A Modest Proposal for the War on Drugs

GIve them away!

The "War on Drugs" simply isn't working.  The street price of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other illegal substances keeps going down as suppliers become more efficient in response to customer demand.  Selling drugs is so profitable that the FARC and other drug-related groups have enough money and firepower to threaten the governments of Mexico and Colombia.

For years the collective governments of most of the world have cracked down on drug dealers in regular strikes and oft-lauded raids drawing in hundreds and even thousands of pounds of one sort of memory-remover or another.

"$460m cocaine seized in world's biggest drug bust" tells how Colombian authorities found $US350 million worth of cocaine stashed on a jungle riverbank by far-right paramilitary groups in what police called the biggest cocaine bust in history.  Whether the drug trade funds the leftist FARC or the right-wing paramilitary groups is equally bad for countries where these groups operate.

The document President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2007  recommended "drug war" funding of $12.7 billion.

After spending billions in places as far away as Afghanistan and thousands of hours of people's time, we find that we went from virtually no opium produced in Afghanistan in 2001 to 2007 being a bumper crop year.  Afghanistan, Opium and the Taliban points out that the Taliban nearly wiped out opium production but opium production boomed after we displaced the Taliban.

US, NATO troop levels in Afghanistan shows that we're spending a lot of money trying to keep order in Afghanistan but our definition of order includes not growing opium.

Opium growing is the only way most of the farmers can prosper materially; it will be hard to win their hearts and minds while keeping them in poverty.  Trying to keep Afghanis from growing opium is turning out to be so counterproductive that NATO governments are considering legalization of Afghanistan's opium production as described in "NATO to Legalize Afghanistan's Opium?"

In some American communities, more than half of the young men are either in jail, under investigation, or on probation for drug-related offenses.  Our police are being corrupted -- a strange kid can come to town and buy drugs after asking a few questions; you can't tell me the cops don't know who's dealing.

We've gone back and forth on drugs for years -- California legalized medical marijuana, the feds went to court to retain the right to bust doctors who prescribed marijuana and started raiding pot clinics.  California countered with vending machines stocked with pot.

All this police and court activity costs a lot of money and doesn't do our society any good.  What do you think our drug problem does for countries where the drug lords are almost as powerful as the government?

The Two Approaches

Given that we really don't want our people using drugs which our government has put on the illegal drug list, our lawmakers have considered two ways to stop them:

  • Make drugs unavailable by arresting suppliers or going to countries of origin and try to stop people growing or making illegal drugs for shipment to the US.  We have all kinds of programs to spray illegal crops with weed killer and we spend a lot of money helping foreign governments arrest people involved in the drug trade in their countries.
  • Stop people from buying illegal drugs.  If nobody wanted to buy drugs, the sellers would go out of business.  As long as there's a market, of course, there will be a supply.

One Sure-Fire Solution

Singapore doesn't have much of a drug abuse problem because it's a capital offense to be caught selling illegal drugs.  Those caught possessing narcotics are beaten by a professional body-builder with a six-foot bamboo rod.  Those caught selling are summarily executed.

This suppresses demand enough to make the industry unprofitable, but America has decided not to address the demand side of the equation in an effective manner.  We don't shoot drug users, we lock them up for "possession."  Locking up drug users has no little or no effect -- in most jails, drugs are available as conveniently as on the street.  Prison sentences for drug users merely increase the profits of the prison-industrial complex without actually reducing overall demand for drugs.

Our anti-drug programs have not measurably reduced the street demand for drugs; all evidence indicates that demand is going up.  Given that we aren't going to imitate Singapore and go after users hard enough to deter them, we're left with efforts to reduce supply.

In spite of our many efforts and in spite of increasing demand, the street price of drugs is still falling.  The market is telling us that our efforts to stop importation simply don't work.

One of the many reasons that we have not seen success in the war on drugs is that we have built a secondary economy surrounding the "War on Drugs".  If the war were to end, so would the job market for those involved in it.  Like all government employees, our drug warriors would far rather expand the problem than solve it.

The Magnitude of the Problem

Some people argue that we can't know how much illegal drug use is going on because, being illegal, we can't track it.  They're wrong -- it's simple to get accurate weekly or even daily estimates of area drug use.  Oregon State University researchers have tested a method to perform an ad hoc drug test on the entire population of a city, so we really can tell just how effective the local police force(s) are in their own sector of the "War on Drugs".

Researchers have figured out how to give an entire community a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater from a city's sewer plant.

The test wouldn't be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country.

By measuring the concentrations of various drugs in sewage samples taken at strategic locations where pipes come together, the researchers can estimate the use of pretty much any drug, legal or illegal, in the neighborhood drained by the pipes they tap.  All available data suggest that drug use is increasing.

Our prison population is growing and so much money is flowing to the drug lords that they can shrug off losing $350 million worth of product without the street price going up a bit. The drug pipeline is more efficient than the oil distribution system -- what would happen to gasoline prices if we lost an equivalent amount of oil?

As Ben Franklin said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."  What we're doing is not working, it's insane to keep doing it.  It's been failing for long enough that it's insane not to try something else.

Make it Legal?

Some people propose legalizing the use of narcotics on the grounds that we can't stop them anyway.  It's been suggested that we might as well get some tax revenue from drug users.

The difficulty with making drugs legal is that big companies would work to expand their profits by finding new customers.  Proponents of legalization point to the decreasing tobacco industry to prove that the legitimate tobacco market is declining so drug use might not necessarily expand after legalization.  This is a poor analogy however, because tobacco use was increasing until the lawyers forced tobacco companies to raise prices enough to deter smoking.

Common sense shows that allowing big companies to advertise their product will be more likely to increase their markets rather than decrease them -- legalization of drugs would be likely to increase drug consumption nationwide.

New York magazine of Jan 14, 2008, pp 20-21 notes that although murders in New York City are down considerably from their peak in 1990, drugs seem to be involved in more than half the remainder.  They quoted the advice of the authors of the book Freakonomics:

Legalize drugs.  "If drugs were legal, they wouldn't be sold on street corners by gangs; they'd be grocery-store commodities."

The violence associated with the trade arises they say, because business disputes between sellers can never be settled through, say, an advertising war or or a civil lawsuit. "In the 1920's, Al Capone and his rivals left a trail of dead bodies as they fought over the profits from bootlegged liquor.  When prohibition ended, it was folks like Anheuser-Busch who took over the business"

The difficulty with simple legalization is that consumption would increase.  When Anheuser-Busch took over the business from Al Capone, their profit motive led them to advertise and seek new customers.  They moved far more beer than Al Capone could imagine.  That's why we do not want simple legalization -- merchants who sell tobacco, booze, and other profitable, but societally harmful substances, advertise to increase consumption.

Make it Free!

As with many seemingly intractable problems, there's a simple solution that nobody talks about -- the Internet shows how to take the profit out of the drug business so the market won't grow.

There was a time when there were only two industries that made money selling on the Internet -- pornography and cosmetics.  The web has matured and many, many businesses get significant revenue via the web, but profitability for porn has diminished greatly.

Was there a "War on Porn"?  Did our government pass new laws against selling porn?  Did they lean on credit card companies not to accept charges from porn sites?

No!  Instead, the market worked.  Many people believe that information on the web ought to be free, and there's a great crowd of folks willing to supply information for free.

Amateurs started filming pornographic movies and posting them online for free.  It's hard to get solid statistics or respectable research in this area, but some say that the "you porn" site in Germany is the third-busiest web site in the world.

As cameras have gotten better and more and more amateurs have contributed, quality has improved; there's less and less money to be made selling professional porn.  The availability of high-quality, free pornography has not reduced porn consumption and may, in fact, have increased it, but has taken the profit out of it.

Mainstream media face the same problem as porn merchants -- how do you compete with armies of talented amateurs who work for free?

This should make it clear how to solve the drug problem in America -- take the money out of the drug business by having the government give the stuff away free.  We'll keep all our anti-drug programs, of course, as we try to persuade kids not to smoke or drink, but if anybody wants to use pot, or coke, or whatever, we'll give it to them for free.

People who really want drugs aren't stopped by high price -- they take up crime to support their habits. Taking the profit out of the industry eliminates drug-related crime.  People who make money selling drugs give away samples to build the market.  If the government gives it away,  the bureaucracy will by its very nature build enough hassle into the system that nobody will ask for drugs unless they really want them.

We need the bureaucracy involved to make the process of getting drugs unpleasant enough to keep usage down.  We can't just legalize the stuff, decent marketing would grow the user community.

The fact that dealing with the government in any way at all is extremely unpleasant is an advantage.  Treating customers badly is inherent in the nature of bureaucracy so people won't want to go there.  If addicts can get all the drugs they want for free, however, there won't be any profit so nobody will push the stuff.  Getting it from the government will be so unpleasant that nobody will put up with the hassle unless they want it badly.

Government involvement can destroy pretty much any business.  Look what happened to General Aviation when the government was given control -- it's become insanely expensive and never fulfilled its early potential.  With NASA being ready to step in with an artificially low shuttle launch prices, nobody can get into the aerospace business.  Colleges which have to compete do well, government schools with little or no competition in the K-12 market serve their customers badly.  A government giveaway won't urge people to try drugs, but it will take all the profit out of the drug business.

Without drug profits, the rivers of illegal cash that flow all over the world will be reduced greatly.  When that happens, the relatively tiny sums terrorists move around will be easier to track.

Without drug profits, the Taliban will be de-funded in Afghanistan, the FARC guerrillas of Columbia will be de-funded, and the CIA won't have to spray weed killer all over South American any more.  Cops, drug dealers, and companies that sell weed killer won't like losing income, but sacrifices must be made.

We'll still have people who use too much of any drug and there'll be deaths from overdoses, but that's no different from what we have now.  By taking the money out of illegal drugs, we'll eliminate a huge amount of drug-related crime and we'll even let the government create a new giveaway program!  It might even provide a place to park all the useless bureaucrats that get in the way of productive people doing useful things.

What could be better?  A government giveaway that actually solves a problem!  Will wonders never cease?

Demosthenes is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Demosthenes or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
This premise is not only false, but fantastically so - "We need the bureaucracy involved to make the process of getting drugs unpleasant enough to keep usage down".

How the heck will drug usage go down simply because the paperwork is unpleasant? Drug users lie, cheat and steal to get what they want. They destroy their finances, ruin their families, commit crimes, sleep under bridges - all to get one more fix. The idea that standing in line at the government drug office for an hour to get a hit will somehow make them not want to do drugs is laughable.
February 19, 2008 5:30 PM
One of my LP friend's just emailed this to me. Hector stole the words right out of my mouth. The first part is true. But your logic runs a bit crazy in the last section. You say "The difficulty with simple legalization is that consumption would increase". And it wouldn't increase if the gooberment gave it away FOR FREE? Of course, it would and WAY more so. My step mom spent part of her life hooked on cystal meth. If the government gave it away for free, she show up each morning, get her dose, go home and live in a trance all day. This would do nothing but ensure she lived like a zombie permanently. Legalizing it is the only solution. I'm glad people are discussing the situation and trying to come up with a solution, but giving it away for free is about the worst thing I've ever heard.
February 19, 2008 5:41 PM
I guess we didn't make it clear that the current addict population is a write-off. Once someone gets addicted, there's not much anyone can do. Putting them in jail doesn't work, they but it there. None of the dry-out programs work, they just keep being recycled back through the same programs.

As Hector pointed out, addicts do ANYTHING to get their stuff including committing all kinds of crimes. Part of the point of giving it away is to REDUCE the cost TO THE ADDICT of being on the stuff so the addict can commit fewer crimes and may be able to hold a job.

It also takes a number of customers away from the prison-industrial complex; jails cost $80-100 per customer per day.

The MAIN goal of giving drugs away is to destroy the profit motive so drugs won't be marketed as hard. If there is NO profit, nobody will take the trouble to give drugs away to get new users. Sure, there will be a few new users, but without kids hanging around the local pusher because his income level makes him a glamor figure, there will be a lot fewer NEW users.

Taking all the money out of the illegal drug system makes existing addicts commit fewer crimes and, more important, DESTROYS incentives for anyone to try to get someone else hooked on drugs. Fewer people would willingly get hooked on something that would make them stand in line in a government office and go through all that hassle when they could avoid it by just saying, "no!"
February 19, 2008 5:46 PM
How does it destory incentives for new users?

In my experience, kids turn to drugs because

a) their friends at school or in the neighborhood do drugs
b) they live in a bad home where their parents do drugs
c) they get involved in crime or sexual situations where drugs are associated.

None of those things change because the gov. starts giving them away for free. It just means that they have to a different supplier. And if the gov. doesn't allow under-age kids to get them, then *presto* there's your market for illegal pushing again. Only now, you've got a LOT more regular adults pushing since they can get and hold the stuff for free from the government.
February 19, 2008 6:01 PM
You make some good points. I just think you're starting a zombie state sanctioned by the government. Isn't this a bad influence for kids, if nothing else?
February 19, 2008 6:02 PM
This article is meant to address current addicts and not the future. If that's the case, why not use Singapore's model as stated? Kill all the current users and dealers. If we do it all at once, there will be no dealer infrastucture to resume the system and no youth will get sucked in.
February 19, 2008 6:07 PM
It seems to me that the point being made is that a job not well done is not a well-done job.

The author referenced Singapore as a place which has very little drug problem because of the harshness of the punishments. Historically, the only place I can think of that has succeeded in destroying a drug culture is China around the turn of the century - and they did this by making it a capital crime to have ANYTHING to do with drugs. Users, pushers, transporters - you get found with drugs, you lose your head. The executioners would spend all day just going down the line. It did the job for most of the 20th century. But it's unlikely we'll follow that example.

There's no question that what we've been doing hasn't worked, and has cost a fortune. I'm not convinced that the solution presented here is the best idea, but it does have a certain appeal. The only other plausible solution would be legalization - but then you would have private businesses profiting from drug sales, with every incentive to increase them. That's the last thing we need. Giving it to the government as a monopoly is a proven way to make the service terrible and decrease consumption. I can't think of any other means so effective at destroying a market.

It does seem weird though... Have to think about this one. Which I guess was the point.

Would it work if you followed this plan, but had drug sales to minors still illegal, AND capital punishment for any adults that did provide the drugs to kids?
February 19, 2008 6:12 PM
The drug problem is like the speed limit problem and the capital punishment problem.

Specifically: we don't enforce any of them like we should, but then we say "they aren't working".

The problem isn't that they WOULDN'T work (as China and Singapore and others have demonstrated). It's that they we just don't enforce them.

It's funny to me that so many people say the capital punishment should be dismissed because it's "obvious that it doesn't work", but we don't really use it.

Drugs are the same way. Once we make well-defined laws and enforce them absolutely and it STILL doesn't work, I'll be the first to join your cause.
February 19, 2008 6:19 PM
You may want to consider sending your blog information to several pro-legalization groups to see how they respond. They might like this even though you say you don't want drugs to be legal. I know a few groups. Most of them only really care about users and helping them with the addiction.
February 19, 2008 6:26 PM
he makes it sound good so long as you dont think too hard.
this is where he fails. "If the government gives it away, the bureaucracy will by its very nature build enough hassle into the system that nobody will ask for drugs unless they really want them.We need the bureaucracy involved to make the process of getting drugs unpleasant enough to keep usage down."
If the government gives it away for free but makes it a pain in the ass to actually get then the drug users will PAY to get their drugs in a hassle free manner. it will not stop anything. Drug users will still use drugs and drug dealers will still profit
February 19, 2008 6:43 PM
Make it free, or cheap. An unregulated market can do it anyway. Then enforce the areas where addicts can be a danger to other people: No driving license (or a limited one), disqualification from any occupation where people could be placed at risk from their impaired judgment, that they be identified as addicts if they seek public office,and so on. Take your pick. Addiction and equal opportunity? I think not.

February 19, 2008 7:18 PM
I am an addict in recovery and have been clean for over a decade. This is a problem of personal interest to me and I agree with most of it.

Why not make the prisons the distribution centers? Sure, you can have all the dope you want--and three hots and a cot to boot--but we'll take your freedom in exchange.

There comes a point in the addict's life where all the drugs in the world won't take away the pain. Thankfully, this is the point where the addict is most receptive to a complete, radical change of thought and action that will lead to recovery.

Once the addict is ready to take this drastic step, he can be released to a wing of the prison where he can begin treatment. Heck, the door to the recovery wing can be a screen door and be effective. Entering into recovery by choice is an act of desperation. When the addict is recovered, he can leave. Or he can go back to the never-ending drug fountain.

Would there be fatalities due to overdose? Of course. However in this constantly monitored environment, there would be significantly fewer fatalities than there are now. Besides, you would be amazed how willing to change your life you become once you've survived a drug-induced flatline.
February 19, 2008 9:47 PM
There is only one answer to the "drug problem"....that'd be zero regulation at all. The supposed drug problem in this country isn't anywhere near as bad as your govt and dogooders would have you believe. The actual number of addicts is quite low. It's so friggin simple...STOP WORRYING about drugs and the morons that use them! When buying and using are no longer criminal then there will no longer be drug crimes! SO SIMPLE. When someone actually commits a crime then and only then are they criminals and should be tried and locked up if found guilty. The "drug problem" will never ever ever ever fully go away...but constantly bringing it up and fretting about it and debating it helps to perpetuate it. Once the subject can be dropped off the radar the problems that are there will drop dramatically too. Get rid a prohibition and the subject can be dropped...once again....real simple....reality based...truth!
February 21, 2008 9:48 PM
Despite the consternation that this proposal has caused in some of the readers, there's good evidence of this solution being effective, at least in certain situations.

For example, the Swiss have had some excellent results for decades with heroin maintenance programs, where the government gives it away for free. The addict must come in to a facility where there are police, health workers and counselors to get their free heroin, which they take on the premises. They've had absolutely zero overdoses, there's been a remarkable reduction in participants' involvement in crime, more are working productively, and the average age of addicts has increased (meaning both that addicts are living longer, and fewer new young people are being hooked). The U.S. doesn't even like to talk about those programs because they're more interested in demonizing the drug than reducing the harm.
February 26, 2008 3:22 PM
I the argument becomes absolutely untenable when it suggests "free" drugs. The cost of pornography on the internet and other free-to-user products mentioned in this argument are not agricultural goods. If the government gives things away, taxpayers have to cover the costs. I can feel o.k. about my tax dollars supporting families on food stamps, but I want my tax money prohibiting drug use not establishing it. If the government were to start programs giving people free recreational devices I want free laptop and a free vacation in Spain.
February 27, 2008 4:14 PM
So you still want to wag your finger in the drug users face..."shame, shame," with all the paperwork and hoops.

What about alcohol and cigarettes? You going to force that issue?

Writing off addicts? This is why modern Neo-Cons get no respect from true conservatives. There will ALWAYS be addicts. The question is, how do we reduce the harm of addiction? A functioning addict of, say, heroin or cocaine is indistinguishable from anyone else.

Show me a functional alcoholic than could make that claim.

You are small thinkers on this issue.
February 29, 2008 1:55 PM
Well, We certainly need to end the war on innocent pot users. These people are not addicts, and not criminals. Most of them are responsible, productive, and successful... The only difference is that they choose to smoke pot, to relax and enjoy their time.
I think it's pretty clear now, that Marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco. Even though the prohibitionist DEA insists otherwise.

The best solution is to flat out legalize it. We don't need to be arresting almost 1 million people each year, simply for smoking pot... Using a relatively harmless drug on their own bodies, of their own free will.
Legalization would bring with it, a decrease in crime and violence related to Marijuana... It would effectively kick the black market drug cartels out of the marijuana business, (killing most of their profits, and likely ridding the world of many of them.) And inner city gang violence could no longer be blamed on pot either.
Marijuana could also become safer, for it's users, after legalization. We can focus on harm reduction, make vaporizers cheaper and easier to get, so people wont have to get the harmful effects from smoking...
And I haven't even mentioned the Medical value of the plant, or the industrial... Both are huge casualties of this drug war. And a huge financial loss to our country. Legalization would be a huge economical boost!

Legalization is all around, the better option. For the good of society, and the individuals involved, I hope people start waking up, and we legalize Marijuana ASAP.
February 29, 2008 5:43 PM
This article started it with many good facts, but then ended in a complete failure. I would like to note that not once in this article or the comments that followed mentioned the 3 different classes of users (Addicts, Abusers, and Recreational Users), everyone was classified an addict which is unfair and part of the problem why people think the drug problem is so bad. Note that most money made from drugs is not made off of addicts but rather recreational users. Why not use a more controlled-legalization method. So legalize drugs but force people to have to register (simply and completely confidential) so that the government can identify those users that need help and those who are just using. As far as the problem with the private sector "recruiting" new users that can be simply resolved by placing limits on advertising and cost (as they have done with smoking, at least here in Canada not sure about the US), people would have to seek them out (I know they already have to, but since the prices are regulated below street cost the drug dealers and pushers will slowly fade away). Controlled legalization does not eliminate the problem but it does allow for the people that need help to get it, also through the creation of safe-shoot up sites (have them here in Canada too) you can lower the OD rates (this has been shown to work here). As far as for jobs lost due to the legalisation of these substances there really isn't much that can be done for that but through this method a whole new job market will be born.
February 29, 2008 7:36 PM
In response to anonymous above me...
Forcing users to register? With no opt out ability? -_- The government has NO PLACE protecting people against their will. Why even suggest something like that?
Part of the problem, is that people like you expect our government to act like our parents... But a government that does that, slowly takes away freedoms... And thats just wrong...

Besides, if they legalized it, there would be nothing to prevent me from growing pot myself, so registration is simply impossible to enforce... Just as impossible as prohibition...

Horrible, horrible idea...
February 29, 2008 8:25 PM
I live on the US Mexican border. I live in the US and work in Mexico. I think the author makes a very valid point. Demand for cocaine in the US has decreased because of the cheaper and more available drug crystal meth. This has caused the price of cocaine to decrease. The result has been an enormous increase in violence in Mexico where cocaine is bought from Colombia and trafficked to the USA and Canada. The profits have become so low that the cartels are fighting for increased control of territories. Just to give you an idea. 9 men armed with assault rifles in Michoacan walked into a night club and threw the decapitated heads of 7 men from the competing cartels onto the dance floor. Before there were very few cartels. But the war on drugs forced the Mexican government to jail cartel leaders, allowing smaller drug dealers to take their business and grow. As soon as the US government paid billions of dollars to the Mexican government, the cartel leaders magically escaped from prison. If you can even call it that. Some of them purchased hot tubs, had parties, and mariachi bands perform right in the prison. They were allowed to pretty much do what they wanted. Anyhow, when there were few cartels making huge profits (many owned boeing 727 airplanes) in the billions of dollars. They used this money to build schools, churches, and create jobs. They were admired by the communities they lived in and the politicians got rich from the kickbacks they received in exchange for protection. But now that there business is not very profitable, they have resorted to terrorism. The Mexican police stopped them in Reynosa on a busy street where several law abiding citizens lived only to be attacked by rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons. Now the people that protected the drug dealers and committed these heinous crimes have resorted to coming to the USA and inflicting their violence on us. Just last week a man walked into a model home in an upperclass neighborhood and shot a man in the face. He still walks the streets. Two days later there was a drive by shooting also in a nice neighborhood close to my home. Two weeks ago I was coming home from a business meeting only to find the SWAT team blocking the entrance to my home. They had informed me that a drug dealer had been fleeing them and barricaded himself in my neighborhood and ARMED. I called my wife and told her to get the kids out of bed and get them in the bathroom. I spoke to a realtor who told me that he stopped advertising his picture in fear of being kidnapped. You see, now these people involved in the drug industry are resorting to kidnapping americans and taking them to Mexico asking for ransoms. I've heard some have been killed alive by placing them in baths of battery acid. If you think your safe just because you don't live near the border, well think again. There have been reports of kidnappings as far as Austin, Tx which is 4-5 hours driving to Mexico. I have to say that there must be some legal way of controlled distribution because uncontrolled illegal distribution has only led to higher crime and more heinous crimes. Making drugs cheaper isn't the answer either as shown in the past. Poor blacks went from consumers of cocaine to the much more dangerous and cheaper crack cocaine. Mainly middle class white kids have gotten hooked on cheap crystal meth. Many of them stealing, committing suicide, and some heinous crimes. In switzerland, giving away heroine has worked well for them. At least the people are productive and not committing crimes. Cigarrette use in the US has decreased incredibly not because of the increased cost but because of education. People now realize that smoking is horrible for your health and will only kill you and make your breath stink. However, legal drugs like lipitor have seen a huge increase in consumption although there are natural alternatives available such as fiber. A friend of mine almost died from taking lipitor and was on a list for a liver transplant. Luckily he stopped taking the drug before he died. Now he eats better, takes fiber, and other natural supplements to reduce his cholesterol, which not suprisingly worked just as effectively. You see, people learn from these things and make better decisions. However, not only must we take the profits out of the drug trade and fast because legalizing it would just allow the cartels to become stronger and more mafiosos, but we must create opportunities for people like the farmers to earn a living by legal means.
March 1, 2008 11:55 AM
There is no real evidence that alcohol problems increased with legalization of alcohol. In fact, the worst alcohol abuse problems occurred during alcohol prohibition. see, for example, http://druglibrary.org/prohibitionresults.htm

Distribution of heroin and cocaine to addicts works pretty well. See, for example http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/misc/60minliv.htm

Distribution of pot by the government doesn't work at all. Canada has such a program. The US also has such a program. Both suck, in the simplest terms. The better model for marijuana is the free market, similar to beer and wine.

There is currently a free market for marijuana in California. Marijuana is de facto legal and there are hundreds of stores openly selling it. They advertise marijuana specials in the newspaper, they have regular strip mall storefronts, and some of them have neon signs in the window. By the best estimates, they do perhaps a billion dollars worth of business.

Anyone who wants marijuana in California can go to the doctor, get a recommendation (no one is refused), and shop at any of the stores.

Inside, the stores are like specialty wine stores. They may feature dozens of different varieties of marijuana, along with all sorts of candies and edibles. Their collective experience has shown that the customers are willing to pay premium prices for specialty grades. It is very similar to what you see in the specialty wine or beer stores, except it is marijuana.

There is still some question about how legal all this is, but the fact is that the stores are there, and they aren't going away. Marijuana is legal in California under a rather crazy system, but the system clearly works. Marijuana dealers pay tens of millions in taxes and they have even been responsible for the revival of some formerly blighted urban areas.
March 4, 2008 7:02 PM
BTW, the following items should be considered required reading for anyone who wishes to comment on drug policy.

The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm This is the best overall review of the subject ever written. If you haven't read it, then you simply don't know the subject.

The short history of the marijuana laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm This is funny, fascinating, and surprising. It gives you a good taste of the lunacy that underlies all the US drug laws.

Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/studies.htm If you are offering solutions to the drug problem, and you haven't read the works in this collection, then you simply haven't done your homework.

The Drug Hang-Up by Rufus King at http://druglibrary.org/special/king/dhu/dhumenu.htm Rufus King was a former president of the American Bar Association. Way back in the 1950s he put together a conference with the American Medical Association that questioned government drug policy. What happened to him as a result prompted this book.

There are many more works I could recommend, but those are the essentials for understanding the issues - and what is likely to work, and what isn't.
March 4, 2008 7:34 PM
Hmm, the term "schaffer" appears in most of those URLs. Shameless self promotions?
March 4, 2008 7:37 PM
>twibi said:
>Hmm, the term "schaffer" appears in most of
>those URLs. Shameless self promotions?

The Schaffer Library of Drug Policy is used as a basic teaching resource at hundreds of colleges and universities. It was the basis for the four-hour History Channel special "Hooked: Illegal Drugs And How They Got That Way."

I am on TV all night sometimes. Sorry, but this little place doesn't do much for me in the way of promotion by comparison.

But you obviously weren't aware of the place on the net where you can find all the most fundamental research on drug policy, so I expect that you never read any of the major government commission reports that are posted there. Would that be a correct expectation?

March 4, 2008 7:48 PM
No, I was not aware of your immense stature. Thank you for informing us little folk.

(Settle down. I was joking about self promoting. Everyone does is, and it's perfectly fine.)
March 4, 2008 8:05 PM
Mr. Schaffer, I have seen and heard you speak on TV. I was under the assumption (until you posted the links on your second comment) that someone else was just using your name. Thanks for jumping into the discussion.
March 4, 2008 8:07 PM
Mr. Schaffer is certainly well informed. I had not seen the government commission reports to which he alludes. I realize that a great many government commission reports contain very worthwhile material, but in my experience, Presidents and such appoint commissions to make issues go away, not to solve problems. At least, that is the way it has seemed to me based on the commission reports with whose circumstances I am familiar

We wrote the article from the following points of view:

a) What we as a society are doing is sufficiently brain-dead in terms of VERY BAD outcome that it is difficult for us to see why we keep doing it unless the drug dealers who're making so much money are financing the anti-drug crowd. "Follow the money" usually works.

b) Straight legalization appears to be politically impossible, for reasons obscure as noted in (a).

c) We thought that giving the drugs away under government supervision might answer some of the objections to legalization. Making the supply free would destroy the market and defund the Afghan Taliban among others, an outcome greatly to be desired. But getting anything from the government is such a hassle that we thought MAYBE this would counter the "but then all kids will use it and we'll be a nation of druggies" which we've heard so often.

Hence the article.

But before, we read all these reports, it would REALLY contribute to the discussion if Mr. Schaffer could give us his views WHY, with all the BAD things that happen as a result of the war of drugs, WHY do we keep doing it? Is that covered in one of the commission reports?
March 4, 2008 8:12 PM
>Mr. Schaffer is certainly well informed. I had not seen the
>government commission reports to which he alludes. I realize
>that a great many government commission reports contain very
>worthwhile material, but in my experience, Presidents and
>such appoint commissions to make issues go away, not to solve
>problems. At least, that is the way it has seemed to me based
>on the commission reports with whose circumstances I am familiar

I understand your point of view. However, I put these up there because these are distinctly different. President Nixon's US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse was formed for just the purposes you mentioned, and he hand-picked the commission members to make sure the results were what he wanted. However, after examining the evidence, they concluded that the real drug problem was not marijuana, or heroin, or cocaine. The real drug problem, they said, was the ignorance of our own public officials who had never bothered to read the most basic research.

In short, they concluded that the drug laws, and in particular the marijuana laws, were based on ignorance and nonsense and there should be big changes in US drug policy, including complete decriminalization of marijuana.

In a perfect illustration of their point, Nixon refused to read his own report when he heard the results.

I put them there because they have all said very consistent things over the last 100 years and they have all been consistently ignored by politicians and other policy makers.

These are definitely different reports, and they tell a story that you haven't heard before. The Consumers Union Report is the best one. That is the one book to read if you only read one.

>We wrote the article from the following points of view:

>a) What we as a society are doing is sufficiently brain-dead in
>terms of VERY BAD outcome that it is difficult for us to see
>why we keep doing it unless the drug dealers who're making so
>much money are financing the anti-drug crowd. "Follow the money"
>usually works.

I couldn't agree more. But the money in the anti-drug crowd comes from the people who build and run prisons. There is a direct correlation between one more prisoner and increased stock price of various companies. Prohibition is certainly big business.

>b) Straight legalization appears to be politically impossible,
>for reasons obscure as noted in (a).

It would seem so.

>c) We thought that giving the drugs away under government supervision
>might answer some of the objections to legalization. Making the supply
>free would destroy the market and defund the Afghan Taliban among others,
>an outcome greatly to be desired.

The answer to that is Yes and No. The Taliban part is right. Your assumptions about the objections to legalization are basically wrong. In truth, the people who are running prohibition are rather hard-headed, black-and-white people who really have trouble with the basic concept that punishing people is not the answer.

Try this little experiment with any prohibitionist of your choice. Ask them if they can understand the difference between "drugs are bad" and "Prohibition is the solution." For example, take alcohol prohibition. We all know that alcohol is bad for individuals and society. It causes all kinds of problems. But we also discovered that banning it only causes more problems than it solves. Therefore, while alcohol is clearly bad for society, banning it is not the solution.

Ask them if they can understand that this concept could apply to other things. You won't get an intelligent answer. They will just get frustrated and start ranting. It is a thing like algebra. Some people just can't go algebra. Many of the prohibitionists have a really hard time getting their heads around the idea that prohibition is not necessarily the solution.

Also, now that you know where the major research is, point it out to prohibitionists. Tell them that this is the premiere research ever done on the subject -- and it all says pretty much the same thing for the past 100 years. This is the stuff that the universities teach. Ask the prohibitionists to read it.

You won't be able to get them to read it if you put a gun to their heads. They will give you every bullshit excuse in the world. They will tell you that the studies are biased even though it is clear they don't have a clue what the reports said. It will become instantly clear that they are woefully ignorant of the subject, and that the ignorance is largely deliberate.

>But getting anything from the government is such a hassle that we
>thought MAYBE this would counter the "but then all kids will use it
>and we'll be a nation of druggies" which we've heard so often.

It wouldn't matter to the prohibitionists. You are the kin of Satan for even mentioning it.

>Hence the article.

>But before, we read all these reports, it would REALLY contribute
>to the discussion if Mr. Schaffer could give us his views WHY, with
>all the BAD things that happen as a result of the war of drugs, WHY
>do we keep doing it? Is that covered in one of the commission reports?

There are a number of reasons.

--We love emotional, hysterical crusades.

--We love to punish evil people and there just aren't enough evil ones around, so let's target people who use a few drugs that we don't like.

--Prohibition is big business.

--Prohibition feathers a lot of political nests. What better way to get votes than to pull some fool nonsense about protecting the children?

--Lots of people just aren't too good at thinking. Therefore, they are easily fooled by the latest scary headlines in the newspaper.

--There is a good deal of holdover racism in it. Racism was the original reason for most of the drug laws.

-- Talking good sense is politically costly. People who do it have traditionally been up for burning as witches. Read the example of Rufus King, for example. It hasn't been until very recently that there has been much room even for discussion of alternative policies.

-- Simple inertia. This is one of the things we learned from the experience in California. Prop. 215 (medical marijuana) was passed in 1996. If you had asked people at the time if they supported "legalization" of marijuana, they would have said NO, by a fair margin. If you asked them today, they probably still would say NO.

This is true even though there may be a marijuana store openly operating near them. However, they don't have any problem with the marijuana store near them.

They don't really support prohibition or legalization. What they support is the status quo - as long as the status quo is not bothering them. Marijuana prohibition didn't really bother them because they didn't see it. Marjuana de facto legalization doesn't really bother them because the stores don't bother them. It is just the idea of legalization that bothers them.

The other lesson of California is that the road to reform may lie through the free market. It is the free market which has emerged in California and really put this beyond the reach of law enforcement. The US Attorney for Northern California recently said that the fight against medical marijuana was "shoveling sand against the tide" and that they had better things to do.

If the Feds have lost the fight on medical marijuana in California, then they have lost the war on marijuana as a whole in California. If they have lost it in California, then California will take over from Mexico as the major supplier to the rest of the US - a market worth about $100 billion -- about the same as beer.

Stay tuned, major things are going to happen in drug policy over the next few years.
March 4, 2008 8:49 PM
The problem with prohibition of anything is that it does not work if it is not supported by the overwhelming majority of people the overwhelming majority of the time. Prohibition of alcohol was supported by the majority - obviously, or a Constitutional amendment could not have been passed. But a majority, even a supermajority, wasn't enough - it would have to have been probably 98% to work. Laws against murder work OK, but darn near everyone thinks murder should be against the law - even murderers.
Today, we have a similar situation with the war on drugs. As long as such a huge number of people don't wish to follow that law, and we are not willing to enforce it absolutely, it can't possibly work.
Morality can be legislated - but it takes almost unanimous consent, or draconian laws. Anything else will be only a failure.
March 4, 2008 9:13 PM
I suggest you read the short history of marijuana prohibition at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm

Saying that the people supported Prohibition is a kind of a tricky thing. They did, and they didn't. This is the explanation by the law professor who wrote the history of the marijuana laws, above:

My interest is in criminal prohibitions and, for my purposes, as a criminal law scholar, we could have used any prohibition -- alcohol prohibition, the prohibition against gambling that exists still in many states. How about the prohibition in England from 1840 to 1880 against the drinking of gin? Not drinking, just gin -- got it? We could have used any of these prohibitions. We didn't. We chose the marijuana prohibition because the story had never been told -- and it is an amazing story.

We could have used any of these prohibitions. We could have used the alcohol prohibition. The reason we didn't is because so much good stuff has been written about it. And are you aware of this? That every single -- you know how fashionable it is to think that scholars can never agree? -- Don't you believe that -- Every single person who has ever written seriously about the national alcohol prohibition agrees on why it collapsed. Why?

Because it violated the iron law of Prohibitions. What is the iron law of Prohibitions?

Prohibitions are always enacted by US, to govern the conduct of THEM. Do you have me? Take the alcohol prohibition. Every single person who has ever written about it agrees on why it collapsed.

Large numbers of people supported the idea of prohibition who were not themselves, opposed to drinking. Do you have me? What? The right answer to that one is Huh? Want to hear it again?

Large numbers of people supported the idea of prohibition who were not themselves, opposed to drinking. Want to see it?

Let me give you an example, 1919. You are a Republican in upstate New York. Whether you drink, or you don't, you are for the alcohol prohibition because it will close the licensed saloons in the City of New York which you view to be the corrupt patronage and power base of the Democratic Party in New York. So almost every Republican in New York was in favor of national alcohol prohibition. And, as soon as it passed, what do you think they said? "Well, what do you know? Success. Let's have a drink." That's what they thought, "let's have a drink." "Let's drink to this." A great success, you see.

Do you understand me? Huge numbers of people in this country were in favor of national alcohol prohibition who were not themselves opposed to drinking.

I just want to go back to the prohibition against the drinking of gin. How could a country prohibit just the drinking of gin, not the drinking of anything else for forty years? Answer: The rich people drank whiskey and the poor people drank what? -- gin. Do you see it?

Let's try the gambling prohibition. You know when I came to Virginia, this was a very lively issue, the gambling prohibition. By the way, I think it's a lively issue in California. Are you ready for it?

Have you ever seen the rhetoric that goes around the gambling prohibition? You know what it is. Look, we have had a good time. We have been together yesterday, we have been together today, I have known a lot of you guys for ages. How about after the talk, we have a minute or two, let's go on up to your room and we will play a little nickel, dime, quarter poker. Want to play some poker this afternoon? Why not? It's a nice thing to do.

Would we be outraged if the California State Police came barreling through the door and arrested us for violation of California's prohibition on gambling? Of course we would. Because, who is not supposed to gamble? Oh, you know who is not supposed to gamble -- them poor people, that's who. My God, they will spend the milk money. They don't know how to control it. They can't handle it. But us? We know what we are doing.

That's it. Every criminal prohibition has that same touch to it, doesn't it? It is enacted by US and it always regulates the conduct of THEM. And so, if you understand that is the name of the game, you don't have to ask me, or any of the other people which prohibitions will be abolished and which ones won't because you will always know. The iron law of prohibitions -- all of them -- is that they are passed by an identifiable US to control the conduct of an identifiable THEM.

And a prohibition is absolutely done for when it does what? Comes back and bothers US. If, at any time, in any way, that prohibition comes back and bothers us, we will get rid of it for sure, every doggone time. Look at the alcohol prohibition if you want a quick example. As long as it is only THEM --- you know, them criminals, them crazy people, them young people, them minority group members --- we are fine. But any prohibition that comes back and bothers US is done for.

March 5, 2008 12:20 AM
One more reason why we have a war on drugs and the highest prison populations in the world.

After some debate with the opponents, I have asked them flat out the following question:

Would you still support punishment of drug users even if you knew that other methods cost less of your tax dollars and produced better results?

If you ask a lot of people this they will tell you that, yes, they would indeed be willing to pay more in tax dollars and get worse results in society for the goal of just punishing these people.

I think it has a lot to do with something that has been seen in psychology experiments -- people will go out of their way to punish "cheaters". In various psychological experiments it has been demonstrated that people will do things that are quite costly to themselves for the pleasure of punishing someone else who is "cheating" at whatever game has been defined.

As divorce attorneys have explained to me, this explains why divorces are so nasty and costly.

Because these drugs have been defined as "illegal" anyone who uses them is defined as a "cheater" and therefore, someone who should be punished. The idea that the very legal alcohol drinker may be a hugely greater risk to the community never really enters into their thinking. Any breaking of the rules must be punished.
March 5, 2008 12:27 AM

I'm a "prohibitionist". It's funny... You seem to be as willing yourself to paint your opposition with broad strokes just as you claim they are.

I have read a lot of papers (including US studies, European studies, random blogs posts, even some of the material at druglibrary.org) and I don't buy the "deliberately ignorant" crap. That might be a nice way of feeling good about your position, but there are many of us that understand the economic and political impact that prohibitions have. We feel that as bad as that is, it is the better of two evils. I would extend the same argument to other matters of morality like prostitution. Of course there is a heavy negative price, particularly with the drug war, but don't assume that your opposition doesn't understand that.

Read some of the material that the Norwegians are publishing on the topic. (hint - it ain't good) And they should know. Look, especially, at the non profits that have sprung up all throughout Scandinavia to reverse laws or make them tougher.

Or take "needle park" in Switzerland. They ended that experiment in 1992 after drug users jumped from hundreds to thousands in less than 5 years. Drug related crime, prositution and health costs were sooooo bad that the government officials said it was the worst thing they'd ever seen.

Any one in the US who wants to know what happens when you legalize drugs should just look at other nations that have already done so.

I'll take their hindsight over your postulates any day of the week.
March 5, 2008 8:23 AM
It sounds like Mr. Schaffer is arguing against ALL prohibitions of ANYTHING; I must be misunderstanding the argument. Surely not all prohibitions are aimed at "someone else", except insofar as it's "someone else" breaking the law. I return to my example of murder. Most people agree that it needs to be prohibited; it doesn't apply to them, because they don't intend to commit any murders. But if they did, they would naturally expect to be hunted down.
It seems to me that the "Iron Law of Prohibitions" does not apply to prohibitions in general. Most laws prohibit things, and a good many of those are for good reason and have lasted for thousands of years.
It's more like an "Iron Law of Overweening Government", in that when the government tries to prohibit things that it has no business meddling in, then bad things will ensue - either open flouting of the law and accompanying disrespect, or draconian enforcement. This would apply not just to the war on drugs, but also to speed limits, most zoning laws and building codes, and all manner of petty tyrannies that we suffer from every day.
March 5, 2008 9:20 AM
gChang said:

>I'm a "prohibitionist". It's funny... You seem to be as willing yourself
> to paint your opposition with broad strokes just as you claim they are.

Let me assure you that I have debated enough of them to have a valid statistical sample. I have proved it so often that the prohibitionists stopped showing up for debates over ten years ago.

>I have read a lot of papers (including US studies, European studies, random
> blogs posts, even some of the material at druglibrary.org) and I don't buy
>the "deliberately ignorant" crap.

Really? What did you read in druglibrary.org? What did it say?

(For those who are watching, this is typically where the prohibitionist argument starts to show some major holes.)

>That might be a nice way of feeling good about your position, but there are
>many of us that understand the economic and political impact that prohibitions
>have. We feel that as bad as that is, it is the better of two evils. I would
>extend the same argument to other matters of morality like prostitution. Of
>course there is a heavy negative price, particularly with the drug war, but
>don't assume that your opposition doesn't understand that.

Well, you are the first prohibitionist I have met to actually say so, and I have debated literally thousands.

How did the prohibitions get started, anyway? Was there any kind of rational judgment that this was the best thing to do? What was the situation like immediately before and immediately after the laws were passed? How about alcohol prohibition? How did that work out? Cite references, please.

You said you weren't ignorant so these questions ought to be easy.

>Read some of the material that the Norwegians are publishing on the topic.
>(hint - it ain't good) And they should know. Look, especially, at the non
>profits that have sprung up all throughout Scandinavia to reverse laws or
>make them tougher.

I have had a standing offer to prohibitionists for about 15 years. If you know of any research that you think tells the story better than what I already have, then send it to me and I will post it with the rest. If you have anything to contribute, you will be the first such prohibitionist who had anything on the subject at all.

I should note that I have extended my offer to all of our Drug Czars since William Bennett. They all gave personal replies and they all indicated they had never even heard of the research I already have.

But, let me give you a hint. There is nothing that is going to come out of Norway that is going to override the complete history of government commissions since 1894, as well as all the other research.

>Or take "needle park" in Switzerland. They ended that experiment in 1992
>after drug users jumped from hundreds to thousands in less than 5 years.
>Drug related crime, prositution and health costs were sooooo bad that the
>government officials said it was the worst thing they'd ever seen.

I guess, with all your great knowledge of the subject, that you didn't hear what happened after that. The Swiss established heroin maintenance clinics and they are giving the addicts free heroin. As a result, drug-related crime has dropped about 80 percent, most of the addicts have become gainfully employed, and the police are wholeheartedly behind the clinics. In fact, the clinics are so successful that other countries, including Canada, are looking to open heroin maintenance clinics.

How is it you missed that with your great knowledge of the subject?

>Any one in the US who wants to know what happens when you legalize drugs
>should just look at other nations that have already done so.

>I'll take their hindsight over your postulates any day of the week.

Which countries would that be? You already mentioned Switzerland but it seems clear that you aren't up to date on that one. So what others do you have in mind?

Just FYI, marijuana is de facto legal in California. I am sorry to disappoint you, Chicken Little, but the sky did not fall as predicted. Things are working out just fine and it doesn't seem to be bothering anyone.
March 5, 2008 9:21 AM
>Petrarch said:
>It sounds like Mr. Schaffer is arguing against ALL prohibitions
>of ANYTHING; I must be misunderstanding the argument.

Yes, you are. Stick to what I actually said, not something you imagined.

>Surely not all prohibitions are aimed at "someone else", except
>insofar as it's "someone else" breaking the law. I return to my
>example of murder. Most people agree that it needs to be prohibited;
>it doesn't apply to them, because they don't intend to commit any
>murders. But if they did, they would naturally expect to be hunted down.

This may be the first time you have heard this but there are two kinds of laws. There are things that malum in se and things that are malum prohibitum. "Malum in se" means "bad in itself." These are crimes like murder, robbery, rape, etc. Those crimes actually cause harm to someone else.

Then there are malum prohibitum laws. These are things that are "bad" simply because they are illegal. Drugs is the best example.

Nobody that I know of has ever advocated any change in any law that would give anyone the right to harm anyone else. Except, of course, for silly prohibitionists looking to set up a straw man argument.

>It seems to me that the "Iron Law of Prohibitions" does not apply to
>prohibitions in general. Most laws prohibit things, and a good many of
>those are for good reason and have lasted for thousands of years.

Well, you didn't know the difference between the two "malums". But what was the good reason behind the drug laws? Did you read any of the history or anything else I posted? I guess not. Try reading some of the materials before you respond again. It will save a lot of time.

>It's more like an "Iron Law of Overweening Government", in that
>when the government tries to prohibit things that it has no business
>meddling in, then bad things will ensue - either open flouting of the
>law and accompanying disrespect, or draconian enforcement. This would
>apply not just to the war on drugs, but also to speed limits, most
>zoning laws and building codes, and all manner of petty tyrannies
>that we suffer from every day.

Tell you what. If you read the materials I mentioned above, you will have a much better argument all around.

March 5, 2008 9:31 AM
I said that no prohibitionist had ever been able to come up with any research that tells the story better to contribute to the library. Let me tell you one story about that.

Some years back I had the chance to debate Dr. Eric Voth at length. Dr. Voth headed up Drugwatch International and he is recognized as one of the most prominent prohibitionists in the world.

I offered Dr. Voth free space in the druglibrary so he could post anything that he thought was important to understanding the drug problem. He didn't have anything to contribute.

So I asked him if he could just name some of the works that he thought were important. Well, it took quite a while and quite a bit of haranguing, but he eventually sent me a list.

Well, the first thing I noticed is that the list wasn't really about drug policy. There was comparatively little on the list that actually talked about whether the laws are good or bad -- as opposed to whether drugs are good or bad.

Then, reading on, I found that he had mentioned the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs -- which I routinely recommend. Now, the CU Report DOES NOT support prohibition. It is perhaps the best argument against prohibition ever written.

So I wondered how in hell he could include that one on his list? I asked him about it. It quickly became clear that he had not even read the items on his own list. He had collected the titles from somewhere but apparently had never bothered to actually read any of them.

Remember, Dr. Voth is one of the most prominent prohibitionists in the world. This guy has formed organizations, spoken all over the world, etc., etc. Yet he hasn't even bothered to read the items on his own "recommended reading" list.

If you know the mindset of Dr. Eric Voth then you know the mindset of prohibitionists in general. After literally thousands of encounters with them, I can tell you that he is absolutely typical. You will get the same thing from the leaders of any prohibitionist group.
March 5, 2008 10:05 AM

I never said I had a "great knowledge of the subject" any more than I claimed to be an expert or have as much experience as you. That would foolish. Of course, you are much-better versed than I. I only claimed that I HAVE read on the subject and am not "deliberately ignorant" (nor are many others that I know).

I'm not going to get into which sites I've visited versus the ones you've visited. You have, no doubt, seen everything I've already read and have some reasonable argument against it.

I only submitted (and stand by) the fact that many prohibitionists are not ignorant of how bad prohitibtions are and understand clearly what society gives up in the process. It is perfectly reasonable to both understand and accept that consequence for a greater goal. Earlier you mentioned the "revenge mindset" where it's all about punishing cheaters. Maybe that's it, maybe not.

I also stand by the fact that many Europeans are not happy with the impact legalization has had in their respective nation.

A friend of mine, from France, has lived all over the world. His job is in technology and he's gifted with languages which has made him a VERY hot commodity. In debating this subject with him (he is for legalization as you are), he routinely states that the only, signal hesitation he has had is the blowback he has seen from Europeans who were once strongly for legalization and now aren't (or have hesitations like he does).

It gives me great caution when I see those that have done something later reject it. Being a student of history, I think it's important to learn from others mistakes.

Perhaps, like the war in Iraq, it is question of implementation rather than purpose when it comes to the war on drugs.
March 5, 2008 11:07 AM
gChang hit the nail on the head! He said:

"Perhaps, like the war in Iraq, it is question of implementation rather than purpose when it comes to the war on drugs."

We were vaguely aware of some of the blowback from the European experience with legalization. That is why we proposed that drugs be given away BY THE GOVERNMENT. If it were simply legalized, even de facto as in California, merchants would promote the product. IF we assume that drugs are bad and that they should not be encouraged, we ought not to let them be promoted as they would be under simple legalization.

We know from history that involving governmetn in anything makes it horrendous for customers. Hence a government giveaway. The giveaway would destroy the market and de-fund the bad guys, but having to go to the government for the stuff would make people not do it unless they really wanted to.

It's at least a new twist on the old legalization argument.
March 5, 2008 11:58 AM
>gChang said:

>I never said I had a "great knowledge of the subject" any
>more than I claimed to be an expert or have as much experience
>as you. That would foolish. Of course, you are much-better
>versed than I. I only claimed that I HAVE read on the subject
>and am not "deliberately ignorant" (nor are many others that I know).

Yeah, I have heard that same line before. Then, whenever I ask someone what they actually read and can remember I invariably get something like this:

>I'm not going to get into which sites I've visited versus the
>ones you've visited. You have, no doubt, seen everything I've
>already read and have some reasonable argument against it.

Yeah. "I have read a lot. I just can't remember any of it. Not even the titles. Neither could I discuss anything that might be in it." The net effect is the same.

>I only submitted (and stand by) the fact that many prohibitionists
>are not ignorant of how bad prohitibtions are and understand
>clearly what society gives up in the process. It is perfectly
>reasonable to both understand and accept that consequence for a
>greater goal.

I will give you credit for expressing this idea in a quite literate manner. Now go out and find me any other prohibitionist who could even get that far in the discussion. I have been searching twenty years and let me tell you, they are as rare as unicorns with feathers.

Now, as far as being able to find one that could 1) tell you what they read and 2) intelligently discuss the concepts of what they read or 3) get any really current facts on the subject, those prohibitionists are even rarer than unicorns with feathers.

>Earlier you mentioned the "revenge mindset" where it's all
>about punishing cheaters. Maybe that's it, maybe not.

It clearly is. I have a good statistical sample to prove it. That, and a few other things.

>I also stand by the fact that many Europeans are not happy
>with the impact legalization has had in their respective nation.

Yeah, I asked you for specifics on which countries have legalized and the results thereof. Unfortunately, that seems to be one of those things you can't quite remember.

>A friend of mine, from France, has lived all over the world.
>His job is in technology and he's gifted with languages which
>has made him a VERY hot commodity. In debating this subject
>with him (he is for legalization as you are), he routinely
>states that the only, signal hesitation he has had is the
>blowback he has seen from Europeans who were once strongly
>for legalization and now aren't (or have hesitations like he does).

I am still trying to figure out which countries over there have "legalized" anything and what they legalized. Did your friend happen to share that info with you?

>It gives me great caution when I see those that have done
>something later reject it.

Which countries are those and what are the specific issues? I don't want something you heard third-hand from a friend who probably doesn't know anything more about it than you do. Let's see some actual facts.

>Being a student of history, I think it's important to
>learn from others mistakes.

You are a student of history? Then surely you have read the history of this subject. That's what my site is all about. So tell me about the history of the drug laws in the US and how much sense they make. I would really love to hear what you know about the history of this subject.

>Perhaps, like the war in Iraq, it is question of implementation
>rather than purpose when it comes to the war on drugs.

Perhaps it is that you haven't read the history of this particular topic and have a hard time answering clear, direct questions.

You are student of history -- or so you say. So tell me the history of both the purpose and the implementation of the drug laws.
March 5, 2008 2:42 PM
>Will Offensicht said:
>gChang hit the nail on the head! He said:

>"Perhaps, like the war in Iraq, it is
>question of implementation rather than
> purpose when it comes to the war on drugs."

Perhaps it is a question of reading the basic research so you understand the problem from the beginning. Read the items I posted. They are important to understanding the real problem.

>We were vaguely aware of some of the blowback
>from the European experience with legalization.

Clue me in here. I have been studying this issue in-depth for the last twenty years. I am still unclear on what countries you guys think have legalized anything and what the response has been. Honestly, I think you either made this up, or you got it from unreliable tabloids, or worse -- government reports.

Just FYI, a few years back the government of the Netherlands issued a formal diplomatic protest because US government officials were constantly lying about what was going on over there.

So do share with me what you heard and where you think you heard it. I have a feeling we are dealing with urban legend here.

>That is why we proposed that drugs be given

As stated, with references, that works pretty well with heroin and cocaine. It doesn't work at all with marijuana.

>If it were simply legalized, even de facto as
>in California, merchants would promote the

Read the history. Go to the links I posted.

There was a time when there were no laws at all. Merchants were free to mix up anything, and make any claims about what it would cure or do for you. There was heroin in baby colic remedies and cocaine in toothache drops and soda pop. There weren't even any labeling requirements. Kids could buy the stuff as freely as they buy aspirin today.

The addiction rates were about the same as they are today, and drug-related crime was unknown. See the first several chapters of the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs.

But advertising depends on your definition of "legalization". Judge Jim Gray has proposed a system where heroin and cocaine would be sold through pharmacies. The rules would be adults only, no advertising, sold in a plain brown wrapper. Not on the counter. You have to ask for it. Every wrapper would have health and dosage information and it would have an 800 number where they could call for immediate help. Taxes would be set high enough to pay for problems and mildly discourage use but not high enough to encourage a black market.

That is the recommendation from the guy who once prosecuted the largest heroin case on record. He made that recommendation after I spent a few years talking to him and he read all the things I recommended.

>IF we assume that drugs are bad and that they
>should not be encouraged, we ought not to let
>them be promoted as they would be under
>simple legalization.

Well, your assumption that drugs are bad needs some fundamental adjustment. Let me give you a couple of good examples why.

A few years back there was suddenly a huge spike in alcohol consumption. That's bad, you say. No, it wasn't. You have to look at the reasons behind it. What happened was that 60 Minutes put on a segment about the benefits of red wine for the heart. Sales of red wine jumped dramatically. Even though alcohol is generally bad, people were smart enough to use in a healthful manner.

Another example is from the recent research on medical marijuana users. Let's go back to something really basic - why do people use drugs in the first place?

As it turns out, there are numerous common elements in the life histories of people who abuse drugs. For women addicts there is a hugely high incidence of sexual abuse as children. For men, there is a high incidence of absent natural fathers during early childhood. In short, a fair amount of early trauma in life. They also tend to have a lot of diagnoses of things like ADD, and other anxiety-related disorders.

What they are doing, in large part, is self-medicating anxiety disorders. They take heroin because they have some psychological pain that they really want to make go away. They are doing the same thing that other people would do when they go to the doctor and get a Valium.

Properly medicated, most of the people can live perfectly normal lives, even though they still maintain their addiction.

Marijuana, in particular is turning to be a very "good" drug in this regard. The research is showing that a lot of people who were formerly addicted to heroin, alcohol, cocaine, or something similar, have been able to give up that addiction because they got the medication they needed through marijuana. If someone is going to take an anxiety medication then marijuana is certainly as safe and effective as any other medication. There are even plans in the works to distribute marijuana to homeless alcoholics to see if it improves their condition.

So this "drugs are bad" thing needs to be reworked. There is nothing wrong with someone enjoying a beer while watching the football game or a glass of wine with dinner. In fact, that could be a pretty good thing because it helps the person relax and lower their stress level.

There is something wrong with being an alcoholic.

The same principle applies with every other intoxicating chemical -- most of which are far less dangerous than alcohol by huge orders of magnitude.

>We know from history that involving
>governmetn in anything makes it horrendous
>for customers. Hence a government giveaway.
>The giveaway would destroy the market and
>de-fund the bad guys, but having to go to the
>government for the stuff would make people
> not do it unless they really wanted to.

>It's at least a new twist on the old
>legalization argument.

One of the key things we want to do is make it boring. Drug abuse is actually a pretty boring way to live.

Your idea is similar to something that Judge James P. Gray proposes in his book "How Our Drug Laws Have Failed".

It works for heroin and cocaine. It doesn't work for marijuana because people really enjoy the flavors of different varieties of marijuana and are willing to pay a premium for special flavors. That adds up to a free market, even if the government tries to distribute marijuana.

Again -- read the materials I have posted above. They will really open your eyes about the topic. For most people, most of what they think they know about the subject is just flat wrong.
March 5, 2008 3:14 PM
This discussion clearly illustrates two salient points.

First, the facts alone don't appear to make much headway. Mr. Schaffer has a far greater command of the research and data than I ever shall; in a sense, he has made it his life's work. He has been able to convince federal judges of the validity of his position, as illustrated above. And yet, nothing changes. Why is that?

Doubtless, there are many reasons contributing, but as Mr. Schaffer points out, the "drugs are bad" belief is a key issue. History records that religious motivations were a very powerful force in the Prohibition movement; the Anti-Temperance Leagues were, in large part, driven by religious folks who were opposed to alcohol completely. In the legal terms he used above, many of those preachers and devout worshippers honestly considered alcohol to be "malum in se" - bad in itself. I don't have a study before me saying so, but knowing a good many religious folks, I suspect that the same may well be true of drugs.

The problem is that the distinction between "malum in se" and "malum prohibitum", though it sounds very definitive, is really an artifact of society and its beliefs. We would all agree that murder is "malum in se" - that is, wrong in itself. However, a fundamentalist Muslim would strongly disagree, or would hold to so many caveats and exceptions as to be the same in effect. Similarly, smoking would seem to be an obvious example of "malum prohibitum", that is, something which is wrong only because someone says it is - but many of the recent draconian anti-smoking laws have been justified on the harm done to non-smokers by secondhand smoke, which would put it into the category of "malum in se" since it harms somebody else. Is this valid? Personally, I don't think so - but a lot of people do. Which is right? How can we know? In a democracy, there's only one way to find out - at the voting polls.

Which brings me to my second point. A major reason that the war on drugs - and many other government programs as well - are such total, yet unending, failures, is because we have foolishly ignored the advice of the Founders regarding federalism. There is no logical reason why drug policy, or abortion policy, or smoking policy, or a whole host of other issues need be decided at the national level. It is far more appropriate for each state to deal with it.

Anti-smoking zealotry has not caused anything like the rage of other issues, in part because different jurisdictions are permitted to reflect different local feelings. Some places allow smoking in restaurants and bars; others don't. Some are attempting to ban smoking in private cars; others allow it in most places. And this is as it should be.

If we followed the same philosophy with drugs, many of these issues would go away. California would no doubt be practically "anything goes." A more conservative place, say Alabama, might have the death penalty for anything to do with drugs. I wouldn't venture to guess what the results in each place would be, but at the very worst, we would have fifty different laboratories to see what worked and what didn't right in front of our faces. And if you didn't like what was happening where you lived, well, Americans are not shy about moving to a different state.

Rather than trying to persuade our national leaders that **THIS** is what we should do, I believe there's a good deal greater chance of success to simply try to persuade that the war on drugs is a failure (which is practically a truism, does anyone really think otherwise?) Thus, the feds should butt out and let the states have a go. Our Founders would approve, and we'd all be better off.
March 5, 2008 9:00 PM
Very well said, Petrarch. That is more or less what I meant when I said the debate really is more about implementation than purpose. There are bigger issues that need to be addressed and the issue of federalism, as you pointed out, is not a small thing. It really sets up the issue to succeed or fail early on. The problem with the Democrats is that they KNOW states like Alabama would hang anyone who did drugs and they can't live with that. They HAVE to control everyone, everwhere all the time. This particurlarly rings true with abortion. 30 of the 50 states would abolish that immediately if they could (like SD tried) but the fear of federal reprisal stimies every action.
March 6, 2008 8:53 AM
>gChang said:
>Very well said, Petrarch. That is more or
> less what I meant when I said the debate
> really is more about implementation than
> purpose.

Then why is it that you can't seem to discuss either the implementation or the purpose?

You said you were a studenty of history. So tell me the history of this implementation and purpose. If you can't do that then you are just passing gas.

>There are bigger issues that need to be
>addressed and the issue of federalism, as you
>pointed out, is not a small thing. It really
>sets up the issue to succeed or fail early on.

Well, guess what. If you really were a student of history you would know that federalism lies at the heart of this whole history. You see, when the drug laws were first passed, everyone recognized at the time that the Feds had no constitutional power to prohibit drugs. That power was reserved to the states.

So how did they manage to prohibit drugs even though everyone recognized it would be unconstitutional? The answer to that is contained in the links I provided that you apparently never read.

> The problem with the Democrats is that they
>KNOW states like Alabama would hang anyone
>who did drugs and they can't live with that.
>They HAVE to control everyone, everwhere all
>the time.

OK, if you are a student of history then you fell asleep in class and failed. It is apparent that you haven't read any of this history.

> This particurlarly rings true with abortion.
>30 of the 50 states would abolish that
>immediately if they could (like SD tried) but
>the fear of federal reprisal stimies every action.

Maybe you got confused and thought you were in another place on the web. That is irrelevant to this topic.

Now go read some of the materials I linked so you actually understand the history. You said you like history. Here is the best short history ever written on the subject - http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm
March 6, 2008 9:22 AM
>Petrarch said:

>First, the facts alone don't appear to make much headway.

Actually, the facts do make a lot of headway. My library is used as a basic teaching resource at schools and colleges around the world. So I hear every day about the headway it makes. Compared to when I started this venture the general level of public knowledge is hugely improved. I guess you don't remember what it was like circa 1990.

But, it is as I pointed out -- the prohibitionists (actually a far small portion of the public as a whole) 1) don't know anything and 2) don't want to know anything.

They can't answer basic factual questions, even about things they said themselves. When they are directed to where they can read the history (after they have claimed that they are "students of history") they flatly refuse.

You realize it is even more ridiculous when you actually read some of that history and realize that it is an incredibly interesting -- and often funny -- history.

It is, as I said, deliberate ignorance and you can see it every time it is discussed in any online forums.
March 6, 2008 9:31 AM
Demosthenes, when I first read this article, it reminded me of something William F. Buckley had said in National Review a long time ago. He was not directly supporting legalization, or at least he seemed reluctant, but he did understand that SOMETHING had to be done. He chided Republicans for not moving forward sooner. I searched high and low and finally found it: http://www.nationalreview.com/buckley/buckley200406291207.asp
I wonder what he would think of your idea to give it away for free. I don't think I agree completely with you or Buckley, but you both make good points.
March 6, 2008 10:08 AM
I think it is fair to say that Buckley was not generally in favor of any government give-away, but he recognized the overwhelming practicality of the idea for drugs like heroin and cocaine.

It is hard to argue with the results of the Swiss heroin clinics:
-- drug-related crime down 80%,
-- most addicts gainfully employed and paying taxes,
-- overdose deaths dropped to zero,
-- health of addicts greatly improved,
-- number of new addicts has dropped significantly (because the old addicts are no longer recruiting new customers to support their habit),
-- local police hugely in favor of it
-- results so good that they are now considering similar clinics in Canada

In short, this is an idea we will see in the US shortly.

But he might say: Better yet, let the free market handle it.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a time when all these drugs were sold without any restrictions at all. No labeling requirements. No restrictions on contents. No restrictions on advertising. No restrictions on age. No restrictions on where these drugs could be included. No restrictions at all.

Drug makers sold stuff that was fifty percent morphine by volume. They didn't even have morphine listed on the label. They advertised that it would cure whatever ails you or your mule. They said it was recommended by doctors and would improve your health and make you live longer.

It was included in soda pop. Kids could buy it.

When doctors wrote prescriptions for morphine, they often wrote it as "G.O.M." - "God's Own Medicine".

Even under those unlimited conditions, addiction was not a major problem. Rates of addiction were about the same as they are today. The only thing that was different was 1) who the addicts were and 2) the fact that they didn't commit crimes then and were generally productive members of society, just like anyone else.

As for who the addicts were -- at that time, the most typical addict was a law-abiding rural living middle-aged white female. In other words, farmer's wives. Currently, the most typical addict is an urban, young minority male.

But Buckley also proves that it wouldn't work for marijuana. He reported that he tried marijuana once -- on a yacht more than three miles out at sea so he could say that he didn't violate US law. That is what you call the free market for marijuana -- currently working just fine in California.
March 6, 2008 10:47 AM
Well, I just realized that I haven't told you why we don't have these programs right now. We had them at one time, but we don't have them now.

Actually, prior to 1925, we had a program where addicts could go to the doctor and get a prescription for heroin. The cost of heroin is pretty cheap under those circumstances so there wasn't any real need for a government give-away. The addicts were gainfully employed so they paid for it themselves.

So, listen up "students of history", I will tell you the tale of how heroin maintenance programs were firmly stomped out in America.

As I said, before 1906, there were no laws at all on drugs. Oddly enough, addiction rates weren't any different than they are today.

But this wasn't an ideal situation by any means so in 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act. It gave the FDA power to enforce food and medicine purity rules, and it required labeling. For the first time, people knew what they were taking.

It should be noted that it was not a criminal law. It simply required purity and labeling. As a result of the labeling, people knew what they were taking, and addiction rates dropped steadily until 1914.

In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed. On its surface it was a simple tax and regulatory act. It is doubtful that most members of Congress realized it would be later interpreted as a complete prohibition.

However, the people who passed it intended to use it to get around the constitutional limits on Federal Government power. They did so by levying a tax on narcotics, but then making the tax so high that no one would pay it. Then, when they arrested people for drugs, they didn't arrest them for drugs. They arrested them for a "tax violation".

The Harrison Act included a clause that allowed doctors to prescribe narcotics in the normal course of medical practice, provided they got a Federal license and paid a simple tax of one dollar. It all sounds so easy, doesn't it?

But then, after the law was passed, the Feds quickly wanted to show that they were the ones who defined "normal course of medical practice". They prosecuted a few doctors, winning some easy cases of doctors who were doing nothing but selling narcotics.

Then they prosecuted Dr. Linder. Dr. Linder was giving addicts prescription for narcotics solely for the purpose of maintaining their addiction -- just like the Swiss clinics do now.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1925. The SC ruled 9-0 that the Federal "tax" agents had no business interfering in the doctor-patient relationship, even if the doctor was providing a heroin maintenance program for addicts. Sitting between the doctor and the patient was just not the place for Federal Government officials, or tax agents.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics lost 9-0.

In response, the FBN completely ignored the ruling and indicted thousands of doctors across the nation for prescribing narcotics. They sent them false information about what the rulings had said and threatened them with both loss of their Federal narcotics license (which would effectively put them out of business) and jail.

They never brought a single case to trial -- because they knew they would lose every one -- but the indictments alone were enough to change the practice of medicine forever.

Ever since, the prescription of narcotics has been dominated by cops who know little or nothing of medicine, and care even less. They simply get lists of who prescribes the most narcotics, without real regard to the type of practice, and that doctor becomes the most obvious target. The doctor can be put out of business just by pulling their Federal license. As a result, pain medication is so restricted that two-thirds of TERMINAL cancer patients do not get adequate pain medication.

So, for "purpose" mentioned earlier -- the purpose was to establish absolute Federal control over personal medical care. It hugely increased the reach of the Federal Government into personal matters -- and that was what it was intended to do by the people who did it.

For the "implementation" -- it has been a rude violation of constitutional principles, law, and just plain common decency since its inception.

And that is only a tiny part of the story. The history of these laws is full of things like that.

March 6, 2008 11:13 AM
For "students of history" here is one of my favorite quotes from the history of the drug laws.


An editorial in the Illinois Medical Journal for June 1926, after eleven years of federal law enforcement, concluded:

The Harrison Narcotic law should never have been placed upon the Statute books of the United States. It is to be granted that the well-meaning blunderers who put it there had in mind only the idea of making it impossible for addicts to secure their supply of "dope" and to prevent unprincipled people from making fortunes, and fattening upon the infirmities of their fellow men.

As is the case with most prohibitive laws, however, this one fell far short of the mark. So far, in fact, that instead of stopping the traffic, those who deal in dope now make double their money from the poor unfortunates upon whom they prey. . . .

The doctor who needs narcotics used in reason to cure and allay human misery finds himself in a pit of trouble. The lawbreaker is in clover. . . . It is costing the United States more to support bootleggers of both narcotics and alcoholics than there is good coming from the farcical laws now on the statute books.

As to the Harrison Narcotic law, it is as with prohibition [of alcohol] legislation. People are beginning to ask, "Who did that, anyway?" 14

You can find this quote, as well as a longer explanation of the passage of the Harrison Act at http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cu8.html
March 6, 2008 11:22 AM
I got a million interesting stories from history that illustrate the nonsense and outright corruption behind these laws.

How about this one?

How did the idea that marijuana leads to heroin get started? That is another fascinating tale, and one that you have never heard. It is another tale of government officials deliberately lying about drugs to feather their own nests.

If you check the DEA's own web site you will find that they lie so often that they often can't remember what they said and contradict themselves from one page to the next. Lying about drugs has been official - and openly stated -- policy for government officials since at least 1925.

But now the story of how we got the idea that marijuana leads to heroin:


In 1910, they believed that the certain steppingstone to opiate addiction was snacking between meals and "eating Mexicanized food". The fundamental idea comes from America's puritanical history. It is the idea that pleasure is sinful, and small pleasures lead to cravings for larger pleasures. In this example, those who crave spicy food will inevitably crave larger pleasures, such as opium.

In the 1920s, some states outlawed marijuana because of the belief that heroin addiction would lead to the use of marijuana - just the opposite of the modern myth.

Cannabis had been widely known and used in many medicinal compounds for hundreds of years, so there was ample evidence in the 1930s to know whether there was a connection between marijuana and harder drugs.

In 1937, Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, testified before Congress that there was no connection at all between marijuana and heroin. In the testimony for the Marihuana Tax Act he said:

ANSLINGER: This drug is not being used by those who have been using heroin and morphine. It is being used by a different class, by a mostly younger group of people. The age of the morphine and heroin addict is increasing all the time, whereas the marihuana smoker is quite young.

MR. DINGELL: I am just wondering whether the marihuana addict graduates into a heroin, an opium, or a cocaine user.

MR. ANSLINGER: No, sir; I have not heard of a case of that kind. I think it is an entirely different class. The marihuana addict does not go in that direction.

MR. DINGELL: And the hardened narcotic user does not fall back on marihuana.

MR. ANSLINGER: No, sir: he would not touch that.

The reason marijuana had to be outlawed, he said, was because it caused insanity, criminality, and death. One example he gave was of two young lovers who became so crazed after smoking a joint that they eloped and got married. Marijuana causes people to become so crazy that they get married. The other reasons he gave were no more sensible. The hemp industry representatives who testified were uniformly surprised and mystified to hear that a dangerous drug could be made from this widespread and common crop. The American Medical Association testified that they knew of no evidence that marijuana was a dangerous drug. (2,3,4)

The US Government encouraged farmers to grow hemp during World War II, because it was vital to the country's war effort. There were no claims at the time that marijuana would lead to harder drugs.(2,3,10)

In 1944, the La Guardia Committee Report on Marihuana confirmed Mr. Anslinger's statement -- there was no connection at all between marijuana and heroin.(6)

In 1951, the story changed. Harry Anslinger was testifying for the Boggs Act about why he needed more money and men to enforce the marijuana laws. Just before he testified, the head of the Federal addiction research program testified that they knew for certain that all of the reasons that had been given for outlawing marijuana in 1937 were entirely bogus. They knew for certain that marijuana did not cause insanity, criminality and death. Anslinger was left with no reason for tougher laws so he made up -- on the spot, with not a shred of evidence -- the assertion that marijuana is the certain stepping stone to heroin addiction. He directly contradicted his own testimony from 1937. It has been the basis of US marijuana policy ever since. (2,3)

Since that time, the Federal drug enforcement officials have tried to support this myth with the idea that most heroin addicts started with marijuana, and statistics which seem to show that marijuana users are more likely to have used cocaine. The first assertion would get a failing grade in any freshman Logic class. The second can be explained by the fact that people who engage in one risk-taking behavior are likely to engage in other risk-taking behaviors. It, too, would earn a failing grade in freshman Logic.

In 1970, the Canadian Government did their largest study ever of the subject, and found no connection between marijuana and heroin.

In 1972, the US Government did their largest study ever of the subject, and found no connection between marijuana and heroin. This was also the conclusion of the largest study ever done by Consumers Union, published the same year.

Every major study of the marijuana laws in the last 100 years has concluded that the only connection between marijuana and heroin is that they are both prohibited and, therefore, sold in the same black market.

The most recent study of the subject was the report of the US Institute of Medicine on medical marijuana. They reported:

Instead it is the legal status of marijuana that makes it a gateway drug.

In other words, the people who support prohibition are using the bad effects of prohibition as justification for prohibition. The conclusion of all the research is that we have a "gateway drug policy". It is the laws that create the problem.


References are available, including the full transcripts of the hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act, for anyone who is interested in reading more.
March 6, 2008 12:41 PM
Actually, I WOULD like the references for that last one. Not because I don't believe you; I would like to read the full account and, possibly, site that in other places. Lots of the history you are bringing up is pretty comical. These are great stories. I guess that is natural considering the subject matter.
March 6, 2008 1:03 PM
You can find all the references at the bottom of this page:


You can read another account of the tale in the short history of the marijuana laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm
March 6, 2008 1:08 PM
If you like great stories, how about the tale of how marijuana got its terrible reputation?

Cannabis had been used as a common medicine across the US since the colonial days. Indeed, the early colonial laws REQUIRED farmers to grow hemp. It was the primary crop at Mount Vernon and a secondary crop at Monticello.

The first law against marijuana was a 1905 El Paso law that was clearly targeted against Mexican immigrants. This is a common pattern throughout the early history of the drug laws. For example, the first Federal opium law in 1888 outlawed trading in opium by Chinese but not by whites. The very first law against opium was a 1876 San Francisco law that outlawed opium dens. Opium was still available freely in stores with no restrictions. They just outlawed the Chinese custom of smoking it in opium dens. At the same time, they outlawed the wearing of hair in pigtails, as the Chinese did, along with a number of other Chinese customs.

The early laws against marijuana were supported by press stories about awful atrocities committed by people under its influence -- most usually minorities. The stories sold newspapers, allowed politicians to grandstand, and allowed law enforcement to cluck about how they needed more money and power.

The public didn't know anything about this drug -- by that name -- so there wasn't much opposition to the marijuana laws. Indeed, they deliberately tried to suppress opposition. The AMA wasn't notified that the Marihuana Tax Act was up for consideration until three days before the hearings.

Then came the grandest Reefer Madness of all, when Harry Anslinger took over the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Anslinger wanted to outlaw marijuana for the sake of the power it would bring him, so he started his own campaign against it.

He later told a historian that he knew the marijuana laws would be hopelessly unenforceable. He knew because he walked out on a bridge over the Potomac one day and saw before him a field of cannabis that stretched as far as the eye could see. (It still grows wild in plots around the country). He said he knew then that the marijuana laws could never be enforced with his meager million-dollar budget.

So he reasoned that the only solution was the Big Lie. Tell lies so stupendous and scary that no one would even dream of touching the stuff. That produced the film "Reefer Madness" among others. For decades, the FBN made it a dedicated task to monitor what films and other media said about drugs in order to tell the story the FBN wanted them to hear.

The capper came with Dr. James C. Munch. Only two doctors testified at the hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937.

One was the representative of the AMA. He said that marijuana was not a dangerous drug and there was no reason for the law. The committee told him that, if he wasn't going to cooperate, he should shut up and go home.

The only other doctor to testify was Dr. James C. Munch of Temple University. Dr. Munch's sole claim to fame was that he had injected some extract of cannabis directly into the brains of 300 dogs and two of them died. When they asked him what he concluded from this experiment, he said he didn't know.

But Dr. Munch was the only doctor in America who thought that marijuana should be illegal so he was chosen as the US Official Expert on marijuana.

Shortly thereafter, there were a few sharp lawyers for murder defendants who noticed what had been said about marijuana causing insanity. Therefore, they created the "marijuana insanity defense."

In one case, the defendant got up on the stand and testified that she had smoked a marijuana cigarette prior to the crime. Then they asked her what happened. She responded that her incisors grew six inches long and dripped with blood.

Now, in order for the insanity defense to stand, you need a doctor -- an expert -- to testify that this could really happen. Who was the expert for the defense? -- Dr. James C. Munch -- the guy with the dogs.

Dr. Munch got on the stand and testified that, yes, six-inch long incisors are a common effect of marijuana. He went on to say that he tried it himself and it turned him into a bat.

This was followed by news headlines that said "Killer Drug Turns Doctor Into Bat". (The killer drug being an extract of the same cannabis that was growing everywhere.)

Well, there were a few murder trials like this, all with sensational and ridiculous headlines -- and all with an obviously guilty defendant who walked out free after telling a story about smoking marijuana. It became clear that, if things continued the way they were, then Dr. Munch would get quite wealthy setting admitted murderers free.

Anslinger decided that wasn't a good thing so he called Dr. Munch in and told him that if it ever happened again he would lose his job as Official Expert. No other doctor would testify about the marijuana insanity defense, so that was the end of that, but marijuana got quite a reputation in the public mind before it was over.

I tell ya folks, I got a million of them.
March 6, 2008 1:32 PM
I forgot to mention. Dr. Munch reigned as US Official Expert on marijuana from 1938 to 1962.

Just to give you an idea of the kind of government officials who have been running this since Day One. The best that can be said for the current officials is that they seem to be less floridly delusional than Dr. Munch.
March 6, 2008 1:42 PM
Anyone want to hear the tale of how glue sniffing got started?

Think about it. Glue is such a terrible "drug" that it isn't even fair to call it a "drug". Most people don't sniff glue (or paint or anything else) just because it is such a boring, dumb idea.

So where on earth did kids get the idea that they ought to sniff glue for fun? I mean, really. Where the hell did that stupid idea come from?

That is another tale of the complete idiocy behind our approach to drugs. It is called taking dead aim and shooting yourself in the foot.

Anyone want to hear that one?
March 6, 2008 1:50 PM
Another interesting fact. The guy who is known as the Father of American drug laws is Dr. Hamilton Wright. He was famous even before he took up the cause of drug prohibition.

What did Dr. Wright do that made him so famous?


He "proved" that beriberi is a communicable disease.

Beriberi is actually a vitamin deficiency. So much for his medical credentials.

Then, there was the good Dr. Townsend, also an early crusader. He claimed that he could cure any addict in five days and he had the research to prove it. He would take addicts, lock them in a hotel room for five days, yell at them, and feed them large amounts of laxatives and things that would make them violently puke. No addicts ever came back for a second treatment which, he reasoned, proved that his method was 100 percent successful. He was widely lauded as a renowned expert.

These are the people who wrote these laws. These are the great medical minds that created this plan.

What was that stuff about "purpose" and "implementation"?

March 6, 2008 3:58 PM
Some facts to put the discussion in perspective:

Number of people killed by drugs in the US in a typical year.

Tobacco - about 400,000
Alcohol - about 100,000
Prescription drugs - about 100,000
All the illegal drugs combined - about 10,000
Heroin -- about 3,000
Cocaine -- about 3,000
Aspirin, Tylenol, and similar over-the counter NSAIDS -- about 3,000
Plain drinking water overdoses (overdoses, not drowning) -- A few dozen
Marijuana - No recorded deaths in US history.

According to which Federal Government authority you want to believe, the lethal dose of marijuana is either one-third your body weight, or 1,500 pounds, consumed in fifteen minutes. The lethal dose of water is lower than that.

Now, of course, some of you are saying that the huge disparity in the number of deaths is because the illegal drugs are illegal and, therefore, not used as much. No, that's wrong.

This is the way the numbers have always been, regardless of what the laws were. The fact is that alcohol and tobacco actually have higher death rates per user than almost any of the illegal drugs.

It should also be noted that the majority of the deaths from heroin are not really deaths from heroin. They are deaths from factors related to the fact that heroin is illegal. For example, dirty needles, impure drugs, etc. In programs, like the Swiss program, where heroin is given under medical care, the huge majority of those problems don't exist.

Then some of you will say, there are other effects on society, too, so we can't just look at the fact that alcohol and tobacco kill 50 times more people than all the illegal drugs combined. What about crimes, deaths on the road, abuse of families, etc.?

I am glad you asked. Alcohol accounts for half of all deaths from homicide, auto accidents, fires, and drownings. It accounts for half of all domestic abuse problems. It is also associated with two-thirds of all sexual assaults on children. According to the US Department of Justice, alcohol is the only drug with any real connection to drug-induced violent crime. (See http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/govpubs/psycviol.htm )

As for tobacco, it ultimately kills about one-third of its users. It is as addictive as any drug on the market, legal or illegal. It is so addictive, in fact, that heroin recovery programs typically don't even try to get people to stop smoking tobacco.

So you tell me. With that set of facts, tell me what this drug war is really all about. If you thought it really had anything to do with public health and safety, then I have a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge for you.
March 6, 2008 7:18 PM
How do we know that people can live healthy, productive, and comfortable lives even while taking narcotics on a daily basis?

Because we already have millions of people doing it. They are called chronic pain patients and there are lots of them that take large doses of morphine every day.

But morphine is not heroin, you say. So what is the difference? Why is morphine used routinely in medicine while heroin is completely illegal?

Heroin is diacetyl morphine. It is just another form of ordinary hospital morphine. The only significant difference between heroin and ordinary morphine is that heroin is three times stronger by weight. That is, one grain of heroin equals three grains of morphine. Otherwise, they are medically interchangeable. They are both even converted to the same form of morphine inside the body, so there is no practical difference except the dosage.

As you may know, morphine is used all the time. So why is heroin illegal?

It all goes back to 1924. You see, after they passed that Harrison Act there was something of a medical, criminal, and social disaster -- as shown by the quote I posted previously from a medical journal. It was only one of many such articles on the new drug disaster at the time.

That was the middle of alcohol prohibition so no one in Congress was in a mood to listen to good sense. If tough, stupid penalties don't work then the answer must be more laws. It is the same thing you see today in response to meth. They don't have a clue what to do so they figure they just have to get tougher. So they banned heroin completely, without even realizing what it really was.

BTW, this is a common thread throughout the entire history of the drug laws. For example, if you read the conferences surrounding the Marihuana Tax Act and the congressional hearings you will find that the most common recurring question is: What is this stuff?

At every stage of the game, it is clear that government officials wanted to push a Big Government agenda and the lawmakers had no clue what was going on.

After heroin was outlawed it completely took over the top position as the most desired narcotic by opiate addicts. Then it became a real problem.
March 6, 2008 7:29 PM
Famous heroin addicts, part one:


Senator Joseph McCarthy of anti-communist fame. He was a full-blown heroin addict during most of his political career. Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, confronted him about it. McCarthy refused to quit and dared Anslinger to expose him, saying that exposing McCarthy would help the communists take over America.

Anslinger thought that it was better to get McCarthy his heroin rather than let him fall under the spell of evil communist drug dealers, so he arranged for McCarthy to get morphine from a Washington pharmacy.

Rule Number One about the drug laws: They really only apply to people we don't like. If we like them, we will find a way to give them a pass.
March 6, 2008 8:24 PM
Famous heroin addicts - part two:


Dr. William Stewart Halsted - the "father of modern surgery". He invented most of the basic techniques of modern surgery during a period of 40 years when he was addicted to opiates. Of course, he was able to get them freely through his medical practice so he was properly maintained and had a hugely successful career.
March 6, 2008 8:48 PM
Is there anyone out there who still thinks the drug laws were anything but absolute lunacy from Day One?

Does anyone still have any illusions that this is all "for the children" or something?

Does anyone still think this was a noble, heroic, well-intended effort that just somehow went terribly wrong?

Does anyone still think this was a good "purpose" but a bad "implementation"?

If so, speak up, because I have lots more.
March 6, 2008 9:10 PM
I doubt if you'll find many folks who think the war on drugs is anything of a success. And with the history of our government regulation being what it is, it should come as no surprise to regular Scragged readers that the origin of the laws are surrounded in lies and power-grabbing. Similarly, it seems quite likely that the leaders of the efforts were in search of nothing so much as more power; "the children", if even they mattered at all, were nothing more than means to an end.

That said, there are a good many people who do honestly believe that drugs are wrong in and of themselves. Many of them also believe that alcohol is equally wrong; at least you'd find that consistent, I expect.

Speaking for myself personally, I believe that drugs and alcohol are indeed wrong, BUT that the government regulations of them have been wrongheaded and counterproductive for many years, and quite likely from the very beginning. Regardless of whether "in a perfect world" it should be theoretically feasible to have rules controlling them, it is clearly apparent that our world is not and never will be that one. Therefore, the default position should be the maximum freedom, and responsibility, for the individual, and for government interference (democratically decided upon) to be at the lowest possible level of government, so as to allow for proper accountability for the inevitable failures.

I have not personally visited Russia, but my understanding is that pretty much any drug is freely available over-the-counter at pharmacies with no prescription - just as once was the case in the US. If you buy something nasty and kill yourself, well, on your own head be it. Do your research before you buy, or as once was a common phrase here, "caveat emptor."

The trouble with that is that, as a society, you have to expect that a certain number of people will abuse what's available and destroy themselves. For whatever reason, American society seems to feel strongly that "the government" should protect citizens, not only from misfortune, but indeed from the consequences of their own stupid actions. We see this every day, most notably right now in the idiotic suggestions that the government should bail people out of mortgages that they can't afford - even though the mortgage terms have been explicitly spelled out all along. If the people are too stupid or lazy to read and understand them, why is that the government's concern, as long as fraud is not taking place?

Until there is a mindset change in the hearts of Americans - that is, recognizing that freedom inherently implies the freedom to make dumb decisions, and liberty includes the responsibility to accept the consequences for your own actions, there will never be much of a change for the better - in this, as in so many other areas.
March 6, 2008 9:23 PM
I think a great deal of the existing beliefs of the general public have to do with the fact that the drug warriors have been deliberately propagandizing to drill in the idea that they are heroes on some noble purpose. You do get people -- as you see here -- who thought the intent was good, but it just went wrong.

We need to disabuse people of that notion. The idea was wrong, for lots of good American reasons. The purpose was wrong. The implementation was wrong, and the results are horrible. As a policy, it can't be salvaged.

As far as freedom goes, I have found that most Americans don't really care. The idea doesn't mean anything to them, even as the freedoms are taken away. A fair number even think the loss of freedoms is a good thing.

One more item from history -- Why was the Drug Enforcement Agency formed?

The real purpose, in a nutshell, was as a special executive police force answerable directly to Richard M. Nixon that could be used against his political enemies. As recorded on the Nixon tapes, the purpose was to target the blacks without looking like they were targeting the blacks. It was intended to be Nixon's secret police.

Anyone who wants more information can find an excellent history of the subject at http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/aof/index.html
March 7, 2008 9:47 AM
I have really enjoyed Clifford Schaffer's comments. I hope he will find
and comment on it.
March 19, 2008 8:31 PM
The NY Sun has another reason to end the war on drugs - it promotes inter-racial "difficulties."

August 22, 2008 10:59 AM
A reader sent us this:


Like a lot of folks in this state, I have a job. I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit. In order to get that paycheck, I am required to pass a random urine test with which I have no problem.

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Please understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sitting on their ASS, doing drugs, while I work. . . .

Can you imagine how much money the state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance check?

Pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don't.

Hope you all will pass it along, though . . . Something has to change in this country -- and soon !!!!!

Guess we could title that program, 'Urine or You're Out'.
January 31, 2009 6:32 PM
Border Proves No Obstacle for Mexican Cartels
Despite enforcement on both sides of the Southwest border, the Mexican marijuana trade is more robust than
ever, law enforcement officials say.
February 2, 2009 7:56 AM

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."

March 26, 2009 9:35 AM
At least one person at the NT Times gets it.

Drugs Won the War
The reality is that over the past 40 years the war on drugs has failed. It is time to try an alternate strategy.


June 14, 2009 6:48 AM
The Lousiville paper had an article about research which shows how pot affects pain. The reporter's phone number is at the end if you want to check with her.

Ronald Melzack pioneer in pain research wins Grawemeyer

By Laura Ungar December 1, 2009

Early in his career, Montreal psychology researcher Ronald Melzack spent three years observing patients at an Oregon pain clinic, including _an amputee who would describe the pains in her missing legs as throbbing, burning or pulsing._

Such observations led to research that shaped the way doctors view and treat pain - research that won Melzack the 2010 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Melzack, a psychology professor emeritus at McGill University in Canada, was convinced that people feel pain in their brains, not at the point of injury, and this insight eventually led to new treatments for chronic and incessant pain.

Melzack, 80, said he was "absolutely astonished" to learn he had won the award, which comes with a $200,000 prize and will be given at U of L in April.

"I still don't really believe it," said Melzack, who was chosen from 24 nominees. "I'm delighted."

Woody Petry, a U of L psychological and brain sciences professor who directs the psychology award, said several groups helped in the selection, including a department committee, an external panel of experts and a community panel with no background in psychology.

Melzack "had an idea that clearly changed our idea of how pain is processed," Petry said. "His work produced a major change in how scientists and physicians think about pain and made psychology an integral part of pain research and therapy."

Melzack, a Montreal native, said he first became interested in researching pain as a graduate student at McGill, while studying Scottish terriers.

He said he compared the behavior of dogs living in kennels and those living with families, and found that the kennel dogs would run wildly, bump their heads on water pipes and sniff at a lit match, while the pet dogs would stay away from the match and act much calmer. He said his observations of animals, and later of people, seemed to run counter to the prevailing view of the day - "that psychology didn't play a role in pain."

In 1965, Melzack proposed a "gate control" theory of pain, based on an idea that people feel pain through a pathway that travels through the spine. The theory suggests that people can control suffering through emotional and personal processes to block, increase or decrease the feeling of pain. Thus, he concluded, pain is subjective.

In the 1970s, Melzack helped found two pain clinics in Montreal, which were among the first in Canada. He also wrote "The Puzzle of Pain" and co-wrote "The Challenge of Pain," both of which have been reprinted and translated into several languages. And with a colleague, Melzack developed the McGill Pain Questionnaire to measure the sensory and emotional aspects of pain instead of simply assigning a number to how bad it hurts.

Pain treatments based on Melzack's work include anti-depressants, anti-epilepsy drugs, and teaching patients to manage pain by redirecting their focus through meditation, distraction and other techniques.

Melzack's lifetime of work, Petry said, "is something people in the community are benefiting from."

Reporter Laura Ungar can be reached at (502) 582-7190.
December 4, 2009 7:37 PM
Fortune's article "How Pot Became Legal"


makes Scragged's case for having the government give it away. The article reports on Irv Rosenthal, one of 4 US citizens who get their medical pot for free from the US government:

Rosenfeld's weed is hardly connoisseur quality by contemporary California dispensary standards. The government grows its crops only sporadically, so it dries the harvested flowers and places them in cold storage. When I visited him in June, Rosenfeld was smoking marijuana harvested nine years earlier. Because Rosenfeld finds the government's cigarettes too dry, he unwraps them, rehydrates the marijuana by placing it in a container with lettuce, and then re-rolls his own joints, he says.

Rosenfeld's cigarettes are also not very potent by contemporary standards. They contain around 3.5% THC, which was about the average strength of dope seized in domestic street busts in 1996, according to NIDA data.

By contrast, marijuana seized from such busts in 2007 had an average potency of about 4.8%, while the fresh "manicured bud" available at today's best California dispensaries boast THC content ranging from about 6% to 22%.

It's as if Rosenfeld were receiving vanilla ice cream joylessly made in the Soviet Union and stored for decades, when there's fresh Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough for sale just around the corner.

Still, Rosenfeld's not complaining. The government charges him nothing, so his only costs are medical consultations and pharmacists' fees -- about $50 a month. Subpar or not, the 8.3 ounces he receives every 25 days would cost him more than $2,000 on the street.

This makes our case perfectly. Free weed doesn't taste very good, but it competes successfully with the $2,000 it would cost on the street. Nobody who doesn't need pot would apply to the government program, but the existence of free weed would make it much less profitable to market and sell pot.

Parenthetically, the government shut down its "compassionate-use" program; Rosenfeld was grandfathered and will receive free pot until he dies.

Case proven. QED.
December 24, 2009 1:21 PM
The Chinese are aware of the need to address the demand side of the equation. Singapore shoots drug dealers, China is trying to discourage use.

China Turns Drug Rehab Into a Punishing Ordeal
The minimum stay is two years, involving physical abuse and forced labor without any drug treatment, say former inmates.
January 8, 2010 7:53 PM
The NYT seems to think that greed will do what sweet reason cannot

Legal-Marijuana Advocates Focus on a New Green
The effort to legalize the drug in California will not dwell on effects or social acceptance, but on economic benefits.
March 27, 2010 11:07 AM
The NYT Magazine reports on the effects of legalization in Colorado. Since the law was pretty vague, the various regulatory agencies are falling over themselves to regulate the market. It may be that many users will simply decide not to bother going legal. If they pass too many regulations, they might as well not legalize...

When Capitalism Meets Cannabis
Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but a recent bill could force amateurs out of the business.

Since this place opened in January, it's been one nerve-fraying problem after another. Pot growers, used to cash-only transactions, are shocked to be paid with checks and asked for receipts. And there are a lot of unhappy surprises, like one not long ago when the Farmacy learned that its line of pot-infused beverages could not be sold nearby in Denver. Officials there had decided that any marijuana-tinged consumables had to be produced in a kitchen in the city.

"You'd never see a law that says, 'If you want to sell Nike shoes in San Francisco, the shoes have to be made in San Francisco,' " says Ms. Respeto, sitting in a tiny office on the second floor of the Farmacy. "But in this industry you get stuff like that all the time."

One of the odder experiments in the recent history of American capitalism is unfolding here in the Rockies: the country's first attempt at fully regulating, licensing and taxing a for-profit marijuana trade. In California, medical marijuana dispensary owners work in nonprofit collectives, but the cannabis pioneers of Colorado are free to pocket as much as they can - as long as they stay within the rules.

The catch is that there are a ton of rules, and more are coming in the next few months. The authorities here were initially caught off guard when dispensary mania began last year, after President Obama announced that federal law enforcement officials wouldn't trouble users and suppliers as long as they complied with state law. In Colorado, where a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana was passed in 2000, hundreds of dispensaries popped up and a startling number of residents turned out to be in "severe pain," the most popular of eight conditions that can be treated legally with the once-demonized weed.

More than 80,000 people here now have medical marijuana certificates, which are essentially prescriptions, and for months new enrollees have signed up at a rate of roughly 1,000 a day.

As supply met demand, politicians decided that a body of regulations was overdue. The state's Department of Revenue has spent months conceiving rules for this new industry, ending the reefer-madness phase here in favor of buzz-killing specifics about cultivation, distribution, storage and every other part of the business.

Whether and how this works will be carefully watched far beyond Colorado. The rules here could be a blueprint for the 13 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have medical marijuana laws. That is particularly the case in Rhode Island, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Maine, which are poised to roll out programs of their own.

Americans spend roughly $25 billion a year on marijuana, according to the Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, which gives some idea of the popularity of this drug. Eventually, we might be talking about a sizable sum of tax revenue from its sales as medicine, not to mention private investment and employment. A spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says hedge fund investors and an assortment of financial service firms are starting to call around to sniff out opportunities.

"We're past the days when people call here to ask if marijuana will give men breasts," says Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML. "Now, the calls are from angel investors, or REITs - people who are looking for ways to invest or offer their services."

What happens when pot goes legit? How does the government establish rules that allow the industry to flourish, but not run rampant? And given that this is all about medicine, what about doctors, some of whom have turned medical marijuana consultations into a highly lucrative specialty?

These and dozens of other questions are now being answered in cities like Boulder, an affluent, whole-grain kind of college town where the number of dispensaries - anywhere from 50 to 100, depending on whom you ask - is larger than the number of Starbucks and liquor stores combined. During a recent visit, it was clear that for every marijuana seller and physician who thinks that the rules are too strict, murky or fluid, there are others who can hardly wipe the smile off their faces.

And much more in the article.
June 27, 2010 1:02 PM
Science News reports that medical researchers are finally getting around to looking into its effects.

"From a biological standpoint, smoking pot to get high is like starting up a semitruck just to listen to the radio. There's a lot more going on."

Not just a high
Cannabis compounds show their stuff against a host of medical problems, relieving symptoms far beyond pain and aausea.

In science's struggle to keep up with life on the streets, smoking cannabis for medical purposes stands as Exhibit A.

Medical use of cannabis has taken on momentum of its own, surging ahead of scientists' ability to measure the drug's benefits. The pace has been a little too quick for some, who see medicinal joints as a punch line, a ruse to free up access to a recreational drug.

But while the medical marijuana movement has been generating political news, some researchers have been quietly moving in new directions - testing cannabis and its derivatives against a host of diseases. The scientific literature now brims with potential uses for cannabis that extend beyond its well-known abilities to fend off nausea and block pain in people with cancer and AIDS. Cannabis derivatives may combat multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and other inflammatory conditions, the new research finds. Cannabis may even kill cancerous tumors.

Many in the scientific community are now keen to see if this potential will be fulfilled, but they haven't always been. Pharmacologist Roger Pertwee of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland recalls attending scientific conferences 30 years ago, eager to present his latest findings on the therapeutic effects of cannabis. It was a hard sell.

"Our talks would be scheduled at the end of the day, and our posters would be stuck in the corner somewhere," he says. "That's all changed."

Underlying biology

The long march to credibility for cannabis research has been built on molecular biology. Smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana - Latin name Cannabis sativa - has a medical history that dates back thousands of years. But the euphoria-inducing component of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, wasn't isolated until 1964, by biochemist Raphael Mechoulam, then of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues. Within two decades, other researchers had developed synthetic THC to use in pill form.

The secrets of how THC worked in the body lay hidden until the late 1980s, when researchers working with rats found that the compound binds to a protein that pops up on the surface of nerve cells. Further tests showed that THC also hooks up with another protein found elsewhere in the body. These receptor proteins were dubbed CB1 and CB2.

A bigger revelation came in 1992: Mammals make their own compound that binds to, and switches on, the CB1 receptor. Scientists named the compound anandamide. Researchers soon found its counterpart that binds mainly to the CB2 receptor, calling that one 2AG, for 2-arachidonyl glycerol. The body routinely makes these compounds, called endocannabinoids, and sends them into action as needed.

"At that point, this became a very, very respectable field," says Mechoulam, now at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who along with Pertwee and others reported the anandamide discovery in Science. "THC just mimics the effects of these compounds in our bodies," Mechoulam says. Although the receptors are abundant, anandamide and 2AG are short-acting compounds, so their effects are fleeting.

In contrast, when a person consumes cannabis, a flood of THC molecules bind to thousands of CB1 and CB2 receptors, with longer-lasting effects. The binding triggers so many internal changes that, decades after the receptors' discovery, scientists are still sorting out the effects. From a biological standpoint, smoking pot to get high is like starting up a semitruck just to listen to the radio. There's a lot more going on.
June 27, 2010 1:39 PM

The economist says the war is lost in England - the street price keeps dropping no matter how much of it they intercept. Booze and tobacco taxes keep going up so the illegal drugs are actually cheaper!


IF THE government is looking for evidence about how it is faring in the battle to stop illegal drugs flooding Britain's streets, it need look no further than what is happening to prices. When Home Office officials and police chiefs meet next month for crisis talks about the exploding use of crack cocaine, they will have to confront the fact that the drugs they most fear have never been cheaper or more plentiful.

The threat of crack, the most dangerous and unpredictable of illegal drugs, has been fuelled by the easy availability of cocaine. During the past ten years, the street prices of both hard and soft drugs have fallen sharply. Cocaine and heroin have declined by nearly a third, while ecstasy has dropped by more than half (see chart).

In real terms, the figures, compiled by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), represent an even sharper fall. While whisky and beer prices have doubled and cigarettes almost tripled in price over the decade, illegal drugs are now often cheaper than a night out in a pub. The cost of LSD, a hallucinogenic drug, is less than a packet of cigarettes.

June 4, 2013 10:56 PM

Ummmmmmmmmmm.... You guys need to know what a modest proposal is before you reflect upon this.

December 9, 2015 5:37 PM

@unknown - so please give us your definition. Do you think we're being immodest?

December 10, 2015 4:04 PM
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