The Post-Drug War World


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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36 Responses

  1. DensityDuck says:

    “Modified drug laws might work that way: while the sale and use of drugs might be legal, employers would have the right and in many cases the obligation to monitor their employees and fire those who fail drug tests.”

    Considering that the ADA is being interpreted to say that workplaces cannot fire alcoholics for being drunk, I’d have to say that this is probably pretty unlikely. The only places you’d actually see it enforced are places where you already have no-alcohol policies, and those are few and far between.Report

  2. North says:

    Even if he’s right that is an enormous improvement over the current state of affairs.Report

  3. E.D. Kain says:

    Wait – drug tests? That sounds way worse than prison. Also, too, they have those now – all over the place for all sorts of jobs.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      Yeah, I was going to say: how long has it been since this dude was applying for a job in the workforce?Report

      • Barry in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I don’t recall offhand the last time I saw Mead’s name, but it was about him saying something stupid. After skimming his Wikipedia entry, I classify him as the sort of always wrong/never in doubt ‘intellectual’ who seems to flourish in various think tanks.Report

  4. Will Truman says:

    The attempt to decriminalize pot in California actually forbade employers from firing on the basis of a positive drug test result. So pot will be secure. The other stuff? I think that’s right. There will still be penalties for usage. Tobacco use is not protected, so I doubt heroin or cocaine will be.Report

    • The attempt to decriminalize pot in California actually forbade employers from firing on the basis of a positive drug test result.

      Even for jobs where safety was legitimately an issue? School bus drivers and the like?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Positive tests for pot stay positive for months. They’re not test for intoxication.Report

      • As long as there is no “impairment on the job,” as near as I can tell you would not have been able to fire someone for being a pot smoker.

        It was a monumentally stupid provision. Give people the choice between “illegal” and “giving pot smokers special protections”, people are going to choose the former. And I can’t blame them.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that if I get a card from a doctor that I will be fired.

    So… no change.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      Someone who ha a genuine medical condition indicating medical marijuana, and who’s fired for taking advantage of it would, I think, have a heckuva good lawsuit.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      Neither my current employer nor my previous one had a drug test at hire, or a randomized one during employment.

      This is an abnormal employment record.Report

      • I once had an employer that blood tested for tobacco. No joke. Ironically, if they’d simply urine-tested, they’d have more likely caught me.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I’ve worked for multinational conglomerates and I’ve worked for military contractors and I’ve applied at Blockbuster.

        Blockbuster made me give a hair sample (this was easier for me in the early 90’s).

        The multinational conglomerates had me give a urine sample (and, after one of the three times of being outsourced/laid off and rehired, future opportunities for my urine were waived).

        The military contractors didn’t have me do anything but acknowledge that they could make me pee in a cup at any time, without any warning.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I’ve never had to undergo a drug test, nor worked for a company that required one. This includes a large oil company, a collection of medium-sized and small software companies, and also work done on government and military contracts (though no security clearance was required.) Just lucky?Report

        • From my limited experiences and those of my friends and family, you’re hardly much of an outlier. Maybe it has to do with the kind of person who reads the League or maybe it’s just a minor coincidence, but I don’t *think* drug-testing is quite as ubiquitous as this thread would imply.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            “I think that’s a pretty fair offer.”

            “It would be even better with no taxes. Taxation is theft!”

            “No one likes taxes, son, but we don’t have much choice but to pay them, do we?”

            “Taxes should be abolished, along with the government. Every single thing in the world would work better!”

            “Um, yeah. Sure. By the way, before you start, we’ll need urine, hair, blood, stool, sputum, and semen samples. Just a formality. really.”Report

  6. Art Deco says:

    Cannot help but notice that Dr. Mead cites not one piece of data about the evolution of drug use or crime rates in this country over the last 40-odd years.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Art Deco says:

      What would you expect the data to say that is relevant to his piece?Report

      • Art Deco in reply to Will Truman says:

        1. The share of public expenditure devoted to enforcing drug laws. (The correct answer is about 2%)

        2. The evolution of drug consumption over time.

        3. The comparative flux in the frequency of violent and property crimes during the same time period.

        4. Some reference to statistical analyses as to how the matrix formed by the legal regime influences the success rate of treatment programs.

        5. At least a speculative argument on a counter-factual: the effect of ending legal proscription on consumption levels.

        That aside, a little detail as to what you really are seeking: which street drugs and under what regulatory regime? and…

        We do not live in a society where families have much authority over their wayward members nor in a society where one is dependent on the labor market unless one seeks private charity or indoor relief. People are also a good deal farther from bare subsistence than was the case a century ago. All of these factors remove social and practical constraints on the consumption of stupefacients which were present but thought insufficient when much of the drug trade was put outside the law in 1914. .Report

  7. Will Truman says:

    Okay, finally read it through. First, I have to say that Mead does something very valuable here. Legalizing narcotics is going to be complicated. And I do think, contrary to the sanguine views of the decriminalizers, there is going to be some negative along with the positive.

    The state of Montana had a medmal policy that they didn’t think through. It turned out pretty poorly as dispensaries were being broken into and vandalized. The end result was a heavily revised and much less liberal policy. Maybe full-fledged decriminalization would have prevented it (ie it was the half-legal nature that was the problem), but it’s extremely unlikely that full decriminalization will ever occur.

    That being said, I really take issue with some of his scenarios. If you allow the drugs, then regulate their content, I think that will do more good than harm to how relatively unsafe the drugs are. Yes, there will be a market for the really nasty stuff. But when the nasty stuff is way illegal, and the less nasty stuff is safe and more readily available, they’ll go with the latter.

    I smoke full-flavored cigarettes. But if they were outlawed in the US, I would simply switch to lights rather than try to smuggle anything across the border (or buy from someone who illegally did same). The market for the hard-charging stuff seems to me more likely to dry up than anything with an acceptable – if weaker – substitute legally available.

    I find the logic that says “crime may get worse because people involved in an institutionalized crime syndicate will be unemployed and therefore may commit crimes” to be somewhat questionable. Yes, there are concerns about what they’re going to be doing. But how likely is it to be worse? Beyond which – and this is important – if you take away the mirage of gold and glory from dealing, it’s quite possible that more urban youths will simply resign themselves to a more traditional job path, or welfare (which may or may not be cheaper, but would be better for all involved). He could be on stronger ground when it comes to releasing the incarcerated. It might be the case that we find out the “non-violent offenders” we’re locking up now are not actually so non-violent.

    There are some really interesting questions about what the federal government might be able to force private employers to do that it cannot do itself, with regard to a more persistent testing regime than we have now.Report

  8. The point though is to end the war on drugs, not privatize it. Common sense should prevail. We should probably have drug tests for commercial airline pilots, but not for musicians.Report

    • Is this an argument to prevent employers from doing the test, or just making sure that the government doesn’t ever mandate or “strongly encourage” such testing?Report

    • I think this is correct. Ending the war on drugs does not mean approving of or encouraging drug use. If a private company believes in good faith that drug users are not the kind of employees it wants, it should be free (absent some other compelling reason, e.g., discriminating against those with a legitimate medical need for the drug) to filter out those who use those substances. That includes alcohol, tobacco, and pot.

      Once you start talking about bad faith — either by the employer or by the would-be employee substance user — you’re in a world of bad faith so we need to consider other sorts of rules. But as a general proposition I don’t have a significant problem with an employer acting as described.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I have a problem with employers acting as described right now. It is never appropriate for an employer to ask an employee to pee in a cup or be stuck with a needle as a condition of hire. It’s a violation of an employee’s basic dignity. It’s only decades of government propaganda that have created a situation where such a request is in any way tolerated.

        In eliminating the war on drugs, we can’t just get rid of laws forbidding drugs, we also must make some effort to correct for the pernicious effect of these laws, at least temporarily.Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Alan Scott says:

          So you’re good with the pilot the airplane upon which you’re about to fly quaffing a tall cool one right before taking the controls? Or the air traffic controller giving directions to that pilot dropping a tab of X before her shift? I’m not good with those scenarios, and I doubt that you are, either.

          In at least some situations, it is very much the employer’s business to ensure that its employees are not abusing substances and I rather doubt that any serious discussion of the issue would ignore that certain substances cause certain kinds of impairments, and addicts are less trustworthy with things of value than non-addicts, and in certain situations employers have legitimate interests in protecting against those kinds of threats.

          Now, when the focus shifts from an airline pilot to to fry guy at Wendy’s, perhaps the need for safety and security diminishes and we can talk about whether the employer’s interest is compelling enough. Maybe the deep fryer is safe enough that someone on drugs can operate it safely. Maybe not. Seems to me that ought to be the employer’s call since it is their equipment, their workers’ compensation policy, their property, their third-party liability that will potentially be affected by an employee who engages in substance abuse that impairs that employee’s senses, mental processes, and social inhibitions.

          I recognize the dignitary and privacy offense inherent in submitting to a drug test. Let’s say I smoked a joint in my own home two months ago, before I ever started working for you, and haven’t touched pot since because I started NA and I quit. All other things equal, that’s my business and not yours. If I have to take a hair test, it’s going to show up positive, and I’ll need to explain awkward and embarassing things my private life to you if I want to keep my job and that’s an imposition on me because what I did in my own home two months ago isn’t your business, all other things being equal. But all other things aren’t necessarily equal. If I’m operating your backhoe, or handling your money, or gaining knowledge of your trade secrets, a propensity to smoke pot may very well be rationally relevant to the level of confidence you have in me.

          I agree that there ought to be a good reason for an employer to ask for a drug test. I’m just not prepared to legislate what a good enough reason might be because as a legislator, I cannot possibly anticipate all of the different situations and problems that might arise in the workplace. I’d prefer to leave it to the courts to determine, on a case-by-case basis, when the employer has articulated an important enough, objective, and good-faith reason for demanding such a test.Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

            If you’re worried about your employees being in a state of impairment to such a degree that they’re introducing a public safety hazard (chemical worker, airline pilot, ER doctor, whatever), then…

            Why aren’t we testing them for impairment?

            Two answers: it’s expensive, and it would probably do away with major current processes in the workforce (ER doctors are freaking impaired, full stop. Anyone who works 16 hour shifts is going to be impaired). I’ll wave my hands and state for the record I think it’s pretty likely that more people are killed or injured due to perfectly legal forms of impairment, right now, this year, on the job… than have been killed or injured in the last two decades due to illegal forms of impairment.

            Drug tests are a b.s. proxy for impairment testing. Particularly since most drug tests don’t actually test for impairment *right now*.

            So, yeah, well, I’m not cool with my air traffic controller dropping acid right before her shift, but that’s an unlikely impairment scenario and it’s not actually what a drug test tests.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              I’m coming up with an imaginary scenario. Let me know if it’s too far fetched.

              A person responsible for other people’s kids is involved in an incident. Maybe it’s a school bus driver whose bus gets sideswiped by a drunk driver, maybe it’s an airline pilot who successfully lands a plane despite massive turbulence that took out an engine. Something like that. Note: The circumstances, if avoidable, were avoidable by other folks unrelated to the skill displayed by the person in this example.

              It comes out that this person partakes before his or her weekend on a semi-regular basis. A couple of hits before a Cartoon Network marathon on Friday night. They’ve Tivo’ed a year’s worth of Hey Grabba Grabba. Something. By Monday morning they’re back and raring to go… but, on the occasional weekend, they enjoy spending it lightly wasted.

              An accident happens and they take care of their charges admirably.

              They test positive following the inquiry.

              Legislators point out that the driver involved in the accident got high. The pilot got high. Legislators say “sure, nobody got hurt *NOW*… but WHAT IF????”

              Legislation is passed forbidding recreational drug use, even on the weekend, by people responsible for other peoples’ kids.

              Soon, it’s noticed that everybody, at some point, is responsible for other peoples’ kids.


              • Christopher Carr in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not crazy at all, but I do think there are enough jobs that don’t involve taking care of kids that were such a world to arise, awareness of risk might push stoners towards jobs at record stores or result in more robust liability insurance systems, etc. Jokes aside, it’d be a step in the right direction to make the consequences for negligence due to recreational drug use limited and economic instead of widespread and criminal.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    His analogy with immigration is half-assed (at best), his postulated post-drug-war linkages with insurance, education, and other economic enterprises ignores the current linkage (or non-linkage) between those enterprises and (mostly) legal alcohol and tobacco, the rest everyone else above has covered and this
    and in some ways the urban situation could be worse under the new policies than it is now.
    is the stupidest thing I’ve read on the internet this weekReport