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Interesting Arguments

Clayton Cramer talks about an article he wrote recently about decriminalization of marijuana. I would put myself firmly in Clayton’s first category, namely that I think the social costs of prohibition are higher than an increased incidence of schizophrenia, though the social cost of that is certainly nothing to dismiss. I’d have no problem funneling money we save on the war on drugs toward taking care of the mental illness that result from substance abuse. But I find Clayton’s fourth point interesting:

People arguing that marijuana laws don’t have any influence on behavior–no matter what the laws are, the same number of people will smoke pot. Yet, at the same time, they acknowledge that having it illegal drives up prices, attracting the violent criminals into the trade. Somehow, rising prices don’t affect demand or consumption.

Let me change that around a bit:

People arguing that gun laws don’t have any influence on behavior–no matter what the laws are, the same number of criminals will get guns. Yet, at the same time, they acknowledge that having guns illegal drives up prices, attracting the violent criminals into the trade. Somehow, rising prices don’t affect demand or consumption.

But I suspect that Clayton believes as I do, that the issue is a bit different. I don’t dispute that prohibition would drive the price of guns up, and the number of criminals able to afford guns down. But if I can’t have a gun either, it’s little comfort to me that the guy who robs me on the street threatens to shiv me instead of shoot me, or the guy breaking in my house threatens to beat me with a crowbar instead. Also, much like with Clayton’s argument about alcohol, we’re already an armed society. That genie left the bottle a long time ago. Of course, I also think, with respect to marijuana, that is probably also the case. It’s hard to prohibit something that you can grow in a closet with the right equipment, and if you think about what you have to do to stop something of that, it involves a police state. That’s why I’ll continue to be a proponent of decriminalization. Mental illness we can treat, a police state is a much harder nut to crack.

9 Responses to “Interesting Arguments”

  1. My big issue with this analysis is that the additional costs of legalized marijuana are not just higher schizophrenia rates. Cannabis is swimming in all sorts of carcinogens so you’ll also see increasing rates of cancer and all sorts of other health problems.

  2. Jym says:

    Jeff the Baptist:

    So are you also in favor of banning tobacco and alcohol? Those also lead to other health problems.

  3. “So are you also in favor of banning tobacco and alcohol? Those also lead to other health problems.”

    No I’m in favor of regulating them. Likewise I’m in favor of regulating many drugs. I have generally found arguments for deregulation to be insufficiently thorough.

  4. Paul says:

    Fact is there has been no scientific or medical studylinking any chronic illness being caused by marijuana. Other drugs, the (hard) drugs all have ample evidence provided to demonstrate their dangers.
    That said it should be obvious by now, to any thinking person, that the effort to outlaw drugs has failed.
    The laws making these drugs illegal have turned a bad habit into big business. If we look logically at the continuing efforts to enforce these laws we will find many government abuses in seizure of private property before people are convicted of a crime and abuse of the RICO act.
    If anyone wants to put poison in their body, that is quite simply their problem.
    Passing laws to try to prevent this (for their own good) then causes problems for others. Unintended conquences, a thug now has a very expensive habit and can only make enough money by living a life of crime and victimizing the honest working class people as a result.
    We see the power and ruthless acts of the drug lords to establish and maintain their monopoly in distribution and sales of drugs. The chemicals and plants to create their product are just as cheap as growing potatos. No money, no drug wars, or drug lords. You may ask do I use drugs?
    The answer is no. Never have, and never will, but that is my choice. It all boils down to people trying to control others and require they live by the standards they set down for themself. I have my standards, others have theirs. As long as their standards don’t harm me I have no complaints.
    Paul in Texas

  5. Malco says:

    I don’t smoke pot, but how can any reasonable person support the proscription of anything that simply grows out of the ground? If you follow the money, the two camps most interested in maintaining current U.S. drug policy are law enforcement (including our increasingly privatized, for-profit corrections industry) and traffickers. Politicians don’t want to piss off either camp.
    At the end of the day, we’re not only throwing money down a vortex that has not and will not ever let up, but fostering an unregulated black market and allowing the state to meddle in the personal lives, philosophies, and decisions of individual adults. If anyone has a reasonable argument to the contrary, I’m eager to hear it.

  6. “Fact is there has been no scientific or medical studylinking any chronic illness being caused by marijuana.”

    Wrong. There are now quite a number of longitudinal studies that show that marijuana use precedes increased rates of psychosis (specifically, schizophrenia). These are case control studies where individuals were studied as children, and then followed up at various ages, and their marijuana consumption compared to development problems such as psychoses.

    Also, it is the case that restrictive gun laws drive up gun prices. Do they disarm criminals? They doubtless disarm at least some criminals, especially those that don’t have an economic use for a gun. But they also disarm the victims, too. Which is more likely to be disarmed by such restrictions? Hard to say–but intuitively, it seems to me that a criminal who has an economic use for a gun will be less impaired by such regulation than a victim who has no economic use for a gun.

    And Jym, we regulate alcohol state by state, some more strictly than others. (There are still dry counties in some parts of the Midwest, and a number of Alaska Native villages have gone dry in the last few years.) As a general rule, we don’t regulate alcohol strictly enough. Alcohol is a major factor in murder, rape, child molestation, and oddly enough, even economic crimes, such as robbery and burglary. Heavy alcoholism is also well established to increase mental illness problems.

    At what point such regulation becomes counterproductive is a factual question–but I’ve never lived anywhere that alcohol regulation had crossed the line into being counterproductive. (Maybe Twin Falls, Idaho–but we were just touristing there.) I have lived in places where marijuana deregulation has crossed the line into counterproductive.

  7. It’s hard to prohibit something that you can grow in a closet with the right equipment, and if you think about what you have to do to stop something of that, it involves a police state.

    Laws only have to work at the margins to be effective. I have no illusions that the instant background check stops every serious criminals or the mentally ill from getting guns. But it doesn’t have to be 100% effective to still be worthwhile. If it prevents or slows a felon who is only somewhat motivated to get a gun, that’s a gain.

    Similarly, a person who is intermittently psychotic might still be able to buy a gun if there were no background check, while a person who is severely mentally ill most of the time might have trouble buying a gun, regardless of a background check. But if an instant background check law stops even 30% of those who are severely mentally ill from buying a gun, that’s a win.

    At what cost? That’s a legitimate question. If many law-abiding adults are disarmed, or it costs $500 every time you try to buy a gun–that’s bad. If it cost every gun buyer a transaction fee of two cents to run that background check, I think most gun owners would consider it perfectly reasonable.

  8. If you follow the money, the two camps most interested in maintaining current U.S. drug policy are law enforcement (including our increasingly privatized, for-profit corrections industry) and traffickers.

    You’ve forgotten by far the largest group of all: parents who would like their kids to reach adulthood without getting involved the drug culture, and those of who have relatives who spiraled down into mental illness after starting to smoke marijuana.

  9. Sebastian says:

    If the market were just a bunch of aging hippies growing pot in their closets I wouldn’t care much about the marijuana laws one way or another. The problem arises when there becomes a violent black market in the product. The aging hippy small time pot grower I’m not too worried about (though some would go to extreme lengths to get rid of those too) it’s the violent black market.

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