Review – Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, part 1

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by oltex, Jul 17, 2012.

  1. Review – Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, part 1
    DrugWarRant / Pete Guither / 7,17,2012

    “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark A.R. Kleiman

    This is part one of my review. I hope to address some additional specific areas in future posts.

    First of all, let me start by saying that this is probably the best writing about marijuana legalization that has ever been done, that wasn't written by an outright legalization advocate.

    This may be a surprise to regular readers of Drug WarRant, who know that I often take (even vehement) exception to many positions held by the so-called “academics” of U.S. drug policy writing. But it really is good, for the most part. It's garnered some rave reviews, including this one from Philip Smith at

    In a world where the official state position is Reefer Madness, a book like this is a breath of fresh air, in that it really does take a look at the facts of the subject in a balanced way. Even in little ways, that's refreshing. In a section about the uncertainties of the respiratory effects of marijuana smoke, for example, the authors take the time to remind the reader that smoking isn't the only delivery method. Can you imagine that even being mentioned by Drug Czar Kerlikowske?

    The incredible strength of balance is also ultimately its weakness, in a way–particularly when it comes to analysis. Balanced is generally good, but trying to present balanced arguments about the relative positions regarding whether the earth is flat or round would be completely absurd in today's world. And to those of us fully informed about marijuana prohibition and its effects, some “balanced” arguments about legalization can seem just as awkward.

    But first, let's take a look at some more good stuff. Check out this passage from Chapter 8 of the book:
    Why even consider legalizing a substance whose use creates harm?
    The liberty to make our own decisions about our own lives–including decisions that seem unwise to other people–is valuable, and allows us to learn from our own mistakes and those of others. Intoxicating drugs are hardly the only potentially dangerous consumer items of recreational activities. People get killed and crippled climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes, sailing, scuba diving, playing football, and riding motorcycles. Marijuana use may well be less risky than any of those other forms of recreation, yet a proposal to ban any of them would generate outrage.

    It isn't obvious that the majority of the users who do not, and would not, abuse the drug deserve to be inconvenienced–to say the least–to protect against the consequences of less responsible users.
    Moreover, drug laws create risks and harms of their own–most of all, the harms associated with illicit markets.

    Wow. That's some good stuff.

    Be honest, now. How many of you regular readers expected such a passage to be in this book?

    There's lots in the book like this, and tons of good, clear information. The section of marijuana and driving, for example, would be despised by the Drug Czar. There's even some enjoyable reading in the non-medical uses of marijuana, dealing with creativity and… the (gasp!) valuable pleasures of using it.

    On the other hand, you can start to tell the influence of different members of the authorial team as you start delving further. In contrast to the clear statement of liberty above, just a little further in chapter 8, there is an excruciatingly long and torturous dance around John Stuart Mills' “Harm Principle,” that desperately argues for paternalism in drug policy for such bizarre purposes as addressing the “fashion” of drug taking. It seems clear that those two passages were written by different authors.

    There are also a few strange things in this book. For example, in the section entitled “Does Marijuana cause cancer?,” the authors note that there is nowhere near the level of proof needed to determine that marijuana causes cancer (I know… a strange way of wording it). And several studies are specifically mentioned–some that seem to disprove any cancer connection along with a couple that showed small risk–with the indication that “published research shows mixed results.” Yet, the major 2006 study by Donald Tashkin of UCLA, funded by NIDA, that conclusively determined that marijuana does not cause lung cancer, is oddly not mentioned.

    There are also some passages that are really just plain bad. This one, at the conclusion of Chapter 11, for example:

    In the end, all this fancy benefit-cost analysis boils down to a rather simple proposition [...] If you think marijuana intoxication is, on average, a good thing–counting both the happy controlled users and the unhappy dependent users–then a benefit-cost analysis done in a way that reflects your values will probably conclude that legalization improves social welfare. If you think marijuana intoxication is, on average, a bad thing, then an analysis that reflects your values will probably conclude that legalization harms social welfare–because the dominant outcome of legalization will be more marijuana use.

    That's outrageous, and, quite frankly, offensive. This is what passes for academic writing? The passage completely ignores the huge portion of the debate represented by folks like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition–people who do not take a viewpoint regarding the value of marijuana “intoxication,” but rather do an actual cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the real problems presented by the war on marijuana users. People who care about the outcomes of 800,000 arrestees (and what that means to their jobs, their education, their families, their income), even if they don't do marijuana themselves. People who want to at least reduce the black market in drugs. People who care more about liberty than paternalism and don't think it's right for government to harm someone who is doing no harm in a misguided attempt to prevent someone else from voluntarily harming themselves. It's a stupid effort that seems to try to turn the entire debate into one pitting marijuana enthusiasts against marijuana foes as opposed to actually talking about policy.

    This particular mess appears clearly to be the work of Jon Caulkins, who writes (in the section where each author gives his own views): “If you like marijuana intoxication, you should like marijuana legalization; if you don't, you shouldn't.” A rather heavy paternalist, he also says that “the majority who would use responsibly ought to be willing to give up their fun to protect the minority who would not.” Nowhere, however, does he prove that criminalization has done anything of the kind.

    These lapses take away from the overall good work done in the book, by having the authors' personal biases govern the analyses, instead of having the facts inform them.
  2. "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark A.R. Kleiman

    This is part two of my review. Please read part one to see where I talk about some excellent things that are in this book, along with some general problems. Today, I want to take a closer look at one particular small passage.
    It has to do with whether or not most of those who are likely to be pre-disposed to dependent drug behavior will have already found their opportunity to become dependent prior to legalization, meaning that even if legalization results in a large increase in the number of users, it won't necessarily result in a large increase in the number of abusers.
    This is something I've talked about often as a response to those who fear the unknown spike in post-legalization usage (for all currently illicit drugs), and the book addresses it, sort of…

    But isn't everyone with an addictive personality already addicted to something?
    Sorry, but this argument for legalization is mere wishful thinking. While it's true that people with drug addictions tend to have some personality traits in common, many of those traits (such as secretiveness) tend to develop and become entrenched only after the addictions–as effects, not causes. Certainly there are differences across individuals and population groups in susceptibility to specific addictive behaviors, and some of those differences seem to have a genetic basis. But those are tendencies, not the irrevocable decrees of fate.

    The answer fails to address or (perhaps) understand the question.

    As the authors note, there are certain people who, due to genetics or due to their “situation” in life, are more susceptible to dependent behaviors. These people don't need legalization for those behaviors to surface. Alcohol is legal and readily available to anyone. Illicit drugs are also far from difficult to obtain. There are very few Americans who haven't had opportunities to partake in some kind of drug, and therefore, the opportunity to feed any latent dependent tendencies.

    It is highly unlikely that marijuana legalization, for example, will result in someone with a predisposition to dependency trying drugs for the first time.

    Take a look at the same thing from the reverse side. What are the marginal effects of prohibition? Are drug abusers likely to be easily deterred by prohibition? Of course not. The most likely to be deterred are the casual users – the equivalent of wine-with-dinner-and-a-drink-with-friends-after-the-show-Friday-night users. Illegality deters the people who are the least problematic, and has very little effect on the problem users. So when you legalize, you are lifting the deterrence specifically for the least problematic users.

    This means that while an increase in post-legalization use may result in some increase in dependency, it would likely be a far, far smaller group.

    Let's say, for example, that 10% of those who currently use marijuana have some kind of dependency issues (which, as we know, are very mild with marijuana). The book uses 9%, but 10% will be easier. Now, let's assume that legalization will result in a 50% increase in the number of marijuana users. Clearly, based on the above arguments, there's no way that 10% of that increased group will be abusers. It would be a fraction of that. But let's say, for the purpose of argument, that a full 6% of that increased group will be abusers (way too high, in my opinion, but let's look at it anyway).

    See the chart below. The first bar shows that for every 100 users, 10 are dependent (the remainder are labeled “recreational”). The second shows when you increase the number of users by 50% (with 6% of the increased population portion as abusers) that for every 150 users, 13 are dependent.
    As this graphically demonstrates, even in a pessimistic analysis, even large increases in users post-legalization are unlikely to result in a world full of zombies.

    Add to this the fact that post-legalization, all efforts can be directed at helping those who are dependent, as opposed to the prohibition sledge hammer of going after all users. There are benefits to regulated legalization that can actually reduce the number of dependent drug users. We could even theoretically see a net savings. This is critical, as that would undermine the only weak argument left for the paternalistic prohibitionist.

    To be fair, the authors of the book (for the most part) do not seem overly concerned about a massive explosion of dependent marijuana users, even while overestimating the numbers. They note that marijuana dependence is significantly milder. But their inflation of likely dependent numbers is very concerning to the overall analysis in the book, and additionally, the marginal effects will be even more important to understand as we get into discussions down the road of legalized and regulated cocaine and heroin.

    The author who appears most concerned about increased numbers of marijuana users is Jon Caulkins, who seems to fear an epidemic of damaged children of stoned parents.

    I'm not sure where he gets that fear. It's not something you hear much about, except in ridiculous over-the-top ONDCP-funded television commercials.

    It makes me wonder if there are a lot of those damaged kids who have now grown up…
    Yeah, my childhood was horrible. My parents laughed a lot, and they made us listen to jazz and Pink Floyd and then we'd eat ice cream. And we had to go to music festivals…. I don't want to talk about it.
    Still to come– I'll talk about the section on marijuana and alcohol. \t\t\t\t:wave:

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