Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tyler Cowen — Legalize Pot, But Don’t Normalize It

I think this is correct. 

Opponents believe, with some reason, that legalization ("decriminalization") implies or leads to normalization, as it did with alcohol and tobacco use. 

This is not a small issue, even if consider only from the perspective of public health. The cost of tobacco use and alcohol abuse is astronomical in actually medical costs and it comes with devastating social costs as well, affecting not on the individuals involved.

Now, the issue with regard to tobacco use and alcohol abuse is trying to put the cat back in the bag. It's not a simple matter. And Prohibition showed that criminalization is also ineffective.

Education and tax policy has been effective to some degree, but not to the satisfaction of the medical community and public health officials that study outcomes.

Now that the issue of legalizing cannabis looms large, there's a chance to address this before the cat gets out of the bag. And addressing it in advance could lead to a more optimal approach to tobacco use and alcohol abuse, too. 

Th other objection to legalizing cannabis is that it will then lead to legalization of other substance likely to be abused that even more dangerous.

I favor total legalization with sufficient precautions to avoid normalization, which would be a great mistake for reasons learns from tobacco and alcohol policy.

There is ample evidence that prohibit doesn't work, is expensive, can be used to disseminate, and other issues as well. It's unreasonable to continue a failed policy or to try to "fix" it, e.g. by imposing stricter penalties.

We need to think this through and there should be many inputs on it, with due deliberation before formulating policy. The Tyler Cowan piece doesn't deal with this is the degree of detail required, which would be impossible within the limited scope of a column.

There is a huge amount of money on the table now over potential legalization. Let's not get distracted by interests but rather look at the issue in term of the larger interests involved.

Bloomberg View
Legalize Pot, But Don’t Normalize It
Tyler Cowen | Holbert C. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University and serves as chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center


Konrad said...

This is totally off topic (for which I apologize), but did anyone else see this?

In 1928 an anonymous party established £500,000 "National Fund" and dedicated it to the UK government on condition that the fund remain untouched until the U.K. raises enough money to pay off its entire national debt. Today the £500,000 “fund” is worth £475 million (USD $640 million).

Barclays, which manages the fund, has tried for years to take control of the loot. Today UK Attorney General Jeremy Wright will urge High Court judges to release the money to pay off some of the U.K.'s “national debt.”

........THIS IS UTTER LUNACY........

[1] The UK “national debt” is 2,656 times larger than £475 million.

[2] The UK “national debt” is money that investors have deposited into Bank of England savings accounts by purchasing bank savings certificates, otherwise known as treasury securities, or “gilts.”

[3] The money in Bank of England savings accounts has nothing whatsoever to do with the UK government’s ability to create money out of thin air.

[4] When a treasury certificate matures, the money that was deposited into a Bank of England savings account is returned to the depositor, plus interest. There is no need to “pay off” the entire “national debt. There is no need to return all deposited money at once. Nor will any UK citizens ever be asked to “pay off” the “national debt.”

[5] Money is a strictly mental entity with no physical existence. No one has ever seen dollars or pounds; only symbols that represent or dollars and pounds. However the UK government talks of “breaking open” the "National Fund" as though it is a physical box. This is like seeking to “break open” a scoreboard to get at the physical “points” inside.

[6] The UK government has no need or use for tax revenue, and effectively destroys it upon receipt. When I send a tax check to “Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs” (HMRC, the British equivalent of the IRS) the HMRC instructs my bank to debit the tax money from my bank account. Money debited for national taxes is money destroyed -- i.e. sent back into the thin air from whence it came. Therefore if the $640 million is given to the UK government, the $640 million will effectively be destroyed.

[7] Poor people imagine that money is physical and scarce. Most rich people know that money is non-physical and infinite. Most rich people correctly see money as a way to “keep score” like points on a sports scoreboard.

[8] I said most rich people. Obviously the anonymous donor of the “National Fund” was an idiot.


Konrad said...


As of 2015 the UK “national debt” was £1.56 trillion.

That is 3,284 times larger than the £475 million in the “National Fund.”

Andrew Anderson said...

A just society would, per the Bible, have few poor and thus very little need to "drown one's sorrows."

But what have the ever brilliant Progressives given us?
1) An unjust society via privileges for private credit creation.
2) Prohibition lest the victims forget their miseries.

Which reminds me of this:

... even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. Proverbs 12:10

Anonymous said...

The simple truth is, to the human body (an end product of billions of years of evolution) alcohol is a poison; and 'chemical consciousness' a one way downhill street. But believe the advertising and the 'freedom' .... the purpose of this human body is to get as unconscious as you can. There is a perfectly good excuse sitting right there in your hand. In terms of consciousness, others recommend drinking your pain to the last drop along with pleasure, as they are both primary teachers; the heart desires something beyond them both. But that takes courage. Shakespeare said it was the little drop of poison in every glass of allegorical wine, that gets you in the end. Probably had no idea what he was talking about. These others also say the human body is the greatest gift, because within it is a door that leads straight to what Life wants for you. Probably never read a science text book either (or else their science is broader, more inclusive and with deeper scope). Humans use poison in the courts and the kingdoms and among the people, like they used the Skiprals; crowd control and assination - how sophisticated is that? I wouldn't vote for that ...

Andrew Anderson said...

Jesus Christ drank wine and it had alcohol in it.

I'll take what I've come to believe is THE TRUTH (and the Way and the Life) over your "simple truth" any day, jsbarch.

Anonymous said...

Many people including me have drunk wine with alcohol in it. It doesn't change who you are. Its how you use 'wine' 'guns' 'money' 'food' 'marijuana' 'heroin' etc etc that counts. You read me too quickly AA.

Respectfully,you are welcome to your beliefs and I have no quarrel with them or you. I just need a little space to place mine now and again.

Andrew Anderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Anderson said...

In terms of consciousness, others recommend drinking your pain to the last drop,,, jsbarch

A recommendation is one thing (and one which few will apply to themselves when THEY are in pain) but making relief illegal is wicked, I surmise from the Bible. Yet that's what Progressives did.

Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to him whose life is bitter.
Let him drink and forget his poverty
And remember his trouble no more.

Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Proverbs 31:6-9

Matt Franko said...

“Let him drink and forget his poverty”

What if we eliminate poverty???? Uh oh!!!

dave said...

Your first mistake was agreeing with Tyler Cowen. I love the hypocrisy. "I'm a libertarian, but let's regulate this." The reality is, Denver does regulate this stuff, and its pretty much a non-issue. But in one sense, he misses the point. Retail point of sale isn't really the problem, or if it is a problem, it's like 2% of it. People going to smoke where they are going to smoke, and if it's at home, it's probably on the patio. So in one sense it comes with the territory.

The larger issue is the grow houses. Denver regulates that pretty well, but it can do better. Some of the grow operations have really fantastic ventilation systems and you can't smell anything. Some of them don't and it stinks everywhere within a 150 yards. So between the smell and the need for space, they're already pushed to the fringes. But even the ones with great ventilation can't be located in residential areas because those systems have to run 24-7 and they're super loud. I was looking at a building for sale on the edges of an industrial area that's gentrifying pretty quickly, but there was no way you could live next to this site. The white noise would drive you crazy eventually.

That said, as economic oppression increases, gay marriage and the end of marijuana prohibition are the two great progressive advances of our lifetime. When everybody is done saying, "hey, do we really want to encourage that type of behavior?" then we can get on with more important issues.

Tom Hickey said...

I am a libertarian, too, in that I think that personal freedoms the priority, that is, freedom from coercion, freedom to choose, and freedom for self-expression, self-development and self-actualization.

But I also recognize that liberty does not imply license, and that some governance is needed in large societies where there many conflicting interests, as well as the overall interests of security, good order, and distributed well-being. It's not a free for all.

This requires the establishment of rights and responsibilities, both institutionally (formally and explicitly) and culturally (informally and implicitly).

Regarding substances, I think that the major push toward normalization comes from advertising. This normalized tobacco use and alcohol abuse. Advertising presents these behaviors as not only normal but also cool.

Taxes have discouraged this to some degree ,and so have the mandated warnings — but only to some degree. The medical and public health folks are still very concerned that this is a major problem in the US, along with lack of exercise and being overweight. While the matter of exercise is a personal choice, diet is another area greatly influenced by advertising.

The other biggie is environmental pollution. This is a negative externality that results from the "freedom" to capitalize gains and socialize losses under current law.

While maximum freedom of choice is desirable, liberty is not license. The challenge involves defining boundaries and implementing controls.

These are not only political issues that can be addressed through institutional arrangements, but also social issues that are affected by culture. In large populations people are going to disagree over both boundary conditions and controls, often markedly.