November 01, 2007

Leaves of Grass


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Tuesday the New York Times published a piece by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner who was rethinking the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. Dubner interviewed a number of "experts", one of whom, Richard Lawrence Miller summed up the situation:

In all of my studies, I concluded that the “war on drugs” masked a war on democracy. I explained my conclusion in Drug Warriors and Their Prey, and then retired from reform activity.

At the risk of being long-winded, I wanted to let you know why I’m not citing any studies here. Reformers know about studies, and opponents disregard them, so I see no benefit in mentioning any. If my previous documented writings fail to establish me as someone whose word is credible, reproducing two or three of my footnotes would hardly be sufficient either.

On these and other points, in my books on drug use I cite scientific studies aplenty. But opponents of reform are no more interested in the mainline scientific consensus than are persons who oppose taking protective steps to reduce risk of climate change. There is no debate, merely theater. Discussing drug policy is like discussing gun control or abortion: facts are irrelevant.

Pete Guitier of critiques

One disappointment with Dubner's article is his semi-complaint:

"You will find that their replies routinely contradict one another, even on statements of fact. This is a limitation of nearly any debate of this sort, and while these contradictions illustrate what makes the issue a potent one, you may also be frustrated (as I was) by them."

Well, that's simple. What you do then is check out the facts and say which one is a liar. I have very little patience with reporters who 'report' things in ways like... "Flat-earthers say the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth, while round-earthers say the earth is round and revolves around the sun. Unfortunately both are dogmatic in their positions and refuse to compromise, leaving us frustrated." If there are facts at issue, then research them and come up with the truth. Not everything is subjective, and there are, within the marijuana legalization debate, economic and social truths as clear as the one that describes our solar system.

An excellent point which all journalists should practice when writing about ANY subject.

A commenter on Dubner named Adam made an important point as well.

I was hoping to hear more about the economics of legalization. How much money would the government gain in this event? The cash crops link says it is a $35 billion crop. If they US stopped spending $11 billion on fighting the war, and received ~10% of the yearly sales of the drug, does that mean the economic advantage would be around $15 billion minus marginal increased medical expenses due to increased consumption?

In 2005 Dan Eggen of the Washington Post noted that the Drug War switched its emphasis from cocaine and heroin to marijuana.

The study released yesterday by the Sentencing Project found that arrests for marijuana account for nearly all of the increase in drug arrests seen during the 1990s. The report also found that one in four people in state prisons for marijuana offenses can be classified as a "low-level offender," and it estimated that $4 billion a year is spent on arresting and prosecuting marijuana crimes.

In addition, the study showed that although African Americans make up 14 percent of marijuana users generally, they account for nearly a third of all marijuana arrests.

Among the most striking findings was the researchers' examination of arrest trends in New York City, which focused intently on "zero tolerance" policies during Rudolph W. Giuliani's mayoral administration. Marijuana arrests in the city increased tenfold from 1990 to 2002, from 5,100 to more than 50,000, the report said. Nine of 10 of arrests in 2002 were for possession rather than dealing.

The study also found a wide disparity in the growth of marijuana arrests in some of the United States' largest counties, from a 20 percent increase in San Diego to a 418 percent spike in King County, Wash. (The only decrease in the sample came in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County, where marijuana arrests declined by 37 percent.)

"There's been a major change in what's going on in drug enforcement, but it clearly isn't something that someone set out to do," said Jonathan Caulkins, a criminology professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "It's not like anyone said, 'We don't care about cocaine and heroin anymore.' . . . The simple answer may be that police are now taking opportunities to make more marijuana arrests than they were when they were focused on crack cocaine in the 1980s."

As in any war, the War on Drugs has profiteers, which none of the experts mentioned. The prison industry is one of the fastest growing businesses in this country. Private prisons are not only handsome money makers in and of themselves, but reliable sources of dirt cheap labor. An additional perk for the corporatocracy is that imprisoning black and hispanic men keeps them out of the polls, where they might vote democratic.

But never fear, ex-narcotic agent, Barry Cooper has just completed his new DVD entitled "Never Get Busted Again", which is full of handy hints for everyone from the dealer to the casual user. For example:

Cooper has dozens of tips. For instance, surrounding marijuana with coffee grounds doesn't work, because the dogs can still smell the dope. For those traveling by car, the video recommends taking their pet cat along, because the K-9 won't stop trying to play with the cat, even if it's taken out of the car.

An excellent DVD to add to your collection, just in case marijuana isn't legalized in your lifetime.

Photo note: The best I could do under the circumstances without precipitating a raid on the premises

Posted by Dakota at November 1, 2007 10:37 PM