[Editors Note: This is the original version of the article I submitted as a contribution to 420RADIO.org for its satirical site Smart Approaches 2 Marijuana that spoofs SAM a newly established marijuana prohibition organization. This is the article I contributed to, “Either lock up potheads or force rehab them“, this is the article I spoofed “Neither legalization nor incarceration“.]
Tomorrow, voters in three states will vote on legalization of marijuana. For all Americans the legalization of marijuana presents a net benefit to society, especially those dealing with serious addiction denied access to or forced out of a drug rehabilitation center to make room for cannabis consumers needlessly forced into rehab by Drug Courts. Americans are now coming to understand the agricultural, industrial, medicinal, and recreational properties of the cannabis plant and that individuals can utilize this plant while maintaining civic, social, fiscal, and familial responsibilities. For others, this knowledge about marijuana’s benefits represents a serious problem when your goal is to maintain cannabis prohibition, which is the reason why I’ve elected to over exaggerate the minimal number of potential relatively minor harms posed by cannabis to claim all use of cannabis is serious health and social issue. I was senior advisor at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and this was the problem we in the Obama Administration faced when we put together the President’s first drug strategy: What do we do about the impending legalization of marijuana? Do we manufacture a “marijuana problem” like Anslinger, Nixon, Reagan, and many other prohibitionists before us have done to maintain these failed policies? The unanimous answer was a resoundingly emphatic yes!
The first thing my Not-boss—the alleged drug control policy director Not-Gil Kerlikowske, a.k.a., Not-Drug Czar—said was “Fuck yeah!”, “I’ll call up a contact of mine at a newspaper and tell them to tell Americans that I said the ‘drug war is over,’ and to throw in some bullshit about pivoting drug policy toward a more balanced, health-oriented approach.” Fortunately, for us, enough people took that to mean that the enacted administration was in favor of marijuana legalization; therefore, the public never seriously questioned the meaning of these reported statements. But, unfortunately, for those seeking legalization specifically and Americans in general, it actually meant that we would ignore the best evidence available for legalization while finding a way to revamp and ramp up the many, complex aspects of our current failed policies of marijuana prohibition fought through an unsightly “War on Drugs”. At the end of the day, we decided to cherry pick the evidence so that it pointed away from, not toward, legalization so that we can rebrand prohibition to incorporate intrusive “health care” policies that further breach American’s civil and Constitutional rights.
Marijuana is now the number one reason kids enter treatment—more than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy, and other drugs combined. How did this come to be? The culprit is a set of policies and statutes that divert juveniles caught with marijuana into drug rehabilitation programs — taking up a bed that someone actually addicted to one or more drugs could benefit from—but we claim that the most likely culprit is the increased potency of marijuana because it is an excellent scare tactic. It diverts the attention of the uninformed away from the harms of prohibition.
We in the Not-Obama Administration concluded that the only way to prevent cannabis legalization was to reframe how we vilify marijuana and decided it was best claim that for broad swaths of society, marijuana use is a large and growing public health issue with significant costs. “This is, of course, pure bullshit.” Nevertheless, if you over simply the arguments for legalization of marijuana and the arguments for maintain prohibition by framing the argument as currently only two simple options exist—legalization and throwing users in jail— allows me to make the senseless seem to make sense. Indeed, this allows me to argue from the pretense that there exists a magical never heretofore seen third way between legalization and incarceration that will allow the state and federal governments to escalate marijuana prohibition and continue to arrest, detain, try, and imprison its millions of users. We feel, in our infinite wisdom, that creating policies that force cannabis consumers into rehabilitation and reeducation centers is for their own good and it is in society’s best interest – not to mention I earn a lot of money to say these things.
So this Tuesday, not surprisingly, I am joining both major not-presidential candidates, not to mention groups like the Not-the-American Medical Association, Not-the-Colorado Education Association, and other Not-the-organizations in unwisely opposing the marijuana legalization ballot initiatives. Here’s why:
This is not your father’s “Woodstock Weed,” cause to be perfectly honest with you, if your father was at Woodstock, he already smoked it, and God bless him.
In a landmark 2010 report, the nonpartisan RAND think-tank, an organization often critical of US drug policy, concluded that if California legalized marijuana, the price of marijuana would fall dramatically, and therefore we would see a significant increase in use. This corroborated everything that economic theory has taught us about how price correlates with use (Though, admittedly, considering the non-toxic and relatively safe nature of marijuana this in and of itself is not a bad thing. Until, you add statements within parenthesis such as this non sequitur statement “and why Big Tobacco and the Liquor Lobby fight price hikes tooth and nail—more on that later.” Now that sounds scary by golly.).
So how do you turn this statistic into a problem? After all, legalization advocates are educating more and more of the American public to the fact that marijuana is essentially harmless, it’s got to be impossible to prevent legalization right?
One of the first tasks we undertook in the Not-Obama administration was to review the scientific literature on marijuana published in the past thirty years and attempted to burn it but we soon discovered this task impossible – there are far too many books in existence and you cannot burn the internet it seems. Short of that, we found that cherry picking the data and scientific evidence so you can claim it to be highly nuanced; this makes it sound like you’ve thought about the subject so much you’ve figured out a new path when in fact it’s more of the same. For example, since we won’t allow marijuana through the FDA approval process we claim ignorance to the fact that marijuana can potentially cure cancer, unlike tobacco, that causes lung cancer. But one clear finding is that today’s marijuana strains are varieties that differ from the “Woodstock Weed” that baby boomers smoked; which are varieties that differ from the “Jazz Reefer” that baby boomers parents smoked; which are varieties that differ from the “Reed Pipe Qunubu” that ancient Assyrians smoked; aren’t cultivation and evolution grand. Ancient cultivation techniques coupled with modern chemical analysis techniques allow for the breading of plants for specific cannabinoid profiles. With providing the public quality products based on the latest research as the goal, it is no wonder Americans prefer cannabis as a non-toxic and comparatively safe medicinal and recreational substance with low rates of dependence over the pharmaceutical, alcohol, and tobacco industries toxic and harmful medicinal and recreational substances. A policy question follows directly from this: “What in the fuck can we do to maintain marijuana prohibition to protect the profits and incentives police and prison unions, private prison industry, prescription drug industry, and the petroleum and plastics industries while bolster the emerging drug rehabilitation industry in light of current research showing the banality and benefits of cannabis?” This is the major question we tried to answer.
Most people who consume and utilize cannabis agriculturally, industrially medicinally, and recreationally live productive lives as contributing members of society. However, a minority of people may become dependent on cannabis and there are voluntary rehabilitation centers for these folks. Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals currently in rehab for cannabis are otherwise-law-abiding-citizens forced into court ordered “drug” rehabilitation. These people take up bed space best utilized for Heroin, Oxycontin, crack, meth, Vicodin, Xanax, morphine, or alcohol addicts. In fact, the recent science on this issue is nothing short of stunning: Significant negative effects from prescription opioids eliminated or mitigated by cannabis use. A study reporting loss in IQ and poor learning outcomes was recently been debunked as junk science. Lung damage from smoke inhalation may pose potential health problems but vaporization, edibles, tinctures, salves, and other methods of ingestion mitigates or eliminates this potential danger. Cannabis is useful in treating mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc.; according to a research study published in November 2011 conducted by IZA, legalization of medical marijuana by 16 states and DC led to nearly a 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in those territories. Correlation, of course, is not causation, but it is also important to note while more adolescents are in rehab than the numbers from 15 years ago, at the same time drug courts increasingly impose mandatory “drug” rehab as part of sentencing for juveniles caught with pot. Marijuana is now the number one reason courts force children into rehab—more kids in need of proper guidance occupy the few precious beds needed by alcohol, cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy, and other drug addicts. How did this come to be? The most likely culprit is the increased rates of drug courts sentencing kids caught with cannabis to rehab.
Oh Hagrid, you certainly are a silly goose you scamp you!
If Big Tobacco is in favor of legalization (they are), we should be wary but most cannabis consumers and Americans already know this. I’ll spell it out for the uninitiated.
According to internal documents released during its historic court settlement, Big Tobacco considers marijuana legalization a golden opportunity. “The use of marijuana…has important implications for the tobacco industry in terms of an alternative product line. [We] have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it, the distribution to market it. In fact, some firms have registered trademarks, which are taken directly from marijuana street jargon. These trade names are used currently on little-known legal products, but could be switched if and when marijuana is legalized. Estimates indicate that the market in legalized marijuana might be as high as $10 billion annually.”
No wonder that Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris, recently bought the domain names “AltriaCannabis.com” and “AltriaMarijuana.com.” If this sounds undesirable, it is: however, Big Tobacco is nothing compared to the havoc wrought by the Mexican drug cartels who are responsible for over 50,000 vicious murders and countless instances of other violent crime—but more on them later. We are naïve to think they, Big Tobacco, wouldn’t try to grease the palms of state and federal politicians to get in the cannabis market. We are also naive to think that a regulated and taxed licit cannabis market wouldn’t pose a better alternative to Mexican drug cartels—or as I like to call them, as a rhetorical tool to minimalize the argument for legalization of marijuana, Transnational Criminal Organizations.
At this point, I would like to borrow a saying from the fictitious alter ego of my one-and-only pot-smoking friend who isn’t a Washington not-really-a-lobbyist, Not-really-a-Congressperson, Not-really-a-Senator, Not-really-a-former President, and Not-really-a-current President of the United States of America—“Not-Radical” Not-Russ Belville to endear readers to the non sequiturs that follow the next sentence. The Liquor Lobby also has “skin in the game.” Adjusted for inflation, alcohol is taxed at one-fifth of what is was during the Korean War. Naturally, they oppose any increase, and they also rely on the heaviest drinkers to goose their profits. They have major incentives to encourage, not discourage, drinking among kids and adults alike (and they do—aggressively). The point is, these two industries are the only examples of government-regulated purveyors of legal, addictive substances, and marijuana’s non-toxic and relatively safe nature are our exemplary tale of the positive impact legalization presents as part of a strategy to reduce the harms wrought by the Alcohol and Tobacco industries, Hemp-Growing-Founder-Father-style. This makes my job difficult but that’s not what it makes impossible.
We will still have underground markets for everything from common, specialty, exotic, and outlawed foods, DVD’s, cd’s, electronics, computers, smartphones, jeans, shirts, underwear, fish, snakes, monkeys, gambling and sex. What does this have to do with legalization you might ask? To be perfectly honest with you it has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion but saying it is a great non sequitur! In addition, if I throw out a statement like this afterwards “And the cartels won’t bat an eye” it lets me transition into the “Transnational Criminal Organizations” shtick, which, I think, is an excellent rhetorical move on my part.
According to a recent study, most of the cigarettes bought in the Bronx were from the illegal market due to over taxation of the commodity by government regulators and no ability for consumers to grow their own tobacco. In fact, black and grey markets for tobacco abound anywhere exorbitant tax rates and governments give corporations control over the production of the commodity. If marijuana is legalized, overtaxed, and cultivation is restricted to corporations by government officials, should we expect it to be any different? The RAND Corporation published a study, “Altered State?”, in 2010 examining the effects legalization of marijuana in California and concluded, among other things, that pretax prices would fall by more than 80 percent while prices at the consumer level would vary depending on tax rates, regulatory structure, and how enforcement of regulations and taxes is conducted (pg. 18). In another 2010 study, Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico, the RAND Corporation concludes that theoretically speaking employees of Mexican Drug-Trafficking Organizations may join a legal, regulated, taxed marijuana market they would not however earn “unusual profits, nor be able to draw on talents that are particular to a criminal organization.”(pg. 35) The truth is, that same study also concluded that California alone legalizing marijuana could greatly diminish the power of Mexican cartels, primarily because marijuana comprises upwards of “20 percent of their drug export revenues” for these desperados (pg. 59). For them, the big money is found in sexier illegal trade, such human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, piracy and other illicit drugs and I know that what I say is mumbo-jumbo that offends some people, but I don’t care because I’ll say whatever it takes to keep marijuana illegal. Producing marijuana en masse at home is also much easier to do than with tobacco or alcohol. We can expect a thriving grey market, too. See what I did there? I totally tried to associate people growing their own agricultural comedy with being as bad and Mexican Drug-Trafficking Organization—my shame knows no bounds, and God bless me.
Marijuana legalization presents many benefits but I’ll throw in a red herring about the lottery and public education. Wasn’t the Lottery supposed to save public education?
Research shows that the cannabinoids found in marijuana can potentially cure cancers! Ending Americas prohibition of cannabis fought through the War on Drugs will allow the Mexican government to end its War on American Marijuana Consumption greatly reducing violence in Mexico! Moreover, the tens of billions of dollars spent on marijuana law enforcement by the state and federal governments can then pour into criminal law enforcement to deal with actual and serious crime! Of all of the known benefits to marijuana legalization, these are the most damaging to the argument for maintaining the failed policies of prohibition. But it sure polls well: Colorado and Washington legalization advocates educated their fellow citizens as to the harms of marijuana prohibition and the benefits of legalizing, regulating, and taxation of marijuana. That is why I feel it is imperative to throw out personal speculation relating to the federal government’s response like so. Putting aside the fact that the federal government may well seize what are, in their eyes, illegal funds, the notion of marijuana as a boon to the economy is about as half-baked as they come. Put that in your pipe and smoke it stoners!
To begin with, the total social costs associated with our legal drugs—alcohol and tobacco—are roughly $200 billion per substance, numbers that far outweigh any tax revenue we receive from their use. In fact, these costs—from health care expenditures due to alcohol and tobacco use to the loss of productivity or accidents that come from use—is10 times greater than any tax revenue the U.S. and its states receive from these two legalized drugs.
That was a long couple of paragraphs; rest up with the bit of wild speculation. Under legalization, more people, not fewer, will be ensnared in the criminal justice system (totally made that up, yes I am proud of myself, and God bless me).
A fact most people do not know is that alcohol, not cocaine, heroin, or marijuana, is responsible for 2.6 million arrests every year. That is one million more arrests than for all illegal drugs combined. The reason? Society is currently engineered through social normalization and state and federal policies put in place to facilitate a highly profitable (pup intended), toxic, addictive, legal drug’s industry—Alcohol. People are being arrested for violating liquor laws, driving while intoxicated, and public drunkenness (the 2.6 million number doesn’t even include violent crimes that result from alcohol use). If marijuana were legal, and more people used it, we’d have no one going to jail for growing, processing, packaging, transporting, distributing, possessing or consuming a non-toxic, relatively safe medicinal and recreational plant. However, as I mentioned already, societies paradigm been re-designed to facilitate sale of the addictive, toxic, deadly, legal drug alcohol! Don’t like that? We got a rehab bed, jail cell, and or prison cell with your number on it pothead.
We don’t live in a black and white world. The choice isn’t just prohibition and legalization. The choice before us is; do we maintain and augment the current structures and policies of prohibition that needlessly wastes the people’s treasury, time, energy, productivity, and lives, which include the following commonly prescribed legal penalties: rehabilitation, reeducation, and incarceration? Alternatively, do we stop wasting the people’s treasure, time, energy, productivity, and lives through a set of structures and policies that will include the following common sense strategies: legalization, taxation, and regulation?
We should not criminalize pot with all of its attendant social benefits, nor should we damage the future prospects of pot growers, sellers, and smokers by prosecuting and jailing them. Rather, we should end pot prohibition. We should also invest seriously in research and development of thriving agricultural, industrial, medicinal, and recreational marijuana industries. We do not need to penalize people for smoking any amount of or having dealings with marijuana, saddling them, for example, with criminal records that hinder employment or access to social assistance. A marijuana arrest shouldn’t be a life sentence to anyone trying to vote, get a job, or access a college loan. But before we go ahead and legalize marijuana, we ought to first try these evidence-contradicting reforms of revamping and ramping up the War on Drugs by renaming and expanding it—for your own good-gosh-golly-gee-whiz and God bless you.
In the Not-Obama Administration, we determined that a policy of marijuana legalization would pose too many risks to the profitability and viability of economic sectors such as the police and prison unions, private prison industry, prescription drug industry, the petroleum and plastics industries, and the newly emerging powerhouse the drug rehabilitation industry currently reaping the benefits of marijuana prohibition. We asked ourselves, “Do the known and potential benefits of legalization outweigh the potential risks to these unions and industries fiscal incentives and profit margins based of the confinement and enslavement of human beings?” After reviewing and then ignoring the evidence that marijuana is a relatively safe, non-toxic recreational substance and medication the does not need FDA approval, the answer we came to was an emphatic no. Indeed, we mistakenly claim we can retool and ramp up the worst part of our current laws without increasing the harms of prohibition while somehow magically ending the consumption of marijuana.
Not-Kevin A. Sabet was the senior adviser to Not-President Obama’s not-really-the-drug-czar from 2009-2011. Not-Kevin A. Sabet does not hold a doctorate in public policy from Oxford University, and currently does not serve as director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and is not an assistant professor in the College of Medicine.
- Either lock up potheads or force rehab them (smartapproaches. com)