Thomas Elliott via Wikimedia Commons

EDITORS NOTE: Many years ago, I had the privilege of working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration with the Office of Diversion Control. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of DEA either then or presently. — SVK

It is immoral to allow fools to keep their money, so the aphorism goes. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the debate about marijuana legalization is about.

Anyone who tells you differently is either a damned fool themselves or in on the racket — full stop. Money is the drug; marijuana is the vehicle.

If there is one thing that I find most annoying about arguments for decriminalization, it is that somehow it is a zero-sum game. They argue that decriminalization or legalization of certain drugs such as heroin, THC in marijuana, cocaine and a host of other prescription and non-prescription substances have zero impact on either yourself or society — especially in an era of socialized medicine.

Of course they don’t. Even alcohol consumption isn’t a zero sum game. There are tremendous social impacts of alcohol abuse, and while we tolerate alcohol use and abuse due to thousands of years of social acclimation, it is always inevitable that someone somewhere will try to not talk about marijuana by comparing it to alcohol — which is the worst sort of logical fallacy.

Adults don’t do that.

So neither shall we.

It’s Not About Legalizing Anything; Money Is The Real Drug

Marijuana legalization has barely come off the ground in Virginia. Democrats — cloaking their efforts as an effort to promote “equity” and “social justice” — created a government-controlled marketplace for marijuana sales that is being entirely governed by Richmond lobbyists profiting off the exchange, as reported by Cardinal News:

“I really think what you have to do is assume the whole thing is starting from a clean slate now,” said Greg Habeeb, a former Republican state delegate from Salem who now runs Gentry Locke Consulting in Richmond and has been working with companies that want to get into the cannabis business.

“Reenactment means that nothing is final, and that it takes another vote,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise, a Richmond-based social activist who co-founded the group Marijuana Justice, which advocates for racial equity in legalization and enforcement. “And now we have very different people taking that vote.”

Of course, the drug we are really talking about here isn’t the THC in marijuana — it’s money. Gobs and gobs of it. More importantly, it is a question of who wins and who loses in a game that is hardly zero-sum.

One will notice that legalization doesn’t come with a free market. Instead, it will be government-controlled and channeled through a handful of distributors that will be amazingly taxed — all with a veneer of Social Justice! (TM) and Equity! (TM) to protect a handful of willing executioners. Woe to those who touch upon this new ABC monopoly and the vast amounts of cash that will flow through these sluices once they are functioning — government run cartels really hate the idea of competition much less a rival black market.

So in the name of legalization, what have we achieved? We turn the Commonwealth of Virginia into the cartel. Which doesn’t precisely sound like a win, does it?

Fun Fact: Marijuana Isn’t As Cool As It Used To Be…

Something to consider about all of this confusion about the right to blow your brains out on at 3am on Saturday night? No one is doing it anymore.

Now this isn’t to say that the business isn’t lucrative. Far from it — private home grown sales can be as lucrative as $800-1000 per pound:

Source: DEA National Drug Threat Assessment (2019)

That is — of course — if you are in the United States.

If you are outside of the United States trafficking narcotics into the country, the game becomes more interesting, as this revenue that used to be nearly exclusive to cartels in northern Mexico is now being relocated to farmers (licit or illicit) in America.

Of course, the cartels aren’t going to willingly go out of business on their own. So they switch up to heroin and cocaine — something they can deal more of using the same smuggling operations.

When we talk of marijuana as a gateway drug, it isn’t just the similarity of the high from THC to the high of opioids. Nor is it the idea that medical marijuana (Dronabinol is Schedule I, Nabilone is Schedule II) hasn’t been around for some time, but the fact of the matters is that marijuana does have habitual properties the same way that dopamine or seratonin might. Unlike methamphetamine which produced a chemical addition in most cases, THC’s effects of feeling high do wear off over time, requiring stronger doses of THC in order to reproduce similar effects.

Thus a psychological addiction can and does occur — no different than dopamine junkies (your cell phone, cocaine, or running) and making users more susceptible to hard drug addiction.

Why Do The Feds Wage War On Marijuana? Worker Productivity + Social Costs

So why does the US Drug Enforcement Administration continue to advise that THC remain on the schedule?

The answer is two fold.

First, worker productivity goes down measurably whether it is soft or hard drug use or abuse. Second, the social costs of drug culture are something that nations have been familiar with from the Opium Wars to the present day, where Western nations smuggled opium into Chinese markets in order to first weaken then conquer trade ports along mainland China. The Soviet Union assisted the Colombian cartels during the 1970s and 1980s until the United States began prosecuting the Drug War in earnest in the early 1990s, with both the Russian and Chinese governments taking a keen interest in drug legalization in the United States today — with Russia Today cheering every step along a familiar road:

Lawmakers and cannabis advocates alike expect legalization measures to help boost struggling government budgets by attracting tourism dollars and tax revenue. Yet dozens of current and former law enforcement officials from around the nation have spoken out against the changes as the conversation has gone on. One reason, critics say, is because marijuana arrests and seizures indirectly provide resources for the DEA.

Last year, for instance, marijuana lobbyists attacked Bensinger, DuPont & Associates – a company founded by anti-pot crusaders under US President Nixon that now specializes in corporate drug testing – penned an open letter to a Senate committee criticizing the Obama administration’s stance on marijuana.

The letter, as quoted by US News & World Report, advised that cannabis is “a dangerous and addictive drug” which “significantly impacts” society as a whole – and worker productivity in particular.

Peter Bensinger was a former administrator with US Drug Enforcement and has written extensively — and is the favorite target of pro-legalization boosters — on the concept that medical marijuana is a misnomer entirely.

For those interested, you can watch Bensinger’s presentation on this very topic from April 2013:

During this presentation, you learn a few facts:

  • Over 1250 people a day are admitted to hospital due to marijuana-related accidents, often times exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Even in 2013, the total number of admissions was 455,000 — a number that has only increased with the availability of legalized marijuana. In Colorado, emergency room visits continues to climb disproportionately, further straining and already overloaded health care system.
  • In Colorado, the number of highway deaths related to marijuana shot up from a mere handful to 54 by 2013. Since 2012 when Colorado legalized THC, traffic fatalities involving marijuana have risen 35% statewide and marijuana-related traffic deaths have risen 151% statewide.
  • Instances of psychosis and schizophrenia are clinically shown to increase dramatically among those who consistently abuse THC.
  • Those using marijuana are 2x as likely to be involved in highway accidents as non-THC users.
  • Employers can be held responsible for the conduct or negligence of their employees on substances such as THC under legalization.
  • Marijuana use has a direct impact on short-term memory, co-ordination, depth perception, attention span and judgment.
  • Studies at Stanford University have shown that THC that pilots routinely missed their runway by 24 feet even a day after consumption, demonstrating long-term effects.

As mentioned before, everything is going to have a trade-off. Your body will respond to THC with short-term and long-term impacts. Most are managable; some 10% of all users will develop marijuana use disorder:

About 10% of people who begin smoking cannabis will become addicted, and 30% of current users meet the criteria for addiction. 

People in mid-to-late adolescence are most likely to begin using cannabis. Some genetic studies suggest that developing cannabis addiction is hereditary. A Yale Medicine-led study identified several gene variants that increase risk of cannabis dependence. However, more research is needed in order to confirm the findings and understand how these genetic factors might contribute to marijuana dependence.

The CDC data on marijuana use and its risks is just as informative as the Yale Medicine data sheet.

Yet the two costs that we have outlined here — both in terms of productivity and in terms of who pays when things go wrong — have very real policy complications that cannot be fobbed off by comparing marijuana to other substances (corn syrup or alcohol) or by pointing the finger at other people’s bad behavior.

This is where the adults step in. We aren’t talking about the impact of corn syrup or alcohol — we are specifically weighing the costs of legalizing and/or decriminalizing marijuana use for the Commonwealth of Virginia. If a handful of government-controlled firms who are using wokes as a front to make their millions aren’t being held responsible for these costs, then will Virginia taxpayers be on the hook for the additional Medicare costs, additional insurance rates, additional risks to law enforcement and first responders?

What happens to Virginia’s relationship with DEA and FBI as we discuss the financial portion of all this money shuffling? After all — money is the drug; marijuana is the vehicle. Are we really going to flip the apple cart under the guise of “social justice” in order to financially boost a handful of people at the expense of the taxpayer?

All so that a few lobbyists can realize some financial gains?

More Realism Would Be Appreciated When We Discuss Marijuana

Of course, I am no prude when it comes to the discussion over marijuana legalization, and neither is the US Drug Enforcement Administration. One a scale of 1 to 10, this probably ranks somewhere near a 2 on the actual topic as to whether folks want to hang out in their garage and blaze. Personally, I think it smells terrible. I’m sure folks feel the same way about maduro-leaf cigars and peaty scotch.

I sit in judgment of no man.

Yet when you peel the layers back and start asking the question cui bono? (who benefits) and begin asking the question “And then what?” the policy implications begin to become much more omnipresent — not just from a law enforcement or health care perspective, but from a national security perspective.

Those pushing legalization through this government-controlled apparatus are intentionally funneling the money without grappling with the consequences. Quick cash, right?

Yet for those of us who have to watch a loved one burn $1,000/month on weed, hold the hand of a daughter clipped by a high-driver rather than a drunk driver, talk to those who see drug cartels shift their business models, or listen to law enforcement friends talk about how cheap heroin and cheaper fentanyl are burning through communities?

Therein lies the problem. There is no such thing as a “victimless crime” when it comes to drug abuse. Someone’s family, a law enforcement officer, doctors and nurses, someone in the intelligence community — we all have to watch this happen in real time.

Perhaps it isn’t a second order impact, but as a third or fourth order consequence it is inevitably John and Jane Q. Taxpayer who will be asked to pick up the broken pieces should things go wrong.

Without invective or hyperbole, without ad hominem or bombast, and without false comparisons to alcohol or corn syrup (or any other comparison), they should coolly and rationally answer the question of who pays when inevitably someone abuses a controlled substance such as THC. Not just who, but in numbers describe how much and what sort of impact we will be asking to take on?

How will my liberty be impacted by someone else’s license? Will the firms making the money absorb this expense? Will businesses be expected to pay because their employees treated THC like caffeine and nicotine on the job? With cartels no longer dealing in marijuana and money being the drug, how will we tackle the inevitable as marijuana trafficking is replaced with heroin and opioid trafficking?

How do we intend to deal with the very real effects of marijuana use disorder and the problem of addiction? Ignoring it as pro-legalization campaigners have done to date is no longer an acceptable point of discussion. We are seeing and measuring the impact in real time. Comparisons to alcohol and nicotine are non sequiturs — we aren’t discussing them, we are discussing marijuana. Who pays for this? If the answer is a shrug, then can we safely assume that this has nothing to do with liberty per se, but just raw license?

Obviously we make these tradeoffs every day. We drive to work, walk across the street, roll the dice at Chipotle. Surely we do not demand the absolute that any drug in every instance must be safe. Yet we do require that the results be consistent, measurable, reliable and not worse than the disease.

Perhaps there is a safe and common sense market for marijuana. Perhaps the government-controlled cartel can be set down for a more free market solution. Perhaps too JLARC or some other entity can weigh the scales and present the true social costs without wrapping the argument up in “equity” or some other nonsense.

What we deserve in Virginia isn’t prohibition or Pollyanna — it is some hard nosed realism about what marijuana legalization will do at every level from health care to law enforcement to national security.

We don’t have that right now — and we don’t owe it to lobbyists to rush the decision in order for a handful of Northam-picked beneficiaries to cash us out.