Monday, March 21, 2011

Marijuana

C0nc0rdance recently posted a video about the negative effects of marijuana. I'm as square as he is, but I did have a general leaning towards legalization, mostly due to the negative effects prohibition had on society, but partially due to some misconceptions I had about marijuana being relatively safe. I wonder if he might do later videos about tobacco and alcohol so that he can give us some comparison. Either way, I'm currently moving back towards neutral on the issue of marijuana legalization, based on what I know at this particular moment.

The video:


Of course, one of the stupid 'positive' myths uses the stereotypical altie argument that marijuana is herbal, therefore it's okay. Tobacco's pretty much herbal, and you don't see many people saying it's safe because of that. Or at least I don't, aside from one troll who stopped by Orac's a while back.

30 comments:

Don said...

Having not watched the video, it's my understanding that a lot of the negative health effects are overstated, some to the point of hysteria.

Even if it does have negative effects, though, I'm still behind legalization. If someone wants to suffer those effects, it's not my business to police their well-being. As long as they're not driving while they're getting high, it's not my problem.

Bronze Dog said...

This isn't one of my strong fields, so if you do watch it, you can look at his sources and how he represents them.

I'm hoping this will cause a bit of discussion dealing with the raw evidence, and I'm just plain interested in the topic, now.

Ryan W. said...

I'm for the 100% legalization of victimless crime in general, but have thought about re-assessing my ideas about drugs.

Drug and alcohol addiction is just so widespread and represented in much more of the population than I ever realized.

Bronze Dog said...

I'm not suggesting that it's okay to let SWAT teams go crazy. If I do somehow end up supporting prohibition, I'd sure as hell move the topic towards finding better policies for how to enforce it.

Dunc said...

My earlier comment seems to have disappeared...

"If I do somehow end up supporting prohibition, I'd sure as hell move the topic towards finding better policies for how to enforce it."

Such as? Barring the invention of pre-cognition, telepathy, or x-ray vision, it's a really bloody difficult thing to do. We (collectively) have been all over this for the better part of a century. That's how we've ended up with SWAT teams blowing people away. (Well, that and the inevitable affects of mission-creep and institutional ass-covering...)

Sure, in some magical parallel world where prohibition actually produces a deterrent effect, and the law can be enforced in a genuinely fair manner by reasonable people, it might be a good idea. In this world though? It's a fucking nightmare. You have uncontrolled use of unregulated products funding massive criminal enterprises, users can't or won't access treatment because they're afraid of getting busted, the prison population is going through the roof and you've got a bunch of crazed authoritarian assholes running around with barely-obsolete military hardware and carte-blanche to do whatever the fuck they want and then help themselves to the proceeds - and those are the good guys. It's the worst of all possible worlds.

I'm in favour of legalisation because drugs are dangerous. The only effective way to moderate that danger is through regulation. Prohibition is the opposite of regulation - it's the "here be dragons" of social policy. The more evidence you produce showing the dangers of drugs, the more strongly I will support their legalisation, because it's blatantly obvious by now that prohibition is at best completely ineffective at moderating those dangers.

Drug use is a public health issue, and should be treated as such.

Dunc said...

Ugh... "effects, not "affects". I hate that one.

Bronze Dog said...

Sorry, Dunc. I didn't notice it got eaten. I'll check my mail trash to see if I can retrieve the text.

And yes, there's all sorts of sticky issues I know little about involved in enforcement, and America's been doing its share of stupid in ignoring the difficulties. I've been keeping up on Dispatches From the Culture Wars, so I've gotten a decent sample of crazy extremes that police, SWAT, and so forth have gone to.

I agree that drugs should be treated primarily as a health/medical issue, rather than blindly as a criminal issue. If anyone is going to be treated as a criminal, I'd rather have it focused on the dealers, not the addicts, but I don't know any pragmatic way from separating the two from the police perspective or preventing anti-dealer measures from spilling over into anti-user actions.

And yeah, legalization does have a strong argument along the lines of regulation. I had one post idea I had been sitting on about the topic, though it kind of got interrupted by me getting new information. I suspect I'll end up moving back towards favoring legalization again, but I felt it was important to get some discussion about the relative danger of various drugs.

I do recommend everyone watch the video. I didn't see C0nc0rdance really come out for or against legalization, simply discuss the truth in regard to marijuana's negative effects, attempting to dispel some myths about it, and I think honest discussion about the effects needs to inform my opinion.

If one of his sources or his interpretations of the data is questionable, I most certainly want someone to point it out.

Bronze Dog said...

Dunc's lost comment:

Also not watched the video, but the basic reasoning is questionable. Yes, it has a number of risks, but adding even more (and usually worse) risks via prohibition doesn't seem to help much. Long-term mental health risks are real, but they're not really directly comparable to the risk of being shot by a SWAT team. Also, they principally affect the user, whereas US SWAT teams seem to be really bad at reading addresses, so they sometimes blow away the neighbours by accident. Unless you want to claim that (a) prohibition has a strong deterrent effect (for which the evidence is weak at best), and (b) increased use due to legalisation or decriminalisation would result in a large increase in very severe mental health disorders, resulting in a significant number of deaths, then I don't really see how prohibition helps. And that's without getting into the financial costs of enforcement, or the knock-on effects of handing a large revenue stream to organised crime.

Analogy: there's really no argument about the risks of alcohol consumption (certainly worse than marijuana), yet we don't seem to think prohibition was a good idea there.

Full disclosure: I'm a regular toker and have been for over 20 years.

Dunc said...

Looks like it's eaten another of my comments, this one with links and references and stuff...

General point: relative harm is irrelevant when evaluating interventions. You don't need to assess the relative severity of different types of cancer if you're trying to figure out whether or not homeopathy works.

Bronze Dog said...

Reproduced comment:


"I felt it was important to get some discussion about the relative danger of various drugs."

I'm not entirely sure that's really germane to the question of legalisation or prohibition. It's very important when you come to design a regulatory regime, but on the basic pro-or-anti-prohibition issue, the principle question is "does prohibition improve matters, or make them worse?" The relative dangers of the specific substances in question are irrelevant to that. Lots of things are dangerous.

Still, if that's what you're interested in, the canonical reference these days would be "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse", D Nutt, LA King, W Saulsbury - The Lancet, 2007. It was quite widely reported at the time, largely because it rated both alcohol and tobacco as substantially more harmful than many illegal drugs.

And if you want to get seriously into the nitty-gritty of what proper regulation might look like, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation are well worth a look.

Bronze Dog said...

Oops. Left out the links:

http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673607604644

http://www.tdpf.org.uk/

Dunc said...

Thanks again. Will try and view the video this evening.

Bronze Dog said...

Thanks. I wonder why the comment eater is targeting you right now. Anti-spam filter getting overzealous due to drug references, maybe?

Nothing overt enough that I see, so that's a weak guess.

Dunc said...

Who can figure the ways of spam filters? They're as inscrutable as the gods. ;)

Dunc said...

OK, having watched it, I'd say that's it's a pretty accurate (if somewhat one-sided) statement of the truth. Yes, it has dangers, and some of those dangers are quite serious.

It is also fun. Many fun things have dangers, some of them serious. I could probably put together a similarly scary presentation about college football... ;)

So, is MJ "relatively safe"? It depends - relative to what? I still say it's entirely the wrong question to ask if you're trying to decide whether or not it should be illegal.

Bronze Dog said...

I still think it's worth establishing how dangerous it is compared with other drugs or potentially harmful activities in order to establish how much effort we should put into any sort of control.

The current "war on drugs" is most certainly over the top. Right now, the choices I see are either legalization and regulation OR radical reform of the methods of prohibition enforcement. The status quo is not an option.

And I'm returning to favoring legalization, since I've been reminded of how the enforcement of even a mild prohibition would probably lead back to the current extremes due to political pressures.

Dunc said...

"I still think it's worth establishing how dangerous it is compared with other drugs or potentially harmful activities in order to establish how much effort we should put into any sort of control."

Once you've identified a means of control that actually works, sure.

Like I say, your best resource for that is probably the Nutt el al 2007 paper. Other potentially harmful activities you might want to compare to: college football, driving, swimming, sex, gun ownership. Problem is that the "benefits" of drug use are extremely nebulous and difficult to measure, although they're very real to those of us who experience them. Kinda like falling in love... ;)

Bronze Dog said...

New video by C0nc0rdance. I'm in the middle of watching, and second opinions are welcome.

Dark Jaguar said...

It's a complicated issue. The reality that must be accepted is people smoke it all the time anyway. I certainly don't do the stuff myself. Some do, and I don't hang around them when they do, but nor do I get all upset about it. Generally, they tend to keep control. Just like anything else, it's a matter of responsible use, so I'll only speak up if it gets out of hand, generally. I also let it be known that if ever directly asked by the police, I'm not going to jail by aiding and abetting or something like that, so please don't share anything with me if you're afraid I might spill the beans.

My personal thoughts have changed on this over time. My current feeling is that it should probably just be legalized, but with numerous laws in place to punish those who go too far. Further, there should be programs in place to try and encourage people never to start, just like with smoking. It should be honest though. Being dishonest tends to backfire when kids assume that since no one jumps out windows to their deaths, then it must not be harmful at all in any way. The FDA could manage and control the quality of distribution to make it as healthy as can reasonably be expected considering what we're talking about. Some say "and tax the hell out of it". Eh, I'd support that, but those people tend to actually smoke the stuff, and I wonder how much they'd actually support it if that actually came to pass and suddenly they're paying extremely high amounts.

Oh, on a only very loosely related note, I've noticed lately that PZ has really being saying some strong "hippies are my kind of people" stuff lately. It's weird. The hippies he's talking about don't match my conceptions of them. The ones he's describing seem like actual political movement leaders. I admit that my idea of them is a cartoonish charicature groomed from things like Earthbound and South Park, but not without some merit. As I posted over there, the majority of those advertising themselves as hippies tend to be post-modernist anti-science types who, if they agree with leftist policies, it doesn't mean they do so because of serious scientific thought so much as they felt it thanks to their local spirit guide's advice. Some I've met in person who go on about aliens and crystals and all sorts of things, and call themselves hippies. Others I see on TV going on about quantum vibrations and so on.

I'm not saying the ENTIRE hippie movement is like that, but this idea of hippies being nutty tree huggers with no skeptical sense didn't arise from the aether. People with those views do exist, and if there are rational level headed hippies, then they really need to speak up more because there's a lot of vocal morons ruining their image. I'm honestly surprised that PZ doesn't show any awareness of this. It's one of those areas where I actually differ with him.

I'll note that in about every instance where I disagree, it tends to be on something where he's talking outside his area of expertise, like when he goes on about video games or something, and even then most of the times he's talking outside his expertise, I still agree with him.

Ryan said...

I always figured if they legalize it and mass produce it (20 Marlboro Class "A" Joints) you'd have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole to get high.

Then they'd sic the ATF on private growers.

Bronze Dog said...

I doubt that business model would be sustainable. If no one gets high off the corporate marijuana, no one'll buy it. The corporation would then either be forced to increase the dose by consumer demand, or forced out of the marijuana trade by the corporate heads who don't see a profit.

Don said...

Then they'd sic the ATF on private growers.

They would have to change their name, then, to, like, the WTF.

King of Ferrets said...

I know very little about the issue, personally. All I know is that the idea of getting high does not interest me at all. I like my thought processes to be as clear as I can make them... things with hallucinogenic properties are not exactly high on the list of "things that I think are cool and awesome and use regularly" because of that. I'm not fond of alcohol for similar reasons (also because it tastes terrible).

...I'm not actually contributing much of use to the conversation! Yay!

Dunc said...

Dark Jaguar - hippies are a very diverse bunch. I consider myself I hippy, but all that crystals and quantum bullshit really pisses me off. I call them "dippy hippies". I'm of a slightly older vintage, from before it got hijacked by the fucking marketeers - to me, being a hippy is mainly about not blindly accepting the professed moral and ethical values of your host society, not buying crap just because it's advertised on TV, and looking for ways to live well that rely less on non-sustainable polluting industries and massive state violence. Peace and love and all that stuff. And I am speaking up - unfortunately (a) there are more dippy hippies out there than proper hippies, because it's easy, fashionable and extensively marketed, (b) there are a lot of interests served by portraying all hippies as being like that, and (c) most of us have a lot of other shit to do it the real world. Most real hippies aren't spending a lot of time on the internet.

Dunc said...

No problems with that second video, except for the bit about the estimated fatal dose being (IIRC) "50-60 joints assuming 100% absorption". That's a completely ridiculous assumption - if it were true, cigarette smokers would be dropping dead from acute nicotine poisoning all over the place. Not having good data is no excuse for making absurd assumptions. Nicotine absorption from cigarettes is usually somewhere in the region of 5-10% (it's quite variable depending on how deeply you inhale and how long you hold it), which is a reasonable analogue and not hard to find out. Or he could have looked back at the papers from his first video and compared the intravenous doses of THC used in some of the studies to the estimated THC content of a typical joint. Still, not particularly important since smoking 60 joints in quick succession isn't much more plausible than smoking 600.

One thing he is dead right about is the prevalence of denialism in pot smokers. It does my head in - you can argue for legalisation without having to believe that it's fucking magical. Hopefully most of them will grow out of it...

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Do we have the right to burn sam harris?

evcforum.net/cgi-bin/dm.cgi?control=msg&m=610802

Dark Jaguar said...

Hmm, let's ask an authority on the matter, Sam Harris.

Tom Foss said...

I haven't yet watched the videos, but I like C0nc0rdance's stuff, and I suspect his research is probably on the mark. My problem with prohibition has little to do with the drugs themselves, and more to do with the culture that they create.

Prohibition, whether of drugs or alcohol, has created a black market for those items, because people want to use them. Buying drugs on the black market is dangerous and expensive, and not just for the users or sellers.

My position has long been that drugs should be decriminalized and production of once-criminal drugs should be regulated. Moreover, the drugs should be sold at below street value. The government would be underselling the illegal dealers with a product that users could be certain was not cut or laced with something more dangerous. Users could be assured of a consistent quality and dosage, and the criminal dealers would be forced out of business. Meanwhile, with the drugs decriminalized, the government is spending much less money on hunting down and incarcerating users and dealers, while also making money on the taxes from the drugs.

Ideally, this would have a side-effect of cleaning up the streets in many cases, as there wouldn't be dealers selling their wares to junkies in alleyways. I know I'm not going to shop where I can get stabbed if I can buy cocaine at my local Walgreens.

Anonymous said...

i suggest looking into the organization known as L.E.A.P. if you are interested in this topic. they are pro legalization. But interestingly...LEAP stands for "Law Enforcement Against Prohibition". thousands of cops..FOR legalization. a bit of an interesting and astonishing perspective.