Live Chat: Let's Talk About Drugs

We'll start chatting at 2pm. (If you're on the main page, you'll have to click through to view the chat.)

1:57We're online. Questions are welcome.

2:02Comment From Senzayuma Is this thing on?2:02Yes, we're live. Starting to answer questions now.2:05Comment From JMMonahan Are the questions modded or is this thing broken?2:06Questions are moderated. We've working through them now. I'm holding questions until they're answered.2:06Comment From Banty No icebreaker?2:06Suggestion for one?

2:10Hi - can you see me now? David here.

2:10Ready to talk ...

2:10First question by email:

This was sent by email:

I feel so frustrated that you have taken the prohibitionist position on marijuana. I feel this is an area where conservatives and liberals can work together. I would be so supportive of strict licensing for marijuana something much stricter than medical marijuana arrangments. But the drug war horrifies me. And I really did have friend who committed suicide because he couldn't live with the pain killers prescribed to him. Isn't there some common ground where we can work together to fight marijuana use?

2:04A: I agree with you about need to divert from prison (and avoid giving arrest records) those people, especially young people, who possess or use marijuana purely personally. A bad early encounter with the law can have lifelong negative consequences. I'm excited by programs that seek to intercept marijuana users - and that use the law to encourage treatment

2:05One idea I've been thinking about: making completion of a drug treatment program a prohibited ground of discrimination under the AMericans with Disabilities Act.

2:10Comment From Wendy G Why is the demand for illegal drugs so high in the US? Any studies on this?

2:11It's a good question by Wendy G. Americans seem to engage in unusually high levels of self-destructive behavior, from firearms accidents to overeating to not wearing motorcycle helmets.

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2:11We can all speculate as to why this is so, but the immediate change is to build sensible responses that acknowledge that this is so.

2:12I think all human beings tend to over-estimate their competence & their luck.

2:14That's why so many of us buy lottery tickets. That's why we get incidents like the one I linked to on site the other day, where a man with a concealed carry permit accidentally shot his wife in the leg at a Longhorn steak house. He thought he was more expert than he was. It's why young people get themselves addicted to cigarettes. ("It won't happen to me.") And it's why people smoke marijuana and then assure themselves that the habitual use of hte drug isn't affecting them - and get angry with friends and loved ones who tell them the contrary.

2:14Comment From Guest I guess given the two choices your view is guns are safer than marijuana?

2:15Marijuana isn't dangerous in the "kill you" sense. It's got that over guns. But there are different kinds of dangerousness ...

2:16Cigarettes don't much interfere with your mental function until they kill you. THe obese don't live much shorter lives than the non-obsese , but they suffer all kinds of illnesses during their lives. Marijuana degrees cognition, social integration, etc.

2:16Comment From John Struthers Cigarette consumption has dropped dramatically using a public education and health based approach. If you do think it's the government's business what i do to myself isn't it clear the WOD has failed by and standard to achieve any objective save disrespect for the rule of law and jails full of minorities?

2:18I've written about this before, but the prisons are *not* full of people whose only offense is to have used marijuana. When police arrest somebody who has skipped bail on an armed robbery charge, and find him with marijuana in his possession, he's booked on both counts and the marijuana stat goes up. But it's not marijuana that was the reason for the booking. I agree with you about moving away from the "war" model. But let's face it: until you are ready to legalize heroin & cocaine trafficking, you're going to have a lot of drug culprits in prison.

2:19As for minorities and the poor: shouldn't we be focused on offering them better alternatives than drugs rather than saying, go ahead use all the drugs you want, we don't care?

2:20Comment From Lee I often interact with the homeless. I know that that the homeless are very expensive and virtually no intervention helps until housing is found. Yet the fact that marijuana is illegal often leads to homelessness. I worked at residential hotel for seniors. The maids were instructed to search for marijuana residue and if any was found the seniors were evicted. I hated seeing these people living in the parking lot across the street after they were evicted. I agree that disruptive tenants should be evicted. But this is one example of what I saw as a horrific consequence of marijuana prohibition.

2:20That's an interesting point, and I won't pretend to have an easy answer to it. On the other hand, I suspect that hostel also forbade alcohol and cigarettes too, right?

2:21Comment From JMMonahan Do you really believe that consumption would jump with legalization of private pot use? Stripping that part of the drug culture of its criminal spectre seems to outweigh the incremental dangers of pot use (that persists now anyway).

2:22Nothing is certain, but yes it seems to me highly probable that drug use would rise with legalization. I think the idea that we can easily enforce a " no sales to minors" policy is unrealistic. Minors get cigarettes and booze pretty easily.

2:22Comment From Bobby So long as I do not harm others, David Frum has no moral right to dictate what I can consume or do to my body. Fuck David Frum the fascist.

2:23John Stuart Mill expressed himself better, but the problems with that POV have remained the same since the 1850s.

2:23Comment From JMMonahan Lee's point is excellent. If private occassional use at home is beneath real enforcement, why preserve it as a bar against sports, employment, welfare, etc.?

2:25Here's where marijuana is different from cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs, etc. It's the only substance AMericans are prone to misuse where the trends are going the wrong way - where use is rising strongly among young people, where attitudes are becoming more accepting. I am not wishing away the ill consequence of illegality. But understand that to legalize is not only to invite other ill consequences, but it's to lean INTO the wind of accelerating ill consequences.

2:26Comment From Lee What is your opposition to a strict licensing which would require each user to have a license. The license would be revoked for public consumption and revoked permanently for distribution to a non license holder. Could a requirement of this license forbid any promotion of marijuana. Now pro marijuana tshirts are legal. But a license is voluntary so I think you could lose your license for wearing such stuff. This seems to me a much firmer attack on marijuana culture.

2:26That's an interesting idea, new to me. Has it been written up in detail anywhere? I'd want to think about it more before answring.

2:27Comment From Howard Meitiner Going back to David's questions about alternatives to jail, how did we as a society get to a point where substance abusers are viewed as criminals as opposed to people who have a chronic health condition?

2:29Not to go all "meta" on you, but it may be that as the science of the brain develops, we'll view more & more criminals as having a "chronic health condition": that there are certain hormones etc. that predispose us, eg, to aggression, or to lack of empathy for the suffering of others, etc. etc. Our fates may be more determined for us than it's comfortable to contemplate. Increasingly, I feel that to be true. But society only has the knowledge it has, at any given moment; only has the tools that it has. Our tools now are law (harsh as it can be) and treatment (imperfect as it is).

2:30Comment From Ben David, I've read that the powerhouse lobbies behind marijuana prohibition are big tobacco, big pharma, big jails, law enforcement unions, and big alcohol (trying to find my source but don't hold your breath). I appreciate your concerns about legalization, but doesn't this list give some indication of the motivations of lawmakers vis-a-vis pot?

2:31That's said often, I don't see the remotest evidence for it. And let's remember: marijuana itself is a big and growing industry. If legalized, it will be bigger and richer too, and will employ lobbyists of its own, just as the tobacco industry did.

2:31and does.

2:32Comment From Will I've been smoking marijuana daily for 8+ years, without any family members or work colleagues ever being the wiser. That is, my performance never suffered to where I was questioned about it. My pot-smoking friends are other professionals (internists, surgeons, Fortune 500 execs, biotech scientists) who have never been questioned about their use either. We're all productive members of society who rarely drink alcohol, don't use other drugs, and were easily able to get past the workplace drug tests.

2:33Winston Churchill smoked ginormous cigars. He drank a bottle of champagne every day along with numerous glasses of whisky and soda. On that regimen, he saved western civilization gave the greatest speeches in the English language, and won the Nobel prize for literature. Still ... I wouldn't recommend it.

2:34Comment From JMMonahan It would help us understand your resistance to legalization if you defined the villain more. Do you think that legalization would compare with the repeal of prohibition in the 30's? Most efforts towards legalization channel pot through narrow trades (prescriptions, disepnsaries, etc.), and don't allow public use, access for kids, etc. Pot in designated places (e.g., Amsterdam) not at every gas station. Do you anticipate something different from the pro legalization effort?

2:37I think the present medical marijuana regime gives some early clues. Dispensing and prescription will rapidly become a joke. Meanwhile, marijuana growth will become a major agribusiness, with great influence on Congress. As with alcohol in the 1940s-1960s, marijuana use will become vastly more prevalent in the first post-legalization generation - before trending down again as the children of that generation see the effects. I just don't know why we must live this pattern when we can anticipate and prevent it.

2:37Comment From Guest Has David ever smokes marijuana?

2:40Yes, I smoked marijuana often as a freshman in college. It affected my academic work, and at the end of that year, I had to accept that I had not made the best use of the incredible gift my parents were making me. I quit. All that was a long time ago. Since then, I've seen many friends and relatives touched by drugs of many kinds. Not infrequently, they have believed that the drugs were of benefit to them. THat's never the way it's looked to me.

2:41Comment From Howard Meitiner David - As president of Phoenix House (a treatment organization), I often see that we have a long way to go in battling the stigma of addiction and educating people about the effectiveness of treatment. Science and research are helping us provide more effective treatment every day.

2:41Welcome. What do you think of idea of making successful completion of treatment a prohibited ground of discrimination under ADA?

2:42Comment From JMMonahan Where would the "Big Cannabis" lobby come from? Legalization would not prompt a retooling of ADM into a pot dealer. Unlike the 30's there aren't huge industries waiting to get back in the pot game. The existing industry is built on crime and under-the-table economics. Taxes, accounting, and costs of legit business would keep the shadow of Big Cannibis at bay. Additional regulatory burdens could preserve that.

2:44I touch on this a little in - of all places - my novel Patriots, which has a marijuana legalization subtheme. There's a proposal to legalize and tax marijuana in order - as one character cynically puts it - to shift the tax burden "from the wealth creators to the potheads." Legalization seems to me generally part of the trend in US society to concentrate the rewards of life at the top of society and heap the risks on those least able to bear them.

2:45Comment From thomas Thanks for the chat, David. This is not by any means a facetious question: Do you think alcohol should also be made illegal?

2:48No I don't think alcohol should be made illegal. But do note that alcohol is much more strictly regulated today than it was 30 years ago. Drinking ages are higher, drunk driving laws are stricter, bars are liable to punishment for serving minors, etc. Note also that Americans are moderating the way they use alcohol, shifting away from hard liquor etc.

But let's put it this way: when distilled liquors first became available in - what? the late 17th century? - they were rightly seen as a huge new problem. We've sent 300-400 years coping and learning. I don't know why we'd volunteer to start that cycle all over again with additional drugs.

2:48Comment From Howard Meitiner Re: discrimination toward people with substance abuse issues - that's a great question, David. As a society we certainly need to do more to support people in recovery and make sure they can go on to lead successful lives, personally and professionally. Vocational services are an important part of our treatment programs.

2:49Comment From John Struthers You didn't get caught. How many young people who might have cured cancer have we disqualified from full contributions by criminalization.? It's easy for successful people to say "oh yeah back in my college days ". It's totally hypocritical. Unless you're prepared to go to Court next week and plead guilty you have no credibility. If you'd shot someone back in college without consequences you're participation in the gun debate would be suspect wouldn't it?

2:51I didn't get caught because of course the authorities weren't looking for casual users, any more than they are looking for them now. But I'll say this: if I'd kept using marijuana to the point where the drug was taking over my life, as it blights the lives of a considerable number of those who use it now, I'd have been well served if I had been caught and obliged to undergo some kind of program to break my habit.

2:51Probably wd not have enjoyed it much at the time, but I'd be grateful in retrospect.

2:51Comment From Hopitab I'm puzzled by the hoopla about this. I've smoked marijuana from time to time for the last 45 years, about as long as I've been drinking wine. I find them to be quite comparable in terms of the intensity of the effect. I wouldn't drive while influenced by either. But I think the social consequences of overconsumption of alcohol are far more damaging to society at large: marijuana does not produce aggresive mean drunks.

2:54But why do we have to say we only care about 1 problem? I'm also very worried about the obesity problem, and of course I have been writing a LOT about the harms from firearms. Meanwhile we have the deficit, global warming, etc. It's never a good answer to observations about one problem to point to the existence of othrs. That's a rebuttal to ever doing anything about anything.

2:54Comment From Deji I do believe that there is a danger in legalizing marijuana as it could likely lead to an explosion in use particularly as a means of escape from everyday problems. That being said, isn't that what people have been doing since the dawn of time? Look at how prescription pills are being abused for goodness sakes. Prescription pill overdoses kill more people every year than cocaine and heroin. Should we ban prescription pills? Yes there are detrimental effects to abusing marijuana, all of the more reason to make it legal, conduct research and educate users. What you have instead, in the system that currently exists, is a huge transfer of wealth to (mostly) violent criminal organizations who in turn use that capital to further terrorize anyone who threatens their flow of money. Look at all of the man made substances that are abused and result in numerous deaths

2:55I can tell you that drug policy people are hugely worried about prescription pill abuse. Why, not even Rush Limbaugh is exempt!

2:55Comment From Guest except you would not have gotten a job in Bush White house

2:56I disclosed my experiences during my background check. It's been a long time since occasional drug use three 20 years previously was a disqualifying ground for employment in any White House, Republican or Democrat.

2:57Comment From Lee How are you going to ensure that your plan doesn't devolve into a system where rich kids get sent to treatment and poor kids get sent to jail.

2:59Class bias permeates so much of AMerican politics, not only drug policy. But it's hardly a good answer to say that we'll accept mass drug use among those Americans with the worst chances in life ... it's not as if we don't make things difficult enough already for them.

2:59Comment From Howard Meitiner David is right that those of us who work in the field see prescription pill abuse as a huge concern. Deji is correct that we can't ban prescription drugs because they do have an important medical use. This is part of the reason we need to focus on the demand for drugs, not just the supply of drugs.

3:00THat's all folks. Thank you for your time & attention. Let's do this again. Next topic: guns.