The backstory

Pat Robertson endorses marijuana legalization. Here’s why.

Pat Robertson’s flat-out endorsement of full marijuana legalization, on the model of alcohol, isn’t as important now as it would have been two decades ago. But two decades ago it would have been completely unthinkable, and seems to me a significant portent, even if few of the Reverend’s supporters will follow his lead when they vote.

I’m not a fan of alcohol-style legalization – I’m pretty dissatisfied with current alcohol policy, which gives brewers and distillers strong incentives to create and support addiction to the drug they sell, and to oppose any measures that might reduce drinking by heavy drinkers – and would prefer a non-commercial model with growing for personal use and by consumer-owned co-operatives. But it may be the case that full legalization is now that most potent of all social forces: a bad idea whose time has come.

At some risk of seeming immodest, I ought to explain how this remarkable development came to be.  As it happens, Brother Robertson and I were reading Scripture together when I pointed out that the “sweet calamus” קנה בשם (kaneh bosem) that formed part of the Holy Oil of the Temple is believed by some scholars to have been cannabis. More to the point, there are parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelations that make much more sense if the reader has prepared himself for pious study by getting really, really, really stoned. It appears that my chaver (study partner) found my humble words persuasive.

Please keep this confidential.

Footnote See Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, and Kleiman, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, forthcoming this June from Oxford University Press. Since I’m only about 20% of the author, I’m 80% allowed to say that it’s a great book. (And no, it doesn’t include the speculation about kaneh bosem, which remains a minority opinion among those who – unlike me – are qualified to judge.

Second footnote Seriously, this shouldn’t be a surprise, either theologically or in terms of political philosophy. Robertson presents himself as a Christian and as a small-government conservative.

There’s nothing inconsistent between Christianity and legal cannabis. Robertson’s emphasis on persuasion rather than punishment is fully consistent with the Gospel world-view. The Bible is pretty tough about non-marital sex, but its views on intoxication are not very clear, and on any rational basis pot-smoking is surely not worse than drinking. So it’s hard to argue, from Christian principles, that the arrangement of allowing alcohol and banning cannabis has a strong moral basis.

Any small-government conservative ought to agree with him that, absent some large external effects, the government shouldn’t meddle with an adult’s choice of intoxicants. (I’m not a small-government conservative, so I see things differently. And of course a Burkean traditionalist, who distrusts the idea of meddling with established practice, might support current policy just because it’s established.)

So what Robertson is saying is what we ought to be able to expect someone with Robertson’s professed beliefs to say.  The fact that, in this case, he has chosen principle over the culture wars is creditable to him, but our surprise about it is discreditable to the political movement he represents.

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:

23 thoughts on “The backstory”

  1. Mark,
    Your noncommercial model makes sense for marijuana. Are you also arguing that it makes sense for alcohol? Alcohol strikes me as a very different drug than cannabis in three respects. First, alcohol addiction is much worse than cannabis addiction. Second, people who are high on alcohol are far more likely to misbehave than stoners. Third (and most important here), a lot of people drink alcohol because it (or more accurately the beverages that have it as a component) tastes good, even at low doses. I might be wrong on reasons #1 and 2 (you’re the expert!), but I know that #3 is valid.

    It is difficult to make tasty alcohol at home. Heck, it is difficult to make tasty pinot noir anywhere, and difficult to make tasty Riesling anywhere but Germany. (Alsace is part of Germany for culinary purposes.) If alcohol is to be anything other than a nasty cheap stone, I don’t see why you want to keep professionals out of the business. And if alcohol is a nasty cheap stone, cannabis should be encouraged as an alternative.

    1. Brewing good beer (better than Miller or American Budweiser) isn’t difficult, anywhere in the world. Good malt extracts, yeast strains, hops and adjuncts are widely and easily available. You have to go to some trouble to do it, but it isn’t hard unless you choose to make it hard. One way to make it hard(er) is to use malted barley instead of extracts. That’s a choice.

      Ciders are even easier than beer, if only because there isn’t any wort to boil.

      Wine (good wine, not necessarily great wine) isn’t much more difficult to produce, unless you want to make something that requires substantial barrel and bottle aging. I’m thinking chardonnays and big reds like cabs and pinot noirs. Most of us don’t have the space or the inclination for the barrel and bottle aging those wines require. The other limitation for most of us is finding grape must or juice concentrates worth turning into wine.

    2. “It is difficult to make tasty alcohol at home.”

      Not as difficult as baking a good strudel, in my experience. Essentially anyone with good sterile procedure, and the capacity to follow a recipe, can make tasty alcohol at home. I personally don’t much like the taste of alcohol, but I still managed to make decent mead on my first try. Probably sweeter than somebody who doesn’t mind the taste of alcohol would prefer, but I liked it.

      1. Brett and Dennis:
        My experience is that some people think that they make good homebrew. Their friends never disagree with them, but pour the gift bottles down the drain, once back home. ymmv, of course.

        1. I’ve had me some damn fine homebrew. A guy I used to work with 20 years ago would serve a keg of homebrew every year at his 4th of July party. Very tasty stuff, every year. My son in law brews some tasty beer, though far less frequently than before he had my grandkids to raise. He made a batch of chocolate cherry stout about eight years ago that we still talk about. I can almost still taste it…

    3. No, I don’t think this is feasible for alcohol, given the strong commitment of most drinkers to their brand names. I’d settle for policies to prevent problem drinkers from drinking, either by forbidding sales to those with DUI or drunken-assault convictions or by enforcing non-drinking as a condition of probation and parole under a program such as South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety.

  2. Gak! I strongly disagree with Scrooge’s #3! As far as I’m concerned, fermented drinks taste like something dead & rotting, while distilled ones taste like industrial solvents. I’d rather drink paint thinner than 12-yr scotch.
    As for Revelations, i suspect mushrooms are the culprit, as the island of Patmos, where St. John penned his psychedelic screed, is still well-known for the potency of the mushrooms that grow there.

    1. I don’t understand why your dislike for alcoholic beverages leads you to conclude that nobody else likes them either.

      I dislike bananas myself, but I do know that I’m in a small minority in that respect.

  3. I’m assuming that the good Rev. Pat has invested a bundle with various Latin American drug lords and is handling the U.S. lobbying end of the business(see: Charles Taylor, gold).

  4. “Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, and Kleiman..”
    Isn’t this the secretive Washington law firm of high-powered consiglieri to the Scarlatti trusts and the Trilateral Commission?

    1. Actually, it’s a project of the Elders of Zion. Before they changed their names, “Caulkins” was Kulkewicz, “Hawken” was Kochma, and “Kilmer” was Klezmer.

  5. Mark: Although I can appreciate your distribution model because I do think it is superior to a traditional “legalization” approach, what concerns me is what protections would be offered to consumers from the results of drug tests. For example, in a state with zero-tolerance drugged driving laws, a regular marijuana consumer could essentially be charged with a DWI whenever they operate a vehicle because of the amount of time pot stays in ones system. Employers would still be free to discriminate against users through intrusive drug tests that are encouraged and often mandated by the government. Even though users may have legitimate means to procure their product, not much will change if they cannot because they couldn’t drive or work if they do. Alcohol users have never had to face such discrimination because alcohol is out of the system much faster and our tests are more accurate for determining inebriation. Additionally, because alcohol is legal, it seems that users are more protected–employers do not fire employees who drink over the weekend and the police would not issue a DWI to a drinker on Thursday for behavior last weekend. What say you about those issues with regard to your approach?

    calling all toasters: Latin American drug lords do not want to see prohibition end, they are on the side of the drug warriors. Why would you say Pat Robertson is lobbying for them when the drug lords would lose significant business if the USA legalized marijuana? If he really has invested with them he would be touting the immorality of drug use and the need to “crack down” (i.e. drive up prices) on the substance.

  6. > So what Robertson is saying is what we ought to be able to expect someone with Robertson’s professed beliefs to say. The fact that, in this case, he has chosen
    > principle over the culture wars is creditable to him, but our surprise about it is discreditable to the political movement he represents.

    I was with that until I looked at the article at the link, and read Robertson’s description of how things came to be the way they are:

    > He attributed much of the problem of overpopulated jails to a “liberal mindset to have an all-encompassing government.”

    Yes, noted liberals Ed Meese and Wm. Bennett wanted to “end the debate” about the morality of drug use, replacing all that silly talk with the highly liberal policy of “zero tolerance.”

  7. Why is that account implausible, when you’ve got Mark, no conservative, right here expressing regrets about the end of Prohibition, because he thinks alcohol should never have been legalized again? There’s always been a strong strain in modern ‘liberalism’ that thinks the elite know better than the peons what’s good for them, and are entitled to force it down their throats.

    That’s essentially where libs and liberals part company, isn’t it? We think people are entitled to go to Hell in a handbasket of their own choosing, and you think you’re entitled to save them, whether or not they want to be saved.

    Cue the usual excuses about how liberals really, really wanted to end the war on drugs, but didn’t dare make the slightest effort to because of fear of Republican demogoguery.

    1. There’s always been a strong strain in modern ‘liberalism’ that thinks the elite know better than the peons what’s good for them, and are entitled to force it down their throats.

      Aardvark cited two well-known names to make his point, which already answered your question. You have offered no support for your implausible claim. Can you come up with any non-conservative names that even come close to matching Aardvark’s example of “the elite know better than the peons what’s good for them, and are entitled to force it down their throats”?

      And no, Mark doesn’t count. He may not have the attitude regarding prohibition we would like, but he’s not even close to a Meese or Bennett.

    2. Nevermind, found it myself. Ed Brayton blogged on the subject and rightly pointed out:

      The part about liberals adding criminal sanctions to every law is nonsense, but it’s certainly true that the destructive war on drugs has broad bipartisan support and that both parties are complicit in creating it, maintaining it and pushing for ever more draconian measures. I wish it was just the Republicans who were behind it, but the Democrats are hip deep in it. Joe Biden was the primary sponsor of our clearly unconstitutional asset forfeiture laws. It was Bill Clinton who fought to pass laws to prevent anyone convicted, or often even suspected, of possessing drugs from all public housing with a one-strike and you’re out provision.

      I’d put Biden’s asset forfeiture sponsorship up there reasonably close to Meese and Bennett on the draconia scale, so there’s one example anyway. However, I wouldn’t rate the two parties equivalent in terms of their enthusiasm for escalating the war on drugs. For Robertson to attribute much of the problem of overpopulated jails to a “liberal mindset to have an all-encompassing government” while also expressing his conviction that the nation “has gone overboard on this concept of being tough on crime” or for Brett to say “There’s always been a strong strain in modern ‘liberalism’ that thinks the elite know better than the peons what’s good for them, and are entitled to force it down their throats” seems a little more than the pot calling the kettle; more like the guy with the beam in his eye pointing out the mote in the other.

  8. Brett, would you please try to keep your prejudices in your pants? I never said I regretted the end of Prohibition, which was a clear failure by the end; what I regret is that the substitute policy not only allows and encourages billion-dollar enterprises to lead people down the road to Hell, but that in the process they take so many others – murder vitims, rape victims, domestic violence victims, other motorists and pedestrians, and of course their parents, spouses, and chilren – along with them.

    As a matter of historical fact, “conservatives” have been using drugs as a club with which to beat liberals at least since Spiro Agnew called George McGovern the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” But I wouldn’t want to ask you to let the facts get in the way of your fantasies.

    1. Mark, you object to full legalization of alcohol. (Which is what the end of Prohibition was.) You’ve mentioned this often enough that I think it reasonable to conclude that, had you the power, you’d outlaw it again.

      Ok, not fully. Just enough to make sure we’d have a huge black market again. Just as you’d partially legalize drugs, just not enough to eliminate a black market.

      Ok, I get it, you don’t like big corporations. That’s a lousy reason to fund international terrorism.

  9. “Cannabis Chassidis” by one Yoseph Leib ibn Mardachya is a book (Atzmos Press, Jerusalem) about “The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs.” The author takes guidance for the indulgence of sweetness of all kinds from Proverbs 25:16, “If you get a taste for honey, take only as little as you need and let the rest pass, lest ye take too much, and vomit it all up.” He points out that the Torah itself is a drug, which can become a toxic drug if misused. Not just the Torah is a powerful drug which can become toxic if misused; the same precautions apply to all manner of religious indulgence.

  10. Ed Whitney raises a good point. With respect to intoxicants, scriptural teachings tend toward advocation of moderation and warnings of the consequences of overindulgence as opposed to enforced abstinence. In the Christian bible, Jesus preached against being drunk from wine, and also made wine for a wedding celebration. In his day alcohol abuse could surely lead to problems with things like “murder vitims, rape victims, domestic violence victims, other motorists and pedestrians (OK maybe not this one so much), and of course their parents, spouses, and chilren”, just as they can today. Was he enabling drunkards and their crime sprees? Of course not. If there’s a lesson on the subject to be taken from scripture, it’s that it’s not the intoxicant, it’s the abuse that is the problem and that banning intoxicants isn’t any more successful than banning a certain apple in the Garden of Eden was.

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