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Ending the prohibition of marijuana: An empirical approach
For a drug with zero fatalities and huge money-making possibilities, why is marijuana illegal in the first place? Author Johann Hari runs us through why he thinks it should be legal.
Johann Hari is the New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream, which is being adapted into a feature film. He was twice named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International UK. He has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Le Monde, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, the Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He was a lead op-ed columnist for the Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, for nine years. He is a regular panelist on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. His TED talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong,” has more than 20 million views.
Johann Hari: In the late 1920s a young man outside Tampa in Florida picked up an axe and hacked his family to death. His name was Victor Lacarta.
At that point cannabis was not illegal in the United States. And a man called Harry Anslinger had taken over the Department of Alcohol Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition was ending.
So he inherits this huge government department that has just lost the war on alcohol. It’s riddled with corruption, and he wants to keep it going.
He had previously said that cannabis was not dangerous, we shouldn’t worry about it. He suddenly decided that cannabis was the most evil—literally these are his words: “The most evil drug in the world.” He said it’s much worse than heroin. He said, “if Frankenstein’s monster met cannabis on the staircase it would drop dead of fright.” And he latched onto the case of Victor Lacarta.
With the help of kind of the Fox News of his day, which is called the Hearst Newspapers, he announced that ‘Victor Lacarta had smoked cannabis. That’s why he hacked his family to death with an axe. And this is what will happen if we allow cannabis to spread, and we need to ban and prohibit cannabis.’
It was in the wake of that case that cannabis was banned. Years later somebody goes back, a researcher went many years later, decades later, a researcher went back and looked at Victor Lacarta’s files. There’s no evidence he even smoked cannabis. His family had been told he needed to be institutionalized a year before because he was severely mentally ill, but they decided to keep him at home.
The origins of the war on drugs, which I wrote about in my book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, overwhelmingly looked like that.
If you’d asked me when I started to do the research for Chasing the Scream why was cannabis banned I would have guessed they would have given the reasons then that if you stop someone on the street now they would give, you know, we don’t want kids to use drugs, we don’t want people to become addicted. What’s fascinating is that stuff virtually never came up when they were banning cannabis, right, or indeed the other drugs. It was overwhelmingly a kind of racial panic and absurd hysterias about what was going to happen.
Now the one thing you can say in defense of the war on drugs and the war on cannabis in particular is we’ve given it a fair shot, right? The United States has spent a trillion dollars, it’s imprisoned more people than any other country in human history including Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. It’s destroyed whole countries like Columbia.
At the end of all that we can’t even keep drugs out of our prisons, where we pay someone to walk about the wall perimeter the whole time. Which gives you some idea of how well we’re going to keep it out of a country with 2,000-3,000 mile borders.
There is an alternative for how we can think about cannabis. There are places that have legalized cannabis and we can see the results.
So I spent a lot of time in Colorado, in Washington state. I actually spent time in places that have legalized other drugs – heroin, for example, has been legalized in Switzerland with extraordinary results. There have been zero overdose deaths on legal heroin in Switzerland in the more than 13 years since they legalized.
But with cannabis specifically, again we can see the results. When you ban cannabis several things happen.
The first thing that happens is, you will have noticed, it does not disappear. It’s transferred from licensed legal businesses to armed criminal gangsters. Those armed criminal gangsters have to operate differently to a licensed business. So you will have noticed the head of Budweiser does not go and shoot the head of Heineken in the face, right? Your local liquor store does not send people to go and stab people in the local bar, right? Exactly that happened at the alcohol prohibition, right? I mean exactly that. And it ended the day alcohol prohibition ended.
Why? Because when you ban drugs they have to operate in an illegal market where there’s no – and I learned this from lots of drug dealers I spent time with for Chasing the Scream, not just for fun. Though there was some fun in there as well.
An illegal market could only operate through violence, right? You have no recourse to—If I go up here now and I try to steal a bottle of vodka, you know, the liquor store will call the cops. The cops will come and take me away. So there’s no need for that to be violent, to be intimidating.
If I go out of here now and try to steal a bag of weed from the people who sell it not so far away they can’t call the cops, right? The cops would come and arrest them. They have to fight me. Now you don’t want to be having a fight every day if you’re a dealer, so you’ve got to establish a reputation for being so frightening that people wouldn’t be so stupid as to come and fight you, right?
So this is the ratchet effect you get with prohibition. You create a market that can only be regulated by violence and where there’s actually premium on being the most violent person and the most intimidating person, where you have to be violent and intimidating to protect your market.
Now when you legalize that goes away immediately. Where is Al Capone? Does anyone even know the head of Smirnoff’s name? Everyone watching this knows Al Capone’s name. I bet nobody watching this knows the head of Smirnoff’s name. What changed? It’s not the drug. It’s the fact that it went from being illegal and therefor controlled by gangsters to legal and being controlled by legal and licensed businesses.
The second thing that happens, which is a slightly more wonky point but I think is really interesting and important, is that milder forms of the drug disappear.
So you often get people to say “Well, we can’t legalize cannabis because the cannabis people use today isn’t the cannabis people used in the 1960s, right? It’s much stronger.” It’s things like skunk and super skunk. That’s true, and it’s entirely the product of cannabis prohibition.
If you want to understand why you’ve got to understand something: Just before alcohol was banned in the United States the most popular drinks by far were beer and wine. After alcohol was legalized again the most popular drinks by far were beer and wine, as they remain today. And when alcohol was banned you couldn’t get hold of beer or wine anywhere. The most popular drinks were whiskey and moonshine. Well why is that? Why would banning a drug change the form of the drug? It’s kind of a rather prosaic reason.
Imagine we had to smuggle enough alcohol for your local bar from the Mexican border or the Canadian border, right. If we fill our wagon with beer we’ll get drinks for 100 people. If we fill our wagon with whiskey we’ll get drinks for thousands of people.
When you ban drugs there’s suddenly a premium on getting the biggest possible kick into the smallest possible space because it’s got to be smuggled, right?It’s got to be transported in secret. This happens with all drugs.
This is why cannabis has become much more potent.
The most popular form of consuming cocaine prior to it being banned was in tea—coca tea. You may remember a drink called Coca Cola. That really did contain exactly what it sounds like. They don’t exist anymore. What do you ever hear about coca tea, right? Coca Cola exists but it’s not what it was obviously.
The most popular way of consuming opiates by far was a drink called laudanum and something called Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. It was small trace of opiates, right? Again they disappeared and the most popular form becomes heroin.
When you ban a drug only the most extreme forms of that drug become available.
Now most people who smoke cannabis don’t want skunk, right? Just like if I go into a bar around the corner from here today, probably very few people are going to be drinking vodka and no one is going to be drinking Absinthe, right?
If you’re concerned about the more extreme forms of the drug, which I think we should be with cannabis because there is – it’s not a huge relationship but there’s some relationship with dysfunctional behavior—Then you want to put a really high premium on getting milder forms of the drug available to almost all the users who want it, right?
So that’s another effect that happens with legalization. And you know, one of the things that’s so moving—everywhere I went where they moved beyond the war on drugs, from Portugal where they decriminalized all drugs to Switzerland where they legalized heroin for addicts, to Uruguay and Washington and Colorado where they legalized cannabis, the pattern was always the same.
It is super controversial at first and understand that people are really worried. And then they see the effects. It’s not a silver bullet. There’s still problems, but there’s such a significant improvement that the support massively rises.
So 55 percent of people in Colorado voted to legalize it in 2015. Today 70 percent of people support it. Governor Hickenlooper who opposed it now says it works really well. They’ve had a huge increase in tax revenue.
I interviewed one former police officer and he told me a story about this that really stayed with me. One day in the 70s he was staking out a dealer in a car park in Wayne in New Jersey in plainclothes.
And a kid came up to him and said, “Hey mister, will you go into that liquor store and buy me some booze? I’m not allowed to, I’m too young.” He was like a 12 year old or something. And he said “No, get out of here.” So the kid walked over to the drug dealer and bought some drugs from him instead.
And he had this kind of epiphany. He was like “Oh, actually legalization, a legal regulated system puts a barrier between children and drugs that does not currently exist.” If you’re a parent who doesn’t want your child to smoke cannabis (and if you’re a parent you shouldn’t because there is evidence that it can impair development for teenagers), you want to put a really high premium on getting cannabis out of the hands of armed criminal gangs who don’t care whether the customers are 13, 30 or 80 and getting it into the hands of licensed legal regulated businesses who have something to lose.
This is why in Colorado all the research shows there’s been a really significant fall in cartel and organized crime activities since they legalized. There’s been a fall in teenagers using—It was already quite low, but it’s fallen. There’s been a massive increase in tax revenue. You know it’s not perfect. There are some things I would have tweaked in the Colorado legalization but, you know, you can tweak a legal market. We don’t have any power over an illegal market. There’s nothing we can do about it, right.
At some point the president of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss when she made the case to the Swiss people for legalizing heroin— and she’s one of the great heroes I’ve ever met in my life—She explained to them, “You know, when you hear the word legalization you picture like anarchy and chaos. What we have now is anarchy and chaos! We have unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown drug users all in the dark all filled with violence, right? Legalization is the way we restore order this chaos.”
At some point we have to look at the results.
It’s worked incredibly well, and let’s look at the places that are maintaining a criminal war on cannabis. How well is that working out for you?
Author Johann Hari makes a great case for the legalization of marijuana. Not only would it create a new stream of tax revenue, but it would substantially lower the crime rate and practically kill the black market overnight. One has to ask, especially after watching this video: for a drug with zero fatalities, why is marijuana illegal in the first place? Johann Hari's latest book is Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.
Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.
- White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
- Carbon is an essential component of life.
- White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
What Are White Dwarf Stars?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7b046e546ce994682b2553a8c978eb32"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/77a1KSxfaR0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The renowned magician recently joined Big Think CEO and cofounder Victoria Brown for a wide-ranging discussion.
- Penn Jillette is an American magician best known for his work as part of the magic duo Penn and Teller.
- Jillette has also written eight books, co-hosted the Showtime show "Bullshit," and produced the film "Tim's Vermeer."
- In the interview, Jillette talks about how libertarianism has been distorted in the U.S., and why the democratization of media hasn't produced a utopia.
How being businesslike — not affectionate — can build strong friendships<p>Jillette has been collaborating with the magician and filmmaker Teller for 44 years on their magic act, currently stationed out of Las Vegas. In all that time, Jillette says their friendship has been more businesslike than affectionate.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There's just some people you just want to be with and there's that cuddly feeling," Jillette said. "And there's other people who your relationship would be identical if it were over email, totally intellectual." </p><p>The pair's relationship is decidedly the latter. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Teller and I have never had any affection for one another," Jillette said. "No desire to hug. We only shake hands when it's part of a script. We don't seek out each other's company, but there's no one that I respect more and I believe at a core level that I do better stuff with Teller than I do alone."</p><p>But that's not to say that relationships like these are entirely about business.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It turns out respect is more enduring than love," he said. "Now, I have to add here that my daughter whenever I say this gets very, very bothered because she says that Teller is my BFF and there's no way around that and that's absolutely true. I'm saying that in a kind of skeletal way. The truth is that Teller's my best friend over all those years."</p><p>Jillette's description of this type of relationship sounds a bit like Aristotle's idea of the "friendship of the good." </p><p>The Greek philosopher outlined three types of friendship, each based on a different feeling or value: pleasure, utility, and "good." Aristotle thought the "friendship of the good" was the best kind of relationship, because it's built on the respect and admiration for the virtues each friend sees in the other. Aristotle believed these friendships might not form quickly, but <a href="https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/ethics/section8/" target="_blank">they tend to be longer lasting than the other types</a>.</p>
Why refusing to wear a mask is not a libertarian idea<p>Libertarianism is "the belief that peace, prosperity and social harmony are fostered by as much liberty as possible and as little government as necessary" according to the <a href="https://theihs.org/who-we-are/what-is-libertarian/" target="_blank">Institute for Human Studies</a> at George Mason University. But when this impulse toward individual freedom becomes too rigid, it can pose problems for a society that needs to work together to navigate a nationwide problem, like a pandemic.<br></p><p>Since COVID-19 began spreading across the U.S., there's been a portion of <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/coronavirus-masks-america/2020/04/18/bdb16bf2-7a85-11ea-a130-df573469f094_story.html" target="_blank">Americans who say it's un-American</a> for the government to try to force (or, more accurately in most cases, <em>ask</em>) citizens to wear masks in public. Here, Jillette distinguishes between <a href="https://www.open.edu/openlearn/ocw/mod/oucontent/view.php?printable=1&id=1747" target="_blank">positive and negative freedoms</a>, most commonly defined as <em>freedom to </em>and <em>freedom from.</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Libertarianism has been so distorted," Jillette said. "I mean I don't know if I have to pull my name out of that ring. It's been adopted by people who don't seem to hold the responsibility side of it and don't seem to hold the compassion side of it."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I can see arguments for not wearing seatbelts and I can see arguments for not wearing motorcycle helmets but I cannot see any argument for driving drunk. And that is what not wearing a mask is. It's not risking yourself. It's risking the people around you which I don't see a way that that's your right."</p>
How removing media gatekeepers didn't lead to utopia<p><span style="background-color: initial;">How did the democratization and decentralization of the media change the world? In the 1990s, Jillette might have said that removing media gatekeepers would produce a sort of open, meritocratic utopia: you have an interesting idea, you throw it online, and it spreads all over the world.</span><br></p><p>But that's not quite what happened.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I thought getting rid of the gatekeepers could be nothing but good," Jillette said. "And now it seems like getting rid of the gatekeepers gave us Trump as president and in the same breath, in the same wind, gave us not wearing masks and maybe gave us a huge unpleasant amount of overt racism."</p><p>It also gave us cancel culture. But Jillette said he "can't even rant against cancel culture," because there's no obvious way to fix it without obstructing free speech rights. After all, it's a good thing that victimized people are now able to go online, post grievances, and (sometimes) see justice delivered, whereas in the past they had to file their complaints with a series of gatekeepers. But simultaneously, this unmanaged system leaves it vulnerable for abuse.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now you could be obviously lying and still have a million-and-a-half people believe you and do real damage to the person that you said wrong to," Jillette said.</p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.
- Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
- The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
- What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
3 Tips on Negotiations, with FBI Negotiator Chris Voss | Best of '16 | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b86d518e9f0c9f9d7a7c686e07798152"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-FLlBchonwM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This question forces a response, but—and this is key—the other person has to consider your side of the argument. They have to look at the situation from your perspective if they hope to offer a solution.</p><p>Offering a real-world example, Voss mentions coaching a high-end real estate agent. They were leasing an expensive home in the Hollywood Hills. The first time the negotiators asked the "how" question, the leasing agent relented on a number of terms. A little while later, they asked again. This time, the agent said, "If you want the house you're going to have to do it," signaling that the end of negotiations had been reached. </p><p>Voss says that "how" is not the only word that works. "What" is also a powerful entry into negotiations, such as "What am I supposed to do?" Again, you're forcing the other person to empathize. </p><p>This is a particularly tricky skill during a time when most conversations are online. Nuance is impossible without the immediacy of pantomimes and vocal fluctuations. Whataboutism is too easy an escape. </p>
Aikido Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969, standing, centre left), founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido, demonstrating his art with a follower, at the opening ceremony of the newly-opened aikido headquarters, Hombu Dojo, in Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1967.
(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)<p>Online debates often amount to little more than frustrated individuals pulling out their hair. In his book, "Against Empathy," Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom writes that effective altruists are able to focus on what really matters in everyday life.</p><p>For example, he compares politics to sports. Rooting for your favorite team isn't based in rationality. If you're a Red Sox fan, Yankees stats don't matter. You just want to destroy them. This, he believes, is how most people treat politics. "They don't care about truth because, for them, it's not really about truth."</p><p>Bloom writes that if his son believed our ancestors rode dinosaurs, it would horrify him, but "I can't think of a view that matters less for everyday life." We have to strive for rationality when the stakes are high. When involved in real decision-making processes that will affect their life, people are better able to express ideas and make arguments, and are more receptive to opposing ideas. </p><p>Because we "become inured to problems that seem unrelenting," it's imperative to make the problem seem immediate. As Voss says, giving the other side "the illusion of control" is one way of accomplishing this, as it forces them to take action. When people feel out of control, negotiations are impossible. People dig their heels in and refuse to budge. </p><p>What seems to be weakness is actually a strength. To borrow another martial arts metaphor, negotiations are like aikido: using your opponent's force against them while also protecting them from injury. Forcing empathy is one way to accomplish this task. You may get more than you ask for without the other side ever realizing they surrendered anything.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>