Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Oh, let's talk about drugs a bit. Do you think that Democratic politicians support the status quo on drugs -- in particular marijuana -- because they really believe that it's good policy? Because they believe it's good politics? Some other reason?

Do you expect it to change any time soon?

38 comments:

  1. Politics, although there may be a few true believers in the policy here and there. Dems are terrified of anything that makes them look like hippies.

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  2. I think they think it is both. I don't expect it to change any time soon. A move on the drug war is more likely to come from the right at this point; if it's to come from the left, we'll need to wait until the boomers finally **** off and die.

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  3. Probably need a few more states to move toward decriminalization before any federal level Democratic politicians are willing to support it. Maybe if we get more Dems in safe seats to support decriminalization, we can build support from the left to the center. I notice more Tea Party people who comment on my blog seem to support decriminalization. Maybe Ron Paul is getting through to the anti-government right on this issue. Could a liberaltarian coalition of interest groups actually get this on the agenda, or is that a pipe dream?

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    1. Ha-ha. Pipe dream. Get it? Because pot

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  4. Perhaps focus on Obama's self-described, rampant drug use? He may be responsive to charges of hypocrisy and he apparently changed AA minds on gay marriage. That's some convincing! So start at the top. Maybe we can at least induce him to stop sending gangs with shotguns into marijuana pharmacies.

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  5. It's the politics that protects the drug war. Some people (and many who appear quite respectable in public) make a lot of money off it, or the resulting prison populations and other associated industries.

    Like what's happening with gay marriage, I think the drug war (and climate denialism) will end very quietly and fairly quickly (ie, less than 10 years).

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  6. For the most part (I'd say at least 70% of Dems) they believe it's good politics. Currently they aren't wrong. I'd say besides cannabis they also believe in the policy, but a relatively small portion (fewer than 35% of them) really believe in cannabis policy status quo.

    Marijuana legalization is becoming a more and more popular position, and democrats will start getting behind it probably in the next three or four years, and then in much greater numbers by the end of the decade until policy really starts changing on a pretty wide scale.

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  7. 80% political/cultural and 20% policy-based. Much of that policy-based contingent is capital-P Progressive in the worst sense, in that they are quite willing to sacrifice personal freedom and expression for a .01% reduction in the suicide rate. I suspect that there is large support in that quarter for much greater regulation of alcohol (even some sympathy for Prohibition), though for the aforementioned cultural reasons that's a total non-starter that they thus don't talk about much.

    (I base all of that speculation on a stray remark from Mark Kleiman, who in the context of talking about how one would actually go about legalizing weed, expressed dismay at the ubiquity of alcohol advertising directed basically at adolescents.)

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    1. Kleiman once described viewing the United States as a stadium -- that drug use should be proscribed because it's easier to maintain safety and order in a dry stadium. He's great: an authoritarian, logical, verbose, tooth-gnashing liberal Dem. He doesn't pretend that politics is about anything but coercion.

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    2. He doesn't pretend that politics is about anything but coercion.

      Everyone except for 12 year-olds realize this.

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    3. A lot of liberals argue that it's not with me (in person and on the web) but maybe liberals speak more candidly amongst themselves about the violent nature of politics. Maybe I'm getting a weird image of liberals but I used to be one so I doubt it.

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  8. Everybody here is overlooking the move toward private prisons, and the power of the prison lobby to keep activities criminal, and sentences severe.

    My answer to the question is that it's political, and in the worst possible way. They don't want to buck the big money interests who get even richer with current crime policy.

    Let's check back in 5 years and see which way this wind has blown. I expect harsher laws and punishment.

    Public opinion does not matter in an oligarchy.

    Alas,
    JzB

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    1. I was thinking that the worst thing about privatized prisons is that the prisoners don't get vouchers to choose a prison. Most voters want prisons to be cheap, to deter potential criminals, and to keep terrible people away until they're old enough to calm down. If a prisoner wants to move to one with 24 hour ubiquitous cameras instead of a yard? Too bad. No choice and voters think that prison rape is funny.

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    2. I think there's a non-sequitur from Private Prison Lobby to Oligarchy.

      The best evidence for an oligarchy I've seen is the research suggesting when the policy preferences of the top 10% and the rest come into conflict, its predominantly the interests of the top that win out. But I don't see an obvious, strong unidirectional preference among the elite on this issue. Certain issues of financial regulation seem much more amenable to that case than marijuana prohibition.

      I'm not sold that the private prison lobby is strong enough to single-handedly stem this tide.

      I imagine the more honest brokers on both sides of this issue can anticipate that the repeal of prohibition is an idea whose time has come, much as were civil rights and the gay civil rights.

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    3. I wasn't moving from prison lobby to oligarchy.

      They are both things that exist in our society.

      My thought was that popular opinion on legalizing marijuana will not sway the legislators, because hat is not where heir interest lies.

      Clearly, the interests of the top win out - from Bush v Gore to Citizens United to the repeal of Glass Steagall to the commodity modernization act, etc. etc.

      The Prison Lobby needn't act alone. they can ally with ALEC, frex.

      Re: top 10% vs the rest, the top 10% have a great propaganda machine that sways a significant proportion of the rest into voting against their own self interest. It's not just Kansas.

      JzB

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  9. The Democratic Party's position on drugs is status quo paralysis induced by a lack of philosophical principle and lack of evidence supporting the benefits of the activity they would legalize.

    Marijuana use isn't really useful or productive. Note that the only realm in which politicians will stick their necks out for it is its medical applications. But in general, smoking pot doesn't do much good, even though it doesn't do much harm. The strongest impetus for legalization is to end the imprisonment and punishment of users. That's not a basis for politicians to argue; its essentially conceding defeat, admitting that the sheer volume of drug users has overwhelmed the law enforcement community and prison community.

    Now this might be overcome if there was a strong philosophical basis for their argument, a principle they could use to justify it. And the most obvious principle is that the state doesn't need to dictate the private behavior of individuals as long as they cause no harm to anyone else. But that open's the flood gates on a number of other activities that don't poll nearly as well publicly, limited not only to other 'hard' drugs, but a whole host of other activities.

    So without a strong, simple talking point that they can walk out, they do nothing in the face of the shift in public polling. Its not enough for Democrats to come out and say they support legalization because a majority of Americans reached by Gallup said they do.

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    1. >Marijuana use isn't really useful or productive. Note that the only realm in which politicians will stick their necks out for it is its medical applications.

      I'm not sure this is true; or at least that we know that it's true. And much of this stems from the total lack of study on how marijuana effects people and social systems.

      First, there a lot of people who self-medicate to control anger. Absent that in their lives, would there be an uptick in violence?

      Second, I think there's a lot of paranoia associated with marijuana abuse that never get's discussed. Pot smokers say paranoia feelings are rooted in fears of legal trouble; but I don't buy that.

      It's pretty obvious that there's a whole levels of both mental illness and treatment of mental illness triggered by marijuana. We understand how alcohol acts as social grease and how alcohol addiction throws grit in the wheels of community. We don't even discuss these things when it comes to marijuana.

      The tragedy of lives ruined through the prison system is pretty well understood. But we're now way near ready to do a cost-benefit analysis on legalization; and I agree with JzBumpa -- I think it's because there's too much profit being made by the current laws both in the black market (remember -- this is the largest cash crop in numbers of states now,) and in the prison industry. (That's another thing needing discussion -- the real economics of marijuana.)

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  10. I think it's a combination of both. A lot of Democratic pols would probably like to further on this, particularly on medical marijuana, but as William Burns noted above, they're afraid of being portrayed as soft-on-crime hippie stoners. Some are genuinely opposed.


    Maybe the Tea Party will move the GOP some on this, but in my own state I haven't seen that. The medical marijuana bill didn't have a single Republican co-sponsor in this year's legislative session. Once upon a time it had a couple of GOP co-sponsors (both cancer survivors).

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  11. I dont know that theres a firm policy position for Dems to rally behind as of yet. Medical marijuanna is a good route into legalization, but being a Californian I've seen first-hand how shady the industry is. Basically I think a lot of Dems (and Repubs) would be on board if it was an overnight transition from the black market to a legit respectable business. But it'll be a long, ugly process for the gangsters and drug lords to transform themselves into legit business people. What happens when the media picks up the story of a newly minted respectable marijuana businessman's past life as a pimp and murderer? Any politician who helped him go legit is suddenly very vulnerable on the "soft on crime" front. Signed, Brendan garbee

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  12. No one has mentioned racism yet!

    Prohibition was anti-Irish; marijuana criminalization is anti-Hispanic. Marijuana, also being native to the Americas, was an important part of Native American culture. There is no surprise about legalization coming first in Western states like California and Colorado, with large, endemic, middle-class Hispanic populations.

    In addition to the racism angle, tobacco companies campaigned long and hard to criminalize marijuana as a competitor.

    So as the tobacco companies diversify, and as tobacco smoking becomes much less prevalent, and as Hispanics gain more political power in certain regions, look for marijuana to decriminalize. If people could get it off Schedule I, then that alone would be serious progress.

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  13. This conversation is interesting, since it reflects the widespread, near-universal conviction that government regulation of illicit drugs is some sort of power grab, that social good never comes out of such efforts. If John in Santa Barbara is feeling blue today cause its the one day a month that's cloudy, there is no positive, non-financial reason to prevent him from getting a script for as much pot as he needs to feel better.

    Perhaps this is never more true than in our conception of Prohibition, which the majority of us probably see as a priggish effort from the Women's Christian Temperance Union to legislate morality, which in a typically intrusive government way gave rise only to the mob, so thanks a lot.

    I bring this up because I ran across an interesting, related data point the other day. First, a standard drink refers to 12 oz of beer, 8 oz of wine or a shot of hard liquor. Immediately prior to Prohibition, how many standard drinks did the average American adult consume daily?

    Five. Oh, and the ladies, in that sexist era, drank basically none, so your average American male was downing about ten. I don't have the data, but suffice it to say that current per capita daily consumption of standard drinks is way below 10 in the US; in fact at no point after the end of Prohibition did it ever get close to such levels again.

    I'd further guess that, in spite of our widespread suspicion of government motives in such matters, probably none of us would trade the current alcohol consumption rates, high as they are, for the 10-drinks-per-day level seen just prior to Prohibition.

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    1. If you're suggesting that prohibition caused alcohol to fall out of favor, I think you've got the chain of causation backwards.

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    2. Couves, there's no doubt that desire for alcohol led to the downfall of Prohibition; I doubt anyone would suggest otherwise.

      However, I also doubt any of us could identify more than a handful of individuals who consume an average of 10 drinks/day, to say nothing of an entire population. Some might think a world where everyone was consuming 10 drinks/day was relatively harmless, though I doubt there would be too many folks believing that.

      Finally, it's possible to credit the decline in alcohol consumption, which coincided with the start of Prohibition, to some other factor. Perhaps the unprofessionalism of the moonshine runners turned people off to booze (but folks do seem to like the moonshine runners' descendants: Nascar drivers).

      In seriousness, I think most of us would agree that a world where the average adult consumed 10 drinks/day would be much worse than the already shaky country we inhabit. Correlation is not causation, but the timing is such that the Women's Christian Temperance Union is probably on solid ground taking credit for the change.

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    3. CSH - I’m sure prohibition had some role in reducing alcohol consumption at the time, I'll give you that. My point is that prohibition was itself the result of social changes (such as those brought about by industrialization), it didn’t cause them. Would alcohol use be higher today had we not gone through prohibition? Perhaps. But there’s no way people would be downing ten drinks a day - that’s an absurd proposition, imho.

      The real question should be -- did prohibition reduce social ills more than it caused them? Here, I think, the ledger goes against prohibition. I'd say the same for the war on drugs.

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    4. I remember a NYT article a while back about how at the turn of the century, surplus corn crops resulted in ridiculously cheap whiskey, which resulted in rampant alcoholism. Today, a similar surplus in corn results in an obesity epidemic.

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    5. Purusha - That's interesting -- Of course today corn distillate is soooo cheap (partly through farming technologies and partly through policy interventions) that we burn it for fuel.

      And yes, I'd definitely add food to the long (and growing) list of mind altering substances we consume today. With corn syrup as cheap as it is, you don’t need drugs to be effectively mainlining serotonin all day long.

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    6. Was alcohol as alcoholic back then?

      I'm being serious. For a long period of human history, everyone (and I think the women are included here) drank alcohol....to avoid dysentery and other water-borne illnesses. I seem to recall hearing somewhere that everyone (with the means to do so) drank very weakly alcoholic beverages as a way to keep healthy. I think the beer was 1-2% alcohol back then.

      (Note that my 30 seconds on google have not confirmed this)

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    7. Matt -- Not sure about the percentages, but we do know that alcohol use plummeted, in part, because the practical reasons for producing it -- to sanitize water and preserve precious calories from last year's harvest -- slowly disappeared.

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  14. Few Democratic politicians are genuine libertarians on this issue. They will follow social change, so public opinion may lead them to legalize marijuana in some places. But modern liberalism is more concerned with bringing about social progress through the meliorative powers of government than it is with respecting personal sovereignty over one’s own body. Since social progress is clearly threatened by recreational drug use, liberals will continue to prosecute the war on drugs with vigor. They may someday notice the unintended consequences of the war, but I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

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    1. Social progress is clearly threatened by recreational drug use, DUUUUUUUUUUUDDDDDE.........

      Sorry, impromptu channeling of my inner Jerry Garcia......

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    2. Anon - Lol, I sorta thought that I would harsh someone's mellow with that one.

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  15. I think given the politics the policy importance doesn't matter. Politically moving to the left on this issue has zero political benefit for the Dems plus all the potential downsides of being labeled soft on crime. It's not an area the Democrats are likely to be first movers in addressing.

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  16. If the corporations saw more money in legalizing pot, it would be legal. But there are too many ways to make large sums of money by keeping pot where it is. It is the corruption of our justice system that makes folks back away from legalization, and the Private Prison industry will spend unlimited money on keeping pot schedule 1. Banks love the profit of laundering money. Lawyers....do I need to say it? Big Pharma? Big Booze? Big Guns and Ammo? The list goes on and on, and we get ignored.

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    1. Considering the size and injustice of the pot/prison problem, would it have made more sense for the Dems to make a big push on that issue instead of on Obamacare, and should that be the Dem's next big thing?

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  17. Obviously Pharma, Alcohol, prisons, law enforcement etc have a financial interest in keeping it illegal, but if you look at the campaign donations in legalization initiatives none of those organizations except law enforcement really dumped any money in it.

    I'd expect this issue to change really rapidly similar to the way Prohibition fell a few years after the economy went to hell. After this November you could have 3 states (Washington, Colorado, and Oregon) with legalized marijuana. That should get the ball rolling in the right direction. I'm somewhat concerned though that the feds will vote to cut off highway funds or some other funds to those states similar to what they do currently with the minimum drinking age.

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  18. This is an interesting conversation, in small part as it relates to another interesting recent conversation, the discussion with Jeff, Anastasios, Matt Jarvis and others about whether American universal health care would achieve savings while not sacrificing service.

    The mechanism by which world-class health care could be expanded to the last 30% of the population, at no additional cost, is the use of government fiat power to expand preventive care. Its a seductive meme; but 30% is a big number, obviously expanding the utilization of Lipitor by some marginal amount won't get us there.

    30% requires home runs; it requires, for example, making a huge dent in the hundreds of billions of public health dollars arising from legal psychoactive drugs (alcohol and tobacco) as well as many billions more related to the illegal ones.

    Conservatives will never go along with that; they distrust government programs in general and hate universal health care in particular. What you see in this thread is that otherwise Great Society liberals turn into fervent libertarians when The Man proposes to restrict their intake of psychoactive drugs. So forget the liberals.

    Where else will the universal health care cost savers turn? Enforced 55 MPH speed limit laws? Much higher standards for in-home air quality? Force us all to read, and adhere to The Anti-Cancer Cookbook, trading our meat-and-potatoes lifestyle for garbanzo beans and sweet potato stew? That last is a particularly smart idea, but as with regulation of psychoactive drugs, my guess is that otherwise government-friendly liberals will vomit on your shoe at these proposals.

    So...30% cost-savings-type-Prevention? I guess there's always prayer. When all else fails.

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  19. Seems to me that an unjust but unfortunately fairly stable equilibrium has been reached since the 1990s: well-off citizens and their children can pretty easily get marijuana when they want it without fear of enforcement, whereas stigmatized groups who get it can be ruthlessly prosecuted when authorities feel like it. And then there's a mass of non-users with a cramped moral vision who'd prefer not to think about these hypocrisies and also genuinely don't feel strongly about the issue of marijuana availability.

    A major question to me is what's the best way to start dissolving the foundations of mild support for this tacit social compact. I'm not so sure outspoken desire for marijuana decriminalization (it seems, invariably led by interest groups of users associated with further lifestyle elements) is the place to start, to use up political capital. And maybe Democratic groups dissatisfied with drug policy need to begin more strategically by finding ways to weaken the lobbying levers held by law-enforcement and prison groups? Consider that when Republicans wanted to ensure that more profits and control went to capital over labor, they began long and often intricate campaigns to weaken the power of unions; they didn't mainly push for a single measure outlawing unions.

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  20. status quo posturing safe? think again. http://www.drugwarrant.com/2012/05/beto/

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