The RPs Debate Marijuana Legalization: David Host Rebuts

David Host: Rebuttal #5

[The RP’s Provocation; Jason Atkinson’s Rebuttal #1; The RP’s First Defense: Jason Atkinson’s First Response; Artur Davis’ Rebuttal #2; The RP’s Second Defense; Artur Davis’ First Response; Ron Granieri’s Rebuttal #3; Jeff Smith’s Rebuttal #4; The RP’s Third Defense; Artur Davis’ Second Response; Jeff Smith’s First Response]

The author is the CEO of Host Strategic Resources, LLC, a firm specializing in strategic and crisis communications, speechwriting, web development and open source software implementation.  He was the former Communications Director for Congresswoman Katherine Harris (R-FL)

A very thoughtful piece, Jonathan. I have become more open to the case for legalization in recent years, though I’m far from convinced.

First, the notion that pot is “harmless” is far from proven. Perhaps the best characterization of the evidence I have seen is that – like tobacco – the cumulative impact varies from person to person. For example, George Burns smoked cigars and lived to be 100. Likewise, there are plenty of “casual” pot users who don’t experience significant health effects.

Yet, according to a Scientific American article detailing the same peer review study you cited, “[c]hronic marijuana use has been associated with anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and depression.” Given the role of such mental disorders in violent crime, I respectfully disagree with how you dismiss the potential links between marijuana abuse and violent crime – not to mention the risks associated with impaired driving, heavy equipment operation, etc. Moreover, while marijuana may not have the addictive characteristics of cocaine, there is plenty of evidence that it can be addictive, at least for some individuals.

Thus, it appears as though one’s understanding of one’s own physiology, family health history (particularly instances of addiction) might be the most important consideration in deciding whether pot use is safe (just as it is in the case of alcohol and tobacco). This decision relies upon the judgment that comes with age. So, as part of a legalization regime, would we establish minimum age requirements – a “pot smoking age”?

Under this scenario, won’t we have the same problem all over again – kids grasping for the “forbidden fruit” – and won’t the same criminal elements hang around to meet this demand? For me, the “gateway drug” argument retains particular salience in this case. Kids will find it easier to deal with pushers than trying to obtain the drug through legal channels via a fake ID or other means. The legal availability of marijuana will certainly depress the “street price” – but pushers will still deal the drug in order to continue developing their market for harder drugs.
With good reason, proponents have made the argument for years that pot should be subject to the same regulation regime as alcohol and tobacco. Just because this argument works on philosophical grounds doesn’t mean this approach will benefit society, however. Indeed, the argument that we should treat pot like alcohol and tobacco becomes most pernicious when it implies that pot has less capacity to harm than the other two. Perhaps its use can be beneficial for specific medical reasons (likewise, plenty of studies have suggested that a drink a day can reduce the risk of a heart attack). Yet, as society and government emphasize “responsible” alcohol consumption while skating on the edge of tobacco prohibition, won’t marijuana legalization risk implicitly offering the government’s seal of approval for pot use?

I certainly share the view that significant review of the draconian penalties associated with marijuana might be in order, although I’m not sure we can repeal these provisions without significantly impeding law enforcement’s efforts to battle harder drugs. First, consider the “broken glass” principle; i.e., if our society fails to enforce laws at all levels – particularly among our youth – we promote disrespect for the law which leads to more serious crimes. Regardless of one’s view of Rudy Giuliani in the aggregate, I have yet to read (or hear) a credible argument disputing the conclusion his policy of cracking down on graffiti and panhandling went a long way toward making New York a safer city.

Second, consider the Al Capone rule – if we want to catch the big-time dealers of hard drugs, don’t we need the ability to prosecute and jail them for any offense law enforcement can prove (particularly when that offense is part of the same criminal enterprise – which is what provided the impetus for RICO)? At the very least, shouldn’t we retain some leverage with pot pushers who might turn state’s evidence for the “big fish.”

In the end, I think the debate does come down to the libertarian vs. statist argument. If one believes that government has a role in regulating what people ingest, it’s still hard in my view to justify the legalization and regulation of marijuana under current circumstances. If one embraces the libertarian argument, then the FDA is (and should be) toast.

Ultimately, I think we, as a society, have to muddle through this issue – at the very least, repealing federal mandatory minimum sentences as they relate to marijuana is in order. Even more important, we need to have an honest debate about this drug, dismissing the more radical claims of either side (particularly the “miracle herb” nonsense from the hemp lobby). But the same message must be clear throughout – it’s never appropriate for kids.


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