BILL BENNETT ROLLS THE DICE, WINS AN FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on July 5th, 2011 by Ed

It seemed like a good idea to get the requisite Bill Bennett Gambling Addiction joke out of the way up front.

Imagine the year is 1840 and you are the world's foremost expert on phrenology. You have devoted your entire life to its study and promotion. You have defended it well against its many critics. In just a few years it will be rejected once and for all by the medical and scientific establishment, exposing it as the quackery it is. What do you do? You've spent half a century on something that turned out to be meaningless, ineffectual pseudoscience. So you do the only thing anyone can do in this situation: you double down and continue to defend it with a dated laundry list of ludicrous, discredited arguments. Might as well go down swinging. Admitting that phrenology isn't real is to admit that your entire life has been a complete waste of time. And who wants to do that?

So on a completely unrelated note, here's former 1980s Drug Czar and legendary War on Drugs evangelist Bill Bennett on the Frank-Paul federal marijuana legalization legislation! More specifically, "Why Barney Frank and Ron Paul Are Wrong on Drug Legalization." Call the babysitter and get out the camera, because you are about to see some really good arguments. Ready?

From certain precincts on the left, notably Barney Frank, to certain precincts on the right, notably the editorial page of National Review, we are witnessing a new push to end the so-called war on drugs and legalize drug use, starting with marijuana.

Well we almost made it one sentence without factual misstatements. The proposed legislation eliminates federal penalties for marijuana use, meaning that states would have discretion over whether marijuana would be legal within its borders. This is similar to other issues like gambling (to pick a random example) that are legal or illegal on a state-by-state basis.

Indeed, Ron Paul, Barney Frank's co-sponsor in the latest legislative effort, said recently he would go so far as to legalize heroin.

That's libertarian ideologues for you. That's also called a red herring, as Rep. Paul's opinion on heroin is irrelevant to this legislation.

It's a bad idea. My friends at National Review begin their case by stating the illegalization of drugs has "curtailed personal freedom, created a violent black market and filled our prisons."

My God, that's the most intelligent thing I've seen in the National Review since I cut a bunch of articles out of The Baffler and pasted them in a dog-eared copy of the National Review.

But the legalization of drugs, including marijuana, would exacerbate each of these problems.

Let's read this literally. I can't wait to learn how legalizing marijuana will create a bigger black market (Guh?) and put even more people in prison (Buh?)

Starting with the basics, keeping drugs illegal is one of the best ways to keep drugs out of the hands — and brains — of children.

Oh good, the Appeal to The Children fallacy.

Obscenity, another vice that has inspired jihads from many deeply closeted moral guardians, used to be judged by the legal standard of its potential to "deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall" i.e., children. This derives from Regina v. Hicklin (1868) in British common law and was adapted by the US Supreme Court, until that body rejected it as an unreasonable standard in Roth v. US (1957). That was 54 years ago, Bill. The Supreme Court said, 54 years ago, that "It might hurt children" is a stupid and overly broad argument.

We know three things here: First, children who don't use drugs continually tell us one of the reasons they don't is precisely because they are illegal. For example, since at least 1975, report after report has found that "perceptions of the risk and social disapproval of drug use correlate very closely with drug taking behavior." When those in the drug prevention community ask teens who don't use drugs why they don't, time and again, the answer comes back "because it's illegal."

In what world does "Kids don't use it because it's illegal" a supporting argument for keeping it illegal? Lots of people would stop using anything if it was criminalized. If there is a good argument to be made here, this ain't it.

This, of course, explains why a greater percentage of teens abuse legal substances like tobacco and alcohol over illegal drugs such as marijuana — even when they say marijuana is easily accessible.

Bill, it's a phenomenally bad idea for anyone spouting Nancy Reagan Just Say No arguments about weed to mention alcohol in the same article…especially to point out that while the War on Drugs continues apace, kids are getting shitcanned on Four Loko and smoking themselves to a lung cancer death at 51. Do I need to explain why you don't want to bring this up when preaching the evils of Reefer Madness?

Second, keeping drugs out of the hands of children is the best way to prevent drug addiction generally, as study after study has confirmed that if we keep a child drug free until age 21, the chances of use in adulthood are next to zero.

McGruff the Crime Dog is apparently under the impression that – ignoring self-selection and selection bias – if we could prevent everyone from using drugs before 21 then no one would ever use drugs. Bill, sit down for a moment: the evidence you cite does not mean that. It does not mean that at all.

Third, we don't need to guess at hypothetical legalization schemes. Our experience with legally prescribed narcotics has already proven it, and we now have an epidemic. This, despite doing everything the theorists have asked, from oversight to regulation to prescription requirements.

Wow, who would have thought that opiates would be addictive, especially if doctors prescribe them like lollipops.

Normalizing, de-stigmatizing, and legalizing illegal drugs lowers their price and increases their use. As a recent RAND study on California found, legalization of marijuana there would cut the price by as much as 80% and increase use from as little as 50% to as much as 100%. Just what California, just what our society, needs.

The RAND study in question states that, "researchers cannot rule out consumption increases of 50 percent to 100 percent." I question Bill's interpretation of that, especially given that the study also states that, "there is considerable uncertainty about the impact of legalizing marijuana in California on public budgets and consumption, with even minor changes in assumptions leading to major differences in outcomes." In other words, you can essentially produce whatever estimates you want by playing the Assumptions Game.

As for the current drug policies curtailing personal freedom, the question is: "Whose freedom?" The drug dealers', sure — the drug consumers, no.

It's going to be cool to see how he makes legalization a negative influence on individual freedom…

As any parent with a child addicted to drugs will explain, as any visit to a drug rehab center will convey, those caught in the web of addiction are anything but free.

Oh for fuck's sake.

I'm not going to deal with the substance of this Appeal to Emotion. Instead I want to talk about one of the most wonderful, happiest places on Earth: the alcohol rehab center! Everyone there is truly free. They are happy as pigs in slop. There are ponies. The ponies fart glitter.

And it is not because of their incarceration or rehabilitation, it is because of the vicious cycle of dependency, waste and brain damage addiction and abuse cause.

Still waiting to hear why this is different than alcohol. Come to think of it, how is it different to ANYTHING addictive? Bill, I'm huffing Scotchgard as we speak and let me tell you, I am in a vicious cycle of dependency and brain damage. The cause of said damage, be it the Scotchgard or your column, is unclear.

Let us make no mistake about this, either: Marijuana is much more potent and causes much more damage than we used to know. Today's marijuana tests on average at more than 10% THC (the psychoactive ingredient). We are even seeing samples of more than 30% THC. This is compared to the relatively lower levels of THC most legalizing proponents were more familiar with in generations past (under 4% in the early 1980s, even lower in the 1960s).

OK. I don't even smoke weed and I know that this is beyond wrong. It makes no sense whatsoever. The argument is that marijuana is like alcohol and THC is like "proof", i.e., 80 proof is twice as strong as 40 proof. But 10% THC is not "twice as strong" as 5%. It might get you high faster (as stronger alcohol in equal amounts would) but it can't get you higher. Past a certain level of THC in the body, additional THC will have no effect. Besides, if people knew what they were smoking (Say, because it has a label on it measuring potency) they might adjust their behavior accordingly.

As for the high incarceration rates for simple marijuana use and possession, it is a myth. As government documentation actually shows, over 97% of sentencing on federal marijuana-related charges is for trafficking, less than 2% is for simple possession. Indeed, the only National Review authority with federal prosecutorial experience that I know of backs this point up: "Actual enforcement is targeted at big distributors. People who merely possess drugs for personal use well know they are substantially safe no matter what the statutes say."

Oh good. As long as the people we're stuffing prisons with are dealers rather than users, then it's all good. If only there was some way to eliminate black market dealers of marijuana other than incarcerating them at ass-breaking expense.

We have had a fair amount of experience with legalization and decriminalization schemes.

Don't forget prohibition schemes! We tried the hell out of that. It worked, right?

Oh.

Citizens are trying to put the genie back in the bottle, from Northern California (where residents have complained that medical marijuana has "spawned crime, drug cartels and teenage pot use")

This is a quote from a single individual with no data provided to support it. Most of the linked article is devoted to people speaking in favor of continued legalization.

to the Netherlands (where drug tourism, use by minors, and border trafficking has increased)

Oh no, not tourism! By the way, which country has a higher rate of recreational drug use and drug-related crimes, Bill?

to England (where apologies have been made for endorsing decriminalization in light of the subsequent growth of teen drug treatment needs)

That's what a conservative takeover will net you. Why not mention Portugal, Spain, Sweden, or any one of a dozen other countries where partial legalization schemes (especially for weed) have been a rousing success?

to Colorado (where easy access has increased demand, "made a mockery" of the legal system, and is increasingly endangering public safety)

In the linked article, the person who gave the "made a mockery" quote is a physician, and the full story says: "She said she would probably favor true legalization but in the meantime is pushing to oust existing pot shops because they're making a mockery of the legal system." Way to misrepresent, Bill. Here's a good knee-slapper from that article, btdubs: "Local law-enforcement authorities are also pushing for a ban, warning that increased marijuana use endangers public safety. Steamboat Springs police arrested 17 drivers suspected of being high on cannabis last year, up from 9 in 2009." Wow, 17! And how many alcohol DUIs? Those local law-enforcement authorities are definitely to whom we should be turning for objective analysis. I mean, what do they have to lose if the War on Drugs disappears?

We have an illegal drug abuse epidemic in this country and it has not been given enough attention. But the cultural messages, as much as the law, matter. When we unified on this, as we once did, drug use went down. When we let up, as we now have, use increases.

Nothing decreased. Not according to the CDC. This is just stupid.

The libertarian experiment promoted as a novel theory by some will only make things worse. More legalization equals more damage, waste, crime and abuse. Not less. That is why it is no time to surrender.

Bill, everyone else surrendered twenty years ago. Reaganite tossers embedded in positions of influence are the only ones yet to get the message.

Let's mention a few things Bill omits in terms of effects of legalization:

1. The lawless narco-state that is Mexico would immediately become 80% less of a war zone, as the bulk of cartel activity centers around that most popular of drugs in the U.S. But, you know, think of the children, man!

2. Legalization would make drug use safer in the U.S. through regulation of its contents, the elimination of violence during the purchase, and the absence of the threat of arrest.

3. Biggest cash crop on the planet short of heroin or the elusive Moon Rock Tree of Mongolia.

4. Apply the Bill Hicks test to the horrors of marijuana usage: if you're at a (concert, ballgame, bar, club, festival) and some bozo is loud, violent, aggressive, and an irritant or even a threat to the people around him, is he A) drunk or B) high on marijuana?

Thanks for playing, Bill. Looks like you're having a great time there in 1986.

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