by “lower” you mean “lower than they had expected,” not “lower than the general population.”

          According to the article: “They found that 80 percent of those with lung cancer and 70 percent of those with other cancers had smoked tobacco while only roughly half of both groups had smoked marijuana.” Now, if half the cancer patients were pot smokers and the fraction of the general population is smaller than that (which it is), then it is true that (as I said) “pot smokers have HIGHER rates of cancer than non-smokers.” OK? That’s just simple math.

          Why then, if pot smokers are more likely to get cancer than non-smokers, do they say there’s no increased risk? Well, according to your linked article: “after controlling for tobacco, alcohol and other drug use as well as matching patients and controls by age, gender and neighborhood, marijuana did not seem to have an effect, despite its unhealthy aspects.” That’s consistent with what I said earlier: “But when cigarette smoking was factored out (pot smokers are more likely to also smoke cigarettes) there was no difference.” Perhaps I should have mentioned alcohol and other drugs as well, but cigarette smoking is by far the biggest risk factor.

          At the risk of oversimplification, Tashkin’s study showed that pot smokers are more likely to get lung cancer than abstainers, but that increased risk can be explained by the fact that pot smokers are also more likely to smoke cigarettes.

          1. dang semantics, my bad rr… I MEANT fatal ovedose.

            And while again w/ Tashkin I suspect our difference is a matter of semantics, pot smokers do not have an increased risk of lung cancer. And… other cancers risks, like head and neck cancers, show that the risk is actually reduced for smot pokers.

            After 15 years of working public event medicine (concerts and weekend-long fests) I have never seen, nor had to treat a “marijuana overdose.” And that’s doing reggae shows, jam bands, hip hop and rap, punk… and after smoking cannabis for 45 years I’ve never experienced an “overdose” (I’ve tried) and neither has anyone around me.

            But yes, “fatal” was the keyword I did not include.

            Should every one smoke pot? No. Neither should everyone drink, have kids, drive a car, or be elected to office.

  13. “A friend asks whether my even-handed denunciation of the mendacity on both sides of the debate doesn’t amount to a false equivalence, since the legalizers are currently much more aggressive.”
    More Aggressive? Really? Which side in this debate uses force to impose it’s will upon the other side?

    1. Total survivalist bunkum. Laws are passed by officials who were elected by the citizens of the country, no one invaded and forced our drug laws on us.

      1. That just glosses over the origins of the current situation. It does not change the facts on the ground. I do not forcibly enter your home with a gang of armed men and demand you comply with my vision, or deprive you of your freedom or your life if you do not.
        Only one side in this debate uses force to impose it’s will on the other side. And that’s not us “legalizers” (what a ridiculous term).

      2. Neither Harry Anslinger nor Randolph Hearst were elected… and while they didn’t “pass” cannabis prohibition they sure ensured it’s passage. Congress criminalized the fictional marihuana, not the legitimate and historically important plant, cannabis.

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