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May 06, 2009

Schwarzenegger: Hey, Let's Have a Debate on Legalizing (and Taxing) Pot

He says he doesn't support legalizing it. Although there is a sorta-famous moment in Pumping Iron where he lights up a big fat joint after winning a competition.

So I guess there will be a debate.

As California struggles to find cash, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday it's time to study whether to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use.


"Well, I think it's not time for (legalization), but I think it's time for a debate," Schwarzenegger said. "I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I'm always for an open debate on it. And I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect did it have on those countries?"

That reference -- to "other countries" decriminalizing drugs -- seems likely to be a stealth endorsement of the idea, despite his denial of such. He's probably referring to a recent paper on Portugal's experience with drug decriminalization, published by the CATO institute, finding that decriminalization worked like gangbusters.

Supposedly. The paper is written by Glenn Greenwald, whom I distrust for obvious reasons. (He's a confirmed liar and hack.) I'm not sure how thoroughly CATO vetted the piece; if they did a good job on that front, and we can assume that most of what Greenwald claims is true, it's persuasive.

If we can't assume that, it's just another series of claims by a legalization enthusiast.

Time Magazine has a digest of the paper's conclusions, if you want to skip Greenwald's turgid super-smart piece. Time is of course just regurgitating what Greenwald wrote so there's no evidentiary value here; it's just a brief summation.

It really depends on whether CATO can/did substantiate these claims. Which I don't know.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

Unanswered (at least in the Time piece) is whether The Netherlands had a similar experience, or if Portugal is an outlier. Time makes a big deal about telling us the Netherlands did not technically decriminalize drugs -- the laws are still on the books; they just don't enforce them -- which makes me suspect that the Netherlands have not had a particularly reassuring experience with de facto decriminalization. (Thus the rush to distinguish the two countries.)

Special Note: As of yet I haven't seen this paper debunked, so as of yet we're seeing one side of the debate. (At least as regards these specific claims.) Again, I have no idea if Greenwald is on the level or just lying. Again.

And I have to emphasize he may be cherry-picking Portugal while ignoring the bad experience other countries have suffered. Even if they technically didn't decriminalize per se, but rather just stopped enforcing laws on the books.

England, I think, barely enforces drug laws. Quite frankly the US seems fairly lax on these issues, too, except as regards dealers and kingpins. I'm not at all certain how much stress the technical off-the-books status of decriminalization will bear.

Via Hot Air, with a video report from FoxNews on the story.

Decriminalization, I think, is now the mainstream opinion on this topic among the wealthy or near-wealthy -- the "elites" -- from both sides of the aisle, so it's a good guess that this is going to happen at some point. The elites usually get what they want.*

* Which is not meant in a snarky manner. And my old reservations about this are more tentative now, to be honest. So I'm not really broadcasting a firm opinion on the merits here; but I do think that that if I'm right that the libertarian position on this has become the dominant thinking among the upper middle class and upper class, the way to bet is that it's going to happen. From abortion to gay marriage, the positions held by that cadre on social mores have a way of winning out, eventually, whether they're right in a particular instance or very wrong.

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posted by Ace at 03:17 PM

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