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August 9, 2011

What are the strongest arguments against legalizing marijuana and regulating it like hard liquor?

Reviewing the discussion in the comments to this recent post and also to a similar post by Bill Otis over at Crime & Consequences, I continue to wonder about the question is in the title of this post.  I can readily (and will now briefly) list what I see as primary arguments in favor of legalizing pot and regulating it like hard liquor:

1.  In a country "conceived in Liberty," adults should be free to pursue happiness as they see fit unless and until their activities harm or restrict the liberties of others.

2.  Pot prohibition apparently has not significantly reduced either the demand or supply in the US, while it has created a massive black market in which lawbreakers can and do make lots of money by providing a source of supply for the enduring demand.

3.  Government enforcement of pot prohibition, in addition to seeming effectual, as is quite costly, disparate, inconsistent and unpredictable.

4.  A huge amount of legitimate economic activities, as well as significant new tax revenues, would surely result from legalizing and regulating pot.

Point 1 above is a rights-based moral claim (with a special American constitutional salience), while points 2-4 are more utilitarian arguments that might disputed/refuted with claims/evidence that more harm could and would flow from legalization than flows from prohibition.  This Heritage Foundation paper from last year makes some of these kinds of arguments against legalization, but I wonder which of those arguments (or others) seem to readers of this blog to be the most forceful or influential.

As the title of this post suggests, I am eager to hear via the comments the strongest arguments against legalizing marijuana and regulating it like hard liquor.  I hope even the most ardent supporters of legalized marijuana will seek to articulate in the comments what they consider to be the most impactful claims made by supporters of pot prohibition.

August 9, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Permalink


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One practical problem I see with the legalization of Marijuana lies in the implications of regulation. Most concerning would be establishing acceptable standards by which a driver can be judged impaired enough to be barred from operating a vehicle.

When regulating alcohol, the standards are set at a certain level to legally drive. This has required field sobriety tests and portable breathalyzers to be used by police. The regulation of marijuana use would necessarily require a threshold of THC blood content to legally define what is acceptable and what is not. As I am not a doctor or chemist, my questions would be thus:

1) How is THC content measured in the bloodstream?
2) How could this be tested in the field?
3) How long would reliable and portable tests take to become readily available?

The issues that further stem from this concern are many. How often would new THC legislation change to conform to a constantly moving target of national homogenous standards? Would Congress step in to create base-line standards? How would the THC consumer protect themselves against prosecution during the formative years of THC regulation?

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Aug 9, 2011 11:33:29 PM

You have to distinguish between the strongest legitimate arguments and the strongest arguments that aren't really true, like the ones used by the drug czar, DEA, and other government officials.

The strongest legitimate argument is that we as a society want to select the types of intoxication available to adults, and to enforce our own beliefs about this issue on others. Since we have Supreme Court precedent that allows us to do this, then we exercise the power available to us to allow some drugs, like alcohol and nicotine, but not others, like marijuana.

None of the other arguments hold much water.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 10, 2011 2:10:10 AM

I can think of two additional ones:

1. We don't fully understand the physical harms (and likely benefits)that canniboids produce in the body. Our knowledge of the endocannabinoid system is relatively new. Since legalization would likely result in increased use, the cost to the health care system is unknown.

2. We now have a good handful of studies which how shown a link between marijuana use and onset of psychosis. There's debate about whether this is an independent effect and the effect size seems small, but given how terrible psychosis is a variety of contexts (suffering, cost, etc.) even a small effect size should give us pause.

Posted by: Steve Erickson | Aug 10, 2011 8:18:09 AM

There's a bit of a problem with the question itself: "the strongest arguments against legalizing marijuana and regulating it like hard liquor." This, quite frankly, is the kind of argument that marijuana policy has been involved in for years as a way of short-circuiting the larger discussion.

Each argument against legalization needs to be taken as part of the whole, instead of by itself. For instance, the danger of an as-yet unproven causal link between marijuana use and mental illness for a tiny fraction of the population may sound scary... until you put it into context of all the problems of marijuana prohibition (800,000 arrested each year, families and communities destroyed, corruption, gangs, thousands dead in Mexico, etc., etc.) along with the complete unknown as to whether legalization will, in fact, exacerbate the unproven problem (since those with psychosis tend to seek out marijuana to self-medicate, maybe legalization won't increase the number linked, and, in fact, studies have indicated as much).

The problem is that we've gotten bogged down in arguments about pot ad nauseam instead of really talking about legalization.

Drugged driving isn't, for example, a good argument against legalization. It's a good argument for getting government off its ass and actually developing a procedure and tests for determining impairment (Canada is doing so right now - the U.S. has not, because they're not interested in the information as long as they're promoting keeping pot illegal).

Arguments about the dangers of pot to the body (despite thousands of years of use and no "bodies" to show for it) aren't good arguments about legalization. They're good arguments for getting the DEA and NIDA to start allowing research for cannabis studies that aren't just intended to show something negative about pot.

Every argument against legalizing and regulating is about a projected and unproven concern about something that might happen. If you weren't swayed by the liberty argument, then these might be valid reasons to temporarily oppose legalization, if we didn't already have a ton of proven and visible problems that we're facing with criminalization.

Prohibition isn't free.

Posted by: Pete Guither | Aug 10, 2011 9:29:36 AM

The war on drugs has led to the judicial repeal of the Fourth Amendment. It's too late now to resurrect it by leglaizing pot.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Aug 10, 2011 9:45:49 AM

Tough to argue against marijuana when it is legal to use two substances that kill 400,000 and 100,000 people yearly, each, at the peak of their abilities and responsibilities (in their 50's), tobacco and alcohol, and in the most, horrid painful ways possible. With regard to alcohol, half the suicides, half the murder victims,half the murderers are legally drunk. Marijuana kills dozens of people a year, mostly by car crashes by impaired drivers.

But here goes.
1) You will be allowing another addictive substance.

2) It causes amotivational syndrome. Young healthy men do not want to get out of bed to work, eat, have sex, or any other activity of interest to young, healthy men.

3) It causes all known psychiatric symptoms, especially in adolescents.

4) It is a gateway drug. People smoke it at 12, move on to cocaine, heroin, etc., at 16.

5) It causes lung cancer.

6) All medical uses are better served by marinol, with reliable doses of THC in a pill form.

7) A treaty would have to be abrogated, The UN Single Convention on Narcotics.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 10, 2011 10:03:27 AM

Well, time to play devil's advocate...

Unlike alcohol or tobacco, marijuana significantly and immediately impacts the endocrine system. Some studies have found that men's testosterone levels completely plummet for three days after smoking a single joint. (Note: This is why bodybuilders and powerlifters avoid marijuana like the plague, even if they occasionally get smashed on alcohol--whereas large doses of alcohol only interfere with protein synthesis for about a day, a joint can stifle recovery from heavy workouts for over half a week.)

This has a negative effect no only on the health care system (endocrine specialists are expensive...I know because I pay one), but on the long-term development of those individuals.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Aug 10, 2011 11:58:02 AM

Res: You are saying, legalization would be another Trojan Horse sent by the feminist lawyer to further pussify the American male. Good reason to not legalize it.

9/11 would have been unthinkable on the airline of another nation. Those still masculine males of other nations would have stopped the hijackers, and not waited for the lawyer run authorities to act. This feminist lawyer vermin allowed our enemy to take out $7 trillion from our economy, and to kill 3000 of our people with a $500,000 investment by the emasculation of our American males. This emasculation indoctrination starts in pre-school, where PC has criminalized ordinary male behavior of even pre-schoolers, and zero tolerance has been established. The feminist lawyer dominated 9/11 Commission missed this point, and it is even beyond their conception.

Although the endocrine effects are inconsistent, and not strong, just on the small chance marijuana legalization is a vile feminist lawyer trick, it should not be legalized. I call for zero tolerance of the feminist ideology in all our institutions, as there would be for members of the KKK, whom they have replaced.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 10, 2011 1:57:19 PM

Well, I guess "feminists caused 9/11" isn't any crazier than "Bush and Cheney caused 9/11."

Getting back on topic, I'm not sure there's any compelling medical evidence for SC's points 2-6 in his first post. But I guess if you believe that "feminist lawyer vermin" caused 9/11, you're not really living in a fact-based world.

Posted by: SRS | Aug 10, 2011 2:03:14 PM

To tax MJ you have to have control over the source of supply. Good luck with that.

Posted by: John Neff | Aug 10, 2011 2:35:54 PM

SRS: Do a thought experiment. Imagine the response of the male passengers on an Israeli airline, or an Uzbekhi one, or an Afghan airline, or Iraq Air. 9/11 would be impossible. Indeed, when our males learned of the real nature of the suicidal hijackers, they acted, and stopped it. American passivity was the immediately antecedent factor of the first two attacks. The American male has been totally feminized by the feminist lawyer, starting with ruinous anti-school litigation to promote feminist indoctrination down to pre-school.

I will gladly provide reviews of the evidence.

1) Addiction.

2)Amotivational Syndrome. http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/m/marijuana_amotivational_syndrome/intro.htm

3) Psychosis. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-20031003-10391704.html

4) Gateway drug. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/fashion/19pot.html?pagewanted=all (agree, most common gateway is alcohol)

5) Lung cancer. The Association Between Marijuana Smoking and Lung Cancer. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:1359-1367.

6) Marinol safer. From the DEA but correct. http://www.justice.gov/dea/ongoing/marinol.html

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 10, 2011 2:50:28 PM

As a former heroin addict, I can tell you honestly that the thought of legalizing pot terrifies me. For me it was, and probably always will be, a wonderful gateway drug and the temptation of legal pot would be very difficult. The desire to be "mellow" never leaves and the discipline to remain straight is an ongoing exercise. Although I know pot is out there, it isn't advertised on TV/radio/internet or used openly in public. If I slipped now, I would have to go looking for it; if legalized, its availability would be constantly thrown in my face.

However, I also think that the time, money and manpower spent by the criminal and judicial system on marijuana users is ludicrous. The jails and courts need to focus on drug dealers, not waste everyone's efforts on the nickel bag users.
Cops, prosecutors and public defense attorneys have enough of a load without the nickel/dime users.

Posted by: BCP | Aug 10, 2011 3:23:35 PM

Pot as a gateway drug? I thought alcohol was the gateway to pot. Or is milk the gateway? Do you know any drug users who did not use milk first?

Posted by: mahtso | Aug 10, 2011 4:05:04 PM

Find out why more and more cops, judges, and prosecutors who have fought on the front lines of the "war on drugs" are standing up and saying we need to legalize and regulate all drugs to help solve our economic, crime, and public health problems: http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com

Posted by: Tom | Aug 10, 2011 4:20:35 PM


Your response is the most thoughtful and enlightening that I have read here.

Alcoholics have to endure the commercial advertising and availablity of their drug, but I can see where in your (and alcoholics) cases, other considerations must be made for mj.

I would hope that a total empirical and rational review of our nations drug laws would be undertaken because all we have now are sound bites and government lies. Not all crimes should be felonies and a critical review of the current European system should be undertaken.

The blanket NO of many is an Idiot's AND Fool's response (whose last rock of refuge is often patriotism) has led to our current injustice system.

Posted by: albeed | Aug 10, 2011 9:31:44 PM

Today's arrangement is the least intelligent because it is run for the rent seeking purposes of dumbass lawyers controlling 99% of policy decision of government, which does nothing well, save collect the rent.

Do you want public health? Then you must ban and enforce a ban on alcohol and cigarettes, as with the 3B's, 2 beatings and a bullet for all users, no exceptions. You will have a bunch of irresponsible, impulsive, obnoxious former addicts living to 90, instead of dying at a young age. You will pay them in their retirement from their criminal careers.

Or, do you want utilitarian efficiency? Legalize pot on top of alcohol and cigarettes. Make a lot of tax revenue, simultaneously with massive savings from the end of the war on drugs, including the shuttering of half the prison beds in the US. Also save $trillions in old age costs when addicts die young. I would then subsidize drug sales to promote them among the otherwise criminal addict population to hasten their deaths from overdoes and the co-morbid diseases of addiction. I would not worry much about any increase in crash crashes, since regular marijuana users do not even want to get out of bed.

The current situation is carefully tuned to serve only the interests of big government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 11, 2011 12:05:26 AM

Great post, BCP. But I have a question for you. Why do you think that marijuana is a gateway drug?

If it's a gateway drug because it introduces people to using substances to alter their mood, that would work against legalization. But if it's a gateway drug because it introduces people to the habit of breaking the law and dealing with drug dealers, that suggests that treating it like alcohol would make it less of a gateway drug.

Posted by: Mike | Aug 11, 2011 11:28:43 AM

Mike’s questions in re the “gateway” make sense. I’d add another: if pot is a gateway, is it because when people try it, they learn that this “dangerous” drug is not dangerous and so assume that similar statements about other “dangerous” drugs are hyperbole?

Posted by: mahtso | Aug 11, 2011 11:36:28 AM

SRS: "Well, I guess "feminists caused 9/11" isn't any crazier than "Bush and Cheney caused 9/11.""

me: Who knew that Jerry Falwell was posting here from beyond the grave as Supremacy Claus.

But seriously, to momentarily take the Bill Otis/Reefer Madness side of things here is my suggestion.

If marijuana was legalized, large corporations would inevitably sweep in and take control of the marijuana market. When marijuana gets legalized, the longhaired leftover hippy wearing hemp clothes is not going to be pushed out of the market. Like alcohol and tobacco, the marijuana distribtuion network will soon be controlled by a few corporations who place marijuana profits above all else including public health. The claim that marijuna distribution would be heavily regulated is likely to last only as long as a big company - my money is on Altria/Philip Morris, but one of the major agribusiness companies like ADM could work towards controlling the hemp market - emerges as the leader of the marijuna industry. The reason why I think that Philip Morris would is because marijuana distribution will be very similar to tobacco - and unlike tobacco which has the risk of legal liability, marijuana will come with health warnings from the start. Soon Congress would come under the influence of the marijuana lobby - perhaps like hard liquor, it will suddenly be illegal to grow your own marijuana at home because it cuts into profits of the big guys. Marijuana advocates talk about the use of hemp for clothes, fuel, and paper being cheaper - but big companies may well supress them because they are less profitable - again, that is because the production of raw hemp will be controlled by a few large companies who put profits first. It is only a matter of time before you see print and television commercials for if not marijuana cigarettes (once one company emerges as the leading marijuana producer they will want Congress to supress competing ads) but for hemp products. Perhaps the hemp growers will not advertise smoking marijuana, but will get around it by having adds with attractive people wearing clothes made out of marijuana (once legalized, the agribusiness that takes over the growing of hemp will want to promote all uses of hemp in any way they can).

In short, marijuana and hemp does not really offer what legalization advocates claim it does because corporations will take over. Once corporate profit is involved, the government like tobacco will effectively start promoting marijuana use at least indirectly (the US government is still promoting sell of American tobacco and cigarettes overseas). Corporate profits will be placed above people's health - even if the other uses of hemp take place, they will also be controlled by large corporations. Advocates seem to believe that legal hemp/marijuana will create a utopia thanks to having a cheap/non corporate material/way to get high. However legal hemp will be just another commody for agribusiness to trade. Adn legal marijuana will soon be marketed with all of the honesty and seductiveness of legal beer, liquor, and tobacco.

On a related note for Bill talking about beer adds in the other marijuana thread - it was too past the thread for me to respond there, but this is actually a perfect point for the fact that once marijuana is legalized it will inevitably come under corporate control so it works here. The beer ads show attractive women because they are directed at teenaged boys - obviously they would not be likely to admit that - and therefore present an adolescent male fantasy of getting attractive women to like them because they are drinking the right beer. One beer company now is being even more direct, directly telling the target adolescent male audience that attractive women and their friends will think that they are less of a man if they drink some other company's beer. Naturally, it relates here, because one can imagine that marijuana companies will find a way to like the beer companies have, market marijuana to underaged people. Perhaps like some other brands, marijuana manufactures will pay popular musical artists to mention smoking their marijuana in songs. And the government will largely look away because the marijuana companies will donate money. I mean who cares if some popular rapper is appearing on TV public service announcments from Brand X marijuana cigarettes saying that marijuana smoking is only for adults and causes harm when his single promoting smoking Brand X Marijuana cigarettes is on the radio every hour.

Posted by: virginia | Aug 11, 2011 11:43:23 AM

To Mahtso: If milk had the same endorphin impact that pot has, it could possibly be a gateway drug. Happy cows making happy milk.

To Mike & Matso: The gateway drug theory is more complex than it appears. All addicts have what's called their "drug of choice", the drug they prefer, the drug that best gives them the type of high they are seeking. If you can't find your "drug of choice", then you search for a substitute. Heroin addicts like the "cocooning" effect; coke addicts like the "speeding" effect. Personally, I never liked coke because I liked being "mellow" or "cocooning". So for me, and most H addicts, the initial mellowing effects of pot were great. I went from pot, to hashish to heroin.

Because I had always heard how dangerous pot was yet knew many people who used it socially and didn't flip out or become addicted, I tried it and liked the effect. Hashish was even better and I could use it socially on weekends and still maintain a normal life and career. Then I was introduced to heroin and assumed that all the addiction stories I had heard were also b.s. I was wrong. It turned out that the stories of heroin addiction were true.

When you are using drugs "socially", you don't think about breaking the law because you don't see yourself as a criminal...the problem isn't the drug, it's the laws. (It's easy to delude oneself.) Also, at the recreational level of drug use, you aren't dealing with the stereotypical drug dealers; you are getting your drugs from your friends, co-workers, etc. It isn't until you get into the real addictive drugs that it all changes.

Now there is some evidence that there may be an "addiction" gene. The problem is: which one of us has it? I know many people who used pot for years and never went much further past that; unfortunately, I also know a lot who traveled my road. Some, sadly, are now dead (which would please Supremacy Claus) or still addicts.

Because you stop using drugs/alcohol, it does not mean that you stop wanting to use. It is not like turning off a light switch; it is more like a dimmer switch. The desire/need ebbs and flows depending on your current situation. For me, the thought of watching a football game and seeing some manufacturer advertising "Columbian Gold - lower tar, more full flavor, better, longer lasting high" makes me cringe.

Posted by: bcp | Aug 12, 2011 2:26:09 PM

Ginny: You attended law school? You can do better than a personal remark. You know feminism is the latest lawyer Trojan Horse, with an appearance of virtue, to plunder our society, and to grow government. And just as the Lexus is a car from 2011 100 times better than a Model T from 1911, it is 100 times more devastating than the Klan of 1911.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 13, 2011 2:27:41 PM

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Posted by: soccer jersey | Aug 19, 2011 12:57:04 AM

Well yes i know there people out there that use it jusst to smoke it. But at the same time it helps people like cancer people sometimes it help them. But no one knows that because they dont got cancer. People need it to live dude and your not going to try to make it legal. You guys are just looking at the bad things not the GOOD THINGS. You cant even get on google to see the arguments cause all it says is this and that about it being bad about for poeple. But it helps some people!!

Posted by: Martha Hidalgo | Jan 10, 2012 5:31:44 PM

visit http://www.Mjlegal.org I haven't read all of these comments but every argument I have ever read or heard of has been answered here. i am a high school student currently clean working on voter awareness on marijuana facts and myths

Posted by: ted j | Mar 21, 2012 5:28:09 PM

Whoever is getting high will continue to get high. Why not save them money, and make the government some while they're at it

Posted by: Zac | Apr 24, 2012 12:07:55 AM

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