A Shill for Prohibition
Rouda Itousey raises a reefer ruckus!
The psychedelic work of Fred Tomaselli p.29
A delicious canna-carrot soup p.36
Anti-pot propagandist Kevin Sabet serves up a menu of disinformation.
I've just returned from a hearing in the Oregon State Legislature, where Kevin Sabet presented an hour's worth of testimony to a panel of senators and representatives. His Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) is a propaganda campaign designed to paint the War on Drugs with a kinder, gentler brush. Sabet readily admits that locking up pot smokers is wasteful, ineffective and racially biased, but he rejects legalization as an equally bad approach that would create a “Big Marijuana” industry preying on children. Sabet is the Goldilocks of the War on Drugs: Prohibition is too hard, legalization is too soft, but fining pot smokers and forcing them into rehab is juuuust right! (Growers and sellers? They’d still get prison.)
I’ve been tracking Sabet’s Project SAM from the beginning and even debated him at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. He’s a slick talker and can easily dupe those who are on the fence and relatively uninformed about marijuana legalization. True to form, he tried fooling Oregon’s elected officials with talking points easily debunked by science and data, such as: “Keeping marijuana illegal means less use—after all,
52 percent of Americans use alcohol, 27 percent use tobacco, but only 7 percent use marijuana.”
But it’s not legality that makes a drug popular. During Prohibition, drinking rates increased despite the fact that alcohol was illegal. Likewise, marijuana’s been illegal since 1937, but over 100 million people have tried it since then. And even though tobacco has always been legal, its use has dropped by one-third over the last 30 years. Similarly, hallucinogens are just as illegal as marijuana, but only 1 million people used them last year, compared to 19 million marijuana users.
Sabet also offered this: “One in six kids who tries marijuana gets addicted—and that could lead to a permanent eight-point drop in IQ.” Not surprisingly,
he fudged the numbers to get that “one in six” ratio. One in 11 people do develop marijuana dependence—an “addiction” as tough to kick as drinking coffee. And that lone study indicating an “eightpoint IQ drop” was debunked by another researcher using the same data. In 1979, 31 percent of kids had tried pot; by 1992, that number had dropped to 11 percent; and these days, it’s up to 17 percent. However, SAT scores, state reading and math tests, and other measures of intelligence have shown no rise or fall corresponding with these marijuana-use rates.
Then again, what difference does it make anyway? No one’s proposing legalizing marijuana for kids.
Why wouldn’t we prefer a marijuana industry that creates jobs, pays taxes and checks IDs to the current arrangement of illegal drug cartels that bribe police, behead their rivals and have no qualms about selling to minors?
(( Sabet also pooh-poohed the idea of pot prisoners languishing in jail: “Only 0.4 percent of prisoners with no prior offenses are in jail for marijuana possession.” Gee, with 1.5 million prisoners total, that’s “only” 6,000 people sitting in jail for simple possession. And at $31,000 per person to hold them there, that’s “only” $186 million we’re spending annually on jailing people who have committed no other offense and would rather buy legal taxed marijuana and be contributing members of society. Plus Sabet’s number ignores another 1 percent (15,000 people, $465 million) who did have prior offenses, and tens of thousands more who grew, sold, trafficked or distributed marijuana, or whose dirty pee test was a probation or parole violation.
Sabet also ventured into the nonsensical: “Alcohol and tobacco bring in $40 billion in taxes but cost $400 million in social costs, so marijuana taxes wouldn’t make any money.” This is like saying that because football and boxing cause head trauma, we need to ban golf. The cost of alcohol and tobacco to society is so high because they’re toxic and addictive. Alcohol leads to violence and crime; tobacco leads to cancer and death. A Canadian study in 2002 found that a pot smoker costs Canada $20 per year in health-care
costs. Adjusted for inflation, that would be a whopping $26 today. Does Sabet really believe that we can’t raise $26 in taxes per pot smoker per year? Has he seen those lines outside the pot shops in Denver?
One of Sabet’s favorite fail-back villains is the specter of a giant corporate pot industry: “Legalization will create a Big Marijuana that, like Big Tobacco, will target kids and lie about their product.” But legal marijuana businesses can’t “target” kids and have no reason to: The fastest-growing demographic of pot smokers is people over the age of 50, which has tripled since 2002. And why wouldn’t we prefer a marijuana industry that creates jobs, pays taxes and checks IDs to the current arrangement of illegal drug cartels that bribe police, behead their rivals and have no qualms about selling to minors?
Sabet’s dog-and-pony show didn’t convince the legislators in Oregon, who are well educated on these issues after 16 years of effective medical marijuana activism. Project SAM’s biggest weakness
is in having no rational alternative to a legal marijuana market, proposing instead to leave it in the hands of cartels, criminals and kids—something that State Senator Floyd Prozanski exposed in his questioning.
Sabet had spent the day explaining how he “had no problem with the 50-year-old guy who wants to smoke a joint at home on the weekend.” Prozanski then asked, “They should be able to do that, but they have to go to the black market?” Incredibly, Sabet replied: “Yes— the cons of legalization are more than the cons of prohibition. That is the con of prohibition: that you have to go to the underground market.”
Sorry, Kevin, but the real “con” of prohibition is you—and everyone else who claims that keeping pot illegal accomplishes anything in terms of actually controlling marijuana, 4^
Listen to The Russ Belville Show at radicalruss.com.