A number of recent polls reveal that over half of the U.S. population favors the abolishment of marijuana prohibition. This includes many young followers of Christianity who, if you consider the bombardment of “tolerance” evangelism preached everywhere, probably find it a crime to judge others. Why the collective change of heart on dope is taking place, it’s not entirely certain. With no statistical evidence I will assume most people either dabble with weed or are familiar with someone adversely impacted by its prohibition. This reversing of public opinion’s tide is likely driven by witnessing the inhumanity of forced confinement for smoking a plant, in addition to the overall cost of tax dollars for enforcement. In a word, it would seem like sensibility is catching up with undue suspicion.
Residents of two states, Colorado and Washington, voted last November to legalize recreational use of the drug in sheer protest of federal law. The current and most recent U.S. president have both admitted to taking a few hits at the bong. Obama, who has presided over the most jailing of pot abusers in recent history, actually paid tribute to his dealer in his high school yearbook. It’s grass for me, not thee to the once Commander-in-Kief. The Marijuana Policy Project predicts more states will pursue decriminalization in coming years. To libertarians and actual liberals (you know, people who want guns and badges everywhere but the bedroom), this should be reason for celebration. Sure, it’s not full-out drug freedom, but steps are being taken. And yet, not everyone is happy.
Writing in Taki’s Magazine, hipster extraordinaire Gavin McInnes details an excursion with today’s concoction of marijuana and the hazardous potency it embodies. Speaking with some young pot smokers, he describes the harrowing experience of inhaling an herb that is technology more infused than your father’s backyard stash. After a severe coughing fit, McInnes asks “Should we legalize a really, really heavy drug?”
First, let’s get one thing straight: there is no “we” legalizing anything. To borrow the apt Spooner phrase, the robbers and murderers “who call themselves the government” are the individuals currently enforcing prohibition. Legalization relies on the state’s cooperation in letting the public smoke dope to their lungs’ content. Sure, direct democracy has effectively nullified Washington’s legal barring. But there remains no guarantee that federal stormtroopers will respect the vote. The Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has made it known the Department of Justice will continue to target large-scale distributors. For all its flaws, the biggest of state democracy is the open possibility that entrenched authority will overrule the ballot box. The people may want to smoke a joint without going behind bars, but the choice is hardly up to them.
The biggest flaw of McInnes’ argument is his understanding of why exactly marijuana is infused with more Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than decades past. During the crack epidemic of the 1980s, self-styled drug warriors were up in arms over the violence and crime that swirled around the narcotics trade. It was half a century since the republic’s first drug laws were passed and here was a substance that packed more of a punch than its relatively softer cousin, cocaine. The press was at loss to explain the use of such a dangerous substance thanks to the propaganda machine that was and still is the Drug Enforcement Agency. It was inconceivable that the same policies aimed at quelling drug usage could actually be responsible for the emergence of something more deadly and addictive.
But like most things concerning the state, orthodox thinking lacked the intoxicating potency of logic – specifically basic economics. As Richard Cowan wrote in National Review, the outlawing of cocaine incentivized dealers to deliver a product just as effective and at a higher value-per-unit. Outlawing pushed commerce underground while necessitating the development of more convenient transportation. The cracking down on supply raised the price point to where it becomes lucrative for unsavory characters to cash in on the profits. In Cowan’s words, the “narcs created crack.”
What made the 1980s more woeful was the fact that it was a virtual repetition of the 1920s and the rise of organized crime. Liquor consumption increased following Prohibition, as the thirsty opted for more potent spirits. More resources were devoted to liquor production, which resulted in the price of less alcohol-rich beer rising at a higher level than the more heavy spirits. In sum, ale drinkers switched to whiskey as real crime (meaning property violations) ascended.
This is the essence of the iron law of drug prohibition. Increasingly potent marijuana possess a health risk only because the drug was prohibited to begin with. Continuing to treat cannabis like murder will only encourage further experimentation in delivering more “high” with less quantity. If McInnes’ concern is with making sure the indolent masses don’t smoke themselves to death, his preferred policy should be the swift beheading of any and all enforced restraints on weed.
The outlawing of marijuana consumption has lead directly to the rise of what’s known as “dabbing.” According to Vice Magazine (the popular magazine McInnes co-founded), dabbing involves the extraction of THC into oil form. The byproduct is then vaporized using a kind of glass piece combined with the heating of a steel plate using a blowtorch. The ensuing vapor smoke ends up being “the most efficient use” of weed due to the high concentration of THC in each toke. The outcome has been an increased number of close-call overdoses with the drug nobody thought you could actually go overboard with.
I may only be a half-decade removed from my teenage years, but I can say with confidence that the emergence of “dabbing” is a sure sign of marijuana’s unnecessary complexity – the result of which is a direct consequence of prohibition. In my more rambunctious days, the only expertise needed to get high was being able to balance pinches of weed on a magazine cover while sitting in the passenger seat of an erratically-driven car. The most forethought put into smoking was remembering to purchase a blunt cigar to hollow out. The kind of capital investment involved with THC extraction today has made toking a science project. Recreational drug usage was never supposed to be about obscene amounts of preparation time. Normal people smoke weed to give their mind a break, not wrack it finding new methods of attaining a high.
At its core, drug prohibition is not just the suppression of mind-altering substances, but of the individual. Freedom to use one’s body is the hallmark of self-ownership, and all the moral notions of law that follow. The majority of marijuana legalization do not view it this way, though their support is welcome. As a libertarian, I would hope Mr. McInnes can make the distinction in favor of reason and not utility.
James E. Miller | 04/29/2013