As I got ready to do my research for my next batch of articles, I stumbled upon a cannabis opinion that spoke about the “dark side of legalization”. According to the author, the experimentation of legalization has failed on all fronts and argued that despite the general support for cannabis legalization – it’s a bad idea.
As one would expect, there has been a lot of pushback on this article trying to disprove some of the wild claims in the article.
In fact, I’m going to use it and compare it to the “Dark side” of prohibition. While the author might think that he’s “check mated” everyone, I’m going to show him that even if cannabis isn’t living up to the expectations – it’s infinitely better than the prohibition alternative.
This article is going to be a masterclass in dismantling Prohibitionist rhetoric and a staunch reminded that “prohibition= death” – in the hundreds of thousands.
As always, I’ll be quoting the Times Article and responding to each claim.
Here we go!
Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past. – Ross Douthat
While it’s true the uptightness of prohibitionists is evident – the debate surrounding cannabis legalization has never been about “cool vs uncool”. I’ve been writing on cannabis culture, events, etc for over 15-years and throughout this time have I never used this rhetoric to win arguments.
While Douthat wants to pit prohibitionists as just “old timey folk” who simply aren’t “cool enough” to understand legalization – the truth of the matter is that if you’re going to want to be a prohibitionist, you can’t just eat around the fecal matter in the middle of the “shit sandwich” that is prohibition.
It’s not about cool or uncool, it’s always been about power, control, human rights, and human health. It’s about policies that take non-crimes and turn them into crimes. It’s about police resources being wasted on prosecuting non-violent crimes. It’s about wasting taxpayer money. It’s about bodily autonomy.
“Cool” and “Uncool” is at the bottom of a very long list of other actually legitimate things that Douthat simply doesn’t want to look at – so while he is presenting his Darkside, I’ll present my own version of it – but reflecting the Darkside of prohibition.
But Lehman explains in detail why the second-order effects of marijuana legalization have mostly vindicated the pessimists and skeptics. First, on the criminal justice front, the expectation that legalizing pot would help reduce America’s prison population by clearing out nonviolent offenders was always overdrawn, since marijuana convictions made up a small share of the incarceration rate even at its height. But Lehman argues that there is also no good evidence so far that legalization reduces racially discriminatory patterns of policing and arrests. In his view, cops often use marijuana as a pretext to search someone they suspect of a more serious crime, and they simply substitute some other pretext when the law changes, leaving arrest rates basically unchanged.
In this section, Douthat simply echoes the sentiments of another “libertarian turned prohibitionist”. In this case, he argues that “legalizing would help reduce the prison population” and while there is a case for this – the impact of legalization would be better judged in “arrest rates”.
Many people who get busted for pot – especially these days – get cited for misdemeanors because there is already a great “decriminalization effect” in many places. Very few places will actually send you to prison for an ounce.
However, “arrests” and similar actions are far more common. In fact, cannabis was a “carte blanche” for law enforcement to arrest or search anyone they like. It would be a weapon in their hands to get people to cooperate, and it was used by Nixon to silence war protestors.
Cannabis was never meant to be on the Control Substance Act, according to Nixon’s own commission and, by the admission of one of his staffers – was purely motivated by political reasons to disrupt anti war protests.
Now, let’s start talking economics. How much does a marijuan arrest (NOT Imprisonment) cost the US tax payer?
The ACLU claims that every weed arrest costs the American taxpayer $750, and states spend more than $500 million per annum to arrest people for cannabis possession.
More importantly, every arrest occupies the time of a law enforcement officer. It jams up the criminal justice system and reduces law enforcement’s ability to focus on actual crimes.
This has always been the core argument for cannabis legalization. Federally speaking, “simple possession” is almost never present but most people get charged with “intent to distribute”. This is a key difference.
When it comes to quantity it matters because you get charged for different crimes. If you have a pound, you’ll not get charged as a person who consumes a lot of weed – you’ll be charged as a dealer.
To overlook this fact within the argument of arrests/imprisonment is negligible. Which is why the argument that legalization had zero impact on incarceration rates is false.
The Dark Side of prohibition shows us that by keeping cannabis illegal, you give the police unprecedented power to seize your property and your person based on a non-lethal, non-violent act and can increase your jail time based on quantity.
So legalization isn’t necessarily striking a great blow against mass incarceration or for racial justice. Nor is it doing great things for public health. There was hope, and some early evidence, that legal pot might substitute for opioid use, but some of the more recent data cuts the other way: A new paper published in The Journal of Health Economics found that “legal medical marijuana, particularly when available through retail dispensaries, is associated with higher opioid mortality.” There are therapeutic benefits to cannabis that justify its availability for prescription, but the evidence of its risks keeps increasing: This month brought a new paper strengthening the link between heavy pot use and the onset of schizophrenia in young men.
Firstly, when checking out study he cited claiming that marijuana had a higher opioid mortality within the abstract they have this sentence, “A likely mechanism for these effects is the emergence of illicit fentanyl…”
Meaning that, “illegally produced fentanyl” is likely to blame for the increased deaths. Furthermore, medical cannabis legalization and cannabis legalization in general has shown to decrease the use of opioids.
A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that patients having access to medical marijuana for a longer duration led to a decrease in prescription opioid use for chronic pain. Other studies have also linked legalization of medical marijuana to a decrease in opioid prescriptions. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, opioid prescriptions decreased by 2.11 million daily doses a year, which increased to 3.7 million when dispensaries opened up. Another study by the University of Kentucky found that states that had legalized medical marijuana saw a 5.9% drop in opioid prescriptions.
With a reduction of daily doses between 2.11 – 3.7 million post legalization, this indicates that there is a net positive in terms of public health. To claim otherwise is simply lazy.
When it comes to the “Darkside” of prohibition – people are forced to obtain unregulated product or choose a pharmaceutical option. Most cannabis patients opted out of pharmaceuticals due to the negative side effects.
But of course, Douthat could give two shits about those who suffer. For him “the smell” is annoying or “some people with mental health disorders could be at risk”. But how many more people are there with chronic illness, with PTSD, with anxiety disorders, with eating disorders – that utilize cannabis safely to treat their symptoms.
Do they not matter? Do we only talk about the adverse effects and ignore all the positives?
And the broad downside risks of marijuana, beyond extreme dangers like schizophrenia, remain as evident as ever: a form of personal degradation, of lost attention and performance and motivation, that isn’t mortally dangerous in the way of heroin but that can damage or derail an awful lot of human lives. Most casual pot smokers won’t have this experience, but the legalization era has seen a sharp increase in the number of noncasual users. Occasional use has risen substantially since 2008, but daily or near-daily use is up much more, with around 16 million Americans, out of more than 50 million users, now suffering from what is termed marijuana use disorder.
“Personal degradation?” I know countless long term cannabis users who have no “personal degradation”. They are focused, disciplined, and high achievers. As you can note, this is pure prohibitionist rhetoric – attacking the character of a “stereotype” while ignoring the performance of the individual.
While the vast majority of the daily users aren’t “problematic” in their behavioral assessments according to the DSM-V – marijuana use disorder is incredibly subjective. Most people also tend to modulate their consumption over the years.
Yet, these behavioral norms are often ignored to support particular narratives. Furthermore, alcohol also has the “potential to derail”, so under Douthat’s reasoning we should outlaw this as well?
Video games? Social Media? Sports? Sex? All of these things has the potential to become problematic and if that is the metric to prohibit them – life is going to get boring quite quickly.
In practice, it hasn’t worked that way. Because of all the years of prohibition, a mature and supple illegal marketplace already exists, ready to undercut whatever prices the legal market charges. So to make the legal marketplace successful and amenable to regulation, you would probably need much more enforcement against the illegal marketplace — which is difficult and expensive and, again, obviously uncool, in conflict with the good-vibrations spirit of the legalizers.
While this is somewhat true, the reasons why the black market continues to thrive are two fold. Partial legalization coupled with over-regulation. You can’t simply legalize cannabis and tax the hell out of it to compete with the black market.
I have written on this extensively and proposed a 2-Tier system which would effectively make the “public tier” compete with the black market and have the “private tier” be reserved for national/international commerce which would require heavier regulation.
While Douthat argues that you would need more regulation, the truth of the matter is that you need to decentralize cannabis production in such a way that the black market cannot compete with the public market, and the private sector aims at providing avenues of mass distribution.
I expect legalization to advance much further before either of these alternatives builds significant support. But eventually the culture will recognize that under the banner of personal choice, we’re running a general experiment in exploitation — addicting our more vulnerable neighbors to myriad pleasant-seeming vices, handing our children over to the social media dopamine machine and spreading degradation wherever casinos spring up and weed shops flourish.
With that realization, and only with that realization, will the squares get the hearing they deserve.
Once again, we’re seeing the word “degradation” being used. An assumption that the majority of cannabis users are “suffering” or “stupid”. Even within Douthat’s own words – the majority of users won’t suffer these consequences.
Yet, because a minority “could be affected” – he would rather opt in for harsher policies that strip the individual from their own faculties. They no longer become “owners of their own bodies” but rather need to follow the rules set forth by others.
The word you’re looking for is “slavery”. I wrote about that here.
I don’t know what Douthat’s views on life is, but by reading his other material one could assume that he’s in favor of “women’s right to choose”. You know, abortion rights and all that jazz.
Yet, women only have rights when it comes to abortion. If a woman chooses to smoke weed or do any other drug – Douthat would much rather see her in jail as with anyone else.
For someone who speaks of “wokeness” – it seems to me that he is in fact more aligned with his “conservative counterparts” than he claims to be.
Society isn’t exploiting anyone. Certain corporations are. Social Media, games, alcohol, entertainment…hell, the very publication that he writes for utilizes their clout to sway political opinion. Running Op Eds that favor a particular political ideology.
The point is, there is a disconnect between these alleged “progressives” that talk about equity and rights, but then want Uncle Sam to violently rape the rights and liberties of those who don’t align with their own internalized view of the world.
Does cannabis legalization come with flaws? Yes! The way we are legalizing it is not the best. I wrote about the answer, and it’s far simpler than one would think.
The problem is “how” it’s being done and understanding that government is interested in money over the rights of people – is why the problems of the black market persist.
The fact of the matter is that there is a whole aspect of prohibition Douthat ignores which is the countless dead bodies that results from drug prohibition. You see, all the drugs being produced by illegal cartels and sold under prohibition makes them problematic.
In Mexico, during 2006-2011, there were hundreds of thousands of dead bodies as a result of the drug war. In the 1980s, Colombia saw tens of thousands of dead bodies as a result of prohibition.
HSBC and many other major banks were caught laundering money for cartels.Dirty drugs were sold for profits, people were ODing and left to die due to punitive drug laws. The police stole billions of dollars without convicting anyone for a crime – and the list goes on.
Prohibition is far more sinister than legalization. In every metric, for every argument…legalization simply is the better option. If you’re worried about the negatives, work on creating policies of education – invest in empowering people, instead of trying to limit their freedom through draconian “right leaning” laws that was literally founded on deception and racism…but hey Douthat the “progressive liberal” seems to be totally okay with that.