Pubdate: Fri, 19 Mar 2010
Source: DrugSense Weekly (DSW)
Section: Feature Article
Author: John Payne
Note: John Payne is a research assistant at the Show-Me Institute, a 
Missouri-based think tank.  This piece originally appeared at the 
Globe-Democrat website -


Early last month, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray 
Price Jr.  called for reforms of our criminal justice system, 
including incarcerating fewer nonviolent offenders.  Price argued 
that such changes would both decrease recidivism and save the state 
money by decreasing prison budgets, and he was widely applauded by 
editorialists across the state for his stance.

However, when a bill to ban K2, a chemical used as a synthetic 
substitute for marijuana, received its first public hearing little 
more than a week later, newspapers were equally eager to support the 
restriction.  It should not be necessary to point out that increasing 
the number of nonviolent offenses is not obviously compatible with 
decreasing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars. 
Furthermore, although enforcing a ban on K2 would require spending 
additional tax dollars, it is unlikely to lower the rate of drug use 

According to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, federal, state, and 
local governments spend more than $44 billion per year in their 
attempts to stop people from using certain drugs. It is difficult to 
determine exactly how much money is spent on specific drugs, but 
given that there were 847,863 arrests for marijuana during 2008 - 
half of all drug arrests - it is safe to say that spending on 
marijuana enforcement is higher than for any other drug, and far out 
of proportion to the dangers of a drug that is relatively innocuous 
in comparison to most others.

Still, despite the billions of dollars spent and millions of people 
arrested over the years, legal restrictions on marijuana appear to 
have had little to no impact on decreasing its use.

Although exact statistics for the period during marijuana's initial 
prohibition are impossible to come by, when it was first outlawed in 
1937, its use was confined almost exclusively to Mexican immigrants 
in the West and only a tiny proportion of the population had ever 
smoked it. Marijuana use skyrocketed during the 1960s, when simple 
possession still typically triggered jail time across the 
country.  As use of the drug continued to increase throughout the 
1970s, some states began decriminalizing marijuana possession, 
indicating that marijuana use tends to influence the law - not the 
other way around.

The 2008 Monitoring the Future Survey, published annually by the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse, concedes that "A study of the 
effects of decriminalization by several states during the late 1970s 
found no evidence of any impact on the use of marijuana among young 
people, nor on attitudes and beliefs concerning its use." The report 
does go on to note that some more recent studies find that teens 
living in states where marijuana possession is decriminalized are 
more likely to smoke marijuana, but this correlation does not 
indicate causation.  As noted earlier, the idea that higher use rates 
drive decriminalization is a better fit for the timeframe, and it 
could also be that a third variable - such as wider adoption of more 
socially liberal views - help to cause both decriminalization and 
higher rates of marijuana use.

As of 2009, 102 million Americans - a third of the population - have 
used marijuana, according to estimates from the Substance Abuse and 
Mental Health Services Administration. Almost all of them did so 
after marijuana was made illegal 73 years ago. Clearly, the law does 
not stop people from obtaining and using marijuana. Usage rates have 
changed dramatically over the years, but those changes are driven far 
more by wider social changes and shifting attitudes than by any 
law.  Only politicians could be so vain as to believe their dictates 
are the guiding force in the lives of millions of people.

A ban of K2, or of any similar drug, will not stop people from 
becoming intoxicated in some politically incorrect way. In fact, 
given that K2 is being sold primarily as a legal substitute for 
marijuana, banning it may simply send K2 users back to marijuana use, 
an outcome that I do not believe the bill's supporters intend.

However, if people truly enjoy K2, no law passed by a legislature 
will ever repeal the law of supply and demand. Market forces will 
provide consumers with the goods they want - even illicit ones. 
Banning K2 would increase the already stratospheric costs of 
enforcing our drug laws, without making an appreciable dent in drug 
use.  Reasonable people would laugh such proposals out of the 
legislature, but when it comes to the war on drugs, we abandoned 
reason a long time ago.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake