Colorado, Marijuana, and the Failed War on Drugs

Colorado, as we know, has legalized personal possession of marijuana.  It’s an experiment and it may or may not work, but I have a hard time imagining the outcome will be any worse than the outcome of our war on drugs.  As public policy goes, I think Colorado is moving in the right direction.

I’m thinking about this issue morning because of a post from Mano Singham that linked to an interview by Dr. Lester Grinspoon about marijuana that has some amazing quotes.

It’s certainly a good recreational drug—better than alcohol or any other drug  that might be considered recreational. It’s so…free. You don’t have a hangover,  it’s less expensive in the long run, it doesn’t compromise functioning in a way  that alcohol can.

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And this about his personal experience and observation:

 Marijuana was not a toxic drug. In fact it was remarkably nontoxic. The problem  was not any inherent psychopharmalogical property with the drug itself, but  rather the way we were treating it by arresting so many people, imprisoning some  of them, and compromising their possibility for successful careers.

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And of course the big one – marijuana presence or lack of addictive qualities:

I don’t believe it is addictive, and there’s no evidence of it being so. You  get addicted to things like alcohol, cigarettes or heroin and many opiate  derivatives, but people do not become addicted to marijuana. There are people  who use it all day long and that seems to me silly—you get the high in the  morning but the rest of the day, there isn’t much. Nevertheless, it’s not an  addiction because those people can give it up if they want to and will not  suffer any withdrawal effects. Some may get a little irritable or depressed.  That has nothing to do with withdrawal symptoms.

But addiction data is so deceptive. When some of these kids go through the  criminal justice system, they often have to go into therapy. And the therapist,  in order to get reimbursed, has to specify a reimbursable diagnosis and so he  puts down cannabis addiction or dependence.

Read more:

Our draconian, anti-drug laws and endless “war” on drugs have failed as public policy.  We’ve got jails full of people who either need medical help with their addictions or who got caught with marijuana and are non-violent, and otherwise noncriminal.  The costs of those policies massive – in terms of actual financial resources and negative impact on millions of lives.  It’s a horror show that needs to end and Colorado is taking some steps to do that.

We need to engage in a better civic discussion about drugs and alcohol in general.  The tendency to clutch pearls and tut-tut about drugs and marijuana is just another variation on the prohibitionist policies that have failed.  It frames the entire discussion as a moral battle against evil.  I realize mocking David Brooks column about marijuana is way too easy but it’s a perfect example of pedestrian, simple-minded moralizing that pretends to be profound without actually examining or questioning conventional wisdom.

Let’s start by acknowledging that marijuana is easy to get even where it’s illegal and other drugs aren’t much harder to acquire.  Let’s start by recognizing there’s a world of difference between marijuana and crystal meth.  We need to let go of the idea that it’s a moral battle, a battle against evil in which the forces of good are pressed to take extreme action.  Instead, let’s recognize people don’t use drugs because they’re weak or immoral.  People don’t become addicted because they lack will power or because they’re stupid.  Addiction is a medical problem not a moral one.


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  1. #1 by Larry Bergan on January 11, 2014 - 11:16 am

    Money is addictive because it can get you ANYTHING you want AND keep you out of jail for ANYTHING, IF you have enough.

    What should be illegal?

    • #2 by Glenden Brown on January 11, 2014 - 2:39 pm

      Larry – don’t forget privately owned prisons make stacks of money off . . . you guessed it the war on drugs. It’s a sick cycle in which we feed addicts into the prison system to use our tax dollars to feed people addicted to tax dollars more of our tax dollars. And we put the police in the middle of the whole mess enforcing insane laws. So, there is certainly a money angle to be examined in the war on drugs.

      • #3 by Larry Bergan on January 11, 2014 - 5:30 pm

        A new word for sick needs to be coined, but I can tell you – first hand – that our police officers are embarrassed to be arresting – otherwise, innocent – citizens for using marijuana.

  2. #4 by Larry Bergan on January 11, 2014 - 11:25 am

    The high-end bankers don’t know what to do. They are up in arms because they don’t know if they’re going to get in trouble if they provide a way for the pot outlets to swipe a credit card for payment.

    What a farce!

    I really think they are worried they are going to lose their ability to launder drug money from the drug cartels. They’ve been doing that for decades.

    Poor babies. 🙁

  3. #5 by Larry Bergan on January 11, 2014 - 11:30 am

    Of course, the CIA guys aren’t happy either.

    So, so sad. 🙁

    It’s about time the whole shebang came down.

  4. #6 by Larry Bergan on January 11, 2014 - 11:54 am

    My Father, Mother and Stepfather never made a dishonest dime in their lives. They instilled that in me, and I haven’t either.

    I hope the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie has an impact on the psyche of greed.

  5. #7 by Richard Warnick on January 11, 2014 - 2:22 pm

    Unlike David Brooks, I’ve never used marijuana. As a former Libertarian, I know there is no logical reason to make it illegal when so many addictive substances are legal.

    Maybe mocking Brooks is too easy, but that didn’t stop basically everybody on the World Wide Web from doing it. 😉

    Stephen Colbert Destroys David Brooks’ Wacky Anti-Pot Column

    I’m buying stock in Frito-Lay.

    • #8 by Glenden Brown on January 11, 2014 - 2:40 pm

      I was going to make fun of David Brooks, but seriously what else was there say after Colbert?

      • #9 by Larry Bergan on January 11, 2014 - 5:17 pm

        Well, now I can admire David Brooks for being more than a Cocker Spaniel puppy dog, lapping at the heels of Rupert Murdock .

        I would SERIOUSLY replace him with a liberal with “street cred”, like, Tommy Chong, on PBS News Hour. SERIOUSLY!

        Now THAT would be some back and forth!

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