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January 10, 2013

Supporting pot prohibition as divining rod pointing toward social conservatives and away from fiscal conservatives

Divining rodOne of my favorite readers forwarded me this recent commentary by Carl Hiaasen of the Miami Herald concerning pot policy which included a sentence that gave me real clarity on why I find the politics of marijuana reform so interesting.  The piece is headlined "War on pot has gone up in smoke," and here are some excerpts with the key sentence emphasized:

The war on marijuana is going up in smoke, and it's about time.  There is no bigger waste of money and resources in all law enforcement.  Failure is too polite a description for the long campaign to eliminate the pot trade in the United States.  A colossal flop is what it is. After four decades and billions spent, marijuana is easier to get, and more potent, than ever.

More than 40 percent of all Americans over 12 have tried it, and at least 30 million people smoke it every year.  The most recent national drug survey found that 18.1 million Americans had used it during the previous month.

Pot is now medically dispensed in 18 states and Washington, D.C.  It's the largest cash crop in the nation's largest agricultural state, California.  A legitimate pain reliever for cancer victims, "medicinal" marijuana is now available for an assortment of other symptoms, some of them conveniently vague and impossible to discount.  It's not terribly hard to get a prescription.

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington dropped the pretense and approved the adult recreational use of weed.  Other states will follow in coming years.

Absurdly, the government still classifies pot as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, the same as heroin and cocaine.  Federal law prohibits medical marijuana use, and the Obama administration has taken action against dispensaries in California.   It's a lost cause, and an expensive one.  Any true fiscal conservative should be outraged by the waste and futility.

States are rewriting their marijuana laws because that's what makes sense.  Regulate it, tax it, and make a ton of money from it.  Another benefit of decriminalization is liberating overworked police and prosecutors, whose talents are being misspent on dumb, dead-end pot cases — 50 plants in a grow house tended by some hapless bozo who doesn't even know where the seeds came from. Most Americans would prefer to see drug agents shutting down meth labs and pill mills, which actually kill people.

Like it or not, marijuana is so deeply imbedded in our culture that it will never go away. You can find it on Wall Street, Main Street or K Street, on any college campus or military base. Some drug experts fear that more lenient laws will increase consumption and abuse. Others believe a lawful marketplace will prove safer.  Regardless, the saturation level of reefer is already high.

In 2011, according to FBI statistics, a marijuana-related arrest occurred every 42 seconds in the United States.  That's how abundant the stuff is.  Some of those who got busted were career criminals who happened to be caught with a joint in their pockets, but many were casual users or small-time sellers.

Those who get prosecuted on minor pot charges disproportionately tend to be Hispanics and African-Americans, not the white college kids who are toking up a storm.  Cannabis laws have always been selectively enforced, and lots of people are sitting in jail who shouldn't be there.

The current useless Congress is unlikely to tackle marijuana reform, but the Justice Department could do all taxpayers a favor by letting each state decide for itself.  Making pot legally available to adults will require caution....  Inevitably, though, more states will ease their marijuana laws. Money is why; potential revenues from taxing pot cultivation and sales are too substantial to forego. Even the boneheads in Tallahassee will one day figure that out.

Watching America's legalization movement with gloom are the Mexican drug cartels, whose vast profits from grass smuggling will wither with the loss of their most lucrative market.  Pot smokers would just as soon buy it from a licensed dispensary, but they will definitely keep buying it, no matter what the government does.

Though I suppose this point should be pretty obvious, the sentence I have highlighted above provides an effective and stark reminder that positions on pot policy now provide an effective means to distinguish social conservatives and fiscal conservatives.   Indeed, for me personally, I suspect it my own deep fiscal conservative instincts — and surely not any 1960s-era, Great-Society-type social liberalism — that leads me to be a sharp critic of the drug war in general and of pot prohibition generally.  More broadly, as this commentary rightly asserts, it is hard to see how any TRUE fiscal conservatives could or would support the status quo of federal pot prohibition.  If one claiming to be a fiscal conservative supports federal pot prohibition, she must at least admit that, as a governing philosophy, she cares more about social issues than economic ones and that she thinks it essential for the federal government to prioritize social issues over economic concerns even while racking up trillions in debt on a yearly basis.

This fiscal vs. social perspective serves, of course, to further link continued support for modern pot prohibition with historic support for alcohol prohibition and similar morals legislation typically advanced by big-government progressive movements.  Historically, it is would-be social reformers who believe government can and should advance a particular social agenda and who will consistently spport bigger and more expensive government if and whenever that government promises to further a (now-government-imposed) social agenda.

In addition to having historical resonance, this perspective makes it easier to understand the seemingly disparate leaders of the new anti-marijuana reform group calling itself Project SAM  (discussed here; website now here).  Project SAM is headed by Patrick Kennedy and its most vocal leader of late has been David Frum, who was a chief speechwriter in the Bush Administration.  (The rest of the leadership team for Project SAM, as reported here, appears to be persons with MDs and PhDs, which supports SAM's claim to be eager to bring a public health focus to the marijuana reform discussion.)   Patrick Kennedy, of course, comes from the political family perhaps most well known in modern Democratic history for supporting big-federal-government, tax-and-spend programs to promote one vision of social welfare without too much concern about whether expensive government-run social programs actually work.  And David Frum comes from a Bush Administration which made its mark by being fiscally irresponsible through big-federal-government, spend-and-spend programming at home and abroad.

It should thus come as no surprise that these kinds of folks will be heading up efforts to continue to support what looks like a failed big-government criminal justice program.  That said, the marijuana part of the drug war can claim, as one very tangible achievement, that it has helped ensured that lots of taxpayer-funded police, prosecutors and prison officials could make healthy public-sector-union salaries and pensions while being able to focus time and energies on what would appear to be among the least dangerous of modern drugs and drug offenders.  And I suppose only time will tell whether and how the long-term financial burdens imposed by the enduring, big-government "war on pot" will hurt our kids more than a regulatory regime which might lead them to make false IDs in the hope of scoring some pot from the local drug store for a high school party.

January 10, 2013 at 05:17 PM | Permalink


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Very well said. It's an interesting convergence of left and right - both to legalize and in the case of SAM to continue to keep it illegal. The Booker Institute had an event to talk about legalization on Tuesday. One intriguing part of the discussion was about states rights and how the marijuana legalization movement and the gay rights movement are both using the same tactics to achieve their goal. Of course, this was the same strategy used to end prohibition. States rights are always supported by conservatives, but since the 70s not really a cause for democrats.

Ultimately, Congress will have to act. In the meantime legalization progresses step by step. I do believe that the greatest push back will come from democrats who need to respond to their base - public employees - law enforcement and those whose jobs depend on the criminal justice system, mental health and the prison industry. The true fiscal conservatives on the right are in full force in the legalization movement.

I'm sure groups are looking for the funding behind SAM as we speak. The pharmaceutical industry, alcohol industry, and public employee unions would be my guess. Of course, the social conservatives may oppose it but when Pat Robinson says the marijuana should be legalized that dog has almost died.

Posted by: beth | Jan 10, 2013 6:51:39 PM

Doug--I realize for you this was a major editorial and that you tend to want your commenters to carry the load of discussion. I wanted to let you know that many of us appreciate when you go off that reservation. This post was exactly what needed to be said about this, and using Carl Hiaassen, one of my favorite writers, as the reference added the gravy. Thanks for making it all clear. We'll look forward to your next excursion.

Posted by: mike connelly | Jan 10, 2013 8:24:01 PM

"A legitimate pain reliever for cancer victims, 'medicinal' marijuana is now available for an assortment of other symptoms, some of them conveniently vague and impossible to discount. It's not terribly hard to get a prescription."

I appreciate the author's honesty in admitting what I've been saying for years, to wit, that these pious schemes for "medical" marijuana are a fraud.

As to saving money, I'm delighted to see that liberals are taking an interest in it, after years of supporting endless borrowing and spending.

Of course the truth is that they STILL support it, providing it goes into building the dependency state. When I hear them supporting savings taken from PD's, rehab programs, vocational training and the like (none of which savings I would support), I'll have at least a little reason to think they're sincere. Until then, this cost stuff is just a make-weight for their long pre-existing position favoring widespread drug use.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 10, 2013 9:18:02 PM

"A legitimate pain reliever for cancer victims"~~Carl Hiaason

So is morphine. Do you advocate that I may buy it like beer and smokes?

"Any true fiscal conservative should be outraged"~~Carl Hiaason
Is he claiming to be one, or just telling others what they should feel?

"boneheads in Tallahassee""~~Carl Hiaason
"yammering fool"~~Carl Hiaason
"In most advanced countries [not America]"~~Carl Hiaason
"Paradise Screwed…Scat…Skin Tight…Kick Ass…Striptease…Nature Girl…Tart of Darkness"…~~Carl Hiaason

D. Berman : "One of my favorite readers"
No, surprisingly it wasn't me.

Hiaason may not be completely baseless herein; nonetheless, a man who agreed with the
equating of Christian fundamentalists with a mid-East suicide bomber is an undiscerning equivocator.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 11, 2013 1:39:01 PM

There are no non-absurd justifications for pot prohibition.

Those who desire and advocate its continued prohibition are cramped, culturally-driven, small-minded, and mostly ignorant

Posted by: James Turner | Jan 13, 2013 11:35:53 AM

James Turner --

What other drugs do you want to see become more readily available? Heroin? LSD? Meth?

Why not? I mean, you're not cramped, culturally-driven, small-minded, and mostly ignorant, are you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 13, 2013 11:47:01 AM

JUST LOVE LOVE LOVE the way you use social and fiscal against each other. Can you suggest someone who knows how to use GRAPHS and charts to present this information with cartoon characters showing the WEALTH of those in each group.

There are many many economic reasons to USE CANNABIS in the TOPICAL way, SMOKING helps with psychological adjustment, to your own problems (interior) and those of other beings (outreach). The information must be gathered by SCIENTIFIC METHOD
through medical records of those who say "I've been smoking for 20 - 30 years" or more... age 19 to 69 for myself. I am an independent scientist, gourmet quality cook/farmer raising half my food for 30 yrs...and a patented inventor.

How NOT TO LEARN ANYTHING NEW about Cannabis pot topicals medibles making your own blends for timing your smoking --
How NOT TO LEARN ANYTHING NEW is listen to those who are ONLY OPINIONATED and not EDUCATED.

To be educated is to be EXPERIENCED..... have you ever been experienced??? 'cause OPINIONS are like A ** holes
EVERYBODY HAS ONE! -- old quote from Tennessee friend circa 1970.
Listen to people who are teaching, not selling. NOT politicians. NO COMMENTS from those who don't smoke.
NO COMMENTS on medical uses of ANY PLANT unless YOU have cancer experience and want to contribute to the data base.

Share this so people know "how to" the natural way.
SOoooth your BODY without having to CHANGE YOUR MIND
nor lose your coordination like alcohol! It's a TOPICAL !

Please everyone POST THIS valuable info.... works much
BETTER than BUDDA 4 medibles; fine molecule size allows entry through skin plus needs no refrigeration.
Easier to figure out dosages too. Consistent results.

Please look at both segments of the film....Part I and II
Wait all the way to the end of part I to find the link to part II.


PS SMOKING is for psychological adjustment….this system actually fixes/ heals the body.

NOTE this is a COPYRIGHT video process, posted March 21 2010. Free to use, NO COMMERCIAL USE xo*J

NEWS: http://sfbayview.com/2013/cannabis-medicine-and-politics-an-interview-wit-dr-aseem-sappal/
NEWS: https://www.facebook.com/eatganjaraw & lose weight !

Posted by: stella jane | Jun 7, 2013 5:55:18 PM

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