Prop. 19 and Rationalization

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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38 Responses

  1. Avatar RTod says:

    It seems pretty self evident to me (read: I have no data whatsoever to back up what I’m about to say) that the opposition to legalizing marijuana has little to do with marijuana itself, and has everything to do with people’s perception about what kinds of people want to smoke it.

    So while I agree, Jason, that your point above is 100% true, I sadly suspect that it is 100% irrelevant.

    Bottom line: I don’t think most people are going to vote against legalization because of societal/policy issues, regardless of what the tell others or themselves. I think people will vote against it because they don’t care for Hippies, Urban Rapping Blacks (the Bill Cosby kind are still ok, though), Communists, Kids Who Ask For Change At the Corner, and the Academic Left that just can’t bring itself to do an honest day’s work.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to RTod says:

      @RTod, That seems to have always been the way I remember reading that the earliest drug laws in western countries were inspired by the fact opium was associated with Chinese immigrants, which of course is ironic given that China was one of the first countries to try and ban the drug trade.Report

  2. Avatar gregiank says:

    Tradition, no wait, i mean status quo bias is difficult to overcome.Report

  3. I’m perfectly happy to disclose that I sent in my absentee ballot with a “yes” vote. But I don’t assume that someone who votes “no” does so for an evil, unthinking, or even for a hypocritically judgmental reason. One might be concerned about who the taxing authority will be or the ability of local governments to circumvent the letter and the intent of the law aren’t worked out. Doing something that sets the state’s criminal law enforcement authorities at odds with those of the Federal government, while amusing to contemplate as an armchair hypothetical, would probably be ugly (and expensive) in practice.

    None of this has much to do with a statement about marijuana itself or the kinds of people who smoke it. It only means that one might plausibly and non-maliciously think that legalization (or decriminalization) carries more burdens than benefits. That argument is not a winner, IMHO, but I won’t call it frivolous or hypocritical.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

      @Transplanted Lawyer,

      Doing something that sets the state’s criminal law enforcement authorities at odds with those of the Federal government, while amusing to contemplate as an armchair hypothetical, would probably be ugly (and expensive) in practice.

      California already crossed that bridge some time ago with medical marijuana.Report

        • Avatar Rhayader in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

          @Transplanted Lawyer, Ugly perhaps, but ultimately a major step forward. Not only are the truly sick (along with a whole lot of other people) now easily able to access marijuana with nearly no risk whatsoever, but merchants can sell it over the counter with only slightly more. I think if Prop 215 architects had known how their experiment would have turned out after 15 years, they’d take that deal in a heartbeat.

          Your point is taken though — opposition is not necessarily actively immoral, although I strongly suspect it is misinformed and ultimately irresponsible in the majority of instances.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki, \

        California already crossed that bridge some time ago with medical marijuana.

        With mixed success. You might recall that the chief of medical marijuana for the city of Oakland was convicted on federal drug charges, the fact that he was a city official rather than a drug lord having been ruled inadmissible. I’m also a “yes”, but I have to admit that the last thing California needs now is a series of expensive court cases.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          @Mike Schilling,

          Very true, to both of you. But if we don’t start with some law enforcement agencies putting aside prohibition, where could we ever start? Do we have to wait until the entire country is ready before California is allowed to stop wasting its in-state resources on pot prosecutions? If California’s taxpayers decide that prohibition isn’t worth the expense, why does Alabama get an effective veto?

          This is exactly the sort of issue that federalism would help with, if only we’d let it work.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          @Mike Schilling, Paying for a few state lawyers to argue with a few federal lawyers seems less expensive than paying for a host of state lawyers (and police, and prison guards, etc) helping put pot smokers in jail. And as a California citizen, I think it’s a better use of my tax dollars.Report

    • Avatar mark in reply to Transplanted Lawyer says:

      @Transplanted Lawyer, and what if blacks had just stayed in their place instead of rising up? life probably would have went on peacefully for the whites forever. but the blacks would have been miserable and persecuted. marijuana prohibition is to a much lesser degree the same thing.Report

  4. I think a lot of the No votes are going to be people like my wife. She never smoked pot and her attitude towards it is completely formed by its legality and a few brain-dead stoners she knew. She’s a rule-of-law kind of gal when it comes to pretty much everything and she was never around people who were smoking reasonable amounts of good pot, not the coma weed most people get. On the flip side, she has no negative attitude towards alcohol other than basic safety concerns.

    Laws inform a lot of our opinions.Report

    • Avatar Rhayader in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      @Mike at The Big Stick, I think you’re probably right, but I think it’s a bit self-defeating to consider mere illegality justification for continued prohibition. After all, if it’s legalized, obviously there’s no contradiction between use of marijuana and “law & order.” She has a bit of a bootstrap problem (along with many other people, like you said).Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rhayader says:

        @Rhayader,

        I don’t think that Mike is implying that kind of a normative judgment. He’s just observing that there is a bias in favor of whatever the law already says. As an example of that bias doing good, consider that anti-discrimination law was a key factor in turning overt racism into a fringe belief in America. That’s a bias I can support.

        But as to the rule of law, I’m a fan of it too. I just favor using the existing methods — themselves enshrined in law — for changing this one particular law. Favoring the rule of law can’t possibly mean that we freeze all laws in time, forever and ever. It means that whenever we do make a change, we’re still working within the system.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Bootleggers and Baptists.Report

  6. Avatar Art_is_a_lie says:

    Hey, Jason, while you’re considering other reasons why someone who had smoked pot might vote no, think about this:
    Maybe some of us have lost our enthusiasm for marijuana use through experience because we didn’t like its effect. On ourselves or on other people. Maybe we’re tired of the jocular “anti-establishment” veneer that obscures seriously detrimental impacts on the thinking process of users, not only during use but persistently afterwards. Maybe we think legalization would sanction and encourage more use. Maybe we woke up, and would encourage our friends to face their lives and reality without a narcotizing crutch.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art_is_a_lie says:

      @Art_is_a_lie,

      You have given excellent reasons for not using marijuana yourself. You’ve even given good reasons to tell other people not to use it. But that’s still a long, long way from prohibition.

      Did you wake up? Great. I’m proud of you.

      Now, with your supremely sharp powers of reasoning, consider: The best data out there says that most people — people just like you — will wake up on their own, either with or without prohibition. For starters, pot use is quite a bit lower in the Netherlands and in Portugal, two countries that have had either minimal or no penalties for many years.

      At best, the discouragement given by prohibition is relatively small. That’s because the likelihood of getting caught is also relatively small. Yet the price we pay for our prohibition is atrocious.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Art_is_a_lie says:

      @Art_is_a_lie, maybe you should go to jail for having smoked pot, carry a record for the rest of your life, and have to deal with reduced voting rights, gun ownership rights, and so on.

      Right?

      That’s what you think that people who have smoked pot should have happen to them, right?Report

  7. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Is experimenting with pot really worthy of arrest? Take your answer and apply it to your own life before you vote to do it to someone else.

    What?!?! You want me to apply the same standards to myself that I apply to others? Well thank goodness I never smoked pot.Report

  8. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    It’s a fait argument, but I think one could equally see the situation as such: everyone who has smoked pot in th4 U.S. in the last couple decades has done it pursuant to essentially the same bargain: it’s illegal but you’re not ikely to be caught and if you are, the punishment will be mild for a first offense save for the hit to your clean record. Is it carving out a private exception for oneself merely to vote to extend the same conditions under which you chose to experiment to those who want to do so today? This is not an argument that it wouldn’t be instrumentally better to change the terms of the bargain at this time, but that is a different argument than the one from hypocrisy.Report

  9. Avatar lynette says:

    I believe the drug companies feel threaten by the obvious benefits of marijuana because (it is a natural alternative to standard pharmaceutical treatments for pain) making Drug companies lose millions in revenue. Plus it will help stimulate the economy rather than harm it. I’m all for California Proposition 19 (prop19) which legalizes marijuana. There is a really interesting T-Shirt about Prop 19 that is fairly eye catching you got to check it out. A few known celebrities supports prop19 which is on the website as well. http://www.prop19tshirt.comReport

  10. Avatar Frank says:

    Your argument regarding the author’s and the readers life being different if having been arrested for smoking marijuana….I’ve got wonderful news for you. It has been decriminalized already….guess what, now it costs $100, less than a speeding ticket. So don’t feed me all the bs about voting against 19 is voting to get innocent people arrested. If you are an average smoker, an ounce of weed is plenty to get you by, and if you are dumb or unlucky enough to get caught, you don’t get arrested, or any form of criminal record. And guess what? Prop 19 passing does not change the penalties for over an ounce even if passed, so people will still be arrested regardless….you are voting for a law that changes relatively little but effectively places control of a industry in a select few’s hands, take big tobacco and times that by 2, and that’s what your voting for.

    I am not a smoker or a grower, I have 0 problems with marijuana and have plenty of friends who do, however all this misinformation BULLSHIT is pissin me offReport

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Frank says:

      A “select few” — like anyone who can grow a 5’x5′ garden plot in sunny California?

      And tell me, if the feds really do come calling, who are they going after first — the big industrial farms, or the small-time growers that the law also allows?Report

  11. Avatar Frank says:

    No.1 you did not address my point regarding the main theme of your article, which was how people would stop being arrested if Prop 19 were to pass, in other words appealing to people’s guilt. When no such thing occurs, and this is why I state misinformation and call BS.

    No.2 Have you ever grown? Well I have when I was younger. It’s not as easy and as fun as it’s made out to be to produce decent product, and I work in the agricultural field and actually know what I am doing. Cigarettes are legal. How many people grow their own tobacco? Simple as that.

    I do agree with you however with the feds going after the larger growers and leaving the personal users alone. However this does not change the fact that Richard Lee has the Oakland city council in his back pocket. This bill leaves it up to counties and cities to decide on their own legislation. Do you know how much Oakland wants to charge for a commercial contract for marijuana? $211,000. Who is one of the applicants? Richard Lee. The proponent of this measure being touted as legalization. Rule of thumb when trying to determine responsibility for a nefarious act. Who stands to gain the most? I do not call this bill a nefarious act, simply a scam playing on people’s beliefs and emotions in order to make a select few rich. Be honest, who do you know who has gone to jail for weed recently? And how many people do you know who smoke? I know plenty, and I know none incarcerated. I do know a large part of north california makes their living on marijuana, and will lose everything, so some large nameless corporation can make billionsReport

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Frank says:

      @Frank,

      how people would stop being arrested if Prop 19 were to pass, in other words appealing to people’s guilt. When no such thing occurs, and this is why I state misinformation and call BS.

      I am quite sure that some people will still be arrested, regardless of what happens with Prop. 19, and with the decriminalization bill set to go into effect January 1. Either way, there will still be arrests — from federal, not state, police.

      But having fewer arresting officers — by taking the state police mostly out of the picture — is still a good thing, in my opinion.

      My apologies if I wasn’t sufficiently clear here.Report

      • Avatar Frank in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,

        I apologize, I missed this comment, however I feel you missed mine. Those arrests will still be carried out by STATE police. And so I am assuming you are simply misinformed. This proposition legalizes possession of under 1 ounce of marijuana. State law and state penalties STILL apply, as well as the federal statutes. Simply put, you will get arrested for over an ounce of marijuana, in ACCORDANCE with state law. EXACTLY like we have now, except you lose the $100 ticket for under an ounce, and are allowed to grow in a 5X5 area, which 99.99% of people I guarantee u will not do. In steps Oaksterdam, with the backing of a cash lined city council, and he’s got everything he needs. I’m feeling too lazy to find links of his associates saying they plan to be the walmart of marijuana, but they are out there. I prefer to have regular people make a living and be able to afford a house, and a car growing marijuana, rather than have 1 or 2 corporations make billions and pay these people $10 an hour to make it for them. Capitalism, this country is built on it, but due to the legal grey area marijuana is one of the last vestiges of minimal commercialisation. I guarantee you the SAME people why decry large money grabbing corporations are the biggest Prop 19 advocates. It’s hilarious when you think about it.

        I do have to give Richard Lee props however. If he pulls this off it will have been very proffesionally done considering the resources available.Report

        • Avatar Rhayader in reply to Frank says:

          @Frank, Even “decriminalization” results in plenty of arrests; remember that New York is a decriminalized state, and NYC police lead the world in per-capita cannabis arrests. It’s an overly vague system that still allows police to use cannabis possession as a pretext for other arrests (“resisting arrest” is a classic). Also, there are often technicalities — in New York there’s a loophole about having cannabis in “open public view” — that allow police to lure possessors into offences subject to arrest.

          There’s a big difference between something being only slightly illegal and something being fully legal, especially when police have spent their careers manipulating and taking advantage of the legal vagaries of prohibition laws.

          Also, regarding the Prop 19 “one ounce” limit — that’s for transport. People are allowed to store the fruits of their 25 sq.ft. plots (which is certainly more than an ounce) in their homes.Report

  12. Avatar Frank says:

    And just to make this clear, in regards to your comment

    “And tell me, if the feds really do come calling, who are they going after first — the big industrial farms, or the small-time growers that the law also allows?”

    I am not talking about federal law enforcement. It will still be against STATE law to possess over an ounce of marijuana. Did you know that all the statistics for marijuana related events are based on arrests for over an ounce? And people quote that 68,000 or whatever that number is of arrests and say put a stop to that. There are no statistics based on below that amount. At least none that I can find. And this bill does NOTHING to change that. I don’t get it. It’s a cold hard fact, and it just makes no sense to me why people look the other way when confronted with itReport

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Frank says:

      @Frank,

      Perhaps I don’t think that having more than one ounce of marijuana is all that bad either. I don’t.

      I tell you what — I’ve got at least twenty gallons of wine in my basement, to your one ounce of marijuana. Let’s you drink the wine, and I’ll make pot brownies and eat them all. Then you and I can debate which one is more dangerous.Report

  13. Avatar Frank says:

    I am not debating that fact. And you are still effectively ignoring the entire point of your article which I am questioning. However I will go along with your line of reasoning. That if unlimited quantities of alcohol are legal then why shouldn’t unlimited quantities of marijuana. So why does this bill only allow one ounce? There is a proposition destined for the ballot in 2012, which actually legalizes marijuana. And that would get my resounding vote. If you come from a business background, and have experience in the marijuana field, reading Prop 19 simply reeks of trying to control a market. Limiting growing space, limiting personal supply, allowing cities to come up with their own guidelines and regulations. The ones that do run with it “Oakland, Santa Cruz, and several others” will control the market, or at the very least gain a large head start on cornering it.

    Why do you think Richard Lee went against every single piece of advice from ACTUAL pro-legalization marijuana advocates. Like Jack Herer to name one of the most prominent. Jack Herer was the founding father of the legalization movement, and he himself said it was not worth the paper it was printed on. Simply because he was against what tobacco has become happening to marijuana. And that’s where it’s about to go, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of citizens of this state. I refuse to vote for something based on a select few’s greed, no matter how I feel regarding the morality of an issue, which is that marijuana will be legal. It is decriminalized, I am ok with that till 2012. Nobody will be getting arrested and no lives will be ruined. Then it can actually be legalized, not “regulated and controlled”. The title of this measure should tell you everything you need to know about itReport

  14. Avatar Frank says:

    I apologize, I missed this comment,

    “I am quite sure that some people will still be arrested, regardless of what happens with Prop. 19, and with the decriminalization bill set to go into effect January 1. Either way, there will still be arrests — from federal, not state, police.

    But having fewer arresting officers — by taking the state police mostly out of the picture — is still a good thing, in my opinion.”

    My apologies if I wasn’t sufficiently clear here.however I feel you missed my point. Those arrests will still be carried out by STATE police. And so I am assuming you are simply misinformed. This proposition legalizes possession of under 1 ounce of marijuana. State law and state penalties STILL apply, as well as the federal statutes. Simply put, you will get arrested for over an ounce of marijuana, in ACCORDANCE with state law. EXACTLY like we have now, except you lose the $100 ticket for under an ounce, and are allowed to grow in a 5X5 area, which 99.99% of people I guarantee u will not do. In steps Oaksterdam, with the backing of a cash lined city council, and he’s got everything he needs. I’m feeling too lazy to find links of his associates saying they plan to be the walmart of marijuana, but they are out there. I prefer to have regular people make a living and be able to afford a house, and a car growing marijuana, rather than have 1 or 2 corporations make billions and pay these people $10 an hour to make it for them. Capitalism, this country is built on it, but due to the legal grey area marijuana is one of the last vestiges of minimal commercialisation. I guarantee you the SAME people why decry large money grabbing corporations are the biggest Prop 19 advocates. It’s hilarious when you think about it.

    I do have to give Richard Lee props however. If he pulls this off it will have been very proffesionally done considering the resources available.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Frank says:

      Those arrests will still be carried out by STATE police. And so I am assuming you are simply misinformed.

      Aha — this is where we disagree on the facts. State police don’t have the authority to enforce federal law, and they cannot be made to do so. This was an operating assumption in my previous comments. If you reject it, then we have a disagreement that we can’t easily settle here. Short of a direct authorization to enforce federal law, as mandated by state law, these officers will have to let the federal laws be enforced by federal officers only.

      As to large corporations growing marijuana, I am not terribly concerned. Not too far from my house is one of many Wal-Marts of hard liquor, and we get by okay, even with this much more dangerous substance being made by giant multinationals and marketed by big-box retailers.Report

  15. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    As a teen, I actually experimented with Prozac. Oh, I had a prescription, but I got it- like many people who take Prozac- after a five minute meeting with a psychiatrist. I’d imagine drug dealers wait longer to get to know you. Anyway, I eventually realized the Prozac was a “crutch” that prevented me from experiencing “reality” (notice how reality is always defined as suffering in this argument?), it was creating a false sense of happiness and it’s better to experience as much “reality” as possible, and filter our lives through society’s universe of pain. So, I stopped taking it. And thank goodness for that!Report

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