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?


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.


  • Bill Bennett: The Last Man To Throw A Virgin Down A Volcano To Please The Gods Of The Harvest.

    Bill Bennett: The Last Man To Print A Ptolemaic Map Of The Solar System.

    Bill Bennett: The Last Man To Drill A Hole In The Skull Of A Schizophrenic To Let The Demons Out.

    I got about a dozen more of these, but I'll just stick with the idea of Bill as a man ranting and raving about how this newfangled "fire" is going to get out of control and burn us all out of our caves, and that darkness and cold and uncooked meat is a cleaner, healthier, saner way to live, dammit.

  • If states could tax legalized pot the way they do alcohol most of our budgetary issues would disappear overnight, and we could build a few extra drug abuse clinics with no problems.

    Randiots understand this, mainline wing-nuts not so much.

  • @wetcasements:

    I would be more cautious about making blanket projections, if I were you. Just keep the law of unintended consequences in mind. Still, it probably would help some to be able to tax marijuana.

    @Bill Bennett:

    Speaking as a college student who has never used pot, Bill, I will admit that its illegality is part of why I haven't used pot. But even if it were legal, I still wouldn't use it, for the same reason that I don't smoke tobacco: I know that it would harm my body in nasty ways, and I don't want to smell like smoke all the time. Just because I don't want to use marijuana, though, doesn't mean other people shouldn't get to choose for themselves.

  • "Just keep the law of unintended consequences in mind."

    People who abuse drugs will do so regardless of whether or not the things are legal or illegal. They will fuck up their lives no matter how much "help" they're given.

    Not sure what the "unintended consequences" would be other than a) more tax revenue and b) Mexico not devolving into Somalia.

  • The problem isn't so much the risk of addiction but that the costs associated with treatment are largely carried by the public purse. So…. legalize it and when they become addicted (always by choice, as we know) and non-functional, don't put them in a care center but find them a cozy gutter to die in. Think of the benefits in terms of reductions in healthcare costs and the increases in job vacancies – a boon all round!

    And then there's the other boon of not being exposed to specious articles like this one which, as usual, 'deals with the symtom and not the disease' – excuse the pun.

  • There is a reason Bennet and the other representatives of the ruling class cling to this seemingly hopeless scheme known as The War On Drugs: they benefit from the chaos it creates.

  • I can't see law enforcement accepting legalization without a fight, some of them like the power and money too much. BTW, I do think that drug abuse can ruin lives, almost as efficiently as going through the enforcement wringer.

  • I have yet to see any convincing argument as to how marijuana — or any drug, for that matter — is substantially different from alcohol. A substance that is bought for one and exactly one reason: its psychotropic effects; one that is addictive and causes substantial harm to the human body (liver disease); one who's psychotropic effects, in large doses, produce a human that is often violent and dangerous to those around them.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Consistently wrong since its beginnings, when they were the last men to leave the caves.

    Too bad they did…

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    My mother was an alcoholic for 20+ years. She finally quit and started smoking pot. She could probably be considered a "pot addict." You know what that means? It means she smokes a lot of pot and goes about her life in a fairly pleasant, harmless way. As opposed to when she was an alcoholic, when she would become debilitatingly drunk every night and would occasionally drift into raving, mean lunatic territory. Pot is 1000 times better than alcohol.

  • The Moar You Know says:

    This is the same Bill Bennett that blew more than 8 million dollars gambling his family into insolvency? THAT Bill Bennett?

    His words are worthless.

    He's got the typical disease of the recovering addict. They tend to be sanctimonious pricks, one-note jerks who feel qualified to lecture any and all on their moral shortcomings because they've done "the hard work and faced their demons".

    Crap. They need to remember that their problems are not our problems. We were born with the willpower that they still don't possess, and the self-restraint that they can only enforce upon themselves with adherence to a Taliban-like personal theology. So Bennett can take his sanctimonious daddy crap, stop telling people who already know better what to do, and march right into a fire and die.

  • In my libertarian fantasy, the government would say "never mind" on weed. Other than you can't give or sell it to kids, we (the government) just don't care.

    We ain't gonna tax it, regulate it, rail against it, promote it, demote it, revote it…etc. We just don't care.

    That takes ALL the damn money out of it, but that's just my fantasy…

    BTW – I stopped smoking everything ('cept an occasional cigar) about 35 years ago.


  • Part of what offends me about the “Just Say No” philosophy is that it amounts to, “Don’t learn the facts. Don’t think for yourself. Just do as we tell you. Just Say No.” Oh, Bill, what will we do when your generation of deep thinkers has vanished from the earth, and we no longer have people to make our choices for us? Your anti-gay, anti-choice, abstinence-only morality is based on faith rather than facts, and I won’t miss it a bit.

    I don’t use marijuana, but when my grandma wasted away from radiation therapy, I think it would have helped her appetite, nausea, and pain. The hysterical perspective keeps it not only from recreational use, but from medical research and refinement. That needs to change. And since moving to Silicon Valley, I’ve almost forgotten that it’s illegal. I smell it in public more than I do tobacco smoke, and the functioning, working folk use it after hours or on the weekends, along with their chardonnay.

    I wish Bennett would address the points made by our police officers, physicians, and judges who support legalization. Even Pat Robertson supports it! But Bennett’s breed of religious conservative likes to make laws against nature, rather than limiting punishment to bad deeds.

  • @Moar:

    "He's got the typical disease of the recovering addict. They tend to be sanctimonious pricks, one-note jerks who feel qualified to lecture any and all on their moral shortcomings because they've done "the hard work and faced their demons… We were born with the willpower that they still don't possess, and the self-restraint that they can only enforce upon themselves with adherence to a Taliban-like personal theology. So Bennett can take his sanctimonious daddy crap, stop telling people who already know better what to do, and march right into a fire and die."

    You have no idea what the fuck you're talking about. Bennett as exemplar of recovering addict — with "willpower problems" — is trite, facile, and ignorant.

  • It's refereshing to see that EVERY SINGLE COMMENT on the CNN piece is cutting down Bennett for being an out of touch idiot. Maybe there is some hope in our society. Nah…

  • Conservative columnist: The only job wherein being four decades behind the curve is "vaule-added."

    Randriod BS is at least logically consistent (the way a lot of autistics are). Social conservatism is basically Calvinball.

  • Bennett went to my high school in DC. An alma mater that includes such alum greats as Pat Buchanan, Dan Quayle's sons, etc, etc, etc. If there's one thing you can expect from your average staunch Catholic, it's moral duplicity.

    Happy post 4th everyone. They fight over there so we don't have to fight them over here. Just threw up in my mouth….

  • As an occasional smoker and drinker, I can never understand how anyone can compare the two. Or lump it in with other drugs like heroin. After smoking at night, I eat a snack before bed (which tastes extra delicious) and then sleep like a baby. I wake up early the next morning feeling awesome. After a night of drinking, I feel completely disgusting, and spend most of the next day recovering and being worthless. There's nothing I've noticed from my own experience or that of my friends that suggests drinking is a better habit than smoking.

    Also, it makes sex feel even better. But I'm guessing people like Bennett gave up on boning a long time ago.

    @ladiesbane I also wish my dad had access to some while he was undergoing chemo/radiation treatments. It would have made the last few months of his life a little more pleasant.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Bill Bennett is a useless buffoon. Writing this statement is a waste of time. It was never written.

  • but wait, mr. bennett. if children are avoiding marijuana because it is illegal, then how are these same children using alcohol and tobacco? it is against the law for children to use alcohol and tobacco!

    also, tim h., i agree that some people in law enforcement will continue to fight legalization tooth and nail for all sorts of reasons, but i've also heard a sheriff's deputy friend argue strongly for it. he likes to ask fellow officers if alcohol should be illegal, then when they inevitably say no, he asks, "when was the last time you had to break up a fight caused by a drunk?" "last night," is often the answer. "ah, i understand. when was the last time you had to break up a fight caused by a stoner?"

  • "Chronic adolescent marijuana use has been found to be associated with "poorer performance on thinking tasks, including slower psychomotor speed and poorer complex attention, verbal memory and planning ability.""

    Is that his excuse, then? He was a teen pothead, and therefore can't think his way out of his own illogic? I'm still stuck on paragraph 2, where making something legal will fill our prisons. Maybe I just drink too much.

  • I use a LOT of pot. Oddly, back before my AIDS diagnosis, not so much. It helps with things. Like having an appetite.

  • "Steamboat Springs police arrested 17 drivers suspected of being high on cannabis last year, up from 9 in 2009."
    Worthless unless we know they were actually high. Suspected? If we use that logic, then Islamic terrorism is up in the US because we have arrested more Muslims who were "suspected" of being terrorists. Is Bennett stupid, or is his intended audience, or both?

  • I took a huge bong hit the other day and suddenly felt compelled to go outside and beat the shit out of people for no apparent reason. Bennett's right. The freedom to smoke dope would make potential violent offenders of us all.

    Never mind the fact that, like alcohol, we could regulate the percentage of THC in OTC marijuana products. God, what a loser this guy is.

  • Here's what I don't get about being anti-marijuana from a conservative perspective: marijuana would make a shit ton of money, reduce government costs, and give people more freedom. What's not to like if one is Conservative?!?

  • God, Billy B. sounds like a ponderous retread of all the lame bullshit we were fed in the '60s about how weed would make you a crazed addict.

    I guess the real reason Billy B is OK with booze, cigs and …gambling… because corporations make big bucks selling that shit….

  • Arguing about, or even discussing seriously, anything Bill says is not just a net loss of your life, but also causes spleen cancer and genital plantar warts (according to the CDC, anyway).
    Moving on to Marijuana, my feeling for decades has been that it should, like prostitution, be legalized because why the Hell not? Opium derivatives cause problems, sure, but are they more dangerous to this nation than guns are? How about unlicensed dogs? How many people a year are killed or injured by the deliberate use of addictive and potentially lethal television programs or video games? This whole thing is a big shitmess comprised of equal parts greed, stupidity and mistaking pig-ignorance for Buddha-like insight. Bennett is simply another sanctimonious twat who demands that we do as he says, not as he does. His road isn't even paved with good intentions; it's littered with the jagged pebbles of "because I say so, that's why". Boy, looking back on that, good thing I don't have a spleen any more.

  • I think the teens get shit*faced* on Four Loko, and then if they go to work drunk they get shitcanned.

    Bill Bennett, on the other hand, is just a shithead.

  • joetwelvepack says:

    When you have been told repeatedly that drugs will ruin your life and then you try marijuana and giggle yourself silly, you suddenly realize it was all a lie. If they lied about Marijuana they must have lied about crystal meth and heroin too. Why not give them a try? Legalization will take the money out of drugs. Take away the money and the violence goes away. Legalize everything? Well how about lets legalize that which grows out of the Earth and can be consumed in the state in which it occurs in nature? Sound like something a free people would be for? Are you free or, merely free to do as your told?

  • "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. "

    This is hardly surprising, considering the low threshold at which one is considered to be holding enough to have "intent to distribute".

  • More legalization equals more damage, waste, crime and abuse. Not less.

    More legalization equals more crime…uh, not crime if not illegal…
    no compute.

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