Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama's Pot Comment Has Andy Sullivan In a Lather

I guess Obama can do something to upset Andrew Sullivan after all. During his online townhall meeting, Obama rejected, with a giggle, the notion that legalizing pot would translate into gobs of tax revenue and jobs. Sullivan is not amused.

Sorry, Andy, but I'm with the President on this one. People often strain to fit their desire to smoke pot into politically mainstream policies like access to health care (medicinal marijuana) or economic growth and development (taxing pot). Why not advocate decriminalization on its own merits? If you want to light up a joint, make the case for doing so. But I imagine that most people who smoke pot are not relieving arthritis pain, and they probably do not want to pay a sales tax in order to enjoy their high.


Charles Davis said...

I think most pot users would gladly accept paying a sales tax rather than risking incarceration to buy marijuana at artificially inflated prices on the black market. And I'm with Sullivan on this one. Millions of people are right now rotting in U.S. jails for the engaging in the same sort of youthful indiscretions our political leaders pretend to be remorseful about publicly and joke about privately. It's not funny.

James H said...

Yeah I am not big inot legallization bit if it happens it does not need o be done unfer the guise of increasing revenue etc.

As I watch this amimndstration I have not exactly seen a wise use of polticial captial. I think some people believe it is unlimited.

Supposly smart people like SUllivan must realize that Obama has to pick his battles. I suspect making pot legal is not one that is trumpng other concerns

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Charles - I do not believe in making peple "rot" in prison. But that's not unique to drug crimes, although it is a tremendous problem in this area. I think that most people would continue to purchase marijuana in the "black market," rather than going to CVS to get it - thus avoiding taxation. This is not economic policy. It simply confuses the issue to try to make it about healthcare and economics, when it is really about reevaluating and reconstructing social mores on this subject.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

James H - ditto!

Roy Lofquist said...


I support legalization for strictly utilitarian reasons. I have been saying for quite a while "Prohibition gave us the mafia and the Kennedys. The war on drugs has given us the Crips and the Bloods and MS13",


Charles Davis said...


With billions of dollars per year spent on the so-called war on drugs -- combined with the loss of tax revenue that could be realized under legalization and the costs incurred building new prisons to house drug offenders -- the issue of prohibition is most certainly one of economics. The California government, for example, is facing massive budget deficits but appears unable to cut a clear waste of resources – it's massive prison population of nonviolent drug offenders – because of the power of the state's prison guard union. In other words, the state is sacrificing its economic well-being to maintain a destructive social policy.

While I would prefer to argue less on utilitarian grounds than on philosophic -- I'm more incensed that the government deems itself more capable of regulating what I put into my body than I am -– the issue of economics (that is, the tremendous drain of resources that is the drug war) is definitely at play here. As for health care: how many people die every year from preventable drug overdoses because people are afraid to go to the hospital for fear of arrest? How many people have contracted AIDS or Hepatitis from exchanging dirty needles thanks to our government's enlightened ban on needle-exchange programs?

Also, if people are going to the black market to purchase pot because they don't want to pay taxes, then that means the taxes are too high. FDR, remember, did not outright ban marijuana (that was thought unconstitutional in such innocent times), but imposed major new taxes on it, creating a situation of de facto prohibition. If policymakers avoided onerous taxes while legalizing pot, it would cost substantially less than it does now, and users would not have to fear 1) arrest 2) getting ripped off and 3) having no legal recourse in the event of #2.

By the way, I know you're no ardent prohibitionist, but Obama's smirking dismissal of the idea of legalization was offensive to me, particularly since he's endorsed the same militarized approach to the drug war -– and blocked the term “harm reduction” from being included in a recent UN document on drug policy -– that's destined to lead to the same results: a lot of wasted money and lives.

James H said...

Charles Davis

I think your post shows the concerns many of us have. We suddenally go from the legalization of weed to suddenally the legalization of other drugs.

I really have to say I am not sure being able to get weed or cocaine at the local Circle K is exactly a good thing

Of course it would effect the poor the most in many ways.

I guess my experiences in Jamaica where I saw a largely male population sort of high a good bit of the time and a Govt that seemed to like this state of affairs since no one really felt compelled to point out some structural problems since they were flying as it were.

Now there can be a deabte I suppose if the possesion of pot should always be a lesser offense.

Still it is a case of expending resources. I am not sure the day after the Sec of Treasury seem to make unfortunate headlines of endorsing a world currency was creating Obama enough problems. Having another issue like this would do him no good.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I know the plural of anecdote isn't data, but.... Well, if I compare the heavy pot smokers I know to both the alcoholics and the multiple-pack smokers, the pot smokers standout as more likely to do something stupid that is likely to get an innocent person hurt. (Drunk driving is dangerous-- folks who pay no attention to stop signs, traffic, etc are also dangerous. Cooking class was *really* interesting, and I still have a scar from a pot-smoking idiot with a chisel in shop.)

Even with folks who smoked maybe once a week, on the weekend, you could still tell on Tuesday-- which isn't true of the weekend drunks.

Smokers, other than the smell and the once-an-hour breaks, don't cause much problems-- so long as they get their fix. (A thing I can't throw too many stones at, given my response to a lack of coffee.)

I think you're quite right that part of why the MJ legalization push isn't discussed honestly is because it so often goes over the deep end on either side.

(Some of the unintended humor it offers is great, though-- like pro-pot folks who are horrified when my dad smokes a cigar....)

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Charlie - you assume that legalization would result on less money being devoted to law enforcement and prisons. That's not an indisputable claim. The last thing politicians want to cut are policing and prosecutorial budgets. They would simply use the money to arrest and prosecute other types of criminals.

Also, Californians themselves voted into law harsh measures like "3 strikes" which increased the state's prison population. Residents of California certainly cannot blame federal drug law's for the state's financial woes. Your assertion the "prison" lobby is fighting the release of nonviolent drug offenders goes very far in proving my assertion that decriminalization will not necessarily lead to lower budgets for law enforcement, prisons, and prosecutors.

Finally, I argued that people would continue purchasing on the black market, because the ordinary sales tax would make it more expensive. I have not checked, but I guess that California's sales tax is around 8 or 9 percent. Why would someone pay almost 10 percent more to purchase dope at CVS when he or she could keep getting it from a pre-existing supplier?

Infidel753 said...

I think that most people would continue to purchase marijuana in the "black market," rather than going to CVS to get it - thus avoiding taxation.

That seems contrary to experience. Ending Prohibition put the bootleggers out of business, didn't it? Alcohol is heavily taxed, but if a lot of people wanted to buy beer from illegal suppliers rather than at Safeway, there would still be illegal suppliers.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Prohibition of alcohol had a much shorter history than prohibition of alcohol. Accordingly, the extralegal supply of alcohol never became as entrenched as pot. Futhermore, it is a lot easier to produce and distribute pot than cases of alcohol, right? The local seller cannot make beer (not with ease), but he can easily obtain and sell pot with very little overhead.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

To Infidel and Charles:

On the economic point, I will even concede (for the sake of argument) that tax revenue would soar with decriminalization of marijuana. But this is not an argument for legalization. Many types of transactions could lead to increased tax revenue, but we would probably find these offensive (baby selling, slavery, etc). Instead, I believe that the issue rests on the science of pot itself.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...


Illegal alcohol is still very much a going thing-- it just isn't *quite* the money-maker it use to be.

Cigarettes, as well-- especially off of reservations, which can sell them much more cheaply.

Charles Davis said...


You're ignoring the fact that the current street price of marijuana is dramatically inflated by its illegality. If marijuana were legal, the costs of prohibition -- such as smuggling -- would disappear. Pot would no longer need to be grown clandestinely, either, and its abundance and accompanying fall in price would more than offset any modest sales tax.

As for California's "three strikes" law . . . who do you think was one of the chief backers of the campaign? The prison lobby, which as a former resident of the state I can tell you is a very big deal politically.

Further, alcohol prohibition may not have lasted as long as marijuana prohibition, but there certainly was an extensive bootlegging operation set up, as evident by the speak-easys found in every major city. Let's not forget that while you can grow pot in your backyard, one can also make gin in a bathtub.

Finally, that government officials may do stupid and evil things in the future – like continuing to throw nonviolent offenders in prison – is no reason not to stop them from doing stupid and evil things now. But if in the absence of the drug war law enforcement resources were maintained at their current levels but refocused on murderers and rapists – you know, actual criminals – then that's a trade-off I could live with.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Charles, thanks for the analysis. Even assuming that legalization could produce economic benefits, this does not justify decriminalization itself. I think it misses the main reason why people think pot should be legal: it's safer than other legal drugs, etc.

Decidere said...

Well, first, the older I get, the more medical use of marijuana is a higher priority. Recreational use? Don't do it, but don't particularly care if others do it. Have never met a pot smoker who ruined his/her life from it without a host of more significant factors, and there are other countries where they deal with this stuff more rationally (see Glenn Greenwald on Portugal's movement to decriminalize all drugs). I lived in a town with decriminalized marijuana for 4 years, and really, no one cared except for freshmen first term, smoke your brains out and then realize you have to buckle down. Is that such a public menace to throw people in jail for?

What we have created is police ability to search cars and people on a whim, search houses with a sniff, basically take an adversarial attitude to a large slice of the population. It is socially destructive. The incarceration issue on pot busts is horrid, and treating it as an economic issue (which of course it is) trivializes the human element. We have spent 50 years ruining people's lives over something trivial. People drink themselves to death all the time, but the vast majority control their drinking. Pot isn't even that bad.

And of course the problem with trying to make tax money off of it is you just encourage government to be stupid and ruthless, trying to promote it and create a monopoly and so forth.

Obama shouldn't be so smug, but then, that's him. Don't imitate, don't praise.

Decidere said...

We're spending what, $10 trillion on this bailout, a couple trillion on Iraq? How about we just give every dope smoker a 10 pounds of pot free, and instead incarcerate the guys who are stealing billions for a change? Really, all these stupid arguments are out the window in 2009. We found we had the money to do the stupidest things in the world with, but still nickel and dime on irrelevant shit. Hey, we give Wall Street firms carte blanche, but put draconian conditions on car companies. Absolutely no consistency in any of this.

Decidere said...

Hmmm, and you basically make the same argument in the earlier post I hadn't read.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Decidere -- where have you been? We have missed your hard hitting voice! Welcome back.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Decidere - I think this company assigns too much social policy to the criminal justice system - including drug usage. We have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, and some liberal states are guilty on this issue as well. I realize that pot is subject to a movement seeking decriminalization, and I see arguments on the subject that relate to many other things than the drug itself. A lot of science says that pot is as safe or safer than alcohol. The disparate treatment is a product of history. But I believe that one day pot will be decriminalized. It's a matter of time. At the end of the day, money and medicine will not drive it; instead, acceptability and science will.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: NOTICE that Obama did not say he opposed decriminalization (although he cannot support this politically); instead, he simply said that it would not be a basis of economic policy. If you guys are not used to him being "smug," I can only wonder what planet you have lived on for the last year.

Decidere said...

I'm used to him being smug, still don't appreciate it any more than Reagan's fake "I can't hear you" cop out to serious questions.

But Glenn Greenwald's on Jim Webb's anti-incarceration crusade today - good for him. I thought too many Dems were willing to proclaim Web a big progressive based on opposition to Iraq, but there are some issues where Webb has been impressive and truly helpful.

FLRN said...

Give me a break....turn the page. said...

Though I admire and respect Obama and despite the fact that I understand the reasons why he would play down a divisive issue like “immoral” drug use, I believe that he should be held responsible to use the same meaningful insight and common sense honesty to issues surrounding America’s drug war. When Obama was elected he chose to highlight the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln during his inauguration. Lincoln lead the country through one of its most difficult and divisive times. The civil war is remarkable because it pitted brother against brother and displayed to history the inhumane brutality that we as Americans are capable of inflicting on one another when fall on opposing sides of a powerful ideology. There are many similarities between the war on drugs and that civil war of old. With the war on drugs American is once again pitted against American in battle wrought with bloodshed and human suffering. It is time we as Americans exercise our collective control of government and write, email or call a representative and make the drug war an issue to be dealt with now rather than a lingering pain to be laughed off and prolonged until…….

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