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What Pot Legalizers Really Want

| 18 Comments
I just ran across this disquieting story, which starts:

A study of calls for assistance to poison control centers, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, reveals dramatic increases [in requests] for help with pediatric accidental ingestion of marijuana in states that legalized or decriminalized it.

According to the report, there were "985 calls to U.S. poison centers for unintentional marijuana exposure in children ages 9 and younger between 2005 and 2011, according to an analysis of data from the National Poison Data System (NPDS)." Although this is a relatively low number the researchers learned that the rate of calls "in states that had passed legislation legalizing marijuana use for recreational or medicinal purposes before 2005 more than tripled over this period."


There's an old jury instruction to the effect that members of the jury "may infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his acts."  If that's true  -- and it is  --  the picture is beginning to take shape of what legalizers really want.



18 Comments

Do opponents of gun control intend to kill several hundred children every year? Or do they support the right of competent adults to responsibly own and use firearms notwithstanding the inevitable deaths that come along with widespread ownership of firearms by irresponsible individuals?

And while I should probably end my comment there, I would also note that several hundred accidental gun deaths is quite a bit higher than the zero children who died as a result of accidental marijuana ingestion, as noted in the study.

The difference is at least twofold. First, there is a constitutional right to use guns, but none to use drugs. Second, fans of the Second Amendment do not pretend that there will be no accidental (or criminal for that matter) use of guns, but fans of drug legalization constantly tell us (as they did repeatedly in Colorado and Washington) that it will be done with strict regulation that will keep drugs out of the hands of youths. As they speak, they're lying, and they know they're lying.

While I assume the premise of your post is hyperbole (or that it is a further attempt to smear people you disagree with; either way) rather than a literal argument that supporters of marijuana legalization intend to cause ingestion by minors, this literal argument doesn't permit the 2nd Amendment distinction you offer.

By supporting loose gun laws, with knowledge of the inevitable deaths that result, your jury instruction argument would lead to the conclusion that NRA members intend to kill children. While the 2nd Amendment protects the right of NRA members to own guns, it certainly doesn't protect their right to intentionally kill children.

And I doubt you will find many supporters of legalization who would say that there will be no accidental or intentional use of drugs by youths. The question, as with gun control, is whether the cost of potential increased youth use resulting from marijuana legalization outweighs the benefits. And while the benefits of marijuana use don't enjoy the constitutional protection that the benefits of gun ownership do (unless you live in Alaska), they're not non-existent, either. Users obviously find it enjoyable. The potential health benefits at least merit rescheduling to permit regulated medical use. Not making close to half the country surreptitious felons seems like a good idea. Freeing up some money spent enforcing marijuana prohibition might allow the Justice Department to indict bankers 5 years after their crimes instead of 6. And legalization would signal that our governments actually respond to their constituent's policy preferences.

Like the NRA members who are willing to tolerate a few hundred dead children a year so that they can hunt or enjoy the local shooting range or potentially defend themselves, I'm willing to tolerate an extra fifty children feeling ill for a few hours each year so that we can reap the benefits I listed.

"While I assume the premise of your post is hyperbole (or that it is a further attempt to smear people you disagree with; either way)..."


Understand this and understand it now. I do not permit disrespectful personal attacks, and if you try it again, your comment will never see the light of day. I don't care if you like it. This forum is not going to be headed in the direction of the sewer where other legal blogs have gone.


I will assume you're getting the message and will clean it up. For that reason, I'll give you a break this time and answer the rest of your remarks.


"By supporting loose gun laws, with knowledge of the inevitable deaths that result, your jury instruction argument would lead to the conclusion that NRA members intend to kill children."


When I think that NRA members intend to kill children, you won't have to guess about it. I tend to speak my mind.


But while we're at it: Do you think they intend to kill children? Yes or no.


The problem, of course, is that you take a wrong turn from the getgo. I do not support "loose gun laws." I support all components of the Bill of Rights, and I regard them as serving important facets of fundamental freedom as the Framers understood it. Getting blasted would not be included.


"While the 2nd Amendment protects the right of NRA members to own guns, it certainly doesn't protect their right to intentionally kill children."


In that we completely agree. That's one reason I support the death penalty for shooting people down in the street. Do you?


"The question, as with gun control, is whether the cost of potential increased youth use resulting from marijuana legalization outweighs the benefits."


Since there ARE no benefits, except getting zapped and improving your appetite for brownies, the cost necessarily is higher, cf. my note on America in Decline.


"Users obviously find it enjoyable."


It's a big, big mistake to conflate "enjoyable" with "beneficial." I believe you'll have a better grasp of this unhappy fact as you get older.


"The potential health benefits at least merit rescheduling to permit regulated medical use."


Keep up. We ALREADY HAVE regulated medical use of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, in the legal drug Marinol. If you need it, I urge you to seek a prescription. I have no problem with legal medicines, including those that contain opium (morphine).


"Not making close to half the country surreptitious felons seems like a good idea."


1. They make THEMSELVES criminals; I'm just sitting here typing.


2. Mere possession of user amounts (i.e., a joint or two) is not only not a felony, it's barely a misdemeanor. It might be just an infraction. But one way or the other, you're crying wolf. Felony schmelony.


3. Nothing even vaguely close to half the country smokes dope frequently at all. What source are you using? The headcount at your roommate's party last Saturday night?


"Freeing up some money spent enforcing marijuana prohibition might allow the Justice Department to indict bankers 5 years after their crimes instead of 6."


Take it up with Eric Holder. Maybe he could pay better attention if he spent less time at Al Sharpton conventions grumbling (in code of course) about the White Devil.


"And legalization would signal that our governments actually respond to their constituent's policy preferences."


All the more so with more robust use of the death penalty, which half our people say isn't used often enough. You do support them, right?


"...I'm willing to tolerate an extra fifty children feeling ill for a few hours each year so that we can reap the benefits I listed."


It will be massively more than fifty; the damage goes well beyond "feeling ill for a few hours;" and there are no "benefits" a productive society wants or needs.

Other than that, though, you're spot on.



Bill, I look forward to your call for the criminalization of makeup and household cleaners, both of which result in well over 100,000 times more poison control calls for children than marijuana. See my post here: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/

Oh, and I find it rich to hear you talk about civility when your post accuses people who don't want to criminalize marijuana of "really wanting" to hurt children.

Alex,

1. Thank you for using your real name.

2. I don't tell you what causes to promote among the many that compete for your attention. I believe this works both ways.

3. Do you doubt that children will be better off if they stay away from pot?

4. Do you doubt that pot will be more accessible, including to children, if it is legalized?

5. Do you disagree with the idea that it's plausible to infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his acts?

6. Perhaps you also found it "rich" that my wife and I were both called "kapos" on SL&P, which you regularly read. But you voiced no objection to this slur on civility or any other grounds.

As happens so often, those who promote drug use see villainy only in people with the temerity to hold what is, on campus, the opposing, minority view. Campus life used to be different from that, but you might be too young to remember.

7. Your message invites asking the questions you declined to answer before:

Do you favor the legalizing of heroin?

Of methamphetamine?

Of LSD?

Of PCP?

Of cocaine?

If they are legalized, do you have reason to believe that we'll be any more successful in keeping them away from underaged people than we are in keeping booze away from them?

One more question for now, Alex: Do you think Blane Michael would have posted a comment like yours?

Hi Bill,

In response to my comment, you say only that you don't tell people what causes to promote "among the many that compete for your attention." That seems to imply that you favor criminalizing lipstick and cleaning products, but it's just not your top priority. Is that accurate?

I'm guessing the answer is no. If so, then why not? Why is the horror of cosmetics, which cause 150,000 poison control calls for kids under 5, acceptable while 953 calls over 6 years for marijuana is evidence that people who disagree with you have some secret agenda of harming kids (which, you don't seem to deny is what you accuse people who think marijuana prohibition is a failure believe in this post)? (I should add that my questions here re directly responsive to your post and quite genuine.)

Regarding your laundry list of mostly random questions (including about the late Judge for whom I clerked), with all respect, the fact that someone comments on your site doesn't mean they have to spend their day answering every single question you'd like to ask about drug policy (or whatever other issue you want to ask about).

Nor does the fact that I have the Sentencing Blog on my RSS feed mean I've ever seen you called a "kapo" on SL&P. I haven't. I'm sorry to report, time does not permit me to read every post or comment of every blog that I follow. And, even if I had seen that comment, the last I checked the failure to comment on an internet post was not evidence of agreement with the post (for example,there are plenty of posts on here I may disagree with, even if I might not have the time to comment on every one.)

So I'm not really sure what to say about your suggestion that I see "villainy" in you. I never accused you (or other prohibitionists) of wanting to harm children. This very post, by contrast, seems to suggest you see villainy in everyone who disagrees with you on this issue. Am I wrong?

Personally, I tend to assume that people operate in good faith until I have some reason to think otherwise. I certainly have plenty of friends who disagree with me about marijuana legalization, including some who work actively in opposition to legalization. (I also have good friends that disagree with me about foreign policy, health care, taste in music, etc. I could go on.)

But, my presumption of good faith sort of ends when someone suggests that every person who thinks legalization of marijuana would be a better policy than prohibition "really wants" to hurt children. At that point, I have to assume that the person I'm dealing with is kind of mean spirited. And, certainly, I don't feel bad about responding with sarcasm when I'm dealing with someone who I find to be mean spirited.

Regarding Judge Michael, I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity to spend a year of my life working for him. He was one of the kindest, funniest, most principled and smartest people I've ever known.

Alex,

As I often do, I will quote you and then give my answer:

"In response to my comment, you say only that you don't tell people what causes to promote 'among the many that compete for your attention.' That seems to imply that you favor criminalizing lipstick and cleaning products, but it's just not your top priority. Is that accurate?

Nope.

"If so, then why not?"

Because it's silly. But banning drugs is not silly, as you surely know. Congresses of all political and ideological stripes have done so for 40 years.

Perhaps you missed the point of my entry, which was that calls to poison control centers about pot ingestion among children have significantly INCREASED in jurisdictions where pot is legal. This is evidence that legalizing it increases availability and harm. Such evidence is relevant in this debate.

"I should add that my questions here [a]re directly responsive to your post and quite genuine."

I have my doubts. I think they're more likely designed to imply I have an IQ of 75. But at least they don't bring in my family.

"Regarding your laundry list of mostly random questions (including about the late Judge for whom I clerked), with all respect, the fact that someone comments on your site doesn't mean they have to spend their day answering every single question you'd like to ask about drug policy (or whatever other issue you want to ask about)."

The questions are not random and are, to the contrary, designed to test the rationale and limits of your support for drug legalization. Nor am I asking you to "spend your day answering" them, although two minutes would have been nice. Instead you spend a good deal longer than two minutes giving me a lecture on my affrontery in asking you about your position.

"Nor does the fact that I have the Sentencing Blog on my RSS feed mean I've ever seen you called a 'kapo' on SL&P. I haven't. I'm sorry to report, time does not permit me to read every post or comment of every blog that I follow. And, even if I had seen that comment, the last I checked the failure to comment on an internet post was not evidence of agreement with the post."

Nor, conspicuously, do you express any disagreement with it now. Nor do you lodge any problem with this kind of stuff being aimed, not at me, but at my family. (Although, as I'd have hoped you would say, it's pretty bad that it gets aimed at anyone). The tenor of your paragraph is that the problem here is not with slurs but with my bringing them up.

"So I'm not really sure what to say about your suggestion that I see 'villainy' in you. I never accused you (or other prohibitionists) of wanting to harm children."

I don't know about that. If I recall correctly, you have accused prohibitionists of wanting to ruin the lives of "kids" who get arrested for pot -- to ruin them by giving them a police record and all the attached adverse consequences, merely because we are unmoveably retrograde. Indeed, this is one of the most common accusations legalizers make.

"This very post, by contrast, seems to suggest you see villainy in everyone who disagrees with you on this issue. Am I wrong?"

Yes, you are wrong.

And now, Alex, I have answered three of your questions. It is time for me to note (a) that you answered not a single one of mine, and (b) that this is not a cross-examination, where you do the questioning and I, the humble and none-too-swift witness, meekly answer.

So before I answer any more of your questions, I will again ask that you answer the ones I previously asked of you.

Bill,

I'm not sure if you are genuinely unaware that this post is mean spirited or not. But just so we're on the same page, this post is titled "what pot legalizers really want." In it, you suggest that legalization will hurt children. And then you conclude by saying that "the picture is beginning to take shape of what legalizers really want." Is there any other way to interpret this than as a claim that "what legalizers really want" is to hurt children? If that's not what you are suggesting, then please tell me: just what is it that you intended to suggest that "pot legalizers really want" with this post?

From where I stand, you've written a post suggesting that people who support ending marijuana prohibition have a secret agenda--in your words "really want" (as opposed to what they claim to want)--of intending to hurt children. You seriously don't get that this indicates that you "see villainy" in people who disagree with you? If having a hidden intent to hurt children is not villainous, I don't know what is.

Contrary to your suggestion, I don't believe that that everyone who supports marijuana prohibition "wants to ruin the lives of kids." I don't believe I've ever said that. (If I have, I would certainly apologize for saying something so silly and wrong.) I do think that marijuana prohibition is harmful (obviously, that's why I oppose it). But I don't believe that people who disagree with me about what is best for our country secretly want to cause harm to our country. I believe most prohibitionists genuinely want what is in the best interest of the country and are not motivated by bad intentions. (Again, I would contrast my outlook with the view you express in this post about what you seem to believe people who support marijuana legalization "really want".)

I also certainly don't think anyone should call you or your family members a kapo or any other slur. But I must confess, I'm still not sure what my expressing disagreement with some comment I've never seen by some internet commenter I don't know has to do with anything. What is the relevance of an internet comment that I've still never seen written by someone I don't know to this exchange?

In response to your questions:

No, I do not believe children should use marijuana.

I do not believe that legalization will necessarily result in increased youth use (youth use rates in the Netherlands are not much different from other European countries and are far lower than here in the US.) And, of course, cigarettes (which remain legal) are one of the few drugs where we have significantly cut back use.

Now the devil is in the details--a stricter set of regulations is more likely to keep marijuana from kids than a more open system. I certainly favor strict regulations. I recognize the risk that, even with strict regulations, there may be marginally more increased youth access (particularly among older teens.) I believe that, on balance, the benefits of legalization outweigh this risk when it comes to marijuana (just as they do when it comes to alcohol.)

I agree it is plausible to infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of their actions in some circumstances. If D points a gun at Y's head and pulls the trigger, we can infer that D intended to kill Y as the natural and probable consequence of that act.

But I don't believe that this principle applies in the same way to policy questions, where trade offs are inevitably involved. For example, we would surely have fewer car deaths if we made it illegal to manufacture a car that went faster than 35 MPH. But we have decided to allow the trade off of faster travel (and increased freedom for motorists and car manufacturers) for an increased risk of car crashes. This doesn't mean, in my view, that everyone who favors a 75 MPH speed limit "intends" to cause more deaths than those who would favor a 55 or 35 MPH limit. (Likewise, I do not think that everyone who believes alcohol should be legal "intends" to cause the deaths of the people who overdose on alcohol every year.)

But since you seem to think this principle applies to the policy world, I'll ask again, does everyone who favors keeping household cleaners legal "intend" to harm children (in light of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of poison control calls for children who swallow household cleaners every year)? Or, do have they made a cost/benefit decision that we should allow adults to buy products that will help them to more effectively and efficiently clean their homes, despite the fact that some careless users of these products will leave them in places where their kids might swallow them by accident?

Finally, I do not support legalizing heroin, PCP, meth, etc. I still don't see the relevance of this to my views on marijuana legalization. I've never claimed to be a libertarian. Favoring the legalization is a relatively benign and widely used substance like marijuana is perfectly consistent with opposing the legalization of different substances that are significantly more harmful than marijuana.

To use an analogy: I don't favor the criminalization of UFC fights or pro football. But I would favor banning duals to the death or athletic competitions where the goal was to cut off an opponent's limb.

(As an aside, there is a big difference between the American style drug-war sort of prohibition and the type of prohibition most European countries have. In general, I favor moves away from our "war" style of prohibition, which I think has been profoundly unsuccessful. But, no, I do not want to legalize heroin. Sorry to disappoint you.)

Now what about you? Do you favor a return to alcohol prohibition? If not, it seems to me that this is where there is a real tension. I don't think one can say with a straight face that marijuana is more harmful than alcohol. So why criminalize the use and distribution of one but not the other? Or are you in favor of alcohol prohibition?

Alex,

Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful response. I am off today to the FedSoc's Executive Branch Review session, an all-day conference at the Mayflower hotel. So I will make only a very brief down payment of a response for now.

To be clear: I do not think that you, Alex Kreit, want to harm children. If my post led you to believe otherwise, I apologize.

I do, however, believe that there is a significant part of the legalization movement, a part rooted in the ideological defense bar, that DOES want to harm America, including its children. These people view the country as an essentially evil place, with an evil history of slavery, racism, imperialism, rapaciousness, capitalist inequity, class-based oppression and a good deal more. They want the country taken down a notch or two to put it in its place, and as punishment for its past and present sins.

There are a couple of ways to take it down. One is to release its criminals and spike its crime rate -- hence the drumbeat against incarceration. Another is to increase drug use, since that is likely to lower the country's productivity and competitive edge, as well as produce varying degrees of hardship and long-term unhappiness for individual drug users. One way to increase drug use is to lower the barriers to it. A major barrier at present is the legal prohibition on drugs, including pot.

Pot is the least dangerous of them, I agree (as does virtually everyone). But as between an America that does more pot and an America that does less, I would prefer the latter, and thus would keep prohibition.

Again, I understand that this is an incomplete answer, and I expect to have more post-conference.

For the record, I largely support the legalization of marijuana largely because I have not seen any argument that marijuana is any more harmful across the board than alcohol. Having the issue decided by the states (similar to alcohol) I think is an appropriate solution.

One thing about drugs in general that seems to be sometimes lost amongst the full legalization crowd is almost every state has very lenient sanctions for first possession offenders. For example in California we have PC 1000 which allows those charged with possession to complete certain requirements and if completed the charges are dismissed (I think I have that correct). So I am highly skeptical that prisons are chock full of people caught with a joint or a couple lines of coke.

Bill, have fun at the conference.

Bill,

I hope you are enjoying the conference and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

Briefly, though, I want to be clear about something: I never suggested you said anything bad about me personally. I never thought that you did. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't worry one bit if you had. You can say whatever you like about me, it's of no particular concern to me.

What did concern me was what I thought was a certain degree of hypocrisy (or perhaps a lack of self-awareness?) in your calling for civility in such an uncivil post.

As a refresher: you admonished another commenter for taking what you viewed as a disrespectful tone (I'm still not sure exactly what was so disrespectful in that comment--though maybe I missed it?)

I then observed that it was ironic (don't you think?) for you to call for civility when your original post seemed to be about as uncivil as it gets: an accusation that all people who support legalizing marijuana--not me personally, but everyone who disagrees with you about this issue as a group--wants to do harm to children.

Instead of owning up to the uncivil tone of this post (or explaining why accusing everyone who disagrees with you about this issue of having a secret agenda of harming children is anything other than uncivil), you brought up some random comment about you and your wife that some random person made on a different blog. Although I had no idea of that comment's existence until you mentioned it, you (for reasons that remain unexplained) criticized me for having "voiced no objection to this slur on civility or any other grounds."

You then said that I was wrong to think that your original post indicates you see villainy in those who disagree with you on this issue. (Without explaining why my interpretation of your post was off-base.)

And now, finally, you seem to come full circle on my original point about a lack of civility by accusing "a significant part of the legalization movement" of wanting to do harm to America!

As near as I can tell, your outlook is that a large number of people who disagree with you on this issue have nothing but hate and bad intentions in their hearts. But it is everyone else who is being uncivil?

Alex --

To quote from your post: "I never suggested you said anything bad about me personally. I never thought that you did. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't worry one bit if you had. You can say whatever you like about me, it's of no particular concern to me."

I didn't think you were losing a lot of sleep over what I write here. Still, I was attempting to be conciliatory in my last message, but that seems not to be working out optimally.

With all respect, my civility, incivility, hypocrisy, consistency or other personal virtues or failings are not the subject of this blog or this entry. It's not about me. It's about the harmfulness vel non of drug use. As to that, I'm afraid we are not going to agree.

I think I have been fair in providing a reasonable opportunity for you to make your points. Things have pretty well run their course.

I appreciate your interest in the blog and your many contributions to the substantive debate.

Hi Bill,

Respectfully, I'm not sure I'd agree that the discussion has really run its course. I mean, you yourself began the day by posting a short reply that you said was incomplete and described as a down payment of a response. I'd imagined this meant you planned to respond to at least some of my other comments.

In particular, you haven't said whether you support alcohol prohibition (or, if not, why you believe legalized alcohol is acceptable while legalized marijuana is not.)

You (still) haven't explained why 953 calls about marijuana over 6 years is indicative of an intent to harm children, while the hundreds of thousands of emergencies involving children ingesting other products is a risk you think society can live with.

So I do hope you'll reconsider and reply as you said that you would. But, if not, I won't take it personally.

Hi Alex --

I'll answer the questions you asked in your note above in an email to you. I think I have your address. But the comment thread is now about ten times as long as the original entry, which is vastly longer than almost any other thread, and not the way it's designed to work here.

Too bad this has run out of steam, as I think Alex has rightly questioned both the tone and substance of your points here, Bill. The Yahoo post likewise took you on effectively and you bullied him away. So much for a robust civil discourse on these important issues.

Doug --

It's beyond ironic for you to take me to task for the supposed incivility on this thread, after you did absolutely nothing to remedy, or even take note of, the religious slurs, foul-mouthed insults and other gutter-dwelling remarks against my wife, and me, on your own blog.

Perhaps it would be more fitting for you to do at least something to curb the numerous episodes of atrocious behavior on SL&P before wagging a finger at the incomparably better behavior that has been, and will continue to be, required here.

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