Compromising on marijuana

There’s a smart middle-ground on marijuana.  Alas, we are going right beyond it.  Michael Specter:

It’s not that I think marijuana should remain illegal; based on the evidence from our stunningly ruinous war on drugs, smoking pot should be no crime. [emphases mine] The Portuguese long ago abolished most penalties for personal drug use, a decision that has proved surprisingly successful in curbing crime and returning addicts to society. (A few years ago, I wrote about Portugal’s approach to drugs for this magazine.) Still, the opposite of inane laws ought not to be blind acceptance…

What do we know when we swallow a marijuana gummy bear? Is it like a hit of good pot? Is it like three? For that matter, is a hit of good pot like it was five decades, or five years ago? Or even five months ago? Nobody seems able to answer those basic questions.

“Right now, people don’t know,” Raphael Mechoulam, an emeritus professor at Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School, recently told National Geographic. Mechoulam has done much of the seminal work on the chemical composition of cannabis. “For it to work in the medical world, it has to be quantitative. If you can’t count it, it’s not science,” he said.

At the moment, we certainly can’t count it. What is too much? Should you be allowed to drive after a hit of pot? Or three? Is a hit the equivalent of a glass of wine or half a bottle of vodka? What about when a bit of pot is combined with a beer or two? How does a police officer judge the sobriety of a person who is high? Right now, people mostly just guess…

I am not suggesting that we all dust off our copies of “Reefer Madness,” or that getting high is inherently wrong—as long as you know how high you are getting and what it is you are smoking. But we don’t. It is a strange country that is filled with people who object to life-saving vaccines, insist on labelling G.M.O.s, protest the use of pesticides that, when used correctly, have not been shown to cause harm, and yet seem ready to smoke whatever a dealer hands them to put in their pipes.

And Vox’s German Lopez:

Toward the end of Prohibition, John D. Rockefeller Jr., the powerful businessman who supported the US ban on alcohol, admitted defeat. Seeing the effect Prohibition had on America, he concluded that the policy was doomed. So in the 1930s, he underwrote astudy that laid out how to legalize alcohol while strictly regulating it. The study shapes alcohol policy to this day, as Garrett Peck explained for Reason.

Today, opponents of marijuana legalization are in a similar position as Rockefeller — but they don’t want to admit it. Polls show steadily growing support for legalization over the last few decades, four states and Washington, DC, have legalized pot, and more states seem likely to follow in 2016. But opponents of legalization have rejected the idea that they are losing — and remain dedicated solely to stopping legalization.

 As a result, the US is getting stuck with a bad drug policy — the exact kind of policy that opponents of legalization fear so much. If they want to stop it, they’ll have to follow Rockefeller’s steps and admit defeat…
But there are alternative legalization policies that prohibit or limit commercialization, such as creating a state monopoly that puts the state government in charge of sales (much like state-run liquor stores), allowing only nonprofits to sell marijuana, or legalizing marijuana but only allowing possession, gifting, and growing without allowing sales (like DC does).

Yet no activist is really pushing for the alternatives. Pro-legalization advocates aren’t interested, since they’re winning despite concerns about commercialization. And anti-legalization groups like SAM have taken the stance that they will oppose legalization in any form, because they truly think they can stop it from happening.


I think most people who have taken a fair look at marijuana realize that even full-on legalization with full-on commercialization is preferable to the ruinous status quo policies.  But we can do better and have smarter policies regarding a drug that is not some miracle free of any downsides.  There’s smarter ways to legalize marijuana than current approaches, alas, unless things change, we won’t be seeing them.

Not feeling the Bern

I’ve seen this (way too) long anti-Bernie tirade shared in a few places (including a comment on the blog).  It’s not entirely fair to Bernie, and it could use some editing, but I did appreciate it’s extended take on one point I’ve written about– how Bernie is far too much like typical Republican politicians:

Here’s how it [the transformation from modest support to hatred towards Bernie] happened, with the warning that this post is not a comparative assessment of the two candidates or of their campaign platforms; I’m well aware that Sanders has strengths and Clinton has weaknesses, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone here to vote for her over him; what I’m trying to explain is how and why I have come to dislike him so — even though of course I’ll vote for him in the general (and even campaign for him) if I have to:

First, I researched. I went to his website, I went to yougov, I went to other sites examining his record to see how it squared up with his rhetoric. I tried to find unbiased articles assessing his tax policy, looking at how he would fund single payer (and what he meant by that) as well as “free college” and other promises he made. I looked at analyses on left-leaning blogs that have long advocated for universal health care to see what they thought, sites I respect and whose authors I have relied on for years for their basic objectivity within their admitted points of view. And I could find none who believed Sanders’ numbers added up.

When I saw that the estimates were based on the assumption that the U.S. economy would have an average growth at a 5% rate over his term, that was it for me. And the reason is this: when Jeb! announced he was running for President, he declared that his plan would result in a 4% economic growth rate — and the other GOP presidential contenders quickly followed suit. The Republican candidates’ claims that they “would” do this had been derided on all the same left-leaning blog sites I was now looking at to help assess Sanders. The 4% assertion had been dismissed as “magical thinking” — or in more straightforward terms, “pulled out of Bush’s ass.” There was no precedent for a sustained growth rate that high; commentators pointed out that Reagan had achieved 4% twice in eight years, and Bill Clinton, five times, but 4% growth four years running? Never happened — and that was in better economic environments. Sanders’ 5% number was even more magical than Jeb!’s. And so the entire basis of Sanders’ promises for (promises I wanted to believe) was a historically unprecedented assumption. [emphasis mine] You can’t base a radical re-imagination of the U.S. economy and the imposition of the largest tax increases in U.S. history on made-up numbers. Sanders was able to find a single economist to weigh in positively on his plan, but that analysis was ripped to shreds by most others, who showed that Sanders’ plan doesn’t add up on its own terms (estimates are something like a $1–2 trillion shortfall even at the 5% growth assumption). So I concluded that the backbone of Sanders’ plan is founded on, functionally, a lie.

If you want a multi-dimensional Bernie takedown, there’s lots more and plenty of additional good points.  But for me, it is Bernie’s willingness to adopt the Republican style of magical thinking that I find so particularly frustrating.

Photo of the day

Oh man do I love this photo gallery at The Week of people reacting to Trump.  Lots and lots of good ones:

Cedar Falls, Iowa. | Jan. 12, 2016 | (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Less opiates, more pot

Okay, cannot say that this is really the solution, but there actually is some evidence for the efficacy of marijuana in long-term pain management.  What is really, really really dumb is to use the opioid epidemic as a reason to abandon any or our moronic policies on marijuana.  Alas, hello, Massachusetts!  From the NYT.

But this largely liberal region is struggling with the devastating effect of opiate abuse, which is disrupting families, taxing law enforcement agencies and taking lives. And many lawmakers and public officials are balking at the idea of legalizing a banned substance, citing potential social costs…

But the opiate crisis, in which heroin, fentanyl and other drugs have killed more than 2,000 people in New England in the last year, is a substantial stumbling block, complicating efforts throughout the region and figuring into anti-legalization political alliances…

The heroin epidemic was at the center of debate in Massachusetts last week, when a coalition of state leaders — including Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo of the House, a Democrat — announced a campaign against the initiative…

But in a statement, Mr. Baker argued that legalization would “threaten to reverse progress combating the growing opioid epidemic so this industry can rake in millions in profits.”

Right.  Because marijuana is a contributing factor in the opioid epidemic.  Or not!  I do love this response:

The groups said opponents of legalization were unfairly conflating heroin and marijuana.

“There is no more evidence that using marijuana leads to heroin than there is that riding a tricycle leads to joining the Hells Angels,” Jim Borghesani, the campaign’s communications director, said in a statement.

Look, I’ve never consumed any marijuana.  I hope I never have any medical/physical conditions where it would make sense for me to do so.  But our policy about this drug could hardly be more head-in-the-sand, backward, anti-science and it’s long past time for that to change.

On closed primaries

ThinkProgress headline on the New York closed primary, “Meet The People Barred From Voting In New York’s Presidential Primary.”  Yeah, they are called not Democrats or Republicans not voting in the Democratic or Republican primary.  Or as Dave Weigel put it in sharing this on FB:

Look, voting in a party primary is not some way to self-actualize. It’s not a Soulcycle class. If you’ve never been a member of a party, and have no intention of being a member, guess whose fault it is when you can’t vote in that party’s primary?

You’re not any more “disenfranchised” than I’m banned from running marathons. I’ve decided not to train for marathons, and not enter them. Nobody’s oppressing me.

Or, as Hans Noel put it in sharing Weigel:

Better headline: Meet the people barred from participating in the primary of a party they are not a member of.

Or, Jonathan Bernstein (whom I was excited to discover we have close mutual friends, this weekend) in Bloomberg:

As with caucuses instead of primaries, or the Democrats’superdelegates, or the Republican system of delegate selection, the same concept applies: Nominations are a party’s internal choice, and it should be entitled to make that choice as it sees fit — as long as it is open to participation by new members.

A party may prefer closed primaries because it wants only those who have chosen to affiliate with the party — not independents or those belonging to other parties — to have a say in its important decisions. Far from being exclusionary, closed primaries may even help recruit new voters to join a party, the idea being that once people take the formal step of partisan registration, they’ll be more likely to cast ballots for all the party’s candidates.

Closed primaries are also a way to curb outside mischief-making, such as Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos,” which aims to flood the Democratic primaries with non-Democratic voters.

Parties in some states have preferred to have open primaries. They may believe that allowing more potential voters to participate will produce a candidate who is more likely to win the general election. Or that opening up a primary to unregistered voters will encourage them to become party members eventually. Or the parties may simply believe in empowering all voters, period.

Regardless, the parties should decide. It’s their process. It’s how they define and redefine themselves in a big sprawling system.


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