Bennett’s specific criticisms of legalization — that it would simultaneously allow for “open and unrestricted drug use” by all, and that the plant’s perceived social costs would outweigh any economic benefits reaped by regulation — are predictably well worn, but they are nonetheless worth addressing.
An excerpt of reply to Bennett is included below. You can read the full commentary here.
Bennett’s latter charge — that regulating cannabis would dramatically increase societal costs — deserves more critical analysis. Bennett bases this allegation largely upon the premise that present taxes on alcohol and cigarettes fail to adequately pay for the social costs associated with these drugs’ use and abuse. True enough and perhaps a persuasive argument if, in fact, one was debating whether to criminally prohibit the use of booze and cigarettes (a public policy option that Bennett, a one-time heavy consumer of both substances, would no doubt oppose, despite the drugs’ heavy social toll). Nevertheless, Bennett’s premise is all but irrelevant to the marijuana legalization debate. Here’s why:
Cannabis is safer than alcohol.
Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths in the United States annually from illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, ulcers, cancer and heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can depress the central nervous system — inducing unconsciousness, coma and death — and is strongly associated with increased risks of injury. According to US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol plays a role in about 41,000 fatal accidents a year and in the commission of about one million violent crimes annually. Worldwide, the statistics are even grimmer. Stated a February 2011 World Health Organization report, alcohol consumption causes a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence.
By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, are relatively nontoxic to humans. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. According to a just-published review in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores are more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”
Cannabis is far safer than tobacco.
According to a 2009 white paper by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states: “In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.”
A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization agreed, stating, “On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.” So then why is the federal government so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own homes?
Some tax revenue is better than no tax revenue.
According to a 2007 George Mason University study, U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana. Under prohibition, all of this spending is directed toward an underground economy and goes untaxed. That means state and local governments are presently collecting zero dollars to offset any existing societal and health costs related to recreational marijuana use. Therefore, the imposition of any retail tax or excise fee would be an improvement over the current situation.
United Republic Investigative Report: Why Can’t You Smoke Pot? Because Lobbyists Are Getting Rich Off of the War on DrugsMarch 8, 2012
A relatively new webpage called Republic Reports (a project of United Republic with the sub moniker ‘Investigating How Money Corrupts Democracy‘) has turned much needed public attention to one of the five pillars of Pot Prohibition: The Law enforcement community’s role in perpetuating another possible 74 years of Cannabis Prohibition laws in America.
Local/state police, sheriffs, prosecutors and federal agents from the DEA claim, as they often do, that ‘they don’t make the laws, they only enforce them‘.
Is this really true? Not according to Republic Report.
By Lee FangJohn Lovell is a lobbyist who makes a lot of money from making sure you can’t smoke a joint. That’s his job. He’s a lobbyist for the police unions in Sacramento, and he is a driving force behind grabbing Federal dollars to shut down the California marijuana industry. I’ll get to the evidence on this important story in a bit, but first, some context.
At some point in the distant past, the war on drugs might have been popular. But not anymore — the polling is clear, but beyond that, the last three Presidents have used illegal drugs. So why do we still put hundreds of thousands of people in steel cages for pot-related offenses? Well, there are many reasons, but one of them is, of course, money in politics. Corruption. Whatever you want to call it, it’s why you can’t smoke a joint without committing a crime, though of course you can ingest any number of pills or drinks completely within the law.
Some of the groups who want to keep the drug illegal are police unions that want more members to pay more dues. One of the primary sources for cash for more policing activities are Federal grants for penalizing illegal drug use, which help pay for overtime, additional police officers, and equipment for the force. That’s what Lovell does, he gets those grants. He also fights against democratic mechanisms to legalize drugs.
In 2010, California considered Prop 19, a measure to legalize marijuana and tax it as alcohol. The proposition gained more votes than Meg Whitman, the former eBay executive and Republican gubernatorial nominee that year, but failed to pass. Opponents of the initiative ran ads, organized rallies, and spread conspiracy theories about billionaire George Soros to confuse voters.
Read the rest here.
You can’t make this stuff up!
I often say to staff, supporters and the media that: We’re blessed by our opponents to cannabis law reform!”
A few weeks ago the New York Times featured a straight forward story during these recessionary times about local and state governments with legal protections for medical cannabis patients struggling to cobble together taxation and other revenue streams derived from medical cannabis in the face of federal recalcitrance and outright law enforcement opposition.
The national affairs story is almost a no-brainer that wrote itself regarding this clear conflict between state and federal governments over the country’s festering 74-year old and increasingly unpopular Cannabis Prohibition.
While not clear if whether or not an indication of the dearth of letters received by the NYT on the subject matter (i.e., meaning the subject matter was not controversial), or, the letters’ editors casting needed public light on the kind of remaining, almost teetering and naked public opposition that solidly supports another eight decades of the failed and expensive public policy of Cannabis Prohibition, the publishing of only these two letters, from such clearly bias sources, is potentially revealing.
The first letter is from a drug rehabilitation center CEO in NYC (back in the late 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s, one of the most frequently published commentators and letter writers in the New York Times against virtually any pro-cannabis law reforms was Mitchell Rosenthal of Phoenix House, another drug rehabilitation provider like competitor Odyssey House. Not too surprisingly the current CEO of Odyssey House used to be employed at Phoenix House….).
The second letter is from a decidedly unsurprising duo of longtime anti-cannabis propagandists and prohibition profiteers, former National Institute of Drug Abuse head Robert DuPont, M.D. (who, as director of NIDA, at one time publicly supported major cannabis law reforms, including decriminalization) and former Drug Enforcement Administration honcho Peter Bensinger.
Both the former G-men and current pee testers, like rehabbers Rosenthal and Odyssey House CEO Peter Provet, are now some of the very few and clearly committed individuals remaining in a country with an estimated population in excess of 300 million to consistently write and publish letters to the editors of major newspapers and magazines condemning all things cannabis and favor not only the status quo, but a doubling-down by government passing even more stringent and invasive anti-cannabis laws and enforcement.
While the NYT correctly identifies these two prohibitionists’ former executive roles in federal government anti-drug bureaucracies going back 30 years ago, what the NYT failed to inform readers is that DuPont and Bensinger are the longtime and current principles of a lucrative drug testing (their company has been chosen by members of Congress to perform individual drug tests) and anti-drug counseling business to Fortune 1000 companies and small businesses.
As previously stated, currently in America, almost all of the public opposition against cannabis law reform historically comes from government agencies, industries and companies who most financially benefit from the current and failed status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:
–>Law Enforcement Agencies: Employees from local police to the Drug Enforcement Administration, to sheriffs, prosecutors, probation officers and prison guards, in modern times are usually the first in line, loudest and most strident against ending Cannabis Prohibition in America.
–>Government Bureaucracies Born of Cannabis Prohibition: DEA, ONDCP, FBI, NIDA, SAMHSA, DARE, PDFA, etc…
–>Industries and Companies That Will Compete With Legal Cannabis: Tobacco, Alcohol, Pharmaceutical, Wood and Fuel
–>Industries and Companies That Currently Benefit From Cannabis Prohibition Laws: Private Prisons, Drug Testing, Drug Rehab, Drug Detection Device Makers, Mercenary Private Military Companies That Perform Duties and Actions Once Reserved for the Civilian Military
The below letters published by the NYT demonstrate how limited, parochial and self-interested today’s anti-cannabis activists are becoming in a country where 50% of the public no longer supports Cannabis Prohibition.
Taxing Medical Marijuana
Published: February 23, 2012
To the Editor:
“Struggling Cities Turn to a Crop for Cash” (news article, Feb. 12) doesn’t mention a major issue of concern that has to be considered before claims of attractive financial benefits from taxing medical marijuana can be made.
In the states mentioned — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — 3.2 million people are not receiving the treatment services they need for drug abuse and dependence. California alone accounts for 2.3 million people with untreated substance abuse disorders.
Before hard-pressed municipalities, in these and other states around the country, look at medical marijuana as a new source of tax revenue to finance essential services, taxpayers should be given the opportunity to consider allocating some of this money to under-supported treatment and prevention programs.
This will not mitigate the effects of untreated substance abuse, but it will help send a clear message to young people that marijuana, prescribed or not, has addictive potential that too often requires intensive treatment.
President and Chief Executive
New York, Feb. 13, 2012
To the Editor:
California cities’ meager tax payments are a tiny fraction of the costs of their misguided “medical marijuana” initiatives.
The taxes imposed on medical marijuana place it in a category with alcohol and tobacco, two legal drugs that demonstrate the same appalling disparity between tax revenues and societal costs. The state and federal alcohol revenue of $14 billion and the $25 billion collected in tobacco taxes in the United States are overshadowed by the $235 billion and $200 billion in social costs they produce, respectively.
Among all Americans 12 and older who abuse or are dependent on an illegal drug, 60 percent abuse or are dependent on marijuana. Nationally, admissions for primary marijuana use to state-financed treatment have increased by 31 percent from 1998 to 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available).
California and other states that have legalized medical marijuana face the disturbing reality of the drug’s true costs in long-term health care, increased treatment admissions, loss of productivity at work and at school, and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.
In addition to the disproportion of small tax revenue compared with large societal costs, medical marijuana sharply increases marijuana use and dependency. With 60 percent more cancer-causing chemicals than cigarettes and four times more tar, making marijuana more available is bad economic policy and bad health care policy.
PETER B. BENSINGER
ROBERT L. DuPONT
Chicago, Feb. 14, 2012
The writers are, respectively, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, 1976-81; and a psychiatrist and founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1973-78.
Florida’s Drug-Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their ExampleFebruary 18, 2012
By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law student and NORML Legal Intern
The recent push for implementing drug testing for potential welfare recipients across several states has revealed at least two things: 1. The policy is not economically sound; and 2. It really brings out the hypocrisy in some elected officials.
Last summer, Florida implemented a law requiring all welfare applicants to submit to a mandatory drug test before receiving any benefits (Applicants had to pay the $30 for the test themselves, only to be reimbursed later if they passed. For more information, see this NORML blog post.). Not surprisingly, the program was brought to a quick halt. Back in October of 2011, a federal judge ruled that the Florida drug testing law was unconstitutional.
Further, in the few months that the program was up and running, it was shown that only 2% of welfare applicants tested positive for drugs. About 9% of the general population reports using drugs in the past month. So much for Governor Rick Scott’s theory that the poor use drugs more often than the rest of the populace.
Even more striking is the amount of money that Florida lost from this poorly designed policy. The Tampa Bay Online estimated that $3,400 to $8,200 in savings would be recognized every month from drug testing welfare applicants. As it turns out, the program is estimated to have cost Florida over $200,000. From any perspective, this policy can be regarded as a failure.
Despite the lessons that can be learned from Florida’s debacle, several states are still considering implementing programs to subject their impoverished population to drug tests. The Huffington Post reported that twelve states attempted passing legislation in 2011 that would require drug tests for welfare applicants. Florida, Missouri, and Arizona were the only three that succeeded. However, Pennsylvania has just begun a pilot program in Schuylkill County that subjects certain applicants to drug tests. By tailoring their laws to apply only to applicants that have aroused reasonable suspicion, these states are hoping to avoid constitutional problems like those that ultimately invalidated the Florida law and a similar Michigan law in 2000 (which was affirmed in 2003). Several states have also tried to drug test those who seek unemployment benefits, state employees, and private sector employees, including the passage of an Indiana law that requires drug testing for those in a state job-training program.
When pressed, legislators that support this policy try to justify their position by claiming that the taxpayers should not subsidize drug addiction. But taxpayers pay for much more than just welfare. Some of their money goes towards paying their legislators’ salaries. Wouldn’t this same rationale justify drug testing legislators? This has been the tactic of many Democratic state legislators to thwart Republican efforts to test welfare applicants. In fact, a Republican State representative in the Indiana General Assembly recently pulled a bill after another representative amended it to include drug testing for legislators. The bill was reintroduced and passed by the Indiana General Assembly the following week, which included a section requiring legislators to submit to random drug tests. Missouri and Tennessee currently have bills that would require legislators to submit to drug tests. These were introduced in reaction to a slew of bills aimed at requiring drug tests on different areas of the population. It seems that the legislators who want to drug test the poor aren’t really convinced of the merits of the program when applied to themselves.
Hopefully, state politicians will come to their senses as knowledge about the failure of Florida’s policy becomes more well-known. But given this country’s track record on drug policy, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.
To see a hilarious summary of Florida’s drug-test-the-poor policy, watch this Daily Show clip, which includes Florida State Representative Scott Plakon’s and Governor Rick Scott’s reactions to being asked to take a drug test.
To: DEA, HIDTA, Federal task force partners in California for internal law enforcement use only. Not for public use or circulation [Editor's note: Hah! Also, this memo is only applicable in California---not Colorado, New Mexico and Maine, where these states regulate the medical cannabis industry (whereas California does not, arguably opening the door to federal incursions and prosecutions).]
From: California United States Attorneys
This memorandum outlines factors that all four California U.S. Attorneys Offices (the USAOs) agree may render a particular marijuana case suitable for federal prosecution. Identification of these factors is intended to assist federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in determining whether a particular marijuana case has significant potential for federal prosecution and conducting investigations in a manner that develops the best evidence to support federal prosecution (Footnote 1). The USAOS will consider for federal prosecution cases investigated by federal, state or local law enforcement agencies that implicate federal interests as reflected in the factors. Cases investigated by federal agencies will generally be given priority over cases adopted from state or local investigations. The factors listed below are relevant to the USAOs consideration of whether a marijuana case should be prosecuted federally but the presence or absence of one or more of the factors will not guarantee or preclude federal prosecution in any case. In general the federal interest will be greater in prosecuting leaders and organizers of the criminal activity as opposed to lower level workers.
The memorandum is intended as prospective guidance only, is not intended to have the force of law and is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied on to create any right, privilege or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any person or entity against any type of the USAOs, DOJ or the United States.
1) Domestic distribution cases.
Federal prosecution of a case of domestic distribution of marijuana should generally involve at least 200 or more kilograms of marijuana and also include additional factors that reflect a clear federal interest in prosecution (Footnote 2—This guidance for domestic distribution cases does not apply to cases involving distribution within or smuggling into a federal prison.18 USC 1791). Typically the more marijuana above 200 kilograms the better the potential for federal prosecution. Domestic distribution cases involving quantities of marijuana below 200kilograms should demonstrate an especially strong federal interest or should not be prosecuted with marijuana distribution as the sole federal charge. Set forth below is a non-exhaustive list of factors that USAOs believe indicate a federal interest in a domestic distribution case.
*Distribution by an individual or organization with provable ties to an international drug cartel or a poly-drug trafficking organization.
*Distribution of significant quantities to persons or organizations outside California.
*Distribution by individuals with significant prior criminal histories.
*Distribution by individuals with provable ties to a street gang that engages in drug trafficking involving violent conduct.
*Distribution for the purpose of funding other criminal activities.
*Distribution near protected locations or involving underage or vulnerable people (e.g. in violation of 21 USC 859 persons under 21, 860 near schools, playground and colleges, 861 employment of persons under 18).
*Distribution involving the use or presence of firearms or other dangerous weapons including cases that would support charges under 18 USC 924c.
*Distribution generating significant profits that are used or concealed in ways that would support charges of federal financial crimes such as tax evasion, money laundering or structuring. Note: Generation of significant profits alone generally will not be viewed as a factor weighing in favor of federal prosecution.
*Distribution in conjunction with other federal crimes involving violence or intimidation.
2. Cultivation cases.
Federal prosecution of a marijuana case involving cultivation on non-federal or non-tribal land, indoor or outdoor, should generally involve at least 1,000 marijuana plants so that the quantity necessary to trigger the ten-year mandatory minimum sentence can be clearly proven and also include additional factors that reflect a clear federal interest in prosecution. Typically, the more marijuana above 1,000 plants, the better the potential for federal prosecution. Non-federal or non-tribal land cases involving quantities below 1,000 plants should demonstrate an especially strong federal interest or should not be prosecuted with marijuana cultivation as the sole federal charge. Federal prosecution of a marijuana case involving cultivation on federal or tribal land should generally involve at least 500 marijuana plants and also include additional factors that reflect a clear federal interest in prosecution. Cases on federal or tribal land involving quantities below 500 plants will be considered if they demonstrate a strong federal interest, if the cultivation has caused significant damage to federal or tribal lands or has occurred in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction (Footnote 3– The USAOs will consider the totality of circumstances with respect to all marijuana plant quantities in these guidelines. For example, the presence of especially mature, large or robust plants will generally weigh in favor of prosecution while the presence of seedlings or immature plants will generally weigh against prosecution). Set forth below is a non-exhaustive list of factors that the USAOs believe indicate a federal interest that may justify federal prosecution of a marijuana case involving cultivation whether on federal, tribal or other lands.
*Cultivation causing significant environmental damage, risk to human health or interference with particularly sensitive land or significant recreational interests, ie damage to wilderness area or wildlife, danger to innocent families using a recreation area or use of toxic or dangerous chemicals.
*Cultivation by an individual or organization with provable ties to an international drug cartel or poly-drug trafficking organization.
*Cultivation of significant quantities on behalf or persons or organizations outside California.
*Cultivation by individuals with significant prior criminal histories.
*Cultivation by individuals with provable ties to a street gang that engages in drug trafficking involving violent conduct.
*Cultivation for the purpose of funding other criminal activities.
*Cultivation near protected locations or involving under-age or vulnerable people (eg, in violation…
*Cultivation involving the use or presence of fire-arms, booby traps or other dangerous weapons including cases that would support charges under 18 USC 924c.
*Cultivation generating significant profits that are used or concealed in ways that would support charges for federal financial crimes such as tax evasion, money laundering or structuring. Note—generation of significant profits alone will not be viewed as a factor weighing in favor of federal prosecution.
*Cultivation in conjunction with other federal crimes involving violence or intimidation
3. Dispensary cases.
Given California state law, prosecution of marijuana stores or “dispensaries” purporting to comply with state law face additional challenges. Federal prosecution of a case involving a marijuana store should generally involve a) provable sales through seizures or records of over 200 kilograms or 1000 plants per year. b) sales clearly in violation of state law, eg sales to persons without legitimate doctors’ recommendations, side-sales occurring outside of the store or shipping to persons outside of California (Note—selling for profit, though a violation of state l aw, typically alone will not alone satisfy this requirement), and c) additional factors that reflect a federal interest in prosecution. Set forth below is a non-exhaustive list of such additional factors. Nothing herein should be taken as a limitation on investigation by federal law enforcement to determine the existence of these factors. However, search warrants or other more intrusive investigative techniques directed at marijuana stores should be closely coordinated with the USAOs.
*Marijuana “inventory” obtained from cultivation on federal or tribal land.
*Targets involved in cultivation or distribution outside of the dispensary that merits federal prosecution based on consideration of factors set forth in sections 1 and 2 above.
*Targets using profits from the dispensary to support other criminal activity.
*Store linked to physician providing marijuana recommendations without plausible legitimate justification, eg doctor on site providing recommendation with no on-site examinations or legitimate medical procedures.
*Targets have significant prior criminal histories.
*Targets have provable ties to a street gang that engages in drug trafficking involving violent conduct.
*Store operations involve the use or presence or firearms or other dangerous weapons including cases that would support charges under 18 USC 924.
*Store generates significant profits that are used/concealed in ways that would support charges for federal financial crimes such as tax evasion, money laundering or structuring. Note–generation of significant profits alone generally will not be viewed as a factor weighing in favor of federal prosecution
*Store operations in conjunction with other federal crimes involving violence or intimidation.
*Store employs minors under 18 and/or sells a significant portion of marijuana to minors under the age of 21 especially where evidence that minors aren’t using for medical purposes
4. Civil forfeiture.
The USAOs general preference is to pursue forfeiture through criminal forfeiture or civil forfeiture filed in parallel with a criminal case. Nevertheless circumstances may arise in which civil forfeiture alone is the best option. Those cases will generally involve one or more of the following:
*Significant forfeitable assets clearly traceable to marijuana trafficking in violation of federal criminal law that would merit federal prosecution based on consideration of factors set forth in sections 1-3 above.
*Significant forfeitable assets clearly traceable to non-marijuana related violations of federal law such as structuring or money-laundering. Large scale “medical marijuana” cultivation operations that 1) are operating in violation of state law 2) involve real property that has been the subject of a warning letter or similar prior notice or 3) involve real property that has been the subject of a prior forfeiture proceeding arising from marijuana cultivation or a property owner who has been a claimant in such proceedings or individual targets not subject to criminal prosecution eg fugitives or persons whose involvement in marijuana trafficking is too marginal to justify criminal prosecution including off-site land lords and non-resident owners falsely claiming ignorance of tenant’s marijuana trafficking.