A Governor who (reportedly) has national ambitions can sometimes hinder progress on state issues that are still somewhat divisive at the national level. Andrew Cuomo supports decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana (primarily as a way to avoid high arrest rates) and he supports an unusual, quasi-legal medical marijuana plan. But he is decidedly against outright legalization, despite a clear declaration of support from most voters (and it’s very likely that support will only increase in the future). Cuomo may genuinely oppose legalization or he may feel the time is not yet right to publicly voice support for drug reform. Either way, it’s realistic to expect that, under enough pressure from the public, the Governor could be convinced to compromise or strike some sort of deal.
But if Cuomo is thinking of running for President, the choice of whether or not to support legalization becomes far more complicated. People in New Jersey are facing a similar problem. Is their Governor’s every move a calculated campaign stunt or is it something that actually benefits the state? Nobody should have to worry about their state government being a mere stepping stone on one man’s path to greater things, but it’s an unfortunate reality in a country that often values power more than public service.
NBC News has posted this gem of a headline, "Pot Fuels Surge In Drugged Driving Deaths." Like every good story, it leads with a compelling anecdote—in this case, someone who was killed by a stoned driver. Then it cites the following statistics:
As medical marijuana sales expanded into 20 states, legal weed was detected in the bodies of dead drivers three times more often during 2010 when compared to those who died behind the wheel in 1999, according to a new study from Columbia University published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
“The trend suggests that marijuana is playing an increased role in fatal crashes,” said Dr. Guohua Li, a co-author and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University Medical Center. The researchers examined data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), spanning more than 23,000 drivers killed during that 11-year period.
But wait! Buried towards the bottom of the article are these statistics:
A separate study — also based on FARS data — found that in states where medical marijuana was approved, traffic fatalities decrease by as much as 11 percent during the first year after legalization. Written by researchers at the University of Colorado, Oregon and Montana State University, the paper was published in 2013 in the Journal of Law & Economics.
Those authors theorized pot, for some, becomes a substitute for alcohol. They cited a recent, 13-percent drop in drunk-driving deaths in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“Marijuana reform is associated with … a decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely due to its impact on alcohol consumption,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association in Colorado.
So there’s an increase in marijuana-related crashes in states with some form of legalized pot, but there’s also a corresponding decrease in alcohol-related crashes. The net result is a decrease in the overall number of traffic fatalities. Yet NBC still chose to run a headline that, without context, suggests that legal pot is leading to more traffic fatalities, which it is not. The opposite is in fact true.
Most people aren’t going to dig to the bottom of the article to get this important contextual information. Instead, they’ll see the headline, read the first couple paragraphs, and the message they’ll get is that legal pot is increasing the number of traffic fatalities—without realizing that legal pot has actually reduced traffic fatalities overall.
Presenting the story in this manner is irresponsible. The headline is misleading, as are the initial supporting paragraphs. A lot of people are going to walk away from this article with the wrong message because NBC presented it in a poor fashion. And now, we get to listen to anti-pot crusaders tell us about how legal pot activists have blood on their hands, despite the fact that legal pot hasn’t actually increased the number of people dying in traffic fatalities. It has actually reduced them. And if this story leads people in battleground states to vote against legalized pot, it will be NBC that has blood on its hands, not legalization activists.
Combating racially discriminatory marijuana arrest practices will require a team effort across a variety of communities—scientific, advocacy and so on—and it is in this spirit of a shared purpose that I write. But perhaps I can be forgiven for my impatience with organizations that claim to be allies in this fight while also displaying blatant apathy concerning this issue. You see, I am the father of three black sons. I recognize that there is a high probability that they, like their white counterparts, may one day experiment with marijuana. Knowing the potential consequences if they are arrested, I cannot afford to remain silent.
I call on our allies to break their silence on this issue and make racial justice a central part of the fight against pot prohibition. The next generation is counting on you.
New York Times columnist David Brooks published an editorial yesterday that, remarkably, distinguished itself as among the silliest things he’s ever written (despite some tough competition). In it, he takes us through an unsolicited journey through his teenage experiments with marijuana and concludes that while he doesn’t ”have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time,” he nonetheless believes that “being stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.”
OK, fair enough, you might be thinking to yourself. But Brooks keeps going:
We now have a couple states — Colorado and Washington — that have gone into the business of effectively encouraging drug use. By making weed legal, they are creating a situation in which the price will drop substantially. One RAND study suggests that prices could plummet by up to 90 percent, before taxes and such. As prices drop and legal fears go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it is confirmed by much research. Colorado and Washington, in other words, are producing more users.
Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.
If laws “profoundly mold culture” and have the ability to “nurture” a certain type of “community,” then surely the marijuana laws Brooks is defending are a massive failure, are they not? Laws prohibiting the use and sale of marijuana are not just routinely ignored, they are now ignored more often than ever before. Today, 38% of Americans admit they’ve tried marijuana, compared to 4% in 1969. The prohibition of marijuana has successfully molded a populace that openly disobeys and disrespects federal laws. Why does Brooks expect the continuation of prohibition to suddenly yield radically different results? He doesn’t explain, but then again, he rarely does.
And what of the many behaviors that most would agree are generally undesirable yet do not carry with them the consequence of imprisonment, such as excessive eating, self-harm, or adultery? Should we prohibit these activities in an attempt to foster a healthier community? Much like marijuana use, we could not prevent extramarital affairs or an over-fondness for cupcakes by prohibiting them via federal law, even if we could all agree that society would be better off without obesity and unhappy relationships. It’s one thing to suggest that PR campaigns or mild regulations could help curtail a societal ill but it’s something else entirely to think that rounding up obese people and adulterers would make our country a better place to live.
Brooks’ column reads like it was written by someone who doesn’t live in the real world, but rather sits isolated from society, ruminating on what rules might be applied to everyone else. Indeed, Brooks can’t be bothered to address the most troubling aspects of marijuana prohibition, such as mass incarceration or a racist criminal justice system. Instead, he, a white guy who probably never faced much risk of being arrested for his marijuana use, thinks the rabble should be taught a thing or two about the finer pleasures in life by being tossed into a cage for a few months, or years, or decades. Only someone truly ignorant of the myriad consequences of prohibition could so flippantly argue for its continuation.
We all know prohibition is going to end, and I think personally that it’s critically important in order for this process to succeed, we need to establish professional businesses that can bring mainstream brands to mainstream America…
Prohibition causes the black market, the black market creates opportunities for illicit money, and ideally we want that black market to go away. In order to do that, we need to establish professional companies.