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October 12, 2010

"Legally Loaded: Marijuana Today -- Cocaine and Heroin Tomorrow?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary now appearing at the Huffington Post authored by Dr. Howard Samuels, a psychotherapist. Here are some interesting excerpts:

As a father of three children -- Cooper 9, Greer 6, and Chase 3 -- I'm faced with the dilemma of discussing with them how marijuana is as safe as aspirin when they turn 18 years old.  If Proposition 19 passes, the state of California is telling me that it's okay for my children to get loaded on drugs as often as once a week or every day and all day.

We are only a little over a month away from voting on whether to legalize pot for the so-called medical benefits and to relieve the government of enforcing marijuana laws.  That's what those in favor of decriminalizing marijuana would have you believe.  The real message is that we are normalizing the drug and alcohol crisis in a big way and sending a message to our children that marijuana is as safe to smoke as taking aspirin and brushing our teeth with toothpaste if it is made legal....

More than half of all fatal highway crashes involving two or more cars are alcohol related. 250,000 people have died in alcohol related accidents in the past 10 years with 2 million injured in alcohol-related driving collisions occurring each year.  And, let's not bury the headline: "Alcohol related crashes are the leading cause of death for young Americans!"

That's what ending prohibition did for us.  I am not against social drinking.  For those who are not alcoholics, a glass of wine with your pasta is alright by me, but don't tell me that you smoke pot for the taste. The only reason people smoke weed is to get loaded.  By legalizing we are perpetuating a drug-oriented culture.  We may as well add to "Drink responsibly ... and medicate as needed..."

We are sending the wrong message to our young people when we casually refer to marijuana as medicine.  I can tell you from my front row seat as a addiction treatment professional -- the prescribing of marijuana is not as much about people who need it for terminal-illness, medicinal-relief, but convenience on the part of our kids abusing weed.  I have clients at 16, 17, 18 and up who are buying pot from clinics as easily as using an ATM card to buy a pack of cigarettes at a gas station.

It's horrifying to me to watch our nation go up in a haze of herb smoke.  It's denial that our young people are free from the self-destruction brought on by the easy access which will come from making pot legal....

While a very minute segment of the population smokes a joint on the weekends a couple of times a month, the majority -- the real mainstream smokers are inhaling four or five times a week and several times a day.

Marijuana -- more often than not -- is a gateway drug and the danger is legalizing it will make it more acceptable, which invariably leads to trying other drugs.  Believe me, a pot high for an addict who is looking to numb themselves will eventually become blase and boring and the chase will be on for some other 'recreational' drugs.  Where does all this end?

As a treatment professional, I rely on the police and courts to help treat the addict/alcoholic through enforcement of laws which actually protect the abuser still in denial of their disease by forcing them to look at their issues with consequences.  Once the handcuffs are 'off' the pot smoker, we are in for major, major trouble with our kids....

If Americans accept marijuana as normal then we can expect even more crimes associated with other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin -- and we can also be assured of behavior issues and exorbitant increases in multiple addictions by our young people.  We must ask ourselves: Where do we draw the line legalizing narcotics?

All I can tell you is that as a father, I am concerned about Cooper, Greer and Chase.  Will turning 18 allow my children the legal right to not only buy marijuana, but cocaine and heroin as well?  As a nation, are we headed towards the next generation as a generation that is legally loaded?

I am seeing more and more of these kinds of "fear the refer" commentaries as we approach election day, and I suspect they will succeed in convincing the marginal voter in California to vote against Proposition 19 because of status quo biases and fear of the unknown. But that's just an arm-chair prediction three weeks out while perched in my ivory tower.

Some related posts on pot policy and politics:

October 12, 2010 at 06:52 PM | Permalink


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Doug --

I suspect you're right. I thought the tipping point was when the LAT, not exactly a right-wing rag, editorialized against Prop 19. Then last week, Reuters-Ipsos, generally a liberal leaning poll, said it was losing 53-43, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N05210230.htm. Other polls say it's winning, but the momentum has shifted toward the anti-side.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 12, 2010 7:29:45 PM

Hard to say Bill. Dr. Samuels has his own interest in keeping the status quo. Court ordered treatment has become a source of income for many mental health and addiction treatment professionals..

I do not really believe that marijuana is the gate-way drug - that is most certainly alcohol. I have never smoked marijuana and doubt that I ever will, but I would much rather have it be legal. Medical marijuana will not solve the problems brought by prohibition, but I don't object to it.

We have wasted billions of dollars on sting operations to arrest and prosecute individuals for drug possession, manufacturing, and distribution. These precious resources could be much better spent on crimes of violence, theft, etc, crimes that have already been committed rather than manufacturing crimes involving drugs.

When cocaine was in coke, housewives did not hold up the local drug store for it because they could simply go there and buy it. John Kennedy was routinely administered doses of amphetamines, opiates, and steroids that would be astonishing for the average street junkie. He was able to function perfectly because they were effortlessly provided. You might also consider the amount of codeine taken by Rush Limbaugh. He never missed a talk show and it was virtually impossible to distinguish impairment. Drug crimes are often simply defined because the substance is illegal.

I believe that ending War on Drugs has more to do with freedom from government intrusion. Our founding fathers would be astonished - as am I - at the amount of regulation free people have allowed. These are just my thoughts.

Posted by: beth | Oct 12, 2010 8:22:49 PM

People will always smoke pot. It might as well be taxed, regulated, and we should use those taxes to educate children against smoking pot the sam e way we have been successful in teaching them not to smoke cigarettes.

Failure of Prop 19 just means more money for criminals and less for the economy. Vote against it and send more money to foreign drug cartels~ Note that the pro-19 are retired (wise) law enforcement and politicians, and the anti folks are all in office and still profiting from spending $50,000/year to keep marijuana criminals in jail.

Wake up...let's use marijuana to stimulate the economy and to educate our children. People are going to smoke it anyways, and the statistics I've seen show that decrim/legalization consistently LOWERS use rates. Kids can already get pot more easily than alcohol...so what is the illegal status REALLY doing? Think about it.

Posted by: WesStrikesBack | Oct 12, 2010 8:23:07 PM

The anti-19 people might as well use the old movie "Reefer madness" it is filled with the same BS that they are spewing. It is getting close to voting time and I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of the scare tactics trying to convince us that we should not legalize marijuana. I will be voting yes on prop 19. I hope your "reefer madness" tactics fail miserably.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 12, 2010 9:53:22 PM

Most users of wine, marijuana do not cause trouble, and should be left alone.

This scheme solves the problem of problematic overuse of all adult pleasures.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 12, 2010 10:46:24 PM

Since this psychotherapist can't figure out what to tell the kids if Prop 19 passes, here's a suggestion. Tell them just because something isn't a crime doesn't mean it's a good idea. How hard is that?

Proposition 19 wouldn't invent pot. It would simply disadvantage dealers in the way it gets distributed.

"As a treatment professional, I rely on the police and courts to help treat the addict/alcoholic through enforcement of laws which actually protect the abuser still in denial of their disease by forcing them to look at their issues with consequences."

I hope he's joking. If not, I wish he'd elaborate on how acquiring a criminal record can be helpful to his kids or anyone else who succumbs to a "disease."

Beth nailed it. The underpinnings of this guy's job come loose if voters approve the measure. Samuels also sounds a bit like a nanny-state conservative of the sort that ends up on the Chicken Little side of most issues...all his training in psychotherapy notwithstanding.

Posted by: John K | Oct 13, 2010 7:55:34 AM

It does blink reality to say that the end of Prohibition brought is drunk driving, as if no one was drinking during Prohibition (well, overlooking the fact that there was a lot less driving during Prohibition than now). And, moreover, ignoring that the end of Prohibition also brought the end of violence and corruption associated with the liquor trade, because when legal protections are available there is no need to resort to extra-legal means of enforcement.

Posted by: Jay | Oct 13, 2010 7:57:59 AM

SC --

"Most users of wine, marijuana do not cause trouble, and should be left alone."

Most users of marijuana ARE left alone. Among those with a first of second offense for simple possession, the penalty is a ticket and a fine like a traffic fine. Since Supreme Court justices and Presidents are not "disadvantaged for life" by a youthful marijuana infraction, ordinary people aren't either. The idea that a person can't earn a living for himself if he has a simple possession arrest is abject nonsense.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 13, 2010 1:52:57 PM

Getting a ticket or two on the way to a possible third offense and potentially bigger trouble isn't the same as being left alone, now is it, Bill?

It seems likely, too, that if a citizen who'd been cited for possession were later suspected of more significant wrong doing, the authorities would find ways to make those "youthful marijuana infractions" seem a good deal more sinister for prosecution purposes.

Posted by: John K | Oct 13, 2010 2:16:21 PM

John K --

Let me spring a radical idea on you.

Once you get caught a couple of times, maybe you should CUT IT OUT.

I know that in the world you inhabit, where the system is responsible for everything and the individual for nothing, that suggestion is a non-starter, but some people live in a different world.

P.S. No prosecutor I know, and I know more than you do, ever tries to make merely smoking a joint seem "sinister." First, that which is illegal and unhealthy is not ipso facto sinister, and second, since your average jury is likely to contain someone who at one point smoked a joint, you'd be nuts to go after such a point.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 13, 2010 3:56:12 PM

Well, I just think that in the interest of a smaller less intrusive government we should not be spending any money or resources on whether or not someone is possessing, smoking, baking, growing, or harvesting marijuana. We have other problems that could use the money and effort expended on this legal experiment of prohibition.

Posted by: beth | Oct 13, 2010 4:40:34 PM

Um, Bill was the one that said you don't need to be "left alone" because regulatory enforcement/minor fines are the equivalent of being "left alone." But then he turns around and says that after you get a couple of fines, you need to "CUT IT OUT." That does not sound at all like the equivalent of being left alone. It sounds like getting a few mulligans before punitive action is taken. If you are truly being left alone, you don't need mulligans because the thing you are doing is considered not the government's business, but rather included within the general presumption of liberty.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 13, 2010 7:15:56 PM

This article is hogwash, because it attempts to support its argument by claiming that it "protects the children."

How many lawyers here have heard someone, opposing counsel, judge, GAL, police officer, CPS worker, party, ect., cynically attempt to justify a decision or a course of action with this "refuge of a scoundrel."

Right now there are discussions in the US military to stand up MEXICOCOM. It's one thing to stand up AFRICACOM a few years ago, but why would there be a need to stand up a specific command structure focused on Mexico?

When the Belt-way counter-insurrengcy "experts" argue the nuances of their competing doctrines, the putdown is always: "so you say it will work in Afghanistan, but it will work in Mexico?"

All of the various ways the debate over the legalization of drugs has been framed in the past are legitimate, even the article I just called hogwash. However, to not consider it in a national security context is a recipe for disaster.

Posted by: Fred | Oct 13, 2010 9:56:17 PM

Anon --

What I said is that most users of marijuana are left alone, and this you do not, and could not, contest.

beth --

After 40 years, the CSA can be called many things, but an "experiment" is not one of them.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that the government is too big and too expensive. But I swear, the only thing I see here as a proposed remedy is (1) let people out of jail, or don't send them there to start with, and (2) repeal the drug laws. The one thing I never see, except in my own posts, is the prepossessingly obvious place to start, and that is with the massive growth in entitlement spending. THAT is where the big money is. Repealing the drug laws (which Pelosi and Reid did not so much as attempt) is less than the proverbial drop in the bucket.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 13, 2010 10:38:20 PM

Bill - I agree Entitlement Programs must be reduced as well as Agricultural Subsidies, Defense Spending, Government Employee Retirement expenses, and every other major spending program. We've all become hogs at the trough.

I believe that the Drug War should end for an entirely different reason - although related. That reason is that it is one, by no means the only, intrusive government policy taking away freedom. Government cannot keep us safe from our own humanity. We must accept that some danger comes with living life to the fullest.

Posted by: beth | Oct 14, 2010 12:06:19 AM

beth --

Getting zipped on drugs isn't my idea of living life to the fullest, but otherwise, I agree with the spirit of your post. We have indeed become hogs at the trough. I just see no way to pay off the debts our generation has left for the future to face. One thing I'm sure of is that doubling down on Bush's irresponsible spending and borrowing is exactly the WRONG answer. It's like saying the cure for addiction is to take an even bigger hit.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 14, 2010 10:44:19 AM

To put Bills comments in perspective I looked up a few numbers for fiscal year 2010

Total of federal, state and county incarceration costs assuming $75 per inmate-day $63 billion
Interest on the federal debt $376 billion
Social Security revenues $698 billion
Social Security outlays $564 billion

It appears that growth in incarceration costs has slowed or perhaps stopped but a 0.75% increase (which could happen) in the interest rate on the debt would increase debt payments by about the same as estimated cost of incarceration.

Posted by: John Neff | Oct 14, 2010 5:17:26 PM

The debt payment figure I quoted was for the first 8 months of 2010. The annual payment will probably be about $564 billion or about the same as Social Security outlays.

Posted by: John Neff | Oct 14, 2010 5:24:19 PM

John Neff --

Thanks for those eye-popping numbers.

If my math is correct, the total of federal, state and county incarceration costs of $63 billion is less than 6% of the combined federal Social Security and interest outlays (which of course exclude state outlays for social spending). If one were to include those outlays, plus the other huge federal entitlement programs (Medicare and Medicaid), the 6% gets even smaller, probably a good deal smaller.

But even taking it at 6%, the notion that you can make any significant budgetary progress with that, while whistling past the 94%, is just nuts. It's too obvious for argument that any real savings are going to have to come from the 94%, not the 6%.

Thank you for the research.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 14, 2010 8:58:55 PM

You mentioned alcohol and I agree with every
thing you said about it. The problem is to keep
marijuana illegal is hypocritical, illegalize both
or legalize both.

Posted by: Mike | Nov 2, 2010 12:35:26 PM

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