Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rather than legalize marijuana, should we prohibit pot and alcohol?

I'm aware that many people enjoy alcohol and pot in moderation and derive pleasure from it. Indeed I enjoy a big glass of wine a couple times a week.

But alcohol and marijuana take devastating tolls on millions of people, their families, and society. For example, as a career counselor, I see again and again how heavy drinkers and pot smokers ruin their careers (damaged memory and especially motivation) and thus leave their families in the lurch. And in their personal life, they're more likely to abuse their spouse and children, and certainly be bad role models. Plus, alcohol and drugs are responsible for the majority of traffic injuries and deaths. Alcohol and drugs contribute to everything from heart disease to cancer to cirrhosis of the liver, which costs all of us in health care costs and reduced availability of medical services.

The toll is so great that I'm wondering whether, rather than moving toward legalizing marijuana, we might be wiser to make a smarter attempt at prohibition of both alcohol and pot. Stores would be prohibited from selling them, true medical marijuana would be available by prescription at pharmacies such as CVS and RiteAid, and there would be no raids of private homes and other private places. The penalty for public drinking or pot smoking would be a fine, not jail.

Of course, there would be black-market use but the amount of alcohol and drug abuse would likely decrease greatly from the elimination of easy availability, and thus society would benefit tremendously .

I know it's a cliche, but there really are so many more enjoyable and beneficial ways to spend one's life than getting high.

What do you think?


Lightning Bug's Butt said...

If they take my liquor, I'll find another country.

Dan said...

Marty, why not let guys like Lightning Bug's Butt just have their liquor? If he doesn't hurt anybody, why do you care if he throws his life away on booze (assuming his comment wasn't sarcastic)? But in the collective that is slowly taking hold in America, it seems everyone wants to "improve" everybody else. Makes me want a cheeseburger and fries, followed by a cigarette, a shot of Wild Turkey, a tanning salon visit, and a bumpersticker that says: "I never wear a seatbelt, Officer"...

Marty Nemko said...

The reason to prohibit it is that millions of people are not only ruining their lives, but those of their families, their employers, and the thousands of innocent people who die every year in alcohol-drug caused vehicle accidents. It also increases the health care costs for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Marty, really?

1) Responsible users of alcohol would be unable to enjoy it without committing a crime. I have never driven drunk, I only rarely get drunk, and when I am you would not be able to tell from my behavior. Why should I be unable to drink alcohol, or have to pay a fine for doing so, when my decision to do so occasionally affects no one but me? Because when some other people do, they behave differently? The term anti-American gets thrown around a lot lately, but to me, this could almost be used as the proper the definition.

2) Alcohol has pretty clear health benefits when used in moderation. (Despite what potheads will tell you, and I am good friends with several, this has not been shown for marijuana, though it has been studied). Why should I not be allowed to take advantage of them? Because a relatively small group of other people use it in extreme, irresponsible excess, or have problems with addiction (essentially a disease)? That's like outlawing snickers bars because they cause obesity when consumed in excess, or because they can be harmful to people with disease (e.g. diabetics). I'm aware that some would be in favor of this, but the logic is absurd, and violates virtually every principle on which our system of government was founded.

3) As you mentioned, there would be a black market. The measures you suggest for restricting alcohol would be useless in preventing its manufacture and use. Many people would be happy to just pay the fines. If police could not do raids, then people would just brew and use alcohol at home, and elsewhere. Alcoholics would still drink, abuse their families, and show up late for work…and people would still drink and drive. The only difference would be that they might also kill themselves by distilling liquor at home incompetently...And the government would no longer be able to tax it. The only option is to make the penalties higher to further discourage use. Then a lot of people would stop brewing it in their homes, but there would still be a market. Because of the increased risks, the number of suppliers would decrease and their profits would increase. Then making alcohol is risky, illegal, and makes a lot of money. This setting will ALWAYS lead to organized crime and violence...and when the same guy who you buy beer from also sells crack and prostitutes, how can you be sure people will not be more likely to try these? As it stands, you don't have to go to the ghetto to get alcohol, and except for the people unfortunate enough to live in one, most people never encounter easy opportunities to try these things, and therefore never do. Simply: people will seek out alcohol, and if you put it in the one-stop shop of self destruction, they are more likely to pick up other ‘goodies’ that they never had any interest in before. You might make alcohol the gateway drug that so many people accuse pot of being. In addition, true alcohol addicts will do whatever they need to in order to get their next drink. If alcohol becomes too expensive, they will have to start engaging in illegal activities themselves (or spending all their honestly earned money) in order to maintain their habit.

Anonymous said...

And to follow up...There is a major difference between alcohol, tobacco, and pot versus other drugs: they *can* be used in moderation without serious physical and psychological consequences.

The difference between ALCOHOL and SMOKING is that you can use alcohol in public without invading other people's space with a byproduct of your personal habits. It also has the advantage of not burning the hell out of your lungs, which both pot and cigarettes do. Finally, it is HUGELY popular: practically everyone uses it. This is not true of smoking pot or tobacco, and it means you simply cannot prohibit its use.

Most of the arguments for keeping alcohol legal could also be made for marijuana, with only slight modifications, which is why this debate had gained traction. I am at least willing to consider it.

Some alternatives to illegalization:

1) Tax the hell out of it. This has been at least somewhat successful with cigarettes, and at least the idiots who continue to bake their lungs in tar fumes are paying society up front for the burden they will pose later. Make the taxes high enough that all people can afford it in moderation, but few can afford it in excess. Keep it cheap enough that a black market does not gain traction (set prices if necessary), and tax the suppliers in addition to the consumers. Use the revenue for programs to treat true addicts.

2) increase the penalties for the undesirable BEHAVIOR associated with use. For example, driving just a little drunk should be a huge offense. Penalties should involve large fines, community service, and serious prison time. As it stands, even the penalties for killing someone while you are driving drunk are not high enough to be truly discouraging…and when you read these stories in the news, it is SO frequent that the driver had previous arrests.

All kinds of things can be defined as dangerous vices, depending on who you ask. You, Marty, often lament the institutionalization of political correctness that stifles expression and even free thought in the name of the greater good. If you start outlawing things on the borderline, it’s hard to know where to stop.

Marty Nemko said...

Most recent Anonymous,

Thank you for your excellent comments. They are exemplars of what blog discussions should be: thoughtful perspectives of disagreement as well as agreement. I hope that there will be more perspectives presented, which will result in all of us becoming yet wiser in our thinking on this issue.

Anonymous said...


The facts belie your assertions.

Alcohol use was declining before Prohibition. By 1926 not only had alcohol consumption increased, but a new problem had emerged: a drinking epidemic among children.

Five years after the personal possession of drugs was decriminalized (including marijuana, heroin, and cocaine) in Portugal, teen illegal drug use had declined as had rates of new HIV infections from sharing dirty needles.

Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Michael for your valuable input. Do you know how other experiments in legalization, especially in countries with populations similar to the U.S.'s have fared?

rebw said...

I am not full of facts as some of the commenters so far, but my understanding is that while some use can initially go up with legalization, other problems generally reduce.

I am against the idea of a governmental body determining what is 'good for me' or others, and people tend to do what they want anyway. The allure of the forbidden also plays a role no doubt.

I am rather sick of being told what I can and can't do, in terms of my body and health, from drugs to abortion, and I think that people should take responsibility for their actions. The fact that tobacco is legal, takes a huge toll on health and raises health care costs for all should be a part of this discussion of course. And if you take a minute to think about what wildfire the idea of making tobacco illegal would start, it perhaps clarifies the scope of the discussion. Should smokers have to pay triple health insurance costs, while non smokers get a cut?

It is difficult for me to think about increasing legislation against substances...I'm rather for legalization, across the board, and, if anything figuring out how to charge people for costs that their behavior advance.

rebw said...

meant to sign that last post,


Marty Nemko said...


It's one thing to allow practices that don't affect anyone else but when they extract such a monumental toll on all of us, yes, I believe the restriction of freedom is far outweighed by the benefits to humankind.

And yes, if I had my way, I would outlaw tobacco use.

But no, I certainly would not outlaw fatty foods. The societal benefit/risk/costs equation doesn't begin to be as bad as for alcohol, pot, or tobacco.

Dad Died of Cirrhosis said...

I am offering no opinion on this topic... just throwing out thoughts...

Negative utilitarianism -- preventing the most ill for the most people -- seems to drive our current use of limited resources (cops concentrate on hard drugs, perceived as more destructive). How does the utilitarian respond? Will more meth labs go undetected because cops are busy raiding illegal stills?

A thought from the "more for me" contingent: Is long-term use of marijuana its own punishment? The more slackers there are, the less competition there is for me in the job market. I'm happy to stand on the heads of pot users and drunks while accepting life's best opportunities. Why are you letting them in on my secret to success?

What conclusions do you make when you look at the Netherlands, where lots of people smoke pot? Or Utah, where few people drink? Is either doing better than comparable regions?

Finally, you say, "As a career counselor, I see again and again how heavy drinkers and pot smokers ruin their careers (damaged memory and especially motivation) and thus leave their families in the lurch." These wouldn't be your clients, would they? Because you'd screen out unmotivated people, right? Are you hearing tales of these folks from their spouses, children, et al? Just wondering your relation to these people you "see."

I would love to read a blog post from you on how terrible smoking is for your career. I promise to post it on the wall at a certain career center.

Anonymous said...

I personally do not think the problem lies in the use of alcolhol, or pot or any other drug for that matter. I think the problem lies in the growing dependency people have on such substances as a result of their lack of self-esteem and like conditions. I think that is where the focus should be placed. The question in essence is, Why are so many people leaning on dangerous life destroying substances, what is the root cause of this issue and what can be done about it? I can fully understand your reasoning and do appreciate it. In some ways I can see the benefits clearly... but I also think it is a "bandaid" solution. There is a bigger problem at play here- the problem with addiciton, which is actually quite an epidemic. It's scary and sad... and it is the real danger. The alcohol and drugs themselves are not... in my humble opinion,m of course. Thanks for posting this and asking what we think? I love your website, and blog.

Marty Nemko said...

"Dad Died of Cirrhosis,"

Is is dispiriting that, despite what I believe is a life of honorable work, of which this blog is a part, a very few readers such as you, seem to be on a mission to prove that I'm a bad person. I do not get it. You snarkily write, "These wouldn't be your clients, would they? Because you'd screen out unmotivated people, right?," alluding to a previous post in which I wrote that I won't work with job-search clients whom I feel I can't honestly champion.

I can't resist defending myself. Many of my clients see me not to land a job but so I can help them figure out what career or self-employment to pursue. I wouldn't not work with them just because, at that point in time, they're not very motivated--Perhaps the right career goal will help motivate them. And with regard to my job-search clients, in the first session, if I sense that serious motivation/memory issues may be at play, I ask if they perceive themselves as having a drug or alcohol problem. Some admit to having one. If I sense that they're committed to continuing their drug abuse and their memory and motivation really would make them an inferior candidate for the job to which they aspire, I encourage them to lower their sights, and if they won't, I gently suggest that my skill set is likely inadequate to help them and that they'd likely be better served by another career counselor--they usually choose to not come back. I have other polite ways to discontinue working with them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting ideas...The illegal drug trade in the US apparently is close to $600 billion/yr. That money gets laundered and funneled right back into large banks, primarily in New York City. So keeping the drugs illegal is necessary to keep the profits high. From there, it's anyone's guess as to where it goes, but given the fact that the large banks rule the Fed and the Treasury, it can be used to fund pretty much anything: covert wars, bribes, secret arms deals, espionage, buying up of strategic assets without raising alarm bells, etc. The supply-side drug war mandates state expansion: prisons, police, military, federal agencies. It keeps Mexico in a state of perpetual instability and weakness. None of that would be possible if drugs were legalized. That said...legalization is the only way to reduce consumption and eliminate the above-mentioned nightmare we're facing.

Cirrhosis said...

I’m absolutely not on a mission to prove you’re a bad person. If I thought you were a bad person, I wouldn’t be continually promoting
you. (See 3rd bullet in 2nd tip.) If anything, my judgment is questioned by constancy/faithfulness. But I don’t care because I think you’re a good and honest man who is indeed doing honorable work. And I think you’re doing it more bravely than anyone else.

The only reason my question had a tone of skepticism (not snark) was that, from the way you talk, I can’t imagine that you actually work with unmotivated people. I, myself, can’t bring myself to do it.

So, you’re a better man than I am.

As usual.

Anonymous said...


You present conjecture for what would occur with increased legalization. As some of us have shown, the history of prohibition and legalization fails to support your view.

Do you have counter-evidence? If not, has your opinion changed?

Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.

Marty Nemko said...

Candidly, Dr. Edelstein, I have not found the arguments compelling.

A retrospective study based on the poorly administered prohibition of the 1930s isn't strong evidence that wisely administered prohibition of alcohol and pot wouldn't yield greater net benefits today.

The following article makes a strong case, in my view, that pot legalization would be bad indeed:

Your Portugal example is cherry-picking. Countless experiments with legalization have resulted in increased use, including among children. This summary of the literature comes from the Federal Government:

Here's the fuller case for federal government's position (anti-legalization):

here's a position simply outlining some pros and cons:

This is a difficult issue. In answer to your question, the discussion has probably moved me a bit toward agnosticism on the question. But in my view, it's certainly a topic worthy of debate.