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August 25, 2010

Current and past US drug czars urge California to reject pro-pot Proposition 19

In this new op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times, the current and all the past United States "drug czars" joined up to tell the fine citizens of the Golden State 'Why California should just say no to Prop. 19."  Here are excepts of their advocacy:

Californians will face an important decision in November when they vote on whether to legalize marijuana. Proponents of Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, rely on two main arguments: that legalizing and taxing marijuana would generate much-needed revenue, and that legalization would allow law enforcement to focus on other crimes.  As experts in the field of drug policy, policing, prevention, education and treatment, we can report that neither of these claims withstand scrutiny.

No country in the world has legalized marijuana to the extent envisioned by Proposition 19, so it is impossible to predict precisely the consequences of wholesale legalization.  We can say with near certainty, however, that marijuana use would increase if it were legal, because some people now abstain simply because it is illegal.  We also know that increased use brings increased social costs....

A 2004 meta-analysis published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review of studies conducted in several localities showed that between 4% and 14% of drivers who sustained injuries or died in traffic accidents tested positive for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Because marijuana negatively affects drivers' judgment, motor skills and reaction time, it stands to reason that legalizing marijuana would lead to more accidents and fatalities involving drivers under its influence....

The current healthcare and criminal justice costs associated with alcohol and tobacco far surpass the tax revenue they generate, and very little of the taxes collected on these substances is contributed to offsetting their substantial social and health costs.  For every dollar society collects in taxes on alcohol, for example, we end up spending eight more in social costs. That is hardly a recipe for fiscal health....

As should be evident, despite the millions spent on marketing the idea, legalized marijuana can't solve California's budget crisis or reduce criminal justice costs. Our combined opposition to this ill-considered scheme spans four different administrations and represents the collective wisdom of a former secretary of Education, a governor, a mayor and teacher, an Army general, a drug policy researcher and two police chiefs.  Our opposition to legalizing marijuana is grounded not in ideology but in facts and experience.

I continue to be intrigued by the arguments being made for and against Proposition 19, and I find especially notable here that the drug czars make cost-benefit arguments against legalizing marijuana that could readily be used to justify prohibiting alcohol and tobacco.  Moreover, the only " facts and experience" that seem particuarly moving in this context is the social and Constitution disaster that was alcohol Prohibition. 

The czars recognize that "it is impossible to predict precisely the consequences of wholesale legalization," and I think all sides of the debate are generally just making (self-serving) speculations the impact of ending pot prohibition in California.  Consequently, my own inherent affinity for liberty, smaller government, and democratic innovation pushes me toward being a supporter of Proposition 19.  

Because I am eager to watch the (high-times) laboratory of democracy at work in California to discover which predicted consequences prove more accurate, I continue to hope that Californians are willing to give repeal of pot prohibition a try.  But the drug czars' op-ed reinforce my concerns that the forces of fear and status quo bias and big government all remain eager to make the passage of Proposition 19 an uphill battle.

Some related posts on pot policy and politics:

August 25, 2010 at 04:49 PM | Permalink


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The drug czars' opposition is a dog-bites-man story. The man-bites dog-story is here.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 25, 2010 7:24:14 PM

I see the drug laws as being similar to the sex offender laws.

The current laws do nothing and are money pits for local, state, and federal agencies.

The events that put the drug laws on the books in were knee-jerk reactionary ones...similar to how sex offender laws are passed now.

In both cases, those who pass these laws know they don't really do anything, but don't want to risk the political suicide in admitting that...much less repealing the laws.

The only difference is, that currently a greater portion of the population is seeing through the ridiculousness of the draconian drug laws, while that is not the case with the sex laws.

Posted by: Questions Authority | Aug 25, 2010 8:38:55 PM

Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America by Philip Jenkins.

From Publishers Weekly
In a timely account, Jenkins (Dream Catchers) argues that between 1975 and 1986, Americans reacted against '60s radicalism, setting the stage for conservatism's triumphs in the 1980s. During these years, Americans panicked: about angel dust, the Equal Rights Amendment, decaying cities, school busing, crime, and gas prices going though the roof. This panic, Jenkins argues, led to a new pessimism and a view that these problems were "a matter of evil, not dysfunction." Jenkins's most innovative discussion focuses on how children became the subject of political debates—activists on both the right and left focused on child pornography, child abuse and abduction of youth into cults, and channeled some of this concern into a large-scale war on drugs. Jenkins values pop culture as an illuminating tool; he writes not only about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which "moved American politics substantially to the Right," but also about the 1976 blockbuster Rocky, which lionized a certain type of masculinity then under attack by feminism. Jenkins, a professor of history at Penn State, presents an able contribution to the burgeoning historical literature on the 1970s and '80s, and a nice counterpoint to books like David Frum's How We Got Here.

Posted by: George | Aug 25, 2010 10:58:17 PM

Of course the czars, past and present, oppose Prop 19. For if it passes, their bogus, costly, massively destructive careers were for naught.

Posted by: John K | Aug 26, 2010 10:51:32 AM

And of course current medical marijuana sellers are against Prop. 19. If it passes, they lose a valuable monopoly.

Posted by: SRS | Aug 26, 2010 11:20:06 AM

"Consequently, my own inherent affinity for liberty, smaller government, and democratic innovation pushes me toward being a supporter of Proposition 19."

I suspect a different sort of affinity is doing even more pushing in that direction.

Posted by: Stan | Aug 26, 2010 12:43:15 PM

Has there ever been a successful drug czar?

Posted by: Anon | Aug 26, 2010 7:03:32 PM


The objectives of the war on drugs were
1) Eradication of drug crops.
2) Interdiction of drug smuggling.
3) Investigation and prosecution of drug traffickers.
4) Reduction of demand by increased penalization of users.
5) President Nixon did call for drug treatment but that has never been a high
priority objective.

The results are mixed and they depend strongly on local circumstances. I am not aware
of any drug cartel that was permanently dismantled. Local drug distribution networks have been temporarily disrupted. The local retail sales staff are expendable as are the low level distribution staff if they are arrested they are promptly replaced and the customers hardly notice any interruption in supply.

I would say the short answer to your question is no.

Posted by: John Neff | Aug 26, 2010 8:50:09 PM

The drug czar has less political power and way less effective than the Queen of England!

Posted by: Anon | Aug 26, 2010 10:01:47 PM

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