The Joker to my Batman, Kevin Sabet, is at it again. This time, he’s posted an op-ed at CNBC entitled, “Legal weed isn’t living up to all of its promises. We need to shut it down.” It is truly a masterful amalgam of reefer madness, junk science and unfounded scares packed with more bullshit-per-square-inch than a Fort Worth stockyard.
Kevin begins by painting supporters of ending failed marijuana prohibition as pie-in-the-sky dreamers who are promising that legalization will be “a panacea for every contemporary challenge we face in America.” Then he provides links to stories detailing the positive effects of cannabis on the opioid crisis, cancer treatment, hurting drug cartels and reducing greenhouse gases.
It’s the only non-bullshit paragraph in the whole piece. I know the Joker thought readers would chuckle at such grandiose claims, but with 60 percent support nationally for legalization and 83 percent for medical marijuana, I think it backfired on him.
Fake News on Marijuana Legalization’s Costs
“Drug use cost taxpayers more than $193 billion—due to lost work productivity, health care costs, and higher crime.”
That’s how Kevin backs up his claims that the money we get from legalization (half a billion bucks in Colorado alone) isn’t worth it because it is offset by the harms of marijuana use on our economy.
But a closer examination reveals his weasel words—”drug use.” Not “marijuana use.” Clicking on the link finds a study from 2011. Not post-marijuana legalization.
So, the Joker’s $193 billion number is what society allegedly suffered before marijuana legalization from cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, PCP, GHB, ketamine, LSD, psilocybin, krokodil, K2, bath salts, designer drugs and marijuana use.
Look deep into the study and you find “the majority of [$193 billion] costs [are] attributable to lost productivity.” They estimate $120 billion from that, where “Loss of productivity as a result of incarceration costs society at least $48 billion annually,” or almost a quarter of Kevin’s scary number.
Seems to me, legalizing marijuana, and thereby not incarcerating able workers, would increase productivity, eh?
The Joker also tries to weasel in some alleged costs from the dreaded stoned drivers. “A new study out of Canada found that marijuana-impaired driving alone costs more than $1 billion,” he warns.
The study is from 2012—again, before Canada had legalized anything—and what it considers a “marijuana-impaired driver” consists of data from a roadside saliva test in British Columbia that “used a cut off value of 5 ng/mL in oral fluid, which corresponds with the limit of detection for THC in whole blood (0.2 ng/mL).”
In other words, this alleged $1 billion in costs comes from crashes in 2012 involving drivers who are detected with at least 1/25th the level of THC in blood that Washington and Colorado consider a “marijuana-impaired driver,” when we know at least one Washington driver who drives only “borderline” at 11 times Washington’s 5ng/mL legal limit.
Kevin then warns that “large businesses in Colorado now state that after legalization they have had to hire out-of-state residents in order to find employees that can pass a pre-employment drug screen.”
That’s a way to look at it. Another would be that some businesses continue to discriminate against able workers who enjoy their constitutional right to consume marijuana outside of work hours. I’ll bet if Colorado construction companies wanted to ensure no worker would ever be hungover by forcing them to take pre-employment tests that detected beer drinking within the past month, they’d have to hire only Mormons and Muslims.
Fake News on Marijuana Legalization’s Revenues
A thorn in Kevin’s side is that marijuana legalization is raking in tax revenue for cities and states. He tries in vain to dismiss these figures by saying we claimed that “pot taxes could turn [a state budget] deficit into surplus.”
Who ever said that? Nobody but the voices in the Joker’s head. We’ve never claimed that pot taxes would make up 100 percent of a state’s budget deficit. We have claimed that whatever we make in pot taxes would be infinity percent more than we collect under prohibition.
Kevin even tries to puncture the pot-taxes-for-schools promise by noting that Colorado’s “schools require about $18 billion in capital construction funds alone,” again, because his straw man said pot taxes would completely fill an entire budget’s shortfall.
What has happened in Colorado is that places like Pueblo County have used $425,000 in pot taxes to fund “a $1,000 scholarship [for] every qualifying graduating high school senior” to attend community college or state university.
Last year, Pueblo County was only able to fund $50,000 in scholarships.
Kevin then turns to Washington, where he claims that “half of the $42 million of marijuana tax money legalization advocates promised would reach prevention programs and schools by 2016 never materialized.”
He’s right, but when you click the link, you learn that legalization advocates didn’t break any promises. In 2015, the state legislature decided to move “$100 million more into the general fund than I-502 specifically dedicated,” which “hollowed out I-502’s basic promises aimed at teen prevention and education.”
Fake News on Marijuana Legalization’s Effects
Kevin can’t help himself but to make his Not-Your-Father’s-Woodstock-Weed pitch. “Today’s marijuana isn’t the weed of the 1960s,” he warns, asking us to consider the “human fallout of increased marijuana acceptance.”
Human fallout? You mean like being raided, being handcuffed, having your dog shot, your possessions taken, locked up in a cage, kids raised in foster care, branded a drug criminal for life, ineligible for certain jobs, discriminated against for others, all because you were growing a houseplant? That kind of fallout?
Gee, if the Woodstock Weed was so comparatively innocuous, can we just legalize that? Kind of like how the initial alcohol re-legalization was 3.2 beer?
The Joker claims we’ve had “an increase in drugged driving crashes,” which once again supposes that someone in whose body you can detect THC is guilty of impaired driving. Tellingly, the AAA study he links to explains that “results of this study do not indicate that drivers with detectable THC in their blood at the time of the crash were necessarily impaired by THC or that they were at-fault for the crash.”
Furthermore, that study goes on to criticize Washington’s 5ng/mL per se DUID limit, explaining, “There is no science showing that drivers reliably become impaired at a specific level of marijuana in the blood. Depending on the individual, drivers with relatively high levels of marijuana in their system might not be impaired, while others with low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel.”
Kevin also tries to claim that we’ve had an increase in “youth marijuana use” in legalized states. To back up that allegation, he links to survey data that compares teen pot use from 2002-03 to 2013-14.
Gee, Kevin, why not just compare teen pot use from 1802-03 to today? I’ll bet it’s way, way higher now!
When you talk to the state health officials in Colorado, they’ll tell you that “marijuana use has not increased since legalization.” Their counterparts in Washington will tell you, “rates of teen marijuana use have remained steady, despite the changing landscape.”
The Joker also warns that post-legalization, states “continue to see a thriving black market.”
Well, there have always been underground marijuana sales, and there always will be. Cigarettes are legal, but there is an underground market in “loosies” [single cigarette sales] and interstate smuggling from low-tobacco-tax states to high-tax states.
What drives the underground market, as the link Kevin posted notes, is its ability to undercut the costs of regulation and taxation that legit sellers must cover. His linked story notes the combined taxes in Colorado are 27.9 percent (they’re 37 percent marijuana tax plus up to 10.4 percent state and local sales tax in Washington) and quotes the head of the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs saying that the key to breaking the underground market “is trying to find the sweet spot, where the taxes are low enough that there’s an incentive for people to go to the regulated stores.”
Basically, Kevin’s telling us we really need to reduce state marijuana taxes, isn’t he? Why won’t Massachusetts and Maine listen to him?
Fake News on Kevin’s Kinder Gentler Drug War
After alleging all these harms from marijuana legalization, The Joker makes his kinder, gentler drug war pitch.
“One thing we know for sure is that incarcerating low-level, nonviolent offenders in federal prisons is not the answer,” Kevin admits. “Individual users need incentives to encourage them to make healthy decisions, not handcuffs.”
One look at Kevin Sabet’s Project SAMUEL website tells you what “incentives” he proposes for people who are caught under the marijuana prohibition he’s fighting to maintain.
“Possession or use of a small amount of marijuana [should] be a civil offense subject to a mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program as appropriate. Referrals to treatment and/or social-support services should be made if needed. The individual could even be monitored for 6-12 months in a probation program designed to prevent further drug use.”
“Civil offense” = decriminalized, AKA the smell of it is still reason for cops to search you and evidence of it is worthy of a fine, which could lead to jail if you don’t pay.
“Mandatory health screening” = a forced medical evaluation you must pay for, where your marijuana use will become part of your permanent medical record.
“Mandatory… marijuana-education program” = a forced stint in a marijuana propaganda classes that you must pay for.
“As appropriate” = everybody who is caught with marijuana. You don’t really think a Sabet-approved pot-screening board is going to say your use is perfectly normal and doesn’t require rehab, do you?
“Referrals to treatment” = a forced stint in a drug rehab where you’re paying to take up a space better suited for someone struggling with heroin, cocaine, meth or alcohol.
“A probation program” = 6-to-12 months of piss tests you must pay for, probably some classes you have to pay for as well, and if you fail them, you’re sent to jail.
But what if you want to grow that cannabis plant for yourself? You know, you want to make sure you’re not contributing to a criminal underground trafficking market or somehow funding violent transnational gangs?
Kevin’s group “recommends that [production, distribution, dealing and sale] remain misdemeanors or felonies.”
It’s almost as if Project SAMUEL is staffed by rehab clinic owners and informed by drug test profiteers seeking to protect their cash cow of drug-court-sentenced clients, huh?
Fake News about Marijuana Dependence
Kevin concludes with a link to the tale of someone with a life story somewhat similar to mine, who’s now sober and participating in rehab for marijuana dependence. Someone whose dependence was so devastating that they “got through four years at an Ivy League university stoned” and “got jobs and worked my way up so that I could do what I’ve always wanted and write for a living.” [I’m using the singular “they” pronoun as the author identifies as non-binary gender.]
Seems like their life on weed wasn’t so bad, but then they “drank [and] took drugs offered to me at bars without thinking twice about what these powders and pills were.” They describes themself as an “anxious, dysphoric, trauma-laden human being.” They talks about getting their medical marijuana card and going to dispensaries “on my way from the bar, tipsy.”
Surely, Kevin would argue this is the gateway effect; they started with weed, and it led to drugs.
Yet I am damn near the mirror image of this person. I’m “writing for a weed lifestyle magazine.” I’ve got “a weed leaf tattoo.” I wear “socks, jewelry, clothes—all patterned with leaves.” I record “a podcast that [focuses] on using.” I’ve enjoyed “sporadic… use of other drugs.” I consume marijuana “from the time I [wake] up until I [go] to bed.” I am working “in a field that [is] hyper-focused on promoting the plant.” I’ve even tripled their “eight years of chronic use.”
Look, I have utmost respect for their struggles with substance-use disorder. It is true; a few people have a dysfunctional relationship with substances. Kevin says that helping people battle addiction “can’t happen in a climate that promotes use.”
My father was an alcoholic and his relationship with that substance nearly killed him, until he sought treatment and rehab. He got sober in 1980 at age 38 and hasn’t touched a drop since. Somehow, he accomplished that “in a climate that promotes use” of alcohol.
However, my dad’s struggles with alcohol are no reason to assume every drinker will face those struggles. My dad’s alcoholism is certainly no logical reason to call for a return to alcohol prohibition. My dad chose to enter recovery; he wasn’t forced into it against his will because some cop caught him with a beer.
Neither should this person’s battle with weed dependence justify criminalizing or pathologizing my responsible use of marijuana.
Kevin Sabet knows he’s losing this battle.
Since he began Project SAM, we’ve quadrupled the number of legal states, added 11 more medical states, got the South and Midwest to at least recognize medical CBD, increased legalization support from a 48 percent plurality to a 60 percent majority, added many bipartisan cosponsors to federal marijuana reform legislation, raised hundreds of millions in taxes, created tens of thousands of jobs, and left him with just three states (Idaho, Kansas and South Dakota) where any adult’s possession of a few grams of any marijuana product for any reason results in an arrest.
All he’s got left now is fear, uncertainty and doubt, plus the hope you don’t read news headlines about marijuana and don’t click and read the links in his scary op-eds. Too bad for him that Batman looks shit up.