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Monday, October 11, 2010

This is How the Pot Wars End

With a rather pathetic electoral whimper:

On the Yes side you’ll find everyone from doctors to lawyers to Facebook founders to the state’s largest public service union. And plenty of retired drug warriors, who no longer see weed as a demon worthy of the fight. Even some Tea Partiers bidding to end prohibition in the spirit of government-shrinking libertarianism. For many, the argument that ‘if you can’t beat it, tax it’ is the glue that binds in a time of extreme budget crisis.

The Nos, meanwhile, are lined up in a mismatch worthy of Monty Python. Here you will find old-school Reefer Madness rejectionists shoulder to shoulder with ethically challenged pot farmers and the cops who would jail them — all agitating for the status quo of more war, albeit for starkly different reasons. Soccer moms, polls show, worry the ballot initiative known as Proposition 19 will bring proliferation. Beer breweries worry about market share. Small-time growers and cartels alike worry about the taxman.

Approaching the November 2nd California ballot, the electorate seems to be tilting toward marijuana legalization. The vote, however, is somewhat beside the point. Governor Arnold has already signed into law the decriminalization of pot possession, for amounts less than one ounce. It isn't that Prop 19 is a bad idea, it would be an important step forward. It's that even a Republican state governor - OK, a RINO governor - is already surrendering half way. The question is when, not if, pot legalization comes to America. 

From time to time libertarians get flack from anti-prohibitionist conservatives - yes, they exist - for allegedly obsessing over the Drug Wars, and in particular the prohibition against pot. With the Obama-era Leviathan on the march everywhere, fighting over the right to toke seems a tiny struggle in a much, much bigger fight. Sure, legalize it, but it's lower down the priority list. Somewhere after preventing the US dollar from being used as wallpaper by ChiCom apparatchiks, and before privatizing the sidewalks. All in good time for the good fight. 

It's a sound argument. If you were drawing up a pro-freedom priority list, going from most abusive of natural rights to least, then you probably would put pot lower down the list. But we aren't drawing up a list in the platonic air of seminar small talk. If you can rollback the frontiers of the state, well then rollback the frontiers of the state. A victory is a victory. It has been relatively easy to convince a working majority of the electorate to legalize something many have used. Explaining that government playing Santa Claus, whether through the old fashioned welfare state, or its Obama themed expansion, is a bad thing has proven a harder fight.

The right to produce, consume and distribute marijuana may not be a fundamental right, but its abridgement has caused the violation of many basic civil liberties. From the gradual militarization of American police forces, including the now ubiquitous SWAT team, to Civil Asset Forfeiture, criminalizing so widespread a behaviour has lead to ever more intrusions in the private lives of peaceful citizens.

Just as with the Obama stimulus package, the more it is shown that the Drug War has failed miserably, the more governments and police demand greater powers. If spending a trillion dollars hasn't revived the US economy, then spend two trillion. If raiding suburban grow-ops hasn't worked, then call for random searches of motorists.

Laws are observed less because of the police, and far more because people choose to observe them. It is not because murder is illegal that most people refuse to bash in the skull of their next door neighbour. It is because most people choose not to resort to violence that such laws can be enforced.

Once more than a tiny percentage of the people refuse to observe a law, it becomes a dead letter. Sure the police will still catch a few people, from time to  time, but so many violate the law that being caught becomes a kind of negative lottery, akin to being caught in a speed trap. The use of marijuana has become in the popular imagination, like breaking the speed limit, a folk crime of little moral consequence.

Having failed to stigmatize marijuana itself, prohibitionists have instead tried to frame its use as the first step to perdition. With such paranoid classics as Reefer Madness, pot prohibitionist have resorted to describing the weed as a gateway drug. In the sense that people who use hard drugs have often used soft ones, it is a gateway drug of sorts. But it doesn't necessarily work in the other direction. Johnny isn't going to become a coke-head because he was once a pot-head. Just like everyone who has had a drink doesn't become an alcoholic. It's an argument that falls apart, unless wrapped in the sentimental thinking of soccer-moms and fire-breathing preachers. 

The pot laws are a dead letter, yet they continue to claim victims of their "negative lottery." Their end will signal not just a victory for users of the magic weed, but for everyone who believes in freedom.


Posted by Richard Anderson on October 11, 2010 | Permalink


When it comes to government waste, its sometimes difficult to point to education and health care and try addressing problems. The reason is the delivery model itself along with perverse incentives are wrong. With the war on drugs, everything about it is waste, whether its the futility of effort, inflated policing needs, corruption of the justice system, gross expense and affront to the humanity of mostly nonviolent offenders warehoused, diversion of billions into the hands of lawyers and scumbags (assuming one can differentiate) and even the major reason for US Southern border porosity.

The moral argument is that people have lost liberty and the ability to make adult decisions and take responsibility for them by allowing the state to make them instead. Get rid of the nanny/welfare state and drug laws and make a clean sweep.

I'm outta here, as Shane will now add a new record number of comments:)

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-10-11 10:26:30 AM

John pretty much covered it.

truly, the only folks who want drugs kept illegal are organised crime (cornered markets and massive profits), the cops (more tax cash and legislated power over you and me) and misguided conservatives (Bill Buckley, the father of modern American conservatism, shook his head at these dumdums).

there is no crime in the markets.

Posted by: Shel | 2010-10-11 10:47:00 AM

What must be accepted is that the so-called 'war on drugs' is nothing more than a statist-sponsored industry, meant to benefit law-enforcement bureaucracies and the competitors to pot's market share, (ie. brewers and distillers) who in turn fuel political parties with their contributions. The perpetuation of the war and escalating it to a shooting war benefits other actors as well, from arms dealers to politicos in Mexico. Of course, it's obvious that maintaining the war is of vital importance to many, as it has given statists so much job security.

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-10-11 11:03:30 AM

I know that I am not alone in pointing out that this blog is clearly obsessed with pot. I do not harbour strong feelings one way or the other on the issue, but when there are much more vital issues of freedom at stake to focus obsessively on pot causes one to question your priorities. I place a higher priority on private property rights, freedom of speech and expression, ending the long gun registry, freedom to eat what you want and many other things. I say this in light of the number of posts dedicated to pot.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-10-11 11:18:27 AM

Alain, i hear you, but the results of victimless crimes run pretty deep and get expensive.

the recreational drug industry would have little violence and theft attached to it if Organised Crime didn't control it. the courts wouldn't be so congested, the jails wouldn't be filled to the brim and the cops wouldn't be wasting valuable time and resources on nonsense.

it's a major issue.

Posted by: Shel | 2010-10-11 12:17:34 PM

I agree with you Alain in that it shouldn't be a significant priority in terms of most rational people, however the existential threat to Western civilization is unsustainable fiscal incontinence. And everywhere that spending by the state can be reduced it must be done if we are to avoid or at least minimize the ultimate indiscriminate reductions/confisgation of private wealth. Drug legalization would save hundreds of billions and it makes sense. You either choose the programs to kill and reduce or your creditors or currency devaluation/destruction make the decisions for you. You start to tear down leviathan or it tears you down.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-10-11 12:28:46 PM

Alain its not really just about Pot its about rights, like you say property rights are more important than the right to use pot but in reality its the same, who owns our bodies?
I dont care for drugs, i cant stand to put junk food in my body , but i sure in hell dont want leviathan telling me what i can and cant eat.
The war on drugs is not winnable , it is extremely expensive and im sick to death of paying taxes to support a police state that only really benefits people who work in the justice system.
Shane will come on and tell us the world will come to an end if prohibition ends, he will come on and referee his own argument, his ego is more important than life itself.

Posted by: don b | 2010-10-11 12:32:39 PM

AB Patriot.

Well Said.

Alain. If the War on Some Drugs ended, then many more people, resources and $$ could be directed to maintaining/improving property rights, freedom of speech and expression, freedom to eat, consume etc.

Where there is no victim, there is no crime.

Posted by: jeff franklin | 2010-10-11 4:16:02 PM

If the War on Some Drugs ended, then......
Posted by: jeff franklin | 2010-10-11 4:16:02 PM

The war on drugs will not end in our lifetime. The bigger issue (my humble opinion) is that pot has never met the criteria as a drug. Almost everyone I know has tried pot at some stage in their life and simply does not see what the fuss is all about. Get a mild buzz and a craving for munchies. Big deal.
It has always been a pissing contest between all knowing, power tripping civil servants and the vast majority with the ability to recognize brainwashing bullshit eminating from the nanny state.
And no....have'nt had a toke in decades.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-10-11 5:19:41 PM

The prohibition reflex is at the heart of the socialist nanny state movement.

Conservatives favoring prohibition should consider its progressive origins and how for many decades, the progressive movement has benefited from it.

To the nanny statist, prohibition & regulation are essential social engineering tools which create legions of unionized career positions in their expanding bureaucracies and crown corporations.

The CWB, the long gun registry (criminalizing farmers & hunters) and prohibition are just different points on a continuum.

Observe the evolution in treatment of alcohol and gambling over the decades. Marijuana prohibition will morph into regulation, taxation and unionized government stores… and then maybe Ontario and others will be ok with private liquor stores!

We should conserve classic liberal freedoms, not progressive utopian impulses.

Posted by: Ron | 2010-10-11 6:51:43 PM

Decriminalization isn't surrender. It's Prohibition Extreme. Where users have no reason to fear prosecution, and the supply and demand equation tips further toward demand, and the supply side make a tonne more.

Legalize and regulate is the only way to stop the violence.

Posted by: Curtman | 2010-10-13 4:55:33 AM

So, to use your speed trap example, Publius, should speeding also be legalized, since most people speed? And here's another question: Tobacco is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny, being regulated and taxed to death in a manner similar proposed to that for pot. In fact, many people who will react with outrage at seeing someone light up a cigarette in a no-smoking zone will tip a sly, conspiratorial wink to the same person if they light up a joint. But no libertarian is talking about lifting tobacco restrictions, nor has any commented on this dichotomy. Why is that, Publius?

P.S. You can lose the anti-1950's moral clichés now; they were old and tired in 1970. When the only people talking about religion in politics are atheists, it's time to find another hobby horse.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 6:50:23 AM

    there is no crime in the markets.

And what about the market for sex slaves, hit men, and terrorists?

Spoken like a true ideologue.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 6:51:46 AM

    What must be accepted is that the so-called 'war on drugs' is nothing more than a statist-sponsored industry, meant to benefit law-enforcement bureaucracies and the competitors to pot's market share, (ie. brewers and distillers) who in turn fuel political parties with their contributions.

Why must we accept that? Because you believe it? Can you prove it? Find documents, physical evidence, anything? Because this sounds a lot like an X-Files-ish "the truth is out there" conspiracy theory.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 6:52:52 AM

The big danger of cannabis use is it might lead to tobacco .

Posted by: don b | 2010-10-13 8:47:25 AM

    Drug legalization would save hundreds of billions and it makes sense.

Proof, please.

    You either choose the programs to kill and reduce or your creditors or currency devaluation/destruction make the decisions for you. You start to tear down leviathan or it tears you down.

So one is either with you or against you. I've heard terrorists talk this way. John, do you know what a "false dichotomy" is?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 9:02:06 AM

California goes broke fighting the drug wars, now has to sell drugs in order to save itself.

Posted by: don b | 2010-10-13 9:53:45 AM

In terms of cost & benefit to society, how does the current prohibition of pot differ from past prohibition of booze?

Posted by: Ron | 2010-10-13 12:10:45 PM

A person just has to open there eyes to see how destructive prohibition is , governments create problems , then just keep using the same thinking to make it worse.
The drug war is a never gift that keeps giving, for the sellers its huge profits for the justice system its employment for life, one just has to open ones eyes to see it, only the ignorant cant.

Posted by: don b | 2010-10-13 1:28:47 PM

    California goes broke fighting the drug wars, now has to sell drugs in order to save itself.

California went broke trying to buy its way out of reality. Whatever one's opinions on the "drug war," there were plenty of harsh truths Californians thought money could insulate them from.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 1:35:17 PM

    In terms of cost & benefit to society, how does the current prohibition of pot differ from past prohibition of booze?

Well, let's see. First of all, much of the crime during the Thirties was caused by the Great Depression, not by Prohibition. Secondly, Prohibition was just one ring in an eight- or nine-ring circus, which is why organized crime didn't disappear in 1933. Thirdly, the advent of the automobile and America's unique state-based justice system had made stateline-hopping a very profitable stratagem for criminals, one that was closed by the inauguration of Federal law enforcement; i.e., the FBI. And fourthly, it's estimated that alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. dropped by one-half.

All of that is just the social consequences. On the medical front, neither tobacco nor alcohol, the products most commonly compared to marijuana (largely in a transparent credibility grab), is a psychotropic hallucinogen, and it stinks. Alcohol gets you drunk, but doesn't stink; tobacco stinks (much less than dope), but doesn't get you stoned; marijuana combines the nuisance of both products, and its only saving grace is the fact that you can't OD on it, although it will still give you lung cancer like tobacco if you smoke enough of it.

Oh, and pot makes you stupid, too. Just look at Don B, Budoracle, Ben Franklin, or Jodie Emery. Would you want your kid to turn out that way? Most parents I know wouldn't. But then, most pot smokers on this board don't have kids. I guess evolution does work after all.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 1:43:56 PM

Thanks for your reply Shane; it helps me understand where you are coming from.

I do not want my kids to turn into pot heads, but nor do I want them to smoke cigarettes, nor become drunks.

As a parent its my duty to educate my kids to prepare them for adulthood; awareness, consequences, decision making and so forth. I hope when they are adults they will be able to make good decisions wrt pot, booze etc.

As a generalization, the more we try to prohibit & social engineer, the larger and more intrusive the state becomes. I believe the nanny state is turning us into a nation of perpetual teenagers incapable of preserving our freedoms.


Posted by: Ron | 2010-10-13 2:25:06 PM

"'there is no crime in the markets'.

And what about the market for sex slaves, hit men, and terrorists?

Spoken like a true ideologue"

Dumdum, no one advocates for violence and theft.

do you?

Posted by: Shel | 2010-10-13 7:45:28 PM

I agree the nanny state is becoming unmanageable, Ron. Among other things, it's slowly killing the automobile industry (perhaps intentionally) by putting increasingly severe restrictions on emissions, safety, and roadkeeping. All of this is supposedly for our benefit, but it has the effect of making cars increasingly expensive, complicated, and virtually impossible to repair. Hyper-paranoid regulations make it more difficult for daycare operators to get started, more difficult to volunteer for work with children, more difficult to do just about anything.

However, the drug situation is a bit different. Drugs actually change your brain chemistry, which essentially robs you of free will and judgement. You can't rationalize an addiction away simply by avoiding logical fallacies and lecturing yourself on your rights. The Opium Wars of the 19th century and 90 million addicted Chinese, and resulting subjugation of the most populous country on Earth by a handful of colonialists, drove home just how devastating drugs can be to a society. So you can't put drugs in the same category as seat belts.

Granted, pot isn't physically addictive. But it does get you high--a state distinct from drunkenness--and often leaves you hankering for more, which leads to other, truly devastating drugs about 20% of the time. That's one decision best taken out of the hand of an electorate who puts more thought into whether anchovies go with pepperoni than they do into choosing their Member of Parliament.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 8:31:26 PM

    Dumdum, no one advocates for violence and theft.

Dumdum, that's not what was said. What was said was that there "was no evil in the markets"; i.e., all forms of trade and exchange are morally acceptable. You're doing the same thing you accuse the "prohibitionists" of doing: adding provisos.

My point is that ideologues don't think before they speak. Yet they think their ideas represent the foundation for good policy.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-13 8:34:35 PM

Yet again, using libertarian values to promote antisocial behaviours.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-10-16 9:58:50 AM

Set you free , whats antisocial behaviour ? you sound like a communist you want everybody to be the same, you can have it.

Posted by: don b | 2010-10-16 10:30:51 AM

don b:

Try not to project your own prejudices onto others.

In a free society, we have the ability to make choices.

Some help us to attain wisdom, others keep us down.

There are good rebellions and there are pointless rebellions.

I would place dope-smoking in the latter category, since its primary purpose of escapism does nothing to advance the betterment of the individual or society at large.

Still, we all must live with our decisions and you're quite free to make your own.

Just don't blame anybody else for any misery you may have. The answer is always in the mirror.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-10-16 11:18:50 AM

Donnie B- and while you are looking in the rebellion mirror, give that over ripe anxiety zit a squeeze. when it pops, you will finally be a grown up and magical pot will be just another drug to fill up empty minds

Posted by: 419 | 2010-10-16 2:58:22 PM

Set you free , your dont get it , i dont advocate people using drugs, but its there right, its there body , its there life not yours.
You go do what you want but dont be so sanctimonious with me , i say people like you and that sadist Shane Matthews 419 need to grow up.

Posted by: don b | 2010-10-16 5:13:40 PM

There we go again-
Don b is right
and everybody else,
in turn and by name
is wrong.

Next time db,
just call everybody fatso
and be done with it

Posted by: 419 | 2010-10-16 5:42:12 PM


I haven't had the pleasure of running across don. b before.

Is he always this thin-skinned?

Posted by: set you free | 2010-10-16 7:53:41 PM

Yea drinking doesn't really do it for me.

Drinking sucks.

Pot on the other hand.

Hell yea.

Wealthy people tend to smoke pot anyway.

Might be a correlation.

Posted by: Gunslingergregi | 2010-10-17 11:30:34 PM

    i say people like you and that sadist Shane Matthews 419 need to grow up.

Funny, I keep saying the same about pot smokers. Because most of the ones I've met have the emotional age of a 15-year-old.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-10-18 7:22:46 AM

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