Monday, August 31, 2009

Prohibition: Theory and Practice (Part I)

Prohibition: Theory and Practice,
Part I
When I first started studying American drug laws, like many other people, I looked for comparisons to the earlier alcohol prohibition. While strong differences exist – primarily in the structure and enforcement methods of the laws, these were overshadowed by the similarities between them – especially in the unintended consequences.

As my search extended, I found many other laws that followed similar patterns and resulted in similar consequences. Many of these, usually criminal laws, had religious or moral bases. These are often called “victimless crimes”. Others, often regulatory, were civil and based on economics or health. Always, though, the results of their attempted enforcement were the same.
My studies have focused on modern law – eighteenth century and later – and American and British law with some excursions into Western Europe, but I have looked at some earlier examples and some from the rest of the world. The similarities remain.

The resulting collection is amazingly eclectic. Although most of them deal with sex or intoxicants – the British Gin Acts of the 1720s are the first modern prohibition, and the American ban on abortion is one of the more recent – many try to protect local industries, to promote health, or to regulate professions. The list, taken from English and American federal law or the laws of individual American states, is long:

· British Gin Acts (1720s – 30s)
· American whiskey excise tax (1790s)
· British import tax on French watch works (early 1800s)
· State alcohol prohibitions (1840s – present)
· State anti-prostitution acts (starting 1870s)
· State anti-abortion acts (starting 1870s)
· State cigarette bans (1900 – 1920)
· Intellectual property laws (patent, copyright, trademark)(1715 – present)
· Anti-slave traffic (1809)
· Federal Alcohol prohibition (1919-1933)
· Unauthorized Practice of Medicine (1840s), but not Unauthorized Practice of Law
· Federal Drug laws[1]

And one whose nature I just recently recognized: the ban on human dissection, lasting from about the 14th Century until the middle of the 19th.

A few examples from outside the modern Western tradition will round out the picture:

· Chinese ban of opium (1830s)
· Soviet ban of Western video tapes (1970s)
· Iranian ban on cable and satellite television (1979).

These examples are enough to develop a rough definition of a prohibition law. What are the common factors?

All involve attempts to impose a legal impediment – criminal, civil, or fiscal – into a functioning market consisting of multiple, replaceable buyers and sellers negotiating for a reasonably obtainable good or service. This definition includes all the listed examples and distinguishes them from other laws, like those against murder or bank robbery, that do not include these market elements.

The market requirement is best illustrated by the distinction between the limitations on the unauthorized practices of medicine and law. Legal services are not readily obtainable: layers function only as distributors for the services of the governmentally supplied courts. Even those legal functions like will-drafting, estate planning, and corporate services ultimately rely on court enforcement. Even alternatives like arbitration or mediation depend on court enforcement for effectiveness. Without access to the courts, a lawyer has no service to offer. The government monopoly is so strong that no alternative supplier is possible.

Medicine, on the other hand, is much less dependent on hospitals. Many medical services can be offered without them. The unofficial (or, at best, semi-official) medical market teems with naturopaths, chiropractors, herbalists, midwives, curanderos, and faith-healers. Even among the recognized medical practitioners, the lines are blurred between esthetician and dermatologist, masseuse and orthopedist, and trainer and physical therapist. The market for medical services is open to many suppliers.

Availability of goods is crucial. When books were printed on paper and recordings pressed into shellac or vinyl, copyright was a practical monopoly. When digital reproduction and internet distribution became possible, a black market blossomed.

While many of these prohibitions are based on religion or morality – prostitution, abortion, drugs (including alcohol), to name a few, some are merely economic or are based in politics. Intellectual property law is economic; regulation of medicine is both economic and based in public health.

The main commonality among these prohibitions is that they are ineffective, and all are accompanied by thriving black markets. Alcohol flourished during prohibition, and drugs are readily available today. Bootleg DVDs and counterfeit Guccis are in every flea market.
They all also share disastrous collateral effects like dangerous products, violence, and corrupt law enforcement.

Later installments will examine first, the ineffectiveness, and then, individually, the collateral effects of these prohibitions.

[1] Including Smoking Opium Ban (1909), Harrison Narcotics Tax Act (1914), 2 Heroin Acts and criminalization of addiction (all 1920s), Marihuana Tax Act (1937), Boggs Act (1952), Narcotics Control Act (1957), LSD ban (1966), Controlled Substances Act (1970), and various amendments to CSA, including Amphetamine Control Act, Club Drug Anti-proliferation (cstasy), mandatory minimum sentences, crack cocaine sentencing, etc. (mainly in 1980s).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Drugs, Environment, and the Law

Drugs, Environment and the Law

The headline screams that [unidentified] marijuana growers for a Mexican cartel [also unnamed] were responsible for a 600,000 acre California brushfire. This story comes after several years during which the mass media have been incessantly beating the drum about environmental harms caused by illegal marijuana farmers throughout that state.
And these stories, in turn, follow a continuing hysteria filling at least a decade about the harms caused by illegal meth cookers. I have no doubts about explosions and fires resulting from amateurs trying to do advanced chemistry in a motel bathroom or about the dangers of the chemicals left behind by don’t-give-a-damn meth entrepreneurs who sloppily mix together a witch’s brew. I do suspect that all the meth cookers together don’t add up to one of the hundreds of brown sites left by pre-1970 industrial sites the EPA has inherited.
Before meth, the story was the illicit cocaine processors in the Andean Republics. They dumped large quantities of chemicals, including kerosene and hydrochloric acid, into previously pristine Amazonian streams, destroying substantial tracts of the rain forest (but not as large as those devastated by loggers and cattle ranchers).
Even earlier were illegal alcohol stills. As Prohibition spread in the 1920s, the mobsters would pay marginal families – often immigrant -- $5 a week to put small distilleries in their bathrooms, making up to five gallons of “bathtub gin” (Yes, this is where that name came from) each week. Like the later meth cookeries, these had a nasty habit of exploding, causing injuries and fires. The crowded tenements of New York and Chicago were plagued by these distillery fires for the entire decade. And the tax-avoiding moonshiners in the South dumped (and still dump) their toxic wastes in the streams just like the later cocainistas.
The tale has jumped from the crowded big city tenements to the rainforests of Amazonia to the trailer-towns of rural America to the pristine forests of California. It has included alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and amphetamines. Do these widely scattered stories have anything in common?
The common feature is that all of the activities described are against the law. Can the law, then, become the cause of these destructive activities?
The answer lies on the other side of the record. It’s time to flip it over and find out what side B has to say.
Jim Beam and Hiram Walker have produced whiskey for decades without turning their communities into brown sites and without explosions. Farmers provide thousands of tons of barley and rice to Anhauser-Busch, Millers, and Coors without any more environmental damage than their neighbors raising wheat or cotton. Millions of gallons of ethanol for fuel (denatured to keep it from being drunk) come each year from corn grown in compliance with all the environmental regulations. Alcohol, per se, doesn’t cause the harm.
German and Dutch pharmaceutical firms produced hundreds of tons of cocaine each year from about 1900 until the war closed them down in 1940; they were as kind to the environment as any other industries of that time. (The weaselly language is necessary because any real environmental laws were still a generation in the future when they closed.) One U. S. company meets all the country’s need for legal cocaine as a by-product to providing Coca-Cola with decocainized coca leaves for flavoring, and has been doing so for a century. It is a good environmental citizen.
Amphetamines were introduced to American medicine in 1935 in the form of Benzedrine. All three forms – Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and methamphetamine – were among the top-selling pharmaceuticals from the 1940s through the 1960s; and Dexedrine and methamphetamine are still prescribed to children with Attention Deficit spectrum disorders. The manufacturers have always complied with good manufacturing practices and environmental laws.
Thousands of acres of Cannabis, grown for hemp, are farmed in Canada and Europe. Those farms are just as clean and safe as the wheat crops adjoining them.
Yes, legality does make a difference. A clean, safe activity becomes a pestilence when forced outside the law. At least three factors come into play.
One is relative cost. A person facing decades in prison and torture or murder by competitors will not be deterred by the threat of an administrative fine for violating environmental regulations. His risks and costs are far different from those faced by a legitimate business person.
A second is the lack of investment commitment. A wheat or cotton farmer views his land as a life-long investment, to be protected and even improved for his descendants. An illegal marijuana grower has to treat his field or grow house as an expensive item. It is likely to be destroyed or confiscated by the police during the current crop cycle. In these circumstances, money or effort spent in protecting or conserving it is thrown away. Johnson may have said that the prospect of being hanged focuses ones mind, but the threat of a DEA raid makes one terribly short-sighted.
Illegality also carries the need for secrecy. Plants must be minimal (chemical vats in many cocaine labs are merely holes in the ground lined with plastic sheeting). Additional trucks or piping to dispose of waste or additional labor to keep things clean heighten the risk of discovery. Quick and dirty becomes safer.
Environmental damage, then, is an unintended, but inevitable, consequence of prohibition. Amazonian jungles and California forests are part of the collateral damage of the War on Drugs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is Rush Really an idiot?

Is Rush Really an Idiot?
Al Franken a few years ago wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot”. At the time, I, like most people, shrugged it off as an exercise of comedic license. But some recent news stories are making me reassess that judgment.
First, let me refresh your memory. Rush got into serious trouble and had to scramble for a plea bargain that involved some time in rehab. It seems he had bullied his housekeeper into illegally buying OxyCotin for him. The investigation revealed that he had also done some doctor shopping and obtained multiple prescriptions for the drug.
This week, the Celebrity Sphere (and some of the more legitimate media as well) was full of pictures of Patrick Sweazy toking up on marijuana as an adjunct to his treatment for pancreatic cancer. The pictures reminded me that Montel Williams has been broadcasting his use of medical marijuana for years. To the best of my knowledge, neither of these gentlemen has even raised a prosecutor’s eyebrow.
Then other recent stories came to mind. Michael Jackson’s death was the most recent. Apparently he had been using mammoth amounts of controlled substances, including at least one sedative rarely used outside of controlled hospital settings, for years. His resident personal physician prescribed them and those prescriptions were filled by licensed pharmacies. Michael had his legal problems, but these didn’t include drug problems. But now that he is dead, the DEA is taking a hard, cold look at the doctor. Why didn’t his massive Schedule II prescriptions draw the Feds’ attention while he was still living in the penumbra of Michael’s stardom?
Michael’s story is a reprise of that of Anna Nicole Smith, but while he earned his stardom by singing and dancing, she was famous for having big boobs, and a willingness to show them, and a propensity for marrying aged oil tycoons. She died of a massive overdose of opioids, as had her son a few months earlier. After she was safely dead and buried, the authorities started investigating her lawyer and doctors about her sources for those drugs, which she had been using for years.
Heath Ledger’s use of and access to sleeping medicines raised no questions. But when he died of an overdose, everyone suddenly wanted to know where he got them.
Hollywood has presented a dreary series of drug-filled lives ending in scandalous deaths ranging through John Belushi’s speedball to Marilyn Monroe’s end in the ‘50s, which still sparks debates about misadventure, suicide, or homicide. Even some of the notorious deaths in Hollywood’s first cocaine binge in the ‘20s can probably be included.
Rock musicians don’t have to die to be exempt. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested on drugs charges before the Rolling Stones were famous, but the charges were dismissed. Forty years later, many wonder what led Kefe (“I can avoid drugs as long as I have a quart of vodka and an ounce of cocaine every day”) to climb a tree and fall out of it. The Toxic Twins, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, were in and out of rehab for years – but never a jail cell. Eric Clapton, Nicky Sixx, and Slash have all written memoirs full of drugs, pushers, accommodating agents, and not one police officer.
Michael Vicks went to prison for staging dog fights, while Michael Phelps got his picture in the papers hitting a bong and losing some advertising contracts but not going to jail. Baseball players support a growth industry in steroids, but never miss a game.
I hope some of you ace legal researchers can help me. I have scoured the texts of the Controlled Substances Act and the Bill of Rights and traced the relevant case law. I have found no evidence of or reference to a celebrity exemption to the drug laws; but the evidence says it has to be there. If any of you are more successful in finding it, please let me know.
But this brings me back to my original question: What about Rush Limbaugh and his OxyCotin? Is Rush too noble and egalitarian to claim a celebrity exemption not available to Joe Public? Is he too cheap to hire a live-in personal physician to write prescriptions and provide him a cover? Or is he truly a big, fat idiot?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

End of an Era -- or Birth of a Culture?

End of an Era –
Or Birth of a Culture?
Les Paul, inventor of the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording, died this week. It is also the 40th anniversary of the festival at Woodstock.
Normally, the death of a noted innovator is marked as the end of an era. But in this case, we have to ask if this week commemorates, not the end of an era, but the coming of age of the marijuana culture.
The early history of marijuana in America is a mystery. The time from about 1900 until 1970 can be called the Dark Ages, with only a few beacons shining out. The main beacons are the El Paso city ordinance of 1912 – the first marijuana prohibition, Anslinger’s testimony to Congress supporting the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, the Life magazine issue on the Beatniks, and the 1968 – 70 hat trick of Monterrey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Altamont. All else is pretty well hidden.
In 1937, Harry J. Anslinger testified that there were less than 100,000 marijuana users in the country, mostly Mexican agricultural workers in the Southwest and Black jazz musicians in a few eastern cities (I am developing strong doubts about Anslinger’s numbers, but that’s a subject for another time). By the middle 1970s, pursuant to the Drug Abuse Control Act of 1970 (which included the Controlled Substances Act), Congress had funded the Monitoring the Future survey, administered by the University of Michigan, and the SAMHSA Household Survey, both trying to determine the levels of drug use in America. Both of these indicated that millions were using marijuana.
What happened in the intervening 40 years that led to a more than ten times increase in the number of users?
The answer to this question is likely to be complex. The period covered World War II, which included a dramatic shifting of the American population as well as economic upheaval and millions of men exposed to military life. Surely, large numbers of those men returned with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was not really recognized until the Vietnamese War era and for which treatment is still under development.
It included the Fifties – that most complex American decade. On the surface it was suburbs, prosperity, television, and the first college generation. Underneath it had the communist witch hunts, the stirrings of the civil rights movement, the growth of psychedelics, and alienation and anomie.
The Sixties added the sexual revolution and the pill, civil rights activism, the war in Viet Nam and protests, and ended with three assassinations. The country seemed to split in two, and the rift has yet to heal.
But music played a large part in the spread of marijuana culture.
The traditional Creation Myth has marijuana spreading from the crews of Mexican and Caribbean ships in the Port of New Orleans to the bordellos of Storyville and then going up the Mississippi to Chicago with musicians like Kid Ory and Louis Armstrong. From there, Mezz Mezzarow, the Pied Piper of Pot, took his sax and some weed to New York in 1927, where he turned Harlem on.
The Creation Myth is true as far as it goes, and it does support Anslinger’s testimony. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Those musicians of the 20s and 30s were a peripatetic bunch. They toured the entire U. S. by train, bus, and car. Louis Armstrong’s only marijuana bust was in LA; Charlie Parker learned about dope and weed while touring by car out of Kansas City.
Detroit Red (later known as Malcolm X) made a living selling reefers to New York musicians in the early- and mid-40s and followed them on tour with his supplies up and down the east coast. His source was the crews of coastal freighters from the Gulf of Mexico berthing in war-time New York.
But the main problem with the Myth is that it leaves out the bluesmen that also spread from the Mississippi to Chicago and Kansas City and also to St. Louis, Houston, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. They carried their music and weed with them, but they also played the early electric guitars that gave Les Paul his inspiration.
During the 20s, 30s, and 40s, music was as segregated as the rest of American society. Separate labels published and distributed “Colored” records and “Colored” radio stations played them. But no one could control the music once it was distributed or aired. White people, especially young ones, listened to Colored music; and by the 50s, some disk jockeys were broadcasting it on “White” stations. By the mid-50s, a few publishers like Sun Records were finding White singers who could sound “Colored” – Elvis was the prime example, and some Black artists like Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Ike Turner were playing to white audiences.
Some of the biggest fans were in England, where the blues, especially, fuelled a new sound by groups like the Yardbirds and the Animals. Rock and Roll was here to stay.
The intelligentsia and the Beats had their jazz; the college crowds, their folk music; and the teens had rock n’ roll. The Civil Rights movement turned gospel and folk into songs of protest and rebellion. They all came together in the new urban youth culture in places like San Francisco and Greenwich Village.
And grown-up American stared in horror at this cuckoo’s egg hatching in its nest: a hatchling whose peeps were amplified by Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls through Marshall amps. This hatchling came of age at Monterrey, Woodstock, and Altamont.
We may never trace the exact sources of the taste for marijuana that blossomed during this time. The causes are multiple and obscure.
We can be sure, however, that the medium through which that taste spread from coast to coast, from rich to poor, from drop-out to Ph.D., was the new evolving music.
Now, excuse me while I go listen to Jimi Hendrix play “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

legalizing marijuana II: the Price of Drugs

Legalizing Marijuana II:
The Price of Drugs

If marijuana were legalized, what would happen to its price? Although many assume the price would go down, very few attempts to quantify that decrease have been made. At least four approaches are possible, even given the almost total lack of solid price or market data. Given the state of the data, these approaches give only rough approximations, but the similarities of their results suggest that they are reasonably reliable.
# # #
Marijuana can be treated as a commodity. In an efficient market, the price of a commodity approaches the marginal cost of production as a limit. The price of marijuana should be close to other commodities produced by similar methods. Coffee, tea, and tobacco are similar products that have slightly more expensive methods of production. Coffee, roasted and ground, retails for between $0.35 and $0.40 per ounce. Tea leaves, plucked, dried, shredded, and packed in tea bags is about $1.00 an ounce. A pack of cigarettes, about one ounce of tobacco leaves, hand-picked, cured, blended, and rolled into cigarettes, can be bought for $5.00, including over $2.00 in taxes. Hothouse tomatoes have been advertised for $0.79 per pound ($0.05 per ounce). Broccoli, probably the most directly comparable product is available for less than $2.00 per pound ($0.33 per ounce).
Based on these comparisons, a reasonable price for run-of-the-mill marijuana should be about $1.00 an ounce. A recent quotation of $0.85 per ounce for legal marijuana in Czechoslovakia confirms this estimate. This price is at least two orders of magnitude less than the $200.00 to $400.00 per ounce commonly cited for today’s marijuana.
# # #
Heroin and aspirin were both invented by the Bayer company in the 1890s and introduced on the market at the same time. During the forty years that heroin was widely sold in a legal market, Bayer sold the two products, manufactured by similar processes, at the same price.
Today, generic aspirin can be purchased for $1.00 for a bottle of one hundred 300 mg tablets, or about $35.00 per kilogram. Illegal heroin wholesales for almost $100,000 per kilogram, a difference of more than three orders of magnitude. Even allowing an economy of scale decreasing the cost of aspirin by a factor of two or three would not appreciably change this ratio.
# # #
Amphetamines (including Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and methamphetamine) were among the most widely used medical drugs in the 1960s. Any of them could be produced for less than one dollar for a thousand tablets. Since an typical dose is 5 mg, that cost equates to less than $1.00 for 5,000 mg (5 grams), or $200.00 a kilogram, or under $6.00 an ounce. This cost would be between two and three orders of magnitude under current street prices for illegal methamphetamine, which the government estimates to be above $14,000.00 per kilogram
# # #
Costs for legal cocaine are harder to calculate because it has had no significant legal market in the United States since 1900 nor little world-wide since 1946. (Cocaine, while a legal Schedule II drug, has been largely replaced medically by synthetics like Novocain and procaine.)
A rough estimate can be based on the current price of unprocessed coca leaves in the Andean countries, which includes those produced for legal use by the native inhabitants. Coca can be bought for around $2.00 per kilogram. Since coca leaves contain one or two per cent cocaine by weight, this price amounts to about $200.00 for raw, unprocessed cocaine.
The chemistry for producing cocaine is relatively simple, the main process being over one hundred years old, and can be performed by semi-skilled labor. A mark-up of 100% to pay for refining, shipment to South American ports, and profits for the producer would place a kilogram of pure cocaine on Colombian docks for $400.00. Doubling once again would move the cocaine to an American distributor for $800 a kilogram. A retailer could, then, show a reasonable profit retailing it for $1,600.00 per kilogram, or about $45.00 per ounce.
Street prices for illegal cocaine range upward from $100.00 per gram, or $100,000.00 per kilogram retail. This price is slightly less than two orders of magnitude greater than the estimated, but very generous, legal price.
# # #
None of these estimates can make any claim of exactness. The marijuana estimate, based on several comparable products, is probably close to reality; but the others are no better than my starting data.
The significance in these estimates is that, as rough as they are, they all converge approximately on the same range of values: that illegal prices are in the neighborhood of 100 times as high as the equivalent legal prices would be. The power of these estimates is in that convergence.
My hope is that this convergence will convince others with more skills than I in quantitative analysis to look at this issue, using much more of the available data. I look forward to seeing their results.

Legalizing marijuana I: the Users

Legalizing Marijuana I
The Users

As the discussion about legalizing marijuana heats up, many express concern that legalization would open the floodgates, and the number of users and of related problems would greatly increase. Analysis of the economic, psychological, and social factors suggests these concerns are largely unfounded. A good estimate is that while casual and social use might increase significantly, problematic use – that causing harm to the user or others – and habitual or dependent use will increase little, if they increase at all.
Basic economics shows that when the price of a commodity decreases, demand increases; and if supply is able to increase to meet that demand, consumption will increase. The price of legalized marijuana will probably drop dramatically: possibly by two orders of magnitude[1]. A recent report from Czechoslovakia shows legal marijuana there at a retail price of $0.85 per ounce, compared to the $200 – 400 per ounce common in the United States.
But the price to the purchaser includes not only the monetary cost to the purchaser, but also the personal utilities and disutilities accruing to him. Most of the utilities accruing to the purchaser of an illegal drug would reverse polarity if the drug were legalized. Those utilities might also change in value or intensity.
Three major disincentives, or disutilities, face the consumer considering purchasing illegal marijuana. They are the risk of arrest and conviction and the disabilities arising from those, the reluctance of most people to break the law, and the disapproval of others for one doing a bad or immoral act.
The costs of being convicted are very high. Jail sentences can be as high as a year for possession of a small amount. If convicted, one can be denied educational benefits and have difficulty finding a job or place to live, a disability that can be life-long. Many, even if not ultimately convicted, are unable to make bail and remain in jail pending trial, which may also result in lost jobs or dwellings.
But the true value of a cost occurring in the future is determined by the expectation value of that cost The expectation value of a risk is the amount available if the risk occurs multiplied by its probability. Today, the probability of being arrested and convicted for possessing marijuana is incredibly small. SAMHSA estimates about 15 million monthly users. Between 700,000 and 800,000 are arrested for marijuana possession each year, or about 75,000 per month. The probability of being arrested, then, is 75,000/15,000,000, or 1 in 200 (these numbers are only approximate, but are close enough to be valid); a risk most people would probably ignore.
The social and psychological factors increasing the cost of illegal marijuana are primarily the reluctance of most people to break the law and the fear of social and peer disapproval of someone doing something that is “bad”, or socially disapproved or immoral. However, my many casual conversions with teenagers, college students, and youths in their twenties and thirties suggest that this group has, to a large extent, been treating marijuana and its users as if it were already legal and that definitely think it should be legalized. The attitudes of older people, while they have not changed nearly as much, seem to be trending in the same direction. These older people are not a major concern since they, for the most part, would not being new consumers of legal pot. I have not had opportunity to look for formal studies on these questions, but I am sure they exist.
Likewise, illegal marijuana has its own positive utilities, including the challenge of breaking the law, the attraction of the forbidden, and the frisson of rebellion. These, too, have been largely devalued as marijuana has become more accepted and commonplace.
The social and psychological factors contributing to the decision to purchase marijuana have been largely devalued, leaving only the monetary considerations. The users themselves must be examined to determine what effect a dramatic price drop would cause.
# # #
Would all marijuana consumers be affected equally, or do differences exist among them?
Current medical thinking divides marijuana (or other drug) users in three categories. The “Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), the standard for diagnosing mental disorders, recognizes two conditions: substance abuse and substance dependency (it also recognizes the parallel alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency[2]. By implication, then, a third category is created consisting of those users who are neither abusive nor dependent. Abuse (greatly simplified) is using the drug under conditions where the user knows that use might result in harm to himself or another. Dependency, likewise, is compulsively using the drug even if the user wants to quit or knows its use is harmful to him.
Historically, the percentage of users who become dependent is virtually constant for any drug. For the highly addictive drugs like tobacco and alcohol, that percentage is about fifteen. For the common addictive drugs like the opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines, it is around ten percent. For marijuana, it is well under ten per cent and may be as low as three.
Best evidence suggests that those likely to become dependent on drugs could be identified by the time they enter adolescence. Their propensity arises from a combination of genetic factors, psychological history, and current environmental pressures. Dr. Drew Pinsky, formerly head of a large in-patient addiction center of a large Los Angeles hospital, claims that all of his patients shared a history of physical or sexual abuse and came from dysfunctional families. These strong predetermining factors suggest the likelihood that a majority, if not most, of those susceptible to dependency are already getting drugs in the current illicit market.
Unfortunately, all of our somewhat reliable statistics on drug use come from times in which drug prohibition was in effect, making them somewhat uncertain when applied to a legal market. However, the roughly similar figures for legal alcohol and tobacco suggest that the ratios would be roughly the same. Caffeine statistics deviate from the others, but the extremely high percentage of the population using it skews the distribution so far as to make it unreliable as a predictor.
However, each drug seems to find a level of use at which that society finds compatible with its perceived harms. Caffeine is used by over eighty percent of the population. Alcohol is used by about two-thirds of Americans, significantly lower than its level of use at the time of the Revolution. In 1950, tobacco was used by a majority of adults, but that figure has now declined to just over twenty per cent and is still going down (tobacco is the greatest killer among the psychoactive drugs, with over 400,000 deaths each year attributable to it.). Non-medical use of opioids is about the same as it was in 1914, before they first came under regulation with the Harrison Act. Prof. Rasmussen claims that the level of use – legal and illegal combined – of the amphetamine-like drugs (amphetamine, methamphetamine, and Ritalin) today is approximately the same as it was in the 1960s, when it was one of the most widely prescribed and used drugs.
Marijuana seems to still be seeking its level. In 1937, the government claimed that less than 100,000 people used it; now SAMHSA claims that about 100,000,000 have tried it and over 15,000,000 use it at least once a month. Among very young users, it is more popular than tobacco.
Based on these considerations, an educated estimate would be that, if legalized, the regular users of marijuana might double or even triple, to around 45,000,000, or around fifteen per cent of the population. However, the number of dependent users would increase much less, probably not even doubling. A positive aspect of this increase is that some studies show that, as marijuana use increases, alcohol consumption decreases, lowering the number of alcohol-related diseases and deaths and decreasing drunk driving incidents and domestic violence. This change would be a welcome trade-off.
[1] See “The Price of Legalized Drugs”, posted here.
[2] I understand that a new edition, DSM-V is due in 2011 and that it may change the definitions of these disorders significantly.

Who am I?

Controlled substances laws and their consequences have been the center of my professional life for over fifteen years. I host a public interest television program in Houston, “Drugs, Crime, and Politics”[1], produced by the Drug Policy forum of Texas, and have done so for most of its ten-year history. Before my retirement, I taught a seminar, “Controlled Substances Law” for many years at South Texas College of Law.
In this blog I intend to explore the features and consequences of those laws, especially the unintended consequences, and look at the need for, and possibility of, changing them. Don’t expect a lot of breaking news or current events, although there will be some. My approach will be more historical and theoretical. I hope to get a lot of criticism – good, bad, and otherwise – and to start some good, heated discussions. Please point out my flaws and help fill the enormous gaps in my knowledge and understanding. You might also let me know if I make an occasional extra-base hit.
Who am I? I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and was educated at M.I.T., Texas Tech University --B.A. in philosophy, J.D. (honors) -- and Harvard Law School (LL.M.). I practiced law in Lubbock, having been licensed in Texas and Louisiana and the federal courts. After practice, I taught at Loyola Law School in New Orleans for four years, then at South Texas College of Law for over twenty before retiring. My teaching areas other than Controlled Substances that have some relevance include legal history, first amendment law, administrative law, law and technology, and law and sex.
Before law school I worked as a letter carrier, analytic chemist, and as a semi-pro actor. I’m a damn fine photographer and a decent cook.
Come along for the ride. I may not be as hallucinogenic as LSD, but I think we’ll see some interesting sights.
[1] Many of our recent programs are available on YouTube and links to them may be found at .