Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ten Questions Regarding the Pot Debate

I do not smoke pot. Full disclosure: Thirty years ago, I had a couple experiences with the stuff – peer pressure – and something inside told me this wasn’t for me. I struggle with arguments both for and against full decriminalization. I believe there is a dearth of non-biased information from which people should draw (pardon the pun) prior to making a decision about this.

While the making of law should be left in the hands of an informed legislature, the initiative process seems to have put this ball in our court. That being the case, here are some questions that need to be addressed.

1 What evidence exists supporting a conclusion that the banning of substances prompts people who want to use it to abstain? Examination of our country’s experience with alcohol prohibition might play into this.
2 What evidence exists supporting a conclusion that the legalization of a substance would prompt people who don’t use it, to begin to use it? Many people, who could smoke tobacco or drink alcohol, choose not to.
3 Regarding youth, what does the data tell us about trends in underage use of both alcohol and tobacco? How does that data break out when disaggregated for youth whose parents use tobacco or alcohol?
4 If education programs exist that reduce youth usage of alcohol and tobacco, wouldn’t those same strategies be effective in keeping kids from using pot?
5 While the concept of legalizing marijuana and taxing it to raise revenue is a red herring, how much taxpayer money could be saved if local, state and federal governments were not pursuing, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating pot smokers and growers? Could a fraction of that revenue be used for public service announcements or educational programs regarding marijuana use?
6 Assuming (sorry, that’s the best verb I can come up with for this one) – assuming that the illicit nature of marijuana is a price-support factor making cartel operations viable, how would legalization reduce the motivation for cartel-based violence, particularly in Mexican border towns?
7 Similarly, would access to legal pot lower the price and reduce domestic assaults and property crimes?
8 What groups or individuals stand to gain from the current laws banning or limiting marijuana use; and which of these groups are active politically? Some groups that come to mind that may have a vested interest in the status quo include: the tobacco industry, the alcohol and spirits industry (competition for those selling legal substances); police associations, prison guard unions and trial lawyers (pursuit, arrest, prosecution and incarceration are all processes that employ members of these legitimate and very necessary groups); independent pot farmers and those prickly cartels (for whom the current system may support higher prices.) How do these groups influence the data that is used in arguments opposed to changing marijuana’s status?
9 What groups or individuals stand to gain from legalization of marijuana? Some that come to mind include those doggoned cartels and individual growers; folks who currently use the stuff; neighbors and communities that suffer crime associated with the drug’s current illegal status. How do these groups influence the data that is used in arguments supporting a change in marijuana’s status?
10 What evidence exists that society’s attempt to legislate morality is ever successful? Certainly people don’t go out and kill one another just for the hell of it. A number of reasons – including criminal and penal consequences – keep folks from doing this. I wouldn’t suggest that taking laws regarding homicide off the books is in any way rational, reasonable or within any realm of possibility. But there most certainly are reasons beyond those found in law that preclude folks from killing one another, or taking someone else’s stuff, or coveting their neighbor’s ox or ass.

The state and the nation are confronted by hugely critical problems like terrorism, climate change, economic calamity and a couple of wars. If, as voters, are going to have to make the call, a full-disclosure, evidence-based review of our current marijuana laws might allow us to make a rational decision and move on to more critical issues.

Bonus question: What does Sarah Palin believe? Because I probably believe just the opposite. (Insert laugh track here. Perhaps I can get on with NBC.)


  1. I find myself waiting for lightning to strike, but I feel compelled to refer you to, of all people, the late William F. Buckley, wherein he opines that even in 1996:

    "WE ARE speaking of a plague that consumes an estimated $75 billion per year of public money, exacts an estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the million Americans who are today in jail, occupies an estimated 50 per cent of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the time of 400,000 policemen -- yet a plague for which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect."

    The rest of this great article can be found at:

  2. That Bill Buckley. He musta been a damned liberal. Wait! William F Buckley. Why he wrote the book on conservatism. Next thing you know we'll have a Republican arguing against the ban on gay marriage in California. Wait, again. We already do!

  3. If we founded our decisions on data and rational thought rather than fear and threats, we'd be better off individually, and better off, collectively, as a nation.