The party of pain

Commenters on the right will often talk in apocalyptic terms about the loss of freedom in America, as bakers are not allowed to discriminate against gay couples. That’s certainly a defensible point, although I can’t get too excited about it.  Same thing for people on the left and the 60 prisoners on Guantanamo.  Again, a defensible argument, but not a high priority for me.  But when I mention 400,000 Americans in prison for violating drug laws these same people often just giggle, saying that that “only pothead libertarians care about the issue”.  Then they tell me that these 400,000, and the millions more ex cons who’s lives have been scarred by our criminal justice system, are “bad people”, even though they’ve never met most of them. Guess what, some of those Guantanamo prisoners and some of those anti-gay bakers are also bad people.  Is that your criterion?

America had a lot of murders during the 1920s, but far fewer during the 1950s.  I guess all those “bad people” shooting each other in 1920s gangland slayings, fighting over the distribution of alcohol, suddenly became “good people” in the 1950s.  Or is it possible that bad laws make bad people?

Here’s a map showing the progress on pot legalization so far; many people expect a big jump in states where it is fully legal next month, as referenda are on the ballot in 5 states, including California.  Florida and a few others will vote on medical marijuana.

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Look at the states that don’t allow medical marijuana.  The states where people believe cancer sufferers should just “be a man” and suck it up. Do you see any correlation with the polls in the current presidential election?

But it’s even worse.  At the elite level of politicians and news outlets such as the Boston Globe, both parties are strongly opposed to legalization. This push is coming almost entirely from the people (plus Gary Johnson).  The referendum process is often criticized, and has produced bad public policies on occasion in places like California. But just imagine where we’d be if we had to rely on our elected leaders on the drug issue. There’d be no hope for the 400,000 in prison.

Update:  I was wrong, the Boston Globe supports legalization.  I was fooled by their earlier anti-legalization opinion pieces.  (HT: BG)

PS.  Canada is also expected to legalize pot next year.

PPS.  People often ask me why I’m a libertarian.  There are many reasons, but our drug laws are near the top.  The position of the Dems and the GOP is appalling, disgusting, contemptible.  Ditto on the issue of a market for transplant kidneys.  So next time you comment on how bad Trump is, or how bad the “liberal Supreme Court” is, tell me why this issue is more important that drugs and kidneys.

PPPS:  I will be a a panel at Boston University on Saturday, discussing marijuana legalization.  My state is voting on the issue on Tuesday–the only ballot question where a good outcome is even feasible. The info is below.

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40 Responses to “The party of pain”

  1. Gravatar of David David
    3. November 2016 at 06:07

    Hear, hear!

  2. Gravatar of BG BG
    3. November 2016 at 06:22

    The Globe is in favor of the marijuana legalization ballot:
    https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2016/10/26/just-say-yes-question/QS5jPGCLEu5a4raBmc093H/story.html

  3. Gravatar of Gabe Gabe
    3. November 2016 at 06:55

    I witness the same cognitive dissonance when I talk to a dem about the horror of slavery and then look at raw #’s of black men(fathers/sons/brothers) taken from their family and in prison today literally working for 20 cents and hour in a prison labor program.

    The system has grown under Clinton/Bush and Obama….all Clinton supporting regimes and the cries of despair from the “liberals” at this “insane” and crazy comparison.

    Ya republicans and democrats are in a state of delusion. They are not able to face what they support. They literally need to enter a 12-step program our something to get out of their psychological based stupor.

  4. Gravatar of Gabe Gabe
    3. November 2016 at 07:00

    I criticize Scott’s naive belief that the Fed is really trying to improve our lives and they are all upright and trying as hard as they can to be transparent and figure out the best way to help the middle class. I believe it is more of a nefarious smokescreen where they take orders from dark places and that benefit trillionaires and billionaires at the expense of those of us making 180k/ yr….but I digress.

    There are always nice logical things that Scott comes back to that leads me to believe that Scott IS good natured and desperately wants a more just/prosperous and happy world.

    Thanks for your work Scott.

  5. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    3. November 2016 at 07:02

    Not adding the problems of black markets to the problems of narcotics seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but it is amazing the number of people who think “drugs are bad and the state will stop it”. A transaction both sides really want to happen is always hard to stop. There are some exceptions (Australia has essentially killed the black market in people smuggling by sea) but they have special circumstances.

  6. Gravatar of Gabe Gabe
    3. November 2016 at 07:04

    Amazing that people think “the CIA was trafficking drugs that one time during the Iran contra thing but they never did it before or after again.”

  7. Gravatar of Gabe Gabe
    3. November 2016 at 07:06

    Like ya the CIA head made the moral judgement that it was ok to lie to the american people and murder and imprison people in the name of drug war….while back door bringing in bank dealing drugs…becausee they needed the money for the “greater good” that one time….but their strict moral code never ever made that judgement again.

  8. Gravatar of Gabe Gabe
    3. November 2016 at 07:08

    sorta like ya…Democrat elites are ok with paying thugs to do violence and then play it up on TV in order to strike fear into people and make a political impact….and republican elites are actually quite OK WITH THAT!

    BUT THE US government would never engage in false flag attacks on it’s own people…..that is a crazy conspiracy theory.

  9. Gravatar of MikeDC MikeDC
    3. November 2016 at 07:26

    A couple months back I was called to jury duty, and quickly dismissed because I thought it shouldn’t be a crime to possess Marijuana. It was fascinating to see that while man folks were willing to say possessing some Marijuana should be legal, possessing enough to distribute should not. I didn’t get to ask, of course, how anyone got to have legal quantities if no one was allowed to legally have enough to distribute.

  10. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    3. November 2016 at 07:26

    “So next time you comment on how bad Trump is, or how bad the “liberal Supreme Court” is, tell me why this issue is more important that drugs and kidneys.”

    -Simple. The kidney measure can be fixed by a law passed by Congress at any time. The marijuana issue can be fixed by referenda passed at any time (Trump once said he had no problem with the states deciding marijuana laws).

    A liberal supreme court is a literal dictatorship that can do anything it wants to at any time for any reason. Mandate affirmative action on all 50 states? You got it. Amnesty for all illegals? You got it. Stopping Congress from getting rid of government programs? You got it. Banning hate speech? You got it.

    Unless Congress has the guts to strip jurisdiction from the Supreme Court on these issues (which it never does, it’s gutless), we’re all f**ked.

    All these would be far worse than some easily remediable evils continuing.

  11. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    3. November 2016 at 07:37

    Here is the big list of representatives by drug stance:

    http://www.drugpolicyaction.org/voter-guide/list.php

  12. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    3. November 2016 at 09:01

    I think most drug laws should be eliminated or severely downgraded. But it is still the distributors who go to jail, not the users.
    The statistics on this are overwhelming. These people choose the business knowing the consequences. However,I still think drug laws, particularly marijuana, should be eliminated. But it is hard to feel too bad for the sellers.

    Having said that, I like to think of “who benefits” from these laws? Politicians who seek jails in their districts, police unions, the justice system employees, and lawyers. I am pretty sure there is a strong lobbyist group who have a vested interest in keeping pot illegal. Frankly. this is my default position on many of our laws.

  13. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    3. November 2016 at 09:40

    Scott,

    The group of liberals I know must be very different on this issue than those you describe. Every liberal I know favors, if not full legalization, at least decriminalization of all drugs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clintons and Obamas actually would favor at least decriminalization, nor would I be surprised if most in Washington in both parties concurred. If the perspectives of voters changed, many politicians would start to “evolve” on this issue, just as many did on gay marriage.

    I question the value of a pro-legalization post here, because my guess is you’re preaching to the choir. I’m guessing most of your readers mostly agree on this issue.

    On organ sales, I think many liberals have deep problems with it. It strikes many as unseemly and just the latest attempt to turn humanitarian decisions over to evil markets. I, however, have favored an open market for buying and selling organs since I first took macroeconomics more than 20 years ago.

    I think liberals can get on board with sound economic policies if there’s a successful effort to educate them on the issues. It’s not just personal values that stand in the way. Sure, I’ve spoken to close-minded Chavista types in the past(and will no longer), but most are open to having their minds changed somewhat gradually.

  14. Gravatar of Edogg Edogg
    3. November 2016 at 11:41

    “Look at the states that don’t allow medical marijuana. The states where people believe cancer sufferers should just “be a man” and suck it up. Do you see any correlation with the polls in the current presidential election?”

    Yes. The Trump states generally don’t allow medical marijuana. The Clinton states generally do. I see about five exceptions out of fifty.

  15. Gravatar of TheManFromFairwinds TheManFromFairwinds
    3. November 2016 at 11:54

    “My state is voting on the issue on Tuesday–the only ballot question where a good outcome is even feasible.”

    Are we then to assume you’re voting for expanded slots, against animal containment protections and for charters (although this one is in dead heat according to one of the latest polls)?

    Wondering about the animal containment one. What’s your thought process here? Choice + less regulations + cheaper prices outweigh animal suffering?

  16. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    3. November 2016 at 11:58

    Not sure what you are getting at here Scott. That map looks pretty close to the electoral college map. Congratulations on becoming a Democrat?

  17. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    3. November 2016 at 12:13

    What’s wrong with legalizing small quantity possession, but criminalizing distribution?

    Pharmaceutical possession is legal, but trafficking across the US Border is illegal.

    Cash possession is legal, but large quantities of cash are de facto illegal.

    Why should it be legal for a young woman to sell her kidney to pay for school, but illegal to rent her body for an evening?

    Very few people have logically consistent positions.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. November 2016 at 13:36

    Thanks BG, I changed it.

    Gabe, You said:

    “I believe it is more of a nefarious smokescreen where they take orders from dark places and that benefit trillionaires and billionaires at the expense of those of us making 180k/ yr….but I digress.”

    Digress more often, it makes me smile. Dark places, trillionaires, 180k/year. Hmmmm.

    Michael, You said:

    “But it is hard to feel too bad for the sellers.”

    No it’s not. Selling drugs is no worse than using them. Why should people be in prison in some states, sometimes for life, for activities that are perfectly legal in other states?

    You are right about lobbyists. The California prison guard union is lobbying hard against legalization. Police and DAs also hate the idea. Jobs, money, etc.

    Scott, The people you talk to are not representative. Most liberal politicians oppose legalization. Clinton is especially tough on drugs. I sat 10 feet away from her when she took a very tough stand on the issue, about 4 years ago.

    You said:

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clintons and Obamas actually would favor at least decriminalization,”

    Decriminalization applies to users, but doesn’t solve the problem. As long is its a black market good, there will be lots of crime and violence associated with the drug trade. Decriminalization is liked by whites, because it makes the racial disparity in sentencing even greater.

    Edogg, I noticed that too.

    Fairwinds, I honestly don’t know much about animal rights, but being a utilitarian I’m going to vote for the animal rights. (Caplan didn’t convince me). The costs of being wrong are very unbalanced, so even if I thought it was 70-30 that the bill was a bad idea, I might still vote for it. (I’m at 50-50). Slots? Sure, why not? And I also like charters schools, but vouchers are even better.

    To be honest, I forgot those issues, I was thinking the presidential election when I wrote that.

    Benny, Yes, I’m saying the GOP is the party of pain. But the Democratic public officials are also pain-mongers. It’s Democratic voters who I tend to agree with. That’s why I vote Libertarian, not Democratic. If you put a gun to my head right this minute, and I had to sign up for one of the parties, it would be the Dems. In the 1980s it would have been the GOP.

    Steve, I want all those things to be legal . . . consenting adults, etc., etc.

  19. Gravatar of engineer engineer
    3. November 2016 at 15:17

    Politicians can not support the legislative track, that is why it is on the ballot. But for Christmas, some holiday wishes:
    – Hopefully, when it is legal, there will still be a stigma associated with it that is similar to smoking cigarettes…daily consumption is a dirty, unhealthy habit that is for losers.
    – Hopefully, when it is legal, it will be regulated like cigarettes and alcohol and the THC level will be on the label and limited.
    – Hopefully it will not be marketed to anyone in mass media.
    – Hopefully it will not be legal to toke in public areas and dangers of second hand smoke will be recognized.
    – Hopefully they will figure out away to measure drivers that are too high to be driving and throw them in jail.
    – Hopefully consumption by those under 21 does not go up, because I have known a couple of pot heads, and my anecdotal opinion is that (like alcohol) there is a cognitive affect.

  20. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2016 at 15:43

    Marijuana prohibition is dumb. Clinton not campaigning on this issue is dumb. Why did Sanders have a rabid youth vote… He stated how dumb this is. Why Clinton hasn’t come out for this is beyond me. It has to do with fund raising… But even that is pretty much over now. If I were her, I would have a press conference and announce i am for the legalization of marijuana and watch the youth vote rush out to vote for her.

  21. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2016 at 15:46

    Engineer,

    That is exactly what the legalization movement is advocating. Is anyon really saying go out and do it… It’s good for you. Amost everyone is saying it should be treated like tobacco and alcohol.

  22. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    3. November 2016 at 16:18

    Scott Stoner, I mean Sumner, on pot. I guess he wouldn’t mind if his daughter became a druggie. And this: “I guess all those “bad people” shooting each other in 1920s gangland slayings, fighting over the distribution of alcohol, suddenly became “good people” in the 1950s.” – lol, I think Sumner ignores that bad people go into illegal activities. Once Prohibition was lifted, the bad people went into other illegal activities, duh!

  23. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    3. November 2016 at 16:20

    Commenters on the right will often talk in apocalyptic terms about the loss of freedom in America, as bakers are not allowed to discriminate against gay couples. That’s certainly a defensible point, although I can’t get too excited about it.

    Spoken like a dime-a-dozen cynical socialist.

    A much better, more enlightened standpoint understands that the freedom of association (which even the most blockheaded of Marxist-Stalinists understand to be a vital requisite in the human experience) requires and presupposes the freedom to disassociate.

    Cynics point to the low hanging fruit and pretend to expose flaws in views they clearly do not understand, but the reality is that, as Mencken so aptly put, to ensure freedom you have to be willing to defend views and activity that, while inherently non-violent, nevertheless may be aesthetically repulsive or morally repugnant.

  24. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    3. November 2016 at 16:27

    People often ask me why I’m a libertarian.

    How can people possibly ask you why you are something that you are not? You are not a libertarian because you do not want individual liberty for all people. You want an anti-libertarian monetary system, which requires systematic anti-libertarian state intervention. You want anti-libertarian “national” institutions such as protection and security. You want the IRS. You want anti-libertarian revenue generation.

    The list goes on and on.

  25. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. November 2016 at 16:36

    Ray,

    “Bad people go into other illegal activities”. So why give them one more dumb thing to go into. And do you support alcohol prohibiton? Kids become drinkers too. Does that mean we should prohibit responsible adults from choosing to consume a less harmful substance than alcohol? It’s more addictive. It’s makes people act crazy. It can kill you. It causes generally crazy behavior. Did you see the Indians fan knock out the Cubs fan last night. When was the last time you saw someone smoke weed and knock somebody out? Doenst happen. I’d for one prefer my kids to use marijuana over alcohol any day. No contest. Sure I’d rather they did neither… but get real. I’d also prefer they didn’t eat candy, French fries, or potato chips so they don’t get fat. But I am not going to support making that illegal.

    funny how quickly people become authoritarians when the disprove of which plant you consume for shits… Even when it’s less harmful.

  26. Gravatar of Edogg Edogg
    3. November 2016 at 16:54

    Scott Sumner,
    Sorry, I see from your response to Benny that I misunderstood your point.

  27. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. November 2016 at 19:07

    I am not voting for Trump.

    But consider: The US establishment spends trillions of dollars to create a very corrupt Islamic puppet narco-state in Afghanistan, the greatest exporter of opium the world has ever seen. That’s heroin, btw. The Taliban had eradicated production.

    But the federal government wants to throw U.S. pot smokers in prison.

    In the Philippines, some voters said they voted for Duterte as they could no longer stand voting for the establishment.

    I know how they feel.

    Trump does not deserve to be President, but the establishment has entirely potted out.

    Forgive the pun.

  28. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    4. November 2016 at 05:35

    Scott,

    In response to, “Decriminalization is liked by whites, because it makes the racial disparity in sentencing even greater.”

    I don’t know what this means. I would think decriminalization would mean fewer people being fined and going to prison, period. Also, you really think white liberals favor racial disparities in sentencing? Where does that come from? Does this apply to Obama, who’s both white and black? How does it apply to the majority of black voters who vote overwhelmingly Democrat?

  29. Gravatar of Matthew Opitz Matthew Opitz
    4. November 2016 at 06:44

    Scott Freelander:

    Decriminalization in reality just gives license to police to selectively enforce laws to go after blacks. There can be a lot of grey areas where a black dealer might be charged with a heavier offense for owning or selling the same weight of a drug that a white person might get away with selling because he/she isn’t profiled as heavily or because there are character witnesses that will help lessen the charge.

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. November 2016 at 07:01

    Engineer, I oppose all government regulation of second hand smoke, except in government buildings. The regulation of smoking in private buildings should be done by the owners, and there should be no government regulations about smoking outdoors.

    Ben, Duterte’s policy is to murder drug dealers.

    Scott, I think the bias is subconscious, but very real. People think in terms of “would I want my teen to go to jail?” And “do I want those bad drug dealers to go to jail.” And often the images in their minds are people of two different races.

    My hunch is that Obama privately favors legalization, but is too cowardly to say so. (Which is normal for politicians, by the way.)

  31. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    4. November 2016 at 07:53

    Hillary Clinton strongly supports the war on drugs and putting young men, temped by profits to sell drugs, into prison. What makes it worse is that she is an occasional partaker in a drug at least as bad as the worst, that is alcohol and has been known to even get drunk and be ill-tempered when in that state.

  32. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    4. November 2016 at 09:25

    Scott,

    Liberals have a subconscious bias that predispose them to favor policies that lead to disparate sentences for whites and blacks? Well, I certainly didn’t expect that answer! What is the evidence you cite to support this belief? Revealed preference?

    I assume that instead of “subconscious” you meant simply unconscious, correct? Subconscious would refer specifically to Freudian psychodynamics. I assume you were referring to something more like a lack of metacognition. Am I wrong?

  33. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    4. November 2016 at 09:54

    @Student – I’m for alcohol in moderation even for minors (done in Europe), I’m OK with pot smoking (done in moderation), I’m against Scott Sumner and economic quackery.

  34. Gravatar of Student Student
    4. November 2016 at 10:37

    Ok. So your position is the opposite positon of whatever Scott says, the arguments be damned. I find that to be rather annoying.

  35. Gravatar of MikeDC MikeDC
    4. November 2016 at 10:42

    Somewhat OT question. Has Gary Johnson been an effective advocate for keeping pot illegal?

    I’m going to vote for the man because I want to maximize the votes for libertarian ideas. But oh man, his public failures have been the stereotypical failures of a dumb, pot-addicted stoner and several people have pointed that out to me.

  36. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    4. November 2016 at 16:10

    “My hunch is that Obama privately favors legalization, but is too cowardly to say so. (Which is normal for politicians, by the way.)”

    You’re probably right. Obmama has been commuting a lot of non-violent drug offenders:

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/04/politics/obama-commutations-criminal-justice-report/

    My guess is he’ll do some mass commutations after the election.

  37. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    4. November 2016 at 18:32

    @Student – There’s no comma in this sentence: “I’m against Scott Sumner and economic quackery.” Are you for quackery? Faith based economics? Sumner cites non-observable variables and refuses on principle to read the Bernanke FAVAR paper which shows the Fed has minimal impact on real variables. What is he afraid to learn? Sumners NGDPLT is not unlike the Voodoo Economics that got the USA on a debt binge from 1980 to the present: quackery. Thankfully money is largely neutral so Sumner’s quackery is largely harmless, unlike Voodoo Economics (massive debt overhang is not the same as money neutrality)

  38. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    5. November 2016 at 07:57

    Matthew Opitz,

    Why do you automatically assume decriminalization still has dealers getting arrested?

  39. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    5. November 2016 at 14:26

    Scott, Yes, unconscious.

  40. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    6. November 2016 at 09:24

    Scott,

    What evidence makes you think liberals favor decriminalization becuase they have an unconscious bias toward wanting disparate sentencing for blacks and whites?

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