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There's a new dynamic to the debate over marijuana prohibition. Patrick Kennedy and Kevin Sabet recently launched Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) in response to the growing debate over legalizing marijuana. They claim to take a third approach in marijuana policy, supporting neither the drug war status quo nor legalization. They want the government to screen marijuana users and put them in treatment if necessary, and they are against legal regulations and sales. Their position seems indistinguishable from supporting drug courts. David Frum, journalist and former George Bush speech writer sits on the board of Project SAM and recently wrote a CNN piece on why marijuana should remain illegal.

Frum’s argument is nothing less than fascinating. Unlike traditional opposition to marijuana legalization, Frum does not claim that marijuana use is inherently harmful. He acknowledges that most marijuana use is not problematic and most marijuana users are not dependent. He has the balanced view that the risks are limited to its effects on a developing brain and if the user is predisposed to certain mental illnesses. This is refreshing for a prohibitionist, and makes his argument the most interesting justification of prohibition in recent history.

He argues that learning about the risk factors of marijuana and making decisions accordingly is too much for Americans to handle. We need prohibition because Americans are only capable of simple, easy choices like "just say no." It almost feels like his article on CNN was meant to be a private memo, not intended to be read by the Americans he's putting down. He writes:

It's possible to imagine a marijuana rule that tries to respond precisely to such risk factors as happen to be known by the current state of science. Such a rule might say: "You shouldn't use marijuana until you are over 25, or after your brain has ceased to develop, whichever comes first. You shouldn't use marijuana if you are predisposed to certain mental illnesses...When we write social rules, we always need to consider: Who are we writing rules for? Some people can cope with complexity. Others need clarity... "Just say no" is an easy rule to follow.
What makes Frum's political advocacy so interesting is his blatant low expectations of Americans. Usually when people advocate a policy solution they tie in American values meant to inspire. Regardless of whether it's liberal or conservative, building support for policy generally involves giving reasons why such a policy maximizes our collective or individual strengths. Frum curiously takes the opposite approach, arguing that we need to keep prohibition intact because Americans are incapable of tackling complex problems.

His argument isn't really about the drug itself, it's about how Americans can only make decisions that are totally straightforward. His position on drug policy is decidedly paternalistic. He compares the value of prohibition to what he finds works for parenting his own children.

[A]s a parent of three, two exiting adolescence and one entering, I've found that the argument that makes the biggest impression is: "Marijuana is illegal. Stay away." I think many other parents have found the same thing.
Maybe I have a rose-colored glasses vision of how children should be raised, like teaching them why something is a bad decision and how to make choices based on something more than whether or not it's against the law. Is anyone saying we can skip trying to teach teenagers why bullying or cheating is wrong because "It's illegal, don't do it" works well enough?

The merits of different parenting styles aside, Frum is entitled to raise his children how he sees fit. The problem is that he feels entitled to apply his parenting style to all Americans. Underage marijuana use would remain illegal if it is legalized for adults, so it's not like we're denying parents the "It's illegal. Stay away" tactic he finds works well. Rather, he's saying in no uncertain terms that adults are like teens when it comes to marijuana, they need simple rules to follow because they can't handle comprehending risk factors. After all, as he writes, Americans can't handle anything more complex than simple rules like "Just Say No."

I appreciate that Frum wrote this piece and explained why he supports prohibition because it gets to the heart of where the debate stands today. It's not about whether marijuana is universally safe or universally harmful, which is an outdated controversy that has dominated the discussion for too long. I agree with Frum that the risk factors are not totally simple and straightforward, like most things Americans are confronted with on a daily basis.

I'm glad Frum wrote this piece because it highlights what I see as the fundamental differences of opinion on the role of public policy when it comes to marijuana. Frum believes limiting risk factors and allowing individual agency are mutually exclusive.

Today's defense of prohibition is rooted in the belief that due to our own incompetency, we are incapable of collectively analyzing marijuana and coming up with policies that represent the risk factors. Unsurprisingly, a policy supported by a belief in our inability to understand a problem severely limits our ability to address said problem. Instead, it locks us in the past, under the illusion that banning decisions is a sustainable solution. Prohibition is another way of giving up on our potential to address drug problems.

David Frum is right, the question of marijuana legalization is not about whether it is risk-free or not. The question is if it's worthwhile to understand complex problems and if it's important for individuals to be involved in understanding the risks behind the choices they make.

Originally posted to Sagan on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:08 PM PST.

Also republished by DKos Cannabis Law and Drug War Reform.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's a fascinating look into his mind (14+ / 0-)

    But I'm not altogether too surprised? Why? Because it goes back into the authoritarian mindset that conservatives have. "I'm right, you're wrong, and I don't need to justify myself to you, no matter what the truth actually is. Just do as I say." This is just another extension of that.

  •  Just Say No Is Such an Easy Rule That Marijuana (12+ / 0-)

    is or has often been the nation's leading cash crop. Also true for many states.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:16:02 PM PST

  •  Frum is a parent?! Oh my God... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldpotsmuggler, semiot, spacecadet1

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:38:15 PM PST

  •  What the hell? (7+ / 0-)
    Marijuana is illegal. Stay away.
    Seriously? How do you answer when they ask the inevitable three-letter follow-up question?
    LALALALA because Nixon
    Legalize it nationwide for 21+. Repeal the treaties, change the laws. This is getting ridiculous.

    T&R

    "My God, it's full of stars"

    by Hammerhand on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:49:46 PM PST

  •  The problem is in the framing of the argument (8+ / 0-)

    Marijuana is not a drug or even a variety of cannabis plants like hemp, it's only a slang term used to frame the argument for the prohibitionists. The cannabinoids found in cannabis resins like Dronabinol (THC) or Cannabidiol (CBD) are the actual drugs but they are some of the least toxic drugs known. In fact, cannabinoids are better tolerated less toxic than many of the foods we eat.

    Prohibitionist can get away with making outrageous claims about the medical effects of marijuana because they have already defined the term decades ago. The can say anything about marijuana they want like it has no medicinal value because that is technically true, marijuana is not a drug. The argument to end this ridiculous prohibition is better framed when we argue about the well known and well studied cannabinoids found in cannabis resins.  

    Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

    by RMForbes on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:56:17 PM PST

    •  Massage is Not a Drug But It Has Medical Value. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hammerhand, RMForbes, oldpotsmuggler

      Last time I talked with a biochemist she told me we basically don't know how some or all antibiotics actually work.

      There's an article in my bathroom touting the latest guesses about how anesthetics might work.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:40:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  True but a massage is not a slang term (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gffish, oldpotsmuggler

        A slang term coined by Mexican migrant workers for the wild tobacco plants they smoked because they could not afford commercial tobacco products during the Great Depression. A massage is just a massage.

        Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

        by RMForbes on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 08:18:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  What Frum highlights (9+ / 0-)

    is that you are free to support marijuana prohibition but no matter how you slice, one sounds dumber than a bag of hammers when trying to support something as dumb and counter-productive as marijuana prohibition.

    It's permanently stupid and to support it in any form is stupid.

    Not ending it is stupid.

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:59:43 PM PST

  •  At the very least, marijuana should be removed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RMForbes, oldpotsmuggler, gffish, semiot

    from the schedule 1 list.  Why is there not a petition on the White House We The People site?

    The sun's not yellow, it's chicken. B. Dylan

    by bgblcklab1 on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:08:07 PM PST

    •  Arguably it was over two years ago (5+ / 0-)

      The only scheduled cannabinoid drug found in cannabis resins, THC, was authorized for medical uses by the FDA and removed from Schedule I by the DEA in late 2010.

      Schedule III.
      * * * * *
      (gSec. 1308.13) Hallucinogenic substances. (1)(i) Dronabinol in sesame oil and encapsulated in a gelatin capsule in a drug product approved for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)--7369.
      (ii) Any drug product in hard or soft gelatin capsule form containing natural dronabinol (derived from the cannabis plant) or synthetic dronabinol (produced from synthetic materials) in sesame oil, for which an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) has been approved by the FDA under section 505(j) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 355(j)) which references as its listed drug the drug product referred to in the preceding paragraph (g)(1)(i) of this section--7369.
      Note to paragraph (g)(1): Some other names for dronabinol: (6a R-trans)-6a,7,8,10a-tetrahydro-6,6,9-trimethyl-3-pentyl-6 H-dibenzo [b,d]pyran-1-ol] or (-)-delta-9-(trans)-tetrahydrocannabinol]
      (2) [Reserved]
      * * * * *
      Dated: October 19, 2010.
      Michele M. Leonhart,
      Deputy Administrator.
      http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/...

      Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

      by RMForbes on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:17:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Read the book (7+ / 0-)

        ..."The Emperor Has No Clothes" by Jack Herer.

        It's the definitive history of cannabis prohibition.

        In 1986, a DEA judge recommended that it be placed lower. The DEA buried the ruling and since they are not bound by the rule of law anyway, went on purveying the same family and people destroying policies because, you know, Scary-juana!!

        That and jobs....

        "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

        by CanisMaximus on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:56:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I have the book linked on my site (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          oldpotsmuggler

          I'm a huge fan of the late Jack Herer. Check out my website.

          Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

          by RMForbes on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 08:22:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  He was a personal friend of mine.... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            semiot, RMForbes, oldpotsmuggler

            ....and Jack had many, many, "personal friends" but few of them can say they fed him my spaghetti sauce while he waxed about his discovery of a "bible code" for which he believed he would be more famous than for his anti-prohibition work. Which is how I met him in 1999.

            Long-story-short... I became really good friends with Jack's personal bodyguard cum "whip" at that time, Sil DeCh****s. (Since he's still around, I don't want anyone calling him. He's listed.) Anyone who knew Jack will recognize who it is.

            We went to Costa Rica together....

            Pura Vida, baby!!!!

            "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

            by CanisMaximus on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 10:23:36 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Doesn't feel need to build support. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean, oldpotsmuggler
    building support for policy generally involves giving reasons why such a policy maximizes our collective or individual strengths.
    Seems to be giving fence-sitters an option that comes down on the stop the users side.

    He really seems to like a rules based society, as opposed to a freedom based society.

    -- We are just regular people informed on issues

    by mike101 on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:17:02 PM PST

  •  Back in the day, I met a small number of adults (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, semiot, Calamity Jean

    who couldn't get along well with pot. Mostly not, but a few yeah. Oh well.

    I mean, some people eat shell fish, or peanuts and die.

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:24:02 PM PST

    •  I knew a Postal Clerk who was... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      semiot, oldpotsmuggler

      ...violently allergic to it.

      At least once or twice a week, she would bag a parcel and send over to the Postal Inspectors while popping antihistimines.  Once she blew up and had to go to the ER.

      And she couldn't figure out why she kept getting transferred.

      "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

      by CanisMaximus on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 08:00:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I agree with Frum... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kbman, semiot, oldpotsmuggler, starfu

    ...sort of.

    Extend the bans to alcohol and every other deleterious substance until they are 26. By that time they have established careers, families and would be less prone to the pitfalls of youthful abuse.

    As if.....

    I live in the real world. I know kids are going to do what they are going to do. I certainly did. So we must live with a devils bargain with drugs.  I really don't consider MJ a drug. It's a sacred herb. Like any substance, including food, you must know your own limitations. You need to be educated.

    Education and truth about "drugs" is necessary in schools. D.A.R.E. is almost gone and we need to work on getting rid of the rest of the scare tactics and bullshit.

    Kids aren't stupid.

    "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

    by CanisMaximus on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:49:19 PM PST

  •  In itself, Patrick Kennedy's lifelong battle... (5+ / 0-)

    with addiction is unfortunate, and I wish him the best in his persistent attempts to fight his mental illness. But he can go fuck himself sideways if he thinks his illness means pot users in particular need a law requiring us to be checked to ensure we're just having fun and not, in fact, battling the same illness he's fighting.

    If he really gave a shit about addiction, he'd be advocating that category 5 of the "essential health benefits" package found in the ACA (mental health and substance use disorder services) be rigorously implemented and universally require copay-free coverage of annual mental health screenings.

    Because unless I'm missing something, Mr Kennedy plainly proves the point that there are plenty of legal substances and activities that folks with addiction disorders can abuse. Or does he think we should outlaw prescription painkillers and gambling and exercise and eating, too?

    "The Democratic Party is not our friend: it is the only party we can negotiate with."

    by 2020adam on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 12:57:31 AM PST

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