“When any government, or church for that matter, undertakes to say to it's subjects, this you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motive.”
- Robert Heinlein
I have a guest blogger appearing in today's post. I met Denny Chapin over at Pete Guither's Drug WarRant. Denny is the managing editor of AllTreatment.com, a directory for drug rehab centers and substance abuse information resource. He appeared at Pete's with a guest post on Cannabis and addiction: Marijuana Addiction - guest post and a discussion.
To get the gist of all this it would help to follow through on the discussions. Those of us who follow Pete's blog and participate in discussion are no slouches when it comes to drug policy. Drug policy reform advocates have been way ahead of today's Prohibitionists on web technology and savvy since, well, forever.
All of today's Prohibition II is promulgated and funded by the government and any organizations opposed to current drug policies are marginalized and insulted. Yet the forces of prohibition have long held sway only because they held power and purse strings. The wwweb changed that.
Just as an example... in Pete's post on the current UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2010 that took place this past week in Vienna, he says this:
I can’t resist showing this… The NGO’s (non-governmental organizations, including Transform, Harm Reduction Association, etc. many of whom are there to try to reform) tend to get shut out of key portions. However, they were promised a location to make their materials available to delegates.
The 160 representatives from 55 NGOs were given this table.
and he offered this photo of the one table 55 Non-Governmental Organizations were supposed to share:
So follow along with these discussions and see for yourself...
After Denny's posting, Pete followed up with a response: Marijuana Addiction - a response
After a vigorous discussion, again, Denny returned with a follow up post: Marijuana Addiction, part 3. Danny Chapin responds. This resulted in 63 responses. And it was my comments to this post that brought Denny to contact me, asking for an opportunity to post here.
And with me being the accomodating fella I am... any way here's Denny Chapin:
Denny Chapin is the managing editor of AllTreatment.com, a directory for drug rehab centers and substance abuse information resource.
Should We Decriminalize Marijuana?
From a purely utilitarian perspective, one can arguably weigh the good and bad against each other, calculate these values according to some weighting system, and know the "right" action. The reality of everyday life, however, speaks differently. While we try to use Mill's calculus to decide the truly right action, we fail, and we fail miserably. Yet, regardless, we try to measure negatives and the positives from one another, and make what we deem is the right decision.
In speaking to the following questions and statistics, I in no way mean to claim I am fulfilling the complexity of the whole of this topic, but simply hope to show the information from a perspective, and make conclusions as I deem fit. As such, I'll preface my opinions with a disclaimer that I in no way represent the opinions of any institution, in writing this brief argument. I write simply to ask questions and hopefully challenge and evoke thoughtfulness. And with that, let me detail a few positives that could occur from the decriminalization of marijuana.
Decriminalizing Marijuana: Effects in the United States
Marijuana is used by 15.2 million people, at least, in the United States. Of those 15.2 million people, in 2006, 829,625 people were arrested with marijuana related charges, and 89% of them were charges of possession only, with 11% making up sale and distribution related offenses. The enforcement of these charges cost the United States government between 12 and 20 billion dollars a year. The United States federal budget for education in 2011 is 160.5 billion dollars, and if marijuana was decriminalized, that money could increase our federal education budget by 7.5 to 12.5%. Decriminalization will also prevent these possession offenses from being processed through our police and court systems, increasing efficiency and, hopefully effectiveness, since police will be able to focus more on truly disruptive criminal activity related to stronger, more destructive drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin that come into the United States from Mexico.
Does Decriminalization Create More Marijuana Users?
But despite these benefits, if we don't care about prosecuting individuals who use and possess marijuana, it seems logical to assume the use of marijuana would rise, since it's "less illegal" with less punishments. Interestingly, the contrary has been the case in the United States. The states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon have all enacted marijuana decriminalization, where the offense of marijuana possession does not warrant jail time. And these States have not seen an increase in marijuana consumption, as the Institute of Medicine's report on marijuana consumption indicates. Another report from the Journal of Public Health is worth quoting:
The available evidence indicates that the decriminalization of marijuana possession had little or no impact on rates of use. Although rates of marijuana use increased in those U.S. states [that] reduced maximum penalties for possession to a fine, the prevalence of use increased at similar or higher rates in those states [that] retained more severe penalties. There were also no discernible impacts on the health care systems. On the other hand, the so-called 'decriminalization' measures did result in substantial savings in the criminal justice system.
- E. Single. 1989. The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization: An Update. Journal of Public Health 10: 456-466.
We can see that decriminalization has proven to save American's tax money that would be wastefully spent on our criminal justice system in order to prosecute an overwhelming majority of marijuana users who possess an negligible amount of marijuana, missing the point of the actually preventing harmful drug distribution, crime, and violence.
How Should Treatment Centers Weigh In?
If decriminalization does not impact the number of people who use marijuana, marijuana treatment centers ought not to have an opinion about decriminalization as it relates to usage. And when it comes to costs, marijuana possession prosecution is simply a waste of money.
Most importantly, I think marijuana prohibition, decriminalization, legalization, etc, get a lot of buzz and force many to speak loud opinions about something most American's don't come in contact with on a very regular basis, and even rarer, to hear of someone who has a serious problem or caused themselves major harm because of marijuana. And to this degree, decriminalization is more of an afterthought in our social psyche, where the debate about medical marijuana and legalization take center stage.
So, to almost totally change subjects, I'd like to discuss what I believe is the true drug problem in America, alcohol.
The Real Problem: America's Relationship to Alcohol
In the United States, the most commonly abused substance is alcohol, a legal drug. Coinciding with this fact, treatment centers admit more patients suffering from alcohol abuse than any other drug, and of those patients, 29.9% of them admit themselves into treatment, as opposed to 14.8% of marijuana users admitting themselves into treatment. Alcohol is a legal drug, yet in 2006, it caused 13,050 deaths from liver damage, and 22,073 alcohol-induced deaths, excluding deaths by drunken driving and drunken homicide.
Alcoholics and alcoholism is the purple elephant in the room of America's problem with substance abuse. And to this point, the fact that marijuana caused no deaths, has the fewest percentage of addicts admitting themselves to drug treatment on their own accord (along with 5.2x more people admitting themselves to treatment in sheer volume), and costs our country time, money, and energy, I believe marijuana consumption should require the least of our legislative "mindshare" when it comes to drug abuse.
Too many American have a dangerous relationship with alcohol, causing collapse in their body, their connection to their family members, and for our citizens, and scariest of all, the potential to get on the road and commit manslaughter. I feel regret that, as a blogger, the marijuana debate gets the most notice, when so many of us have been viscerally affected by an alcoholic in a truly upsetting manner. And to those of us who have not, we ought to count our blessings.
What should our government do? Make a change. But that is a whole other article ;)
7 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm ; http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_14.pdf
Obviously Denny Chapin has done his homework. Feel free to weigh in, I'll be checking comments in the a.m. and the p.m to keep this current.
“I believe that people have a right to decide their own destiny; people own themselves. I also believe that, in a democracy, government exists because (and only as long as) individual citizens give it a "temporary license to exist" - in exchange for a promise that it will behave itself. In a democracy you own the government - it doesn't own you. Along with this comes a responsibility to ensure that individual actions, in the pursuit of a personal destiny, do not threaten the well-being of others while the "pursuit" is in progress.”
- Frank Zappa