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DRUGS: The folly of prohibition

Letter by Kathy Gilman, Steilacoom on Oct. 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm with 37 Comments »
October 3, 2011 5:15 pm

Two related items in Monday’s News Tribune are worthy of comment: the new concerns regarding the abuse of bath salts and California’s new law creating penalties for selling synthetic cannabis.

If the definition of insanity is making the same error over and over again, then the absurdly named war on drugs is a prime example. The prohibition of adult use of plant and chemical substances has never worked and it never will. And the futile law enforcement effort against these behaviors occasions staggering societal and economic costs, without any possibility of success.

The United States came to grips with this concept with the repeal of the Volstead Act. In terms of deaths and social cost, alcohol is by far the most dangerous commonly used drug, but following bitter years of bloodshed, we came to the conclusion that prohibiting it was simply not practical. Though hardly a perfect solution, the government of decided on a policy of legalization, regulation, taxation and education.

Problems with alcohol will always persist, but we blunder on as best we can. Isn’t it far past time to pursue similar policies with other illicit drugs, especially marijuana?

Leave a comment Comments → 37
  1. Publico says:

    So how many “drugs” would you like to be legal? What is the cost of deaths attributable to alcohol? What will the cost in lives be for bath salts and for cannabis? Would you please tell us how to convert the value of a human life lost into dollars spent on enforcement for any drug.
    Thanks for your opinion.

  2. beerBoy says:

    Publico – it boils down to a simple cost/benefit analysis – do the costs of prohibition equal or exceed the purported benefits of prohibition? I guess it depends upon your point of view. For those who are making money from prohibition (enforcement, dealers, Pharma, prison industry) the answer is yes.

    But, from my point of view, Prohibition is a complete waste as it doesn’t do what it purports to do – prevent addiction from ruining lives. Legalize it, regulate it and tax it. Spend the income for tax for addiction treatment centers.

    Pragmatism demands that policy isn’t decided by what “feels right” or ideology or an emotional response. It demands that policies be determined by what works. After 4 decades of Nixon’s declaration of War on Drugs, it is evident to anyone willing to actually accept reality that this tactic doesn’t work.

    And……pray tell, what do you believe is the cost in lives for cannabis? I’m sure you have anecdotes of losers who smoked dope all of the time – I’m sure they also wore clothes, drank water, and other things that didn’t necessarily cause their status of loser.

  3. KARDNOS says:

    There is a great PBS documentary on Prohibition playing right now. It’s interesting how many “good citizens” became criminals for the profits of prohibition.

  4. There is a huge financial and social cost to alcohol; there is no pot of gold through legalization of drugs.



  5. “For those who are making money from prohibition (enforcement, dealers, Pharma, prison industry) the answer is yes.”

    What about the kid who’s dad beats the crap out of him because dad’s a mean drunk?

    What about the mom who’s child was mowed down by an alcohol or drugged-out idiot driver?

    What dollar value do you put on these sort of actions?

  6. beerBoy says:

    What about the kid who’s dad beats the crap out of him because dad’s a mean drunk?

    Treatment for dad. However, even though alcohol may exacerbate the situation, it is the abusive husband/father that is the problem so a better approach is providing good services for women w/children who leave an abusive situation.

    RE: traffic fatalities w/DUI. Much harsher penalties for DUI from the first offense including jail time and large fines.

    Your response is, again, an emotional plea. You see the negatives connected with drug abuse and want all drug use outlawed even though it is clear that it does not reduce addiction and the problems associated with addiction. An emotionally-fueled policy is, by definition not rational.

  7. KARDNOS says:

    Prohibition of alcohol did not solve the problem of alcoholism. In fact, it made the problem more acute.

  8. Thanks for the letter.

    The Ken Burns series couldn’t come at a better time. Recently in an interview on KUOW with Burns. host Ken Scher had Daniel Okrent (Author of Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in America) and Seattle city prosecutor and sponsor or I-502, Pete Holmes join a discussion.

    The parallels with the current prohibition of marijuana are patent and unarguable.

    However, the legalization of “all drugs” and marijuana are separate issues. Marijuana is not heroin and they should not be treated necessarily the same.

    As beerboy so elegantly stated it, “Do the costs of prohibition equal or exceed the purported benefits of prohibition?” With marijuana it is strongly held by an approaching majority that we have long passed that point.

    For those wishing to find out more about I-502 and the movement to repeal marijuana prohibition in our state, please visit the New Approach Washington website.

    It is also clear that the criminalization of addiction of hard drugs (e.g., meth, oxy, crack, heroin, etc) has not been effective. An alternative for hard drugs is to decriminalize and move to a treatment/medical model for addiction.

  9. slugoxyz says:

    I really don’t think cost is the issue. If cost were how we measured everything, we would outlaw government immediately. The laws of the land seek to save people from themselves. While I do not necessarily believe in the criminal paradigm, I am certainly not willing to make illicit narcotics (let’s just call it all “dope”) legal for everyone. At the very least, the illegal nature of dope puts this behavior on the other side of the line for some. True. The problem isn’t about where the line is but why people seek to cross that line. We definitely have a problem with people who need pot to take the edge off or simply like the effects recreationally. Is alcohol a problem? Absolutely. But just because alcohol is legal, doesn’t mean we should make everything legal. What people fail to consider about the cost is that it just might be worth it. Every time law enforcement or department of defense personnel seize large quantities of dope, two things happen. One: there is that much less dope on the street and Two: it keeps the cost of dope relatively high. I am a bit torn on the legalization of marijuana but I have yet to hear a decent reason to make it so. People say that we’re spending too much money on pot prohibition. That is false. We are spending money at the borders on dope in general. Here on our local streets, the vast majority or law enforcement isn’t actually seeking pot. The vast majority of pot arrests are search subject to arrest for another offense. The pot charge is just added to the list. People talk about the history of marijuana as if that is justification. I don’t see that. People try to shove the negative effects of long term use under the carpet but they are undeniable. Let’s just consider the effects of inhaling toxins into our lungs. Society is making life harder and harder for tobacco users and you want to legalize yet another form of recreational smoke into our midst? The problem is that the justification for marijuana that no one really mentions is that a somewhat sizeable and loud element simply want to do it so they have created a smoke screen of justifications to make it legal. The problem is that close scrutiny of these justifications don’t hold water.

    This does not address legitimate (and I mean legitimate) medical use. I don’t mean for the people who have some aches and pains and choose pot as a means to ease their mild suffering. I mean people who are undergoing cancer treatment and use pot to stimulate appetite or for people with real eye issues that pot seems to help. If you are a terminal cancer patient then by all means, use whatever makes your last days more tolerable. I could care less. It has been my experience that at the very least, pot effects people’s motivation. It robs them of aspirations and with this country suffering as it is today, do we really need less aspirations and less motivation? I don’t think so.

  10. KARDNOS says:

    “slugoxyz says:
    October 4, 2011 at 9:30 am
    I really don’t think cost is the issue. If cost were how we measured everything, we would outlaw government immediately.”

    Yeah…then we would hire a $100 per hour Halliburton contractor to provide the troops with pizza…..oh…wait a minute…..

  11. The laws of the land seek to save people from themselves.

    Isn’t that what religion is supposed to be for?

  12. slugoxyz says:

    still waiting…

  13. BlaineCGarver says:

    Let’s legalize most drugs…but, and this is probably true, I suspect the ones getting free ObamaCare will be the ones undergoing rehab and overdose treatment at my (our) expense. Yet another reason to tie drug testing to welfare eligability.

  14. It has been my experience that at the very least, pot effects people’s motivation. It robs them of aspirations and with this country suffering as it is today, do we really need less aspirations and less motivation? I don’t think so.

    Some successful (admitted) potheads:
    Sir Richard Branson
    Rick Steves
    Aaron Sorkin
    Michael Phelps
    Barack Obama
    Michael Bloomberg
    Ted Turner
    Montel Williams
    Stephen King
    Arnold Schwarzenegger

    Some intelligent (admitted) potheads:
    Steve Jobs
    Carl Sagan
    Stephen Jay Gould
    Francis Crick
    Margaret Mead
    Andrew Weil
    Kary Mullis
    Oliver Sacks
    Richard Feynman
    Sergey Brin

    Bottom line: losers would still be losers without substance abuse.

  15. Slugozxyz would try to have the anti-prohibitionists justify the repeal of marijuana’s prohibition.

    However, due to the enormous economic and social costs of marijuana prohibition, the actual level of social costs associated with marijuana use itself, and the ineffectiveness of marijuana prohibition, it is now incumbent upon the government to justify the continuance of the policy of marijuana prohibition.

    Marijuana prohibition might make sense if one feels that the “laws of the land seek to save people from themselves.”

    Yet even Ronald Reagan seemed to disagree when he said that, “Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”

    New Approach Washington’s reasons for attempting to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana are clearly explained and articulated at their website. I think their positions do hold water.

  16. KARDNOS says:

    “I suspect the ones getting free ObamaCare”

    Free ObamaCare???? Sort of defies the “mandatory purchase” complaint….

    This is a fine sample of how the Conservative speak from both sides of their mouths

  17. slugoxyz says:

    We have not stopped anyone from committing murder on a near daily basis. Should we stop spending money trying to prevent it and just make it legal? Spicoli, we have gone round and round and I have practically begged you to give me a legitimate reason to support the legalization of pot and you fail to do it and usually resort to calling me names or in some way insult me. Not a strong testament to your position but rather your vehemence. Vehemence is no reason to move on a topic. Logic is. I’m still waiting for that. Your primary argument seems to be that law enforcement spends too much money and too many people get killed or hurt because of pot. I say again, then why don’t we legalize armed robbery? We clearly haven’t solved it so why bother?

  18. KARDNOS says:

    How is beerBoy’s citation of all of those people “slinging mud”?

    The new Conservative tactic, when confronted by facts undeniable, is to claim the opposition is “trolling”…..

    If anyone is “trolling” it is “noun, verb, socialist”……

  19. KARDNOS says:

    “Yet another reason to tie drug testing to welfare eligability.”

    Increasing the size and cost of government, while saying they are for smaller, less costly government

  20. calcan2 says:

    I don’t understand the thinking behind why the government is responsible for rehab for alcoholics, drug abusers, or any other nut job. If people decide to use any substance, then with that comes the responsibility to behave with it. If that becomes too much for them, why is it my, or the public at large to rehabilitate them? This touchy feely stuff is the reason this country is so freaking far in debt. Any little problem with someone and we have to set up a clinic and hire expensive “former abusers”, and my taxes go up. We are all big boys and girls, if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, deal with it. Legalize all drugs and let it sort itself out. The war on drugs is nothing more than a slush fund and hype. It’s real simple, ya don’t wanna be fat, quit eating, you don’t wanna be an alcoholic, quit drinking, ya don’t wanna be a druggie, quit doing the stuff. Take some responsibility.

  21. beerBoy says:

    slugo – explain how I am “playing the troll”…….I mean, really, what have you been smoking?

  22. domedude47 says:

    Sluggo, could you or anyother person on this thread give me an honest fact concerning a pot user(just pot) comitting a crime, other than breaking pot laws? Too much energy and grief being spent on a bogus threat.

  23. beerBoy says:

    slugo – if responding directly to one of your unsupported opinions is “slinging mud”, what was your original statement?

  24. slugoxyz writes, “We have not stopped anyone from committing murder on a near daily basis. Should we stop spending money trying to prevent it and just make it legal? Spicoli, we have gone round and round and I have practically begged you to give me a legitimate reason to support the legalization of pot and you fail to do it and usually resort to calling me names or in some way insult me.”

    The following is not opinion. It is information that I have given you before. These concepts form the the basis for our laws and answer the question, “If we repeal marijuana prohibition, why not repeal the law against murder.”

    Since you have been provided this information before and you still persist in forwarding the “legalize pot and legalized murder will follow” argument, I assume you reject the concepts of malum in se and malum prohibitum. Yet you have not said why.

    There are two kinds of crimes: malum in se and malum prohibitum.

    Malum in se are crimes evil in themselves: murder, rape, robbery. They are the things about which there is no argument universally. In fact, murder of human beings is universally agreed to be a wrong regardless of whether a law exists making it a crime. Therefore it is Malum in se.

    Laws that are malum prohibitum are illegal only because someone says they should be illegal. They are not evil per se. The prohibitum laws are very relative, subjective, and difficult, if not impossible, to enforce in a free society. These laws are highly mutable and relative. For example, miscegenation laws.

    They are often connected to morality and religion. Like the law in Connecticut where until 1965 it was against the law for married couples to use birth control. As you stated in a previous post, you would have complied with this law because it was the law.

    The laws against marijuana fall under the prohibitum category. Marijuana was made illegal by bureaucrats and an uninformed congress back in the 1930’s. The ostensible reasons for doing so was that marijuana posed an exceptional risk to personal and public safety.

    In fact, marijuana poses a small risk to the public and tolerable personal risk and a small fraction of the risk of alcohol. California passed an infraction ordinance where possession of up to an ounce of marijuana results in a maximum $100 fine and no arrest–just like littering. That is not how something that is “dangerous” is treated.

    Marijuana’s danger comes from its prohibition–not from marijuana itself.

    The final “insult” that I delivered to you was not an insult. I asked you to read about Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development and to self-rate in which stage you operate. if you felt insulted, take it up with Kohlberg.

  25. KARDNOS says:

    calcan….you might want to look a little deeper into the disease of addiction….

    Now, if you want the plague on society that comes with addiction, keep screaming “responsibility”. If not, rehabilitation is better than wringing your hands about the increases in incarceration costs and all that goes with it.

  26. slugoxyz says:

    Sorry everyone. I don’t sit in front of the computer waiting to read answers. Once or twice a day is all I have time for.

    So, Troll. bB? Really. You generally argue for the sake of argument. I have gotten into it with you a few times and it usually ends with you slinging insults and very little logic. I forget who but a regular poster advised me to just ignore you because it’s what you do. I think I agree. You present a list of people who were successful and admitted to smoking dope in response to my belief that regular and habitual use of pot kills motivation and aspirations. I contend that many of the people on that list don’t smoke it every day or more than once a day. I honestly don’t think occasional use of pot does much harm. I would suggest that successful people don’t generally becaome successful while using pot on a regular basis. They may go back to it or see the folly in its use but they can admit to having used it. Can I support this? No. But you have no facts surrounding the specific use of pot by successful people. The problem is for many (like alcohol), once they stop, their use leads to abuse. I have at times, searched the internet for the effects of marijuana use but I don’t really have time now to site my writings. I can tell you that I see the long term effects of pot use on a daily basis. Does pot cause crime? No. Probably even less so than alcohol but that is not a justification for its legalization. I know that there is a fair amount of violence surrounding the cultivation of pot and homicide surrounding its distribution. Pot is frequently mixed with other drugs creating violent offenders (“Sherm”). There are plenty of facts supporting the premise that pot effects driving and I know of a recent incident where pot led to the death of a student passenger in a car accident. I think I’m arguing the case against Spicoli. So, bB, you know you argue for the sake of arguemnt. I may be guilty of it myself. I just don’t really like the way you do it. I like an adult discussion and if I’m losing, I always appreciate learning new things and I am flexible. But the way you argue doesn’t promote learning with me. It just makes me pissed off (when I let it). But that was your goal wasn’t it?

  27. slugoxyz says:

    Spicoli. Yes, yes yes. I have gotten your little lecture about malum in se and malum prohibitum but I do not agree that every law that prohibits morally “bad” things or is harmful to only the culprit are bad. While pot is an arguable statute, heroin or meth should not be. These things are essentially slow suicide and having a law in place gives government the ability to get people the help they need (suicide is another). Prostitution is illegal for a good reasons. Forget the moral aspect and consider the health aspect. Consider the notion of underage slaves strung out on dope and forced to “hook”. Sex is certainly legal, why can’t a person charge for it? Is there a Puritan aspect to the laws against prostitution? Sure. I suppose so but that does not take away the health and safety aspects of the law that exist to protect women (and men) from exploitation. I would have said gambling is another malum prohibitum example but it almost seems legal now in specific settings. How about the legal age of consent when it comes to sex? Is that a victimless crime if the underage person is supposedly willing? What about lewd and lascivious behavior? Subjective? Probably. Here’s one you might like? What about police corruption or government corruption? Who is the victim? Should we toss the laws preventing it? Gosh, I hope not. Many of these things that are prohibited could be done in moderation without a breakdown of society or harmful effects. I have argued both sides of the case for prostitution and gambling. The problem is that you seem to forget the tendency for people to abuse every right they have. While sex with appropriate aged people is allowed, there is some freak out there who can not stay between the lines. A little corruption never hurt anyone except for the fact that it always leads to more so you have to draw that line and draw it very strict. I am not looking to oppress society but I do believe that the lines that we operate between are already pretty wide. Still, people are always looking to broaden them. Why? Simply because they feel any law is a burden. I don’t mind the laws. I even manage to stay between the lines and enjoy life. So, pot is illegal and you and I both know, the likelihood of the ban lifting is far off if ever. I’ve told you before, if they legalize it, I think I might try it just to see what all the fuss is about. I’d never be a habitual user because my DNA doesn’t work that way. I used to smoke until 1993 (because it was …”cool”?) when I simply decided that I didn’t like the smell on my clothes so I quit. No cravings, no longings. I drink alcohol in moderation and only in my own home when I don’t have to go anywhere. Maybe I’m lucky. The problem is that not everyone is. Far too many people have addictive personalities and the legalization of pot would ultimately be fine for many but it would cripple many others.

  28. slugoxyz says: lots of stuff

    I didn’t read your response beyond the first word and have no intention of doing so. I simply cannot abide with your refusal to call me by my correct screen name.

    I only respond to you initially so that I might enlighten others as to how they might respond when presented with an argument such as you have presented.

  29. slugoxyz says:

    Spicoli! You crack me up. Hahahaha. You certainly would not have made it in my world. Now, dude… share the pizza with the whole class! Bahahaha.

  30. slugo – how much coffee are you drinking? You write like you are on speed. Why bother reading your response when it is densely presented and rather emotional in tone?

    And – more to the point – when all you have to offer is ad hominem attacks on those who challenge your viewpoint, why bother reading your response?

    If all you want is people agreeing with your point of view then you should really just shout in an echo chamber.

  31. tellnolies says:

    “You certainly would not have made it in my world. ”

    Well, there’s an explanation. Sluggo lives in a different world than the rest of us. LMAO

  32. slugoxyz says:

    bB, you bust chops on any number of topics and you are going to take offense as to how I bust your chops? That’s just funny. Well, at least you aren’t crying like Spicoli. I at least respect that.

    How much coffee? I don’t drink coffee (or take illicit narcotics including speed) but I can write pretty fast. The problem is that I think really fast, my fingers try to keep up and then I have to go back and fix stuff in Word, spell check etc. You know… Maybe if I drank a couple of those Monsters, my fingers could keep up… Thank you for the advice!

    So, while I like people agreeing with my point of view (echo…) all you do is that somewhat passive aggressive disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. You’d chew on your own tail if no one argued with you. How funny would that look? That is the main difference between us bB. I am here to learn. You are just here to disagree. While I might fancy my opinion (I’ve cultivated them for years), you would disagree with yourself if you couldn’t get someone to take your bait. So, there you are, lurking under the bridge waiting for the next point to counter. Stay warm under there.

  33. beerBoy says:

    slugo – once again with ad hominem attacks…..but at least this time you gave us paragraph breaks.

    It is a pity that someone who purports to be here to learn is so willing to dismiss the ideas/opinions of those he disagrees with…….

    I’m assuming that you really don’t understand how Socratic or dialectical methods work. Or how citation of supporting evidence gives credence to a statement. I have learned a lot from my dialogues with intelligent individuals on this board – too bad you aren’t one of them.

  34. beerBoy says:

    Let me put this in a way that someone who lists to the right might understand:

    Prohibition = Big Government intervention in individuals’ lives
    Prohibition = Higher Taxes
    Prohibition = Fraud
    Prohibition = Government Waste
    The job of Government is not to “protect us from ourselves” but to protect us from others. Blue Laws reduce personal liberty without any real increase in security.

    Prohibition has failed miserably at its stated aim of reducing/preventing drug use. Evidence supports the conclusion that treatment is actually effective in reducing/preventing drug use whereas criminalization has no impact. Criminalization supports crime by creating a very high price for the drugs.

  35. slugoxyz says:

    Bb – an ad hominem attack is not necessarily incorrect. It just points to your flaws in logic and possibly your psyche. Enough said…

  36. beerBoy says:

    It just points to your flaws in logic

    Do tell – what are my “flaws in logic” that you have demonstrated with your posts?

    Pointing out someone’s logical flaws requires that one puts forward a logical argument. All I see is you stating that I am “slinging mud”, “playing the troll”, “passive agressive”, “arguing for the sake of arguing”. That is ad hominem argument through unsupported labels.

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