Marijuana: People Do Incredibly Stupid Things Under the Influence

Dear Readers: The commentary below was created for the Los Angeles Times and was not on the website of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the time of this post, thus the article is offered as the Times ran it. The link to the Times article is,0,5131241.story.

The commentary takes on the proposed legalization of marijuana in California and essentially repeats what we’ve said for the last year; the legalization of marijuana may create immense social problems.

Once again, we do not want arrests or prosecutions or jail/prison time for marijuana possession. The criminal justice system is breaking down due to budget cuts and we have more important priorities.

But legalization will add hundreds of thousands (millions?) of pot users to the current crop and as we always discover with substance abuse; there are endless numbers of people who cannot handle anything stronger than aspirin; they do incredibly stupid things under the influence.  

The unified voice of the current and past directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is an immensely important statement.   They cite considerable research but the data discussed is a drop in the bucket; there are many additional studies that tie marijuana use to crime and additional social problems. See

As always, there are endless numbers of people who feel that their use of marijuana does not bring social harm and they refuse to consider the possibility that marijuana is harmful. We don’t know how to respond except by citing research. Regardless, they feel that as Americans, they should have the right to do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm others.

They justifiably point out that alcohol is freely available regardless of the well-documented harm. It’s the same with motorcycles, guns, tobacco, fast cars or any other vehicle that provides Americans with recreational outlets.

But in the final analysis, the question is whether or not American society needs additional problems that widespread marijuana use will bring. It’s impossible to ignore the research, but if we legalize, it will not be the first time (or the last) that Americans decide that individual rights take precedent over the collective good.

But please, within the context of this discussion,  at least be honest about the consequences.

Crime in America.Net staff.

This commentary was written by Gil Kerlikowske, John Walters, Barry McCaffrey, Lee Brown, Bob Martinez and William Bennett, directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the administrations of Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Californians will face an important decision in November when they vote on whether to legalize marijuana. Proponents of Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, rely on two main arguments: that legalizing and taxing marijuana would generate much-needed revenue, and that legalization would allow law enforcement to focus on other crimes.

As experts in the field of drug policy, policing, prevention, education and treatment, we can report that neither of these claims withstand scrutiny. No country in the world has legalized marijuana to the extent envisioned by Proposition 19, so it is impossible to predict precisely the consequences of wholesale legalization. We can say with near certainty, however, that marijuana use would increase if it were legal, because some people now abstain simply because it is illegal. We also know that increased use brings increased social costs.

Proponents of marijuana legalization often point to Amsterdam’s “coffee shop” marijuana sales, rarely mentioning that the Dutch have dramatically reduced what at one time were thousands of shops to only a few hundred — after being inundated with “drug tourists,” drug-related organized crime involvement and public nuisance problems. During the period of marijuana commercialization and expansion, there was a tripling of lifetime use rates and a more than doubling of past-month use among 18- to 20-year-olds, according to independent research.

Closer to home, in a nationally representative roadside survey, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 8% of nighttime weekend drivers tested positive for marijuana. The vast majority were tested using an oral swab procedure that makes it highly unlikely that the use occurred more than four hours prior.

A 2004 meta-analysis published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review of studies conducted in several localities showed that between 4% and 14% of drivers who sustained injuries or died in traffic accidents tested positive for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Because marijuana negatively affects drivers’ judgment, motor skills and reaction time, it stands to reason that legalizing marijuana would lead to more accidents and fatalities involving drivers under its influence.

Regarding the supposed economic benefits of taxing marijuana, some comparison with two drugs that are already regulated and taxed — alcohol and tobacco — is worth considering. People don’t typically grow their own tobacco or distill their own spirits, so consumers accept high taxes on them as retail products. Marijuana, though, is easy and cheap to cultivate, indoors or out, and Proposition 19 would allow individuals to grow as much as 25 square feet of marijuana for “personal consumption.”

Why would people volunteer to pay high taxes on marijuana if it were legalized? The answer is that many would not, and the underground market, adapting to undercut any new taxes, would barely diminish at all. The current healthcare and criminal justice costs associated with alcohol and tobacco far surpass the tax revenue they generate, and very little of the taxes collected on these substances is contributed to offsetting their substantial social and health costs.

For every dollar society collects in taxes on alcohol, for example, we end up spending eight more in social costs. That is hardly a recipe for fiscal health. A recent Rand Corp. report, “Altered State,” found that it is difficult to predict estimated revenue from marijuana taxes, and that legalization would increase consumption but could also lead to widespread tax evasion and a “race to the bottom” in terms of local tax rates.

Another pro-legalization argument is that it would free up law enforcement resources to concentrate on “real” crimes. Two of us are former police chiefs, who in our combined careers protected five of America’s largest cities, including New York, Houston and Seattle, and served as elected heads of the nation’s largest professional police associations. We interacted with tens of thousands of officers, and it is our experience that an overwhelming majority of police professionals does not support legalizing marijuana. Law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana.

This proposition would burden them with new and complicated enforcement duties. The proposition would require officers to enforce laws against “ingesting or smoking marijuana while minors are present.” Would this apply in a private home? And is a minor “present” if they are 15 feet away, or 20? Perhaps California law enforcement officers will be required to carry tape measures next to their handcuffs. As should be evident, despite the millions spent on marketing the idea, legalized marijuana can’t solve California’s budget crisis or reduce criminal justice costs. Our combined opposition to this ill-considered scheme spans four different administrations and represents the collective wisdom of a former secretary of Education, a governor, a mayor and teacher, an Army general, a drug policy researcher and two police chiefs.

Our opposition to legalizing marijuana is grounded not in ideology but in facts and experience.



  1. David Allen M.D. says:

    The title of this article is not supported by anything in the article. Just another baseless accuzation from some prison guard union no doubt. You anti-Marijuana people are ignorant of the science. You will be ashamed of yourselfs once you find out the truth. Telling lies over and over again never makes them true. Read up on the bodys endocannabinoid system. Marijuana Is Medicine by legal Democratic vote in 16 states and District of Columbia. (thats right our nations capital). Since 1937 over 16 million YEARS of prison sentences have already been served by Cannabis “criminals”. If we double this number will it change anything? Will it make you happy? Read dont swallow propaganda.

  2. Let me get this straight… the goal is to stop people from torturing, murdering, and dismembering people… and we get them to do that by telling people to stop using marijuana – Most of whom, in the United States, are growing their own marijuana or getting it directly from a friend who is growing it themselves – and that stops murder and torture in places like Juarez? I’m not buying it. What we need to do is storm those cities and purge every last living and breathing thing. We need to exterminate Juarez, exterminate cities which harbor cartels, we need to go in with guns blazing and leave no trace of anything that was there before. You can’t have murder or torture if you don’t have criminals to commit that kind of activity. The best solution is to purge Juarez ASAP, not only to deal with the current situation but also as a warning to any other potential criminals or cartels, that they will be utterly destroyed if they choose this path. Violent criminals only respect violence! The time is now!

  3. Jillian Galloway says:

    $113 billion is spent on marijuana every year in the U.S., and because of the prohibition *every* dollar of this goes straight into the hands of criminals. According to the ONDCP, two-thirds of the Mexican drug cartel’s money comes from selling marijuana in the U.S., and they protect this cash flow by brutally torturing, murdering and dismembering thousands of innocent people.

    Far from preventing people from using marijuana, the prohibition instead creates zero legal supply amid massive and unrelenting demand.

    If we can STOP people using marijuana then we need to do so now, but if we can’t then we need to legalize the production and sale of marijuana to adults with after-tax prices set too low for the cartels to match. One way or the other, we have to force the cartels out of the marijuana market and eliminate their highly lucrative marijuana incomes – no business can withstand the loss of two-thirds of its revenue!

    To date, the cartels have amassed more than 100,000 “foot soldiers” and operate in 230 U.S. cities, and the longer they’re able to exploit the prohibition the more powerful they’re going to get and the more our own personal security is put in jeopardy.

    • Hi Jillian: Thanks for writing; all great points. Hope you’re right.

      By-the-way, what keeps organized crime from switching to another illegal substance? Do we legalize everything? What will legalizing everything do to our society?

      Best, Adam.

      • The argument you posit is a straw man; there isn’t demand for *everything* which would magically move into new illegitimate categories as soon as prohibition ends – there’s specific demand for marijuana. Organized crime, at its base, is a mechanism for the enforcement of property rights which the “legitimate” state refuses to ensure. If someone steals my TV, I call the cops and they get it back for me – if someone steals the plant I grew in my back-yard, I lack that recourse. Instead, I could either suck up the loss or call in an alternative source of violence to enforce my property rights.

        The thing is, there’s a limited amount of property in the economy, and the size and strength of organized crime is directly proportional to the extent of the economy for which it provides protection, monopolies, etc. Unlike a democratic state in which individuals have constitutional protections, organized crime “states” are oligarchic and authoritarian, and are thus very imperfect vehicles for rights enforcement (but still better than “state of nature” anarchy). As such, by moving a category of property (marijuana) from the purview of organized crime into that of the legitimate state increases the strength of the latter at the expense of the former (as it’s something of a zero-sum game). The basis of legitimate government lies in its ability to secure Life, Liberty, and Property – prohibition is a violation of this principle, so its only natural for competing states to fill the void. The only way to end drug-related violence is to end its incentive: prohibition.


  1. tade ogidan says:

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    Marijuana: People Do Incredibly Stupid Things Under the Influence

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