Jacob Sullum goes beyond the debate on legalization or the proper way to win the “war on drugs,” to the heart of a social and individual defense of using drugs. He believes that the conventional understanding of addiction, portrayed as a kind of chemical slavery in which the user’s values and wishes do not matter, is also fundamentally misleading.
How does someone defend heroin use? Is alcohol more addictive than opioids? What are the expectations that surround marijuana use? What can and can’t make drug use dangerous? Does marijuana actually make people violent? What is the benefit of legalizing some illegal drugs?
Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, written by Jacob Sullum
Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, written by Alex Berenson
For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, written by Jacob Sullum
Is the DEA Trippin’? (with Rick Doblin), Free Thoughts Podcast
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Free Thoughts Podcast
How Drug Prohibition Caused the Opioid Crisis, Free Thoughts Podcast
0:00:07 Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts, I’m Trevor Burrus. Joining me today is Jacob Sullum, Senior Editor at Reason Magazine, and author of “For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health,” and “Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use.” Welcome to Free Thoughts, Jacob.
0:00:21 Jacob Sullum: Thanks.
0:00:22 Trevor Burrus: Why did you write a book defending drug use? Were you just trying to check all the libertarian cliches, or you were just…
0:00:29 Jacob Sullum: Well, my feeling at the time was that a lot of people were criticizing the war on drugs. A lot of people were calling for at least a relaxation of it, a de-escalation of it, if not for outright legalization. But they tended to sort of apologize, or preface the conversation by saying, “Of course, I don’t approve of drug use. Nobody should use… Kids don’t do drugs, stay away from drugs.” Nobody’s saying that drug use is good, or that it should be approved of. And there’s a valid distinction there, ‘cause obviously you can make something legal without saying it’s morally praiseworthy, or okay.
0:01:02 Jacob Sullum: For example, you can disapprove of prostitution, and still think it should be legal, right? So it’s valid to say that. But I felt like people who condemn, sort of reflexively condemn drug use, hadn’t really given much thought to the moral basis for that attitude. And it seemed to me that the drug use is not inherently bad or good, it’s a thing that people do. And it could bring them pleasure, and it can improve their lives, or it can bring them pain and destroy their lives, right? It all depends on how they use drugs, their relationship with the substance.
0:01:36 Jacob Sullum: So, I sort of wanted to write a book making that point, ‘cause I felt like that wasn’t being emphasized enough in the debate over drug policy reform. And then if we could talk about illegal drugs, the way that people routinely talk about alcohol, that that would be helpful, that we can make the same kinds of moral distinctions and legal distinctions, right? So, with alcohol we understand there are social drinkers, and they’re fine. And they drink and they enjoy it, and it doesn’t cause any serious problems for them. And then there are people who drink all the time, and for years, and it kills them.
0:02:12 Trevor Burrus: There are people who drink all the time, for years, and it doesn’t actually end up killing them. And they’re functional… I don’t like the word functional that much, but they’re…
0:02:21 Jacob Sullum: Maybe somebody who is drinking… Slowly drinking himself to death, but otherwise is not… He’s hurting himself, but he’s not hurting anyone else. That’s possible too, right? He’s not going out and driving drunk and killing people, or beating up anybody, or whatever.
0:02:31 Trevor Burrus: And he’s showing up to work on time.
0:02:32 Jacob Sullum: Yes, he’s showing up to work, and he’s being responsible. And so I don’t wannna say that’s not a problem, it’s a problem for him, and probably the people close to him. But it is not a problem that calls for government intervention. And so we recognize that when it comes to alcohol, that just because somebody is a heavy drinker and is causing problems for him and his family, doesn’t mean we should arrest him, right? And so people sort of intuitively understand that. And I thought there really is no rational justification for not applying those distinctions to other substances, just because they happen at this point in time to be illegal.
0:03:04 Jacob Sullum: For a while marijuana was legal, and alcohol wasn’t. So there’s nothing set in stone about that, there’s nothing inevitable about that. That is purely contingent based on culture and politics, and how governments decide what should be allowed, and what shouldn’t be allowed. So that’s a long way of explaining it, but that’s sort of it… Not in a nut shell, say in a bag of nuts.
0:03:26 Trevor Burrus: But that means you had to bite the bullet about… I’m a DARE kid, I grew up in DARE, so I clearly know a lot about drugs, from a DARE officer. And I learned that heroin, if you do it once you’re basically addicted. So marijuana is easy, alcohol we understand that, but how can you defend heroin use?
0:03:45 Jacob Sullum: Well, I think heroin use can… Heroin can be used in a moderate controlled way. And to begin with, if you look at people who try heroin, the vast majority of them do not ever become addicted. Secondly, of those who do become regular users, the typical pattern is to stop doing that at some point, generally as people mature. And it’s not just for heroin, but for other kinds of drugs too. People who were heavy drinkers in college or in young adulthood, very often will start behaving themselves better when they…
0:04:21 Trevor Burrus: Have other things to do.
0:04:22 Jacob Sullum: Get married, and they have children. Yes, they have important jobs, and so on. Because they have other things that give their life meaning, and they don’t feel a need to use that substance excessively anymore. So yes, I interviewed some people for the book who used heroin in a controlled way. They were responsible people, it was not ruining them medically, it was not ruining them professionally. I cited one example, this was actually in the front page of the New York Times, which was amazing. I think this was back in the ’90s about a successful business man who used heroin regularly.
0:05:00 Jacob Sullum: And the only reason he was thinking of stopping is that it bothered his wife, and it bothered maybe a couple of other people close to him. But it wasn’t like it led him to do ruinous things that were really hurting other people, or it wasn’t affecting his work or anything like that. He was doing this in a controlled, responsible way for want of… [laughter]
0:05:19 Trevor Burrus: Probably the biggest fear he had.
0:05:21 Jacob Sullum: Terminology, that was not… So it wasn’t interfering with his life in serious way.
0:05:24 Trevor Burrus: Law enforcement would be the biggest fear that he would have.
0:05:26 Jacob Sullum: Yes, unless he gets arrested. But that was actually amazing to me, that they would even run that on the front page of The New York Times, because that was so contrary to conventional wisdom on the left and the right about what drugs do. We have this notion that drugs take possession of you, and force you to first of all, keep taking them. That’s the first step. And also to do all kinds of other horrible things, and I sort of go into those things in that book.
0:05:52 Jacob Sullum: But we, at the same time that we say that, and we hear that from the government, we clearly know it’s not true. Because we’re told that legally produced opioids, the kind that you’re prescribed for pain, that these are very similar to heroin, in terms of their effects, and that’s true. “This is just like heroin,” people will say. But what do we know about those pills, and what happens when people take them? Only a very small minority of people who take legally produced opioids, whether for medical use or for non-medical use.
0:06:00 Trevor Burrus: That’s not the narrative I’ve heard.
0:06:00 Jacob Sullum: Have… No. That it’s only in a small minority who actually…
0:06:28 Trevor Burrus: I’ve heard that we’ve got this problem.
0:06:30 Jacob Sullum: Who become heavy users, yes, well, but where, what’s the source of the problem? Who are the people who are using heavily? It is, if you look at the data from government surveys, you had close, a lot of people used opioids in a given year, it’s close to a 100 Million people.
0:06:46 Trevor Burrus: With prescriptions for Vicodin ‘cause they had their wisdom teeth out or something like that.
0:06:49 Jacob Sullum: So this is medical use and non medical use, so it’s not just people that are prescribed them, but also people who swipe somebody elses, the remains of their prescription. Which by the way, that in itself, the fact that you routinely have all these bottles of unused prescriptions left, which is presented as a problem because now the kids can get it or it can be stolen, and sold on the black market.
0:07:07 Trevor Burrus: But why were they unused?
0:07:09 Jacob Sullum: So if these drugs were as compelling as the government says they are, nobody would ever have an unused prescription. Everybody would use it all. And then want more, right? But that’s clearly not the typical pattern. The experience of using just part of a prescription is very common and your pain is gone and you stop using it and that’s the typical experience. So the survey data suggests that something like 2% of people in a given year, who are using opioids, this is the legally produced ones. Develop some sort of problem. So, not necessarily full blown addiction, but some sort of drug-related problem that is having a negative impact on their life in one way or another. And the rate for alcohol, like who… Alright, so I guess… To use the technical terminology that they use. They say, “Opioid use disorder,” right? And that covers a wide spectrum so it’s not just addiction, it’s…
0:07:58 Trevor Burrus: Problematic use.
0:08:00 Jacob Sullum: Use that’s problematic in some way, but compare that to the percentage of drinkers in a given year, who qualified for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder, which is I think 8% or 9%, so it’s several times as high, the rate. Is alcohol inevitably addicting? It looks on the face of it, like it’s more addictive than opioids, by extension than heroin, because we were told these are the same thing. So, people have cockeyed notions I guess, based on what is legal and what’s not legal. They assume that if something is illegal, it must be more dangerous.
0:08:38 Jacob Sullum: And that it must, among other things, be more addictive. Have a more powerful hold on people ‘cause that’s why it had to be banned, right? And this is not true, there is no rhyme or reason to the distinctions that the drug laws draw and that’s hard to persuade people of. And it’s interesting now that we’re living in a time where marijuana is moving out of the illicit category, it’s becoming a legal drug. We’re gonna have to deal with that. Not just legally, but as a society. What are the norms and the expectations that surround marijuana use. Now obviously even when it was illegal, people knew the difference between a pot head who never accomplished anything and somebody who was just an occasional cannabis consumer who was a high achiever right?
0:09:19 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
0:09:20 Jacob Sullum: But now that it’s open and legal we can talk about that more candidly, I think, and more openly. And talk to your kids about what is responsible marijuana use and what’s irresponsible marijuana use right? Just like you distinguish between responsible drinking, and reckless drinking or excessive drinking.
0:09:39 Trevor Burrus: Well, that’s interesting you said, “Talk to your kids.” And we recently had a book published by the author’s name escapes me, New York Times author called, “Tell Your Children.”
0:09:49 Jacob Sullum: Oh Alex Berenson.
0:09:50 Trevor Burrus: Yes, Alex Berenson, which ironically is the original title of Reefer Madness.
0:09:56 Jacob Sullum: Yes, I think it was on purpose.
0:09:57 Trevor Burrus: Yes, yeah not paradoxically, he was intentionally.
0:10:01 Jacob Sullum: He was, I think it was a joke. He knew this was gonna really bother…
0:10:07 Trevor Burrus: People like you.
0:10:08 Jacob Sullum: Legalizers and reformers, and it was an in-your-face sort of thing.
0:10:11 Trevor Burrus: But does he have a point?
0:10:12 Jacob Sullum: But well, I…
0:10:13 Trevor Burrus: You just said, “Talk to your children about the harmful effects of marijuana,” is that kind of like what he’s saying.
0:10:17 Jacob Sullum: Talk to your children about what is it that can make drug use harmful?
0:10:22 Trevor Burrus: Yes.
0:10:23 Jacob Sullum: Right, what are irresponsible and responsible ways of using, not just marijuana, but all kinds of psychoactive substances? That’s the distinction I’m drawing…
0:10:32 Trevor Burrus: He’s a prohibitionist though.
0:10:34 Jacob Sullum: Yes, and even though the title is sort of a joke, a dig, I guess, at his opponents. Basically the message of the book is basically the message of Reefer Madness. And he says, in so many words, that Harry Anslinger, who used to be the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and campaigned for first of all, marijuana prohibition at the state level, encouraged states to pass bans and then ultimately got Congress to pass a ban in the guise of a tax bill. Berenson says, “He was right.” He says, “He was a racist,” which is true. [laughter]
0:11:11 Jacob Sullum: But Berenson’s argument about marijuana, is that it does make people, it makes people kill people, it makes people violent. Not everybody, but a large enough percentage of the population that it’s gonna be a serious problem. And he is predicting that as marijuana is legalized in more and more states, you’re going to see big increases in violent crime, aggravated assaults, homicides. I don’t think we will. We know that that…
0:11:38 Trevor Burrus: That’s not my experience with marijuana.
0:11:39 Jacob Sullum: No, well there’s…
0:11:40 Trevor Burrus: And I’m from Colorado, I’ve been around it a lot.
0:11:43 Jacob Sullum: Yes, and you can look at the states that have already legalized and there is not much evidence, if you compare them to control state and you try to figure out, well, what would have happened if Colorado… What would you have expected to happen if Colorado hadn’t legalized? And how is the current trend different? That’s what you have to do. And the studies that do that don’t find that there is this notable impact on violent crime.
0:12:04 Trevor Burrus: But here’s the question: “What if there is?
0:12:07 Jacob Sullum: We would notice it eventually if there is.
0:12:09 Trevor Burrus: But what should we say about that in terms of a public health issue, alcohol… I’ve debated Kevin Sebet a couple of time for Smart Approaches to Marijuana and I’m pretty sure that Kevin thinks that alcohol should be illegal, or highly regulated. And some in the public health sphere, who might seem like they’re on our side, when they’re talking about lowering regulation of marijuana, at the same time talk about raising all the taxes on alcohol, because of the social harm of alcohol. It’s unquestionably true that alcohol has created more violence in society I think.
0:12:43 Jacob Sullum: I guess, let me… I know quite agree with that. I think…
0:12:45 Trevor Burrus: A crime committed on alcohol.
0:12:47 Jacob Sullum: I think what the evidence shows there is a much stronger association between drinking and violence than there is between marijuana and violence. In fact, the research does not suggest that there’s a relationship between marijuana use and violent crime, that is a causal relationship which is what he’s positing.
0:13:05 Jacob Sullum: But even so, you are mainly talking about a correlation. And this is a very complicated situation where if people think that when you drink you become violent, they’re more likely to become violent when they drink. And they may use drinking as an excuse, and the classic example is the guy who beats his wife but only after he gets drunk because now he has an excuse. Now it may not get him off with the police, but his wife may be less likely to report him to begin with if he’s just “Oh, I didn’t know what I was doing and I’m so sorry. It was the booze.” Right?
0:13:37 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
0:13:37 Jacob Sullum: So you can see how that belief can actually… It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And we know that in fact across different cultures, you get radically different responses to alcohol. People behave dramatically different after consuming the same doses, depending upon the culture and the context within that culture. An obvious example would be to compare how do frat boys behave when they’re drinking beer at a party, versus… I don’t know if this is even possible anymore. It used to be possible to go to a reception.
0:14:12 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
0:14:13 Jacob Sullum: You know, in fact I went to one. It was sponsored by the President of the College right?
0:14:17 Trevor Burrus: By the Dean, yeah.
0:14:17 Jacob Sullum: And you get dressed up and they have wine there. And you may drink exactly the same amount of alcohol, but in the form of wine as opposed to beer. You’re gonna behave better! And you’re probably not gonna get into a drunken brawl. And so, that’s an example from our society, but there are studies that look at different cultures, and find dramatically different rates of so called alcohol-related violence.
0:14:41 Jacob Sullum: Alcohol associated violence, right? And a lot of it has to do with what people are taught to expect and therefore, what they think is appropriate, really, if you have a culture. And this came out, you remember during the Kavanaugh hearings, a lot of people were saying he was a problem drinker and he drank so much and this is a character flaw, even if he didn’t sexually assault anyone, this is a problem. And I remember some of his defenders going “Well who hasn’t? Who hasn’t gotten drunk and gotten [0:15:10] ____? No, you’re not a real man.” Remember this?
0:15:13 Trevor Burrus: Yeah I do, yeah.
0:15:14 Jacob Sullum: They were like literally saying this. And so I wrote this blog post recent saying… I think that’s not a good belief to encourage.
0:15:23 Trevor Burrus: Yes. Yeah.
0:15:24 Jacob Sullum: I said in my own experience, in my own social circle which is not representative of America in general necessarily but it’s my experience, it’s not true. In other words my friends don’t get into, [0:15:33] ____ get into bar brawls, and I’ve never gotten into one. And I’ve been to a lot of bars and done a lot of drinking over the years and I… I’ve observed probably altercations that could have escalated into bar fights among strangers at bars. Never seen an actual bar fight, but certainly nobody in my own social circle or family acts that way. And other people though, I have lots of friends who have come from different backgrounds and have much different experience and more like Brett Kavanaugh’s.
0:16:03 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
0:16:03 Jacob Sullum: Where they’re, of course you’re gonna get, you know, you go drinking and you start hurling beer glasses and one thing leads to another and… Everybody’s bloodied and then you all laugh about it afterward, alright. I said that’s totally, I guess from my own experience, it’s totally alien to me and so I don’t see that as an effect of drinking. So that’s a long way of saying that this purported causal relationship between drinking and violence is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface.
0:16:30 Jacob Sullum: And even more… So with marijuana, what Alex Berenson is suggesting is that even though the most common experience, not just with me and my friends, but also people in general, is that people don’t get violent when they smoke pot, they get… In fact people like Anslinger, had to give up that idea eventually. And the opposite thing became the rap against marijuana.
0:16:52 Trevor Burrus: Motivation.
0:16:53 Jacob Sullum: It makes you indolent and you don’t wanna do anything and you’re very easy to arrest because you don’t put up any resistance and so it ruins your life in that way, right? Not because it makes you violent. So certainly the common experience is not that it makes you violent, if anything it mellows you out. And you get along better than you otherwise would. Laboratory studies suggest the same thing. But what Berenson is saying is that…
0:17:15 Jacob Sullum: While that may be true in general, there are certain people, not necessarily with a psychiatric history, although he would say that’s especially problematic, but the people who don’t realize that they have this predisposition of violence upon using marijuana, and that’s what you have to watch out for and you’re gonna have people who use marijuana freak out and kill somebody. I know that sounds flippant but that is what he’s saying! That is a fair representation of his view is that some people are gonna do that, and we don’t know who they are, and that’s a problem.
0:17:48 Trevor Burrus: So it’s a precautionary principle. So we don’t know what’s gonna happen if we have have mass legalization of marijuana.
0:17:53 Jacob Sullum: Yes, I don’t… To me, this is not, this is… If it were true, it would be something to be concerned about for sure, but it’s not an argument for making this illegal, or keeping it illegal. There are people who react badly to all sorts of things that are legal. Well alcohol we just mentioned, right? So if it were true it would be worth pointing out. But it’s not a solid moral argument for prohibition.
0:18:17 Trevor Burrus: Well, that’s sort of the question I was asking is that… In the framework, what’s the framework that we should be working with? Because despite talking about how much violence alcohol does cause, there are drugs out there that have social costs to them, and the prohibitionists or the high restrictionists come in and say “Look at all the accidents, look at all the death from cirrhosis of liver. Look at spousal abuse or things like this.”
0:18:41 Trevor Burrus: And then they’re trying to say to some of the same things about marijuana. And in that face you say… Should we be just admitting it to some degree? And saying yes this does cause problems.” Because what’s the other side of the scale, right? Here’s the harm. What’s the benefit?
0:19:00 Jacob Sullum: Right.
0:19:02 Trevor Burrus: To any drug?
0:19:03 Jacob Sullum: For the harm, first of all, every drug has hazards.
0:19:08 Trevor Burrus: Yes.
0:19:08 Jacob Sullum: There’s no such thing as a completely safe drug. Some are more hazardous in some respects than others. Alcohol is more hazardous in several important respects than marijuana, for example. But you always have to be concerned about hazards, but the fact that some people ignore those hazards, or use drugs excessively, does not mean that no one should be allowed to use those drugs. Does not follow because people abuse all kinds of things. Anything that they get pleasure out of somebody’s gonna abuse that. [laughter] It’s guaranteed and we can go into a litany of things that people get into bad relationships with like, shopping, and eating, and sex, and exercise even. Playing video games, gambling, did we mention gambling.
0:19:55 Jacob Sullum: All of these, there are certain behaviors that people, that either provide pleasure or relieve stress that can become a preoccupation for people to such an extent that it really, seriously disrupts lives. And that’s what we mean, or at least what I mean when we talk about addiction. The fact that some people do that is not an argument for stopping everybody from doing it, ‘cause that would be an argument for banning almost everything that can be misused or abused and so we don’t ordinarily consider that to be a legitimate reason for making public policy.
0:20:31 Trevor Burrus: If we’re talking about legalizing, is the benefit of getting high on heroin something we should be saying is a valid worthwhile experience. Just this sort of empty pleasure you get from being high on heroin or whatever.
0:20:50 Jacob Sullum: Who’s to say it’s empty.
0:20:52 Trevor Burrus: I think it’s implicit in the idea that you’re sticking it in your arm to get happy.
0:20:57 Jacob Sullum: I think you would probably be more likely to be snorting it.
0:21:02 Trevor Burrus: Or that, yeah.
0:21:04 Jacob Sullum: And honestly, if these drugs were actually legal, I think most… First of all, most people aren’t gonna want to take heroin, period. We know that, based on how people react to it, most people are not… Don’t find this attractive, most people don’t become addicted to it, but you would have a range of opiate, opium-derived products, some of which might be more appealing. You could have opium tea, you can have opium that people smoke, it’s very old-fashion, it’s fragrant.
0:21:30 Jacob Sullum: And some people could be into that, but I suspect that certain people who might be into that, maybe with an old-fashioned wooden pipe. [laughter] It could be trendy. You can imagine that. The sort of people who might be interested in psychedelics, which is much smaller than the percentage of Americans who are interested in using cannabis or in drinking. So I think that the products that are legitimately more dangerous will for that reason have relative limited appeal. But I think pleasure is important, it’s good to have pleasure. As long as it doesn’t ruin your life. And what I’m saying is that typically it doesn’t.
0:22:13 Jacob Sullum: And if you talk about, for example, legalizing marijuana. People will often say, “Well, I’m afraid if we legalize marijuana, that cannabis consumption is gonna go up.” And it almost certainly will, but I don’t count that as a cost of legalization. That’s a benefit that means more people are getting pleasure from this source, this is pleasure they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten either because they were deterred by prohibition or the prices were too high, they were worried about getting arrested, whatever.
0:22:38 Jacob Sullum: They didn’t trust black market products, we’ve seen… [laughter] There are good reasons for not trusting black market products. For whatever reason some people who weren’t, who may be used to smoke pot in college, but haven’t done it in years, they might start again when its legal. People who already are using may use more frequently. And what I would say as long as that doesn’t lead to any measurable serious problem that is a good thing. People are… Consumers are getting more value.
0:23:06 Trevor Burrus: There’s this implicit puritanical-ism in this idea of what I voiced in the last question that this type of happiness versus this type of happiness.
0:23:12 Jacob Sullum: Yes, that it’s worthless, right, but I don’t know. Let’s talk about drinking. It’s not worthless I mean people really like drinking and there are lots of reasons why they like it.
0:23:24 Jacob Sullum: It’s fun to have a few drinks and talk to your friends. It’s fun to go to a bar and meet people. People, if you’re into craft cocktails there’s a never-ending range of drinks to try and experiment with and that’s fun and it’s pleasurable. In the same way that cooking is fun, or any other kind of hobby like that where you’re exploring fragrances, smells, and tastes, and all that. Same thing goes with… For marijuana by the way, there is… I was sort of astonished. I’m not like some marijuana expert. It’s like I write about it, but I… I’m not a huge aficionado. But I… When I went to the first legal dispensaries in Colorado, I was actually… I was amazed because first of all, you have a much wider selection than you do in the black market. And the things actually smell like their names. And I thought that was always, always I thought that was, can I say bullshit?
0:24:19 Jacob Sullum: And it’s not because they have all these terpenes in there and they generate these aromas that are similar to fruit aromas, and similar to herb aromas. Same thing as you would have with beer, or wine, or chocolate, or whiskey, or things like that, that have all of these complex flavors and smells it’s true of marijuana too.
0:24:36 Trevor Burrus: There’s even pairings with food.
0:24:38 Jacob Sullum: In addition, yes. And you can pair the right strain with your food and then also claims about the kinds of effect you’ll get based on the CBD and THC levels and all that. There’s a whole world for people who are connoisseurs, a whole world to explore. In addition and that’s, in addition to just getting high. And just getting high is never just getting high. You’re getting high for a reason and you get high to relax with your friends, and you have a better time than you otherwise would have. You have more fun. You watch a funny movie and it’s funnier, you listen to a comedy album it’s funnier, you go to a concert you enjoy it more, and that’s real. It isn’t fake pleasure, it’s real pleasure.
0:25:13 Trevor Burrus: Ask Grateful Dead fans.
0:25:14 Jacob Sullum: Yes. I don’t think there’s anything shameful about it, there’s nothing to apologize for. You’re not hurting yourself, you’re not hurting anyone else, you’re having a good time. We need more pleasure. One of the few things that Kamala Harris said when she was… [laughter] Running for the Democratic nomination, one of the few things she said that I actually wanted to applaud or at least give one cheer to was, I think she said, “We need more joy in life,” talking specifically about marijuana.
0:25:42 Jacob Sullum: And of course she misrepresented her history about… [laughter] She was in favor of marijuana prohibition until basically yesterday, but what she said was good. It was, “Do you agree that we should legalize marijuana?” And she said something to the effect of, “Yes, we should, because we need more joy in life.” And I thought that’s a pretty… Strong, brave answer.
0:26:03 Trevor Burrus: Strong principled argument.
0:26:04 Jacob Sullum: And it’s true, so she gets points for that. Her dishonesty about… [laughter] About her record not so much. And also, there was something about me… She was sort of patting herself on the back for even admitting that she had used marijuana which of course, everyone does that now, it’s not a big deal anymore to admit that you’ve smoked pot. We have to sort of assume that people of a certain age have because the majority of them have and you have to explain why you didn’t, I guess, like, “What was wrong with you?
0:26:30 Trevor Burrus: “What was wrong with you?” Yeah.
0:26:33 Jacob Sullum: So, I found that one comment refreshing and I think we need to talk about that more. That there’s… That fun is good.
0:26:40 Trevor Burrus: But on the question of…
0:26:42 Jacob Sullum: It seems like it’s obvious, but it isn’t to people. That pleasure… Other things being equal. Pleasure is good. Now, obviously you can get pleasure in ways that are harmful to yourself or other people. And that’s where you have to start to be concerned but that is not true for the vast majority of drug users.
0:26:56 Trevor Burrus: But in this time right now, we have people would say, “I think 72000 people died last year from overdoses and we’ve had a crisis,” that’s what’s called a crisis in opiates. Maybe based on a lot of people, not prescriptions as we discussed, but a lot of people seeking happiness, let’s say, or some sort of pleasure in a drug and finding themselves instead destroying their lives and eventually die. It has been astounding uptick in these deaths. And is this the right time to advocate for legalization when…
0:27:30 Jacob Sullum: Is there ever a right time? [laughter] Is there ever a wrong time?
0:27:33 Trevor Burrus: I think in 2,000, there were 20,000 deaths.
0:27:36 Jacob Sullum: Yes, you’re right, drug related deaths have been going up pretty dramatically under prohibition. That’s not incidental or something. This is under a regime of prohibition. Now, I’m not saying, “No one’s gonna die after taking drugs if the drugs are legal,” but it’s certainly true that the drugs are much more dangerous when they’re illegal. And you see this quite clearly in what happened after the government cracked down on opioid prescriptions. Now, for sure, people were dying after taking legally produced opioids, but typically in combination with other drugs, which is something we should not ignore. This is… If you mix it with other depressants or with other prescription drugs, it can be very dangerous. And some of these people maybe are just being careless or reckless, some of them maybe are just so miserable that they don’t really care if they wake up. You don’t know exactly what’s going on but that definitely happens with people using those legally produced pills.
0:28:35 Jacob Sullum: But once you crack down on those pills saying, “We don’t want them to get, clearly… Doctors are prescribing too much we have to cut back,” First of all you hurt bona fide patients who end up not getting the pain relief they need, but then you’re also… Even for the non-medical users, you’re driving them into the black market. And so what happened after the government succeeded in pushing down prescription for opioids, the trend in opioid related deaths not only continued upward, it accelerated. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence, ‘cause you’re… And in fact people predicted this was gonna happen because you push them from a market where you’re getting predictable doses of a substance that you know, that’s labeled. To buying these mystery powders or sometimes pills, like some of the… They’re pressing, drug drivers are pressing Fentanyl into pills and disguising them. Can you imagine, so that’s not…
0:29:28 Jacob Sullum: You think it’s oxycodone but it’s not actually. That’s scary and the data show why you should be scared of that because the death rate, it’s hard to estimate the actual number of regular heroin users but based on estimates generated by the RAND Corporation. The death rate among heroin users is several times higher than the death rate among non-medical users of prescription opioids because they’re… It’s not just fentanyl, but there’s always a wide range of potency and it’s totally unpredictable. You don’t know what you’re getting. And so it was already dangerous in the black market, but with the introduction of fentanyl as either a heroin fortifier, and this is all driven by the black market, that you… So why did heroin need to be fortified? [laughter] Because it was expensive to produce because of the conditions of the economics of prohibition, and it gets diluted, and diluted, diluted, and at a certain point your customers don’t want it anymore, so you’re like, “I’ll add some of this much cheaper substance to it and that’ll boost it.”
0:30:27 Jacob Sullum: Of course, you put in a little too much, it can be problematic and if people don’t realize it has Fentanyl in it, they can be in trouble because they’re expecting one potency, they get something stronger. And then ultimately Fentanyl started to replace, just replace heroin, so they call in heroin but it’s actually fentanyl and which is problematic, obviously, ‘cause fentanyl is much more potent and you don’t know at any given moment exactly what you’re getting.
0:30:48 Jacob Sullum: That’s a very dangerous situation and it’s made worse by the intervention of trying to reduce opioid prescriptions and also by cracking down. To the extent that the supply control efforts aimed at heroin are successful and they’re not that successful. [laughter] To the extent they do anything at all, they are only encouraging traffickers to move toward more compact forms of drugs, and so because fentanyl is so much more potent you can mail what is an enormous supply in a little thin package from China. And it can never be… There’s so many packages and it can never be intercepted, so you’ve made the problem… From the point of view of the drug warrior. The problem is now even more difficult, but that’s what they call “The iron law of prohibition.” It’s not like heroin users were crying out for, “Can you give me something that’s… [laughter] More potent, it might kill me, might not kill me.”
0:31:37 Trevor Burrus: “That might kill me,” yes.
0:31:40 Jacob Sullum: And in fact, if you look at interviews with them, the vast majority say, “This is not something we want, it’s not something we seek out, it’s something that’s been foisted upon us.” And the reason that happens is because of the incentives created by prohibition. We’ve known this forever, during alcohol prohibition there was a very clear shift from beer and wine toward distilled spirits, even though it wasn’t like the beer and wine drinkers were like, “We don’t like beer and wine anymore.” It was the… That was what the economic incentives created by prohibition encouraged. And it can go beyond that, there are fentanyl analogs that are even more potent than fentanyl, which is already more potent than heroin. And that’s a very dangerous situation.
0:32:22 Trevor Burrus: But we have a problem with that. In terms of addicts so… Or compulsive use, or chemical dependency. It’s interesting, as I also wanna talk a little bit about, in your book about the 80s smoking crusade, which I think this is all relevant. We have this idea of public health, which we’ve been kind of touching on. How do you weigh the cost of this versus the benefits, and as your subtitle “For Your Own Good,” is the “Tyranny of Public Health,” which is a strong statement. Smoking is a drug, nicotine is a drug, people use it, get addicted to it, and they die a lot. The same with opiates, they get addicted to it, and they die in scores. And how are public health officials getting involved in these campaigns in a way that is tyrannical in either… In both of these situations.
0:33:09 Jacob Sullum: Well, okay, the drug policies can be criticized from a public health point of view, meaning you can say, “You claim to be trying to minimize morbidity and mortality.” That’s what you’re supposed to be doing but you’re not. And so good examples of that are… People who resist harm reduction measures. When it comes to heroin, you’re talking about things like needle exchange, or supervised consumption sites, or even naloxone, which was not very controversial, it’s not… It’s widely accepted that that should be distributed and be as successful as possible. But there were some people who voiced objections saying, “You’re only encouraging them. If you have this antidote widely available, then people are gonna be more likely to use heroin, and less likely to quit.”
0:33:56 Jacob Sullum: That was the argument and people made the same argument with needle exchange, they said, “We don’t want them to have a clean one, let them worry about getting AIDS.” [laughter] That deters them. That was sort of the idea. And if it doesn’t deter those people, it deters other people who might otherwise abuse it. That was sort of the idea and that really is the logic of prohibition, that you want to make life as miserable as possible for the people who dare to defy prohibition, the better to deter others. It doesn’t help them, they’re screwed.
0:34:21 Jacob Sullum: Their lives are much worse than they would otherwise have been had these drugs been legal, but the other people who might have become addicts those are the ones we’re helping. And of course, these are hypothetical people. Who may or may not actually exist but they might exist. You can criticize it from… And the other example of harm reduction, which is relevant nowadays especially, is this vaping as a substitute for smoking. Which is undisputedly, much less hazardous. No question about it, no matter… Some of the wishy-washy things you might hear from public health officials or from anti-smoking activists, it’s very clear that if you are smoking and you switch to vaping and that’s how you’re getting your nicotine now, you’re much better off in terms of health risk, no question.
0:34:58 Jacob Sullum: But then if you say, “Oh, we’re worried about teenagers vaping, therefore we need to ban all the flavors.” Well the flavors are the things that the adults overwhelmingly prefer, as well as the teenagers. If you look at what smokers use when they switch from cigarettes or conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes, they’re overwhelming using the same supposedly kid-friendly flavors that the teenagers are using. That’s a problem. So if you deprive people of the products they like, a certain percentage of them are going to go back to smoking. You can say that those policies, even though they’re allegedly in the name of… They’re in the name of public health, they’re actually undermining public health. And I do make that argument ‘cause I will say, even on your own terms, you are failing.
0:35:37 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
0:35:37 Jacob Sullum: Something has gone wrong somewhere. And for a lot of drug policy is driven more by sort of these irrational prejudices. In this case, against something that looks kind of like a cigarette. Than it is by the desire to actually reduce the harm associated with drug use. If you’re serious about harm reduction, there are all kinds of policies you ought to support even if they make drug use… Because they make drug use.
0:36:00 Jacob Sullum: From the prohibitionist’s point of view, you may, “We don’t want to make you, we want it to be as dangerous as possible, the better to deter people,” But if you don’t accept that morally and public health people certainly shouldn’t because they’re supposed to be concerned about actual damage done. You should support harm reduction. One thing I try to do is try to get public… People who claim to be acting in the name of public health to pursue harm reduction consistently. In some circles, in some political circles it is more acceptable to have needle exchange, or even supervised injection facilities, than to allow vaping. [laughter] To exist in society.
0:36:35 Trevor Burrus: Absolutely.
0:36:37 Jacob Sullum: That’s crazy to me. I want people to try to be consistent. But then, so the deeper, the deeper critique is that this is really not the way we should be making public policy. And the reason I say, “The Tyranny of Public Health,” is because the ultimate implications of this argument are tyrannical. If you are saying that anything people do that may result in disease or injury and sometimes it goes even further, poverty and anything else unpleasant, but let’s stick to disease, and injury for the time being. Anything that could result in disease or injury is something the government needs to discourage and tax and possibly ban and regulate and so on.
0:37:11 Jacob Sullum: That’s almost all of life, everything carries, everything that humans do carries some level of risk. And now, so you’ve given the government a sweeping mandate to intervene in all kinds of choices that used to be considered personal choices. And so again in the book about the anti-smoking movement I said, “You’re gonna see this with obesity,” these people are already talking about the epidemic of obesity and this is something that the government is going to say, “That’s our job too, we have to stop people, we have to poke and prod people to encourage them to eat properly, and not eat too much and to get more exercise.”
0:37:48 Trevor Burrus: Or they’re addicted too. They can be addicted.
0:37:50 Jacob Sullum: Well there is some… I think that’s a valid analogy. That people who have trouble controlling what they eat, it is a very similar dynamic to people who are addicted drugs or to gambling or any of these other sources of pleasure, that can become excessive preoccupations. They elevate short-term pleasure over long-term goals or concerns. I think everybody’s had that experience with something, probably most have had it… Most of us have had it with food.
0:38:19 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
0:38:20 Jacob Sullum: Of one kind or another. But anyway, yeah, there is a similarity there and… But if you’re going to say anything that causes disease or injury is a legitimate target of government intervention, then you’ve got a really big government that’s interfering in all kinds of choices. And then there’s the question of, “How far does it go?” I think I speculated about taxing fatty foods and stuff. People actually seriously proposed that, taxing highly caloric foods with little nutritional value. So you would have taxes based upon how many calories they deliver versus how many valuable nutrients and… And I suggested, I may regret it, because…
0:39:02 Trevor Burrus: ‘Cause you might have given them ideas, yeah.
0:39:03 Jacob Sullum: I suggest, that’s a good idea, but really it’s not fair ‘cause if you tax ice cream somebody who’s thin and just occasionally has ice cream, he has to pay that tax even though he’s not misbehaving. He’s not overweight, he’s not out of shape, he’s not costing the government money, but he has to pay the tax so that’s not right. A targeted tax would tax people based on how much they weigh. And so for each pound over their ideal weight, they would pay a tax. The government is not forcing people to lose weight, it’s an economic incentive, that’s all. And…
0:39:37 Trevor Burrus: He’s giving them some ideas, that’s kind of scary here, Jacob.
0:39:41 Trevor Burrus: ‘Cause that makes so much sense that someone is going to take that up.
0:39:44 Jacob Sullum: Yes it’s a much more efficient approach, you should tax the weight, that’s the thing you’re concerned about. Don’t do the in between… The inputs, tax the output ‘cause that really gives people… ‘Cause then the person can choose, “I might stop eating ice cream or I might exercise more.” It’s like with carbon credits or pollution credits, they can decide how best to reduce pollution. You don’t dictate the the way they do it, you just say, “You have to reduce pollution.”
0:40:12 Jacob Sullum: You just say… Or you don’t have to, you can just pay the cost. I’m not sure that will ever happen, I’m not sure there will be mandatory calisthenics in public square. But this is where… This argument logically leads because it gives no way to liberty, it gives no way to individual preferences. And no way honestly, to letting, just letting people make their own mistakes ‘cause people will do… Mess up for sure. And people will get into trouble and some of them will die. And that’s part of being free, is being free to make bad decisions, and the idea that government should always be second-guessing those and trying to stop you from making them, I think is highly problematic.
0:40:54 Trevor Burrus: Well I’ve had public health people tell me that the optimal amount of smoking is zero, that no one… There’s no efficient level of smoking and… That seems to be crazy ‘cause I would say, “Do you think that about hamburgers, and hang gliding, and swimming in pools.
0:41:12 Jacob Sullum: That’s part of this fanaticism.
0:41:14 Trevor Burrus: And that’s prohibition.
0:41:15 Jacob Sullum: Jacob Cabrera has a new book about the anti-smoking movement.
0:41:18 Trevor Burrus: He was on the show about two weeks ago.
0:41:20 Jacob Sullum: He’s trying to encourage a culture of sort of a sophisticated tobacco use, of premium product, similar to the craft cocktail movement, or slow food movement, or the craft beer movement, where… He doesn’t think cigarettes… He thinks mass produced cigarettes are terrible and they never should have been… He wishes they’d never been invented and whatever. And because of everyone who’s died prematurely as a result of using them. And… But he still likes nice cigar from time to time, and he likes to smoke a pipe from time to time. And if you look at the data, these things are… These are much less hazardous especially if you’re doing it occasionally.
0:41:56 Jacob Sullum: There’s no question about that, by the way and that was one of the things that maddened me, when I was writing the book about the anti-smoking movement is that no one wanted to admit that the average pipe smoker has much, much, lower risk than the average cigarette smoker. Why? Because the average cigarette smoker is smoking a pack a day, he’s sucking all the smoke into his lungs and he goes through the whole pack. The average pipe smoker, first of all, is not consuming as often, he’s not consuming as much. And he’s not inhaling generally. Pipe smokers rarely inhale and that makes a huge difference ‘cause that means you’re getting much less exposure to all of these toxins and carcinogens.
0:42:33 Trevor Burrus: Not to say there are no toxins and carcinogens, anytime you light anything on fire there are toxins that carcinogens, but the exposure is much lower. And so we know the lower the dose, the lower the risk other things being equal, and it’s like no one would admit that. Or what about cigar smoking, “No it’s just as bad as cigarettes.” And it’s just obviously not true based on the data. Can we have a world where I can say, “I understand there is some risk attached to smoking these cigars or smoking a pipe, but I’ll accept that risk, it gives me a lot of pleasure I enjoy it.” And according to the public health ideology, I don’t think there is room for that.
0:43:10 Trevor Burrus: Well, that’s the thing…
0:43:11 Jacob Sullum: Because what do you get? Like you said, “It’s just pleasure.” [laughter]
0:43:14 Trevor Burrus: Well it’s… You put these two together.
0:43:17 Jacob Sullum: It counts for nothing and it should count for something. That’s very problematic, because you’re not… It’s a collectivist’s calculation of how much disease and premature death do we have versus, and how much can we reduce that without any consideration to trade-offs.
0:43:39 Trevor Burrus: And that’s why I thought… I came in with both books here in front of me, ‘cause… And you brought up Jacob who I said was on the show, I think two weeks ago or three weeks ago. You are defending tobacco use and defending drug use. At some point, it’s like against the public health framework. You need to step up and be like, “Look, I’m gonna defend the way that people receive pleasure,” right, even though it might be harmful to them, as opposed to apologize for it. We need people to defend tobacco use we’re going to have to have people defend McDonalds and other things they’re going to come after and also just drug use, elicit drug use, or we’re not really supporting the freedom of individuals in the way we need to.
0:44:18 Jacob Sullum: Yes and look I accept that some people don’t approve of these things. I haven’t come across a good moral argument for why they’re… Drug use is inherently wrong. Especially if people as they usually do, are making a distinction between alcohol, for example and the currently illegal drugs. I don’t know once you legalize marijuana, is it no longer, is it now morally acceptable because now it’s… I’m not sure how that works.
0:44:39 Trevor Burrus: It seems like a strange.
0:44:39 Jacob Sullum: Well you could, you could say, “It’s wrong to disobey the law.”
0:44:39 Trevor Burrus: Yes, yes.
0:44:39 Jacob Sullum: So now it’s okay now. That’s one perspective, right? I tried to find moral perspectives that just said, “This is just in general bad.” And so, for example, Mormons generally eschew psychoactive substances including tobacco, what was referred to as hot beverages in the original text which interpreted to mean coffee and tea and possibly by extension, caffeine although thats controversial, some people say caffeine and soft drinks might be okay. And I know a lot of Mormons eat chocolate and chocolate has stimulate, it’s theobromine and also some caffeine in it. I’m not sure why that’s okay or hot chocolate is okay versus tea and tea and coffee whatever. You start to dig, and it’s like it doesn’t seem that consistent. And then you look at consumption of prescription psychoactive drugs in Utah. [laughter] And it’s off the charts.
0:45:48 Trevor Burrus: Which is odd.
0:45:48 Jacob Sullum: ‘Cause that’s medicine. And so I don’t mean to pick on the Mormons, I’m just saying in the end, what looks like a consistent opposition to use of psychoactive substances is not. And it again becomes… Well, it depends on the consequences. If you’re depressed, and this makes you not depressed, and now you’re more functional, that’s an improvement.
0:46:07 Jacob Sullum: I really like my cocoa, my hot cocoa, even though it has stimulants in it, it doesn’t hurt my… It doesn’t disrupt my life. It’s a pleasure and it’s harmless and why not? That’s fine, I think that… But ultimately, they’re applying the same kind of reasoning that I do, but they’re pretending that they’re not, they’re pretending to have a categorical ban. And another example of this was what they called Mormon tea, which is a kind of Ephedra.
0:46:32 Jacob Sullum: And so you wouldn’t have regular tea from India or China but they would have this native plant that just grew naturally and also contained stimulants. So to some extent, they seem to be pretending to more consistency than they actually show. That’s just one example and then you can look at Muslims and what’s their attitude. They have the same kind of thing whereas wine was the thing that was originally condemned. Like, “What about distilled spirits?” Hard cider and beer and I think most Muslim legal scholars would say, “By implication, that’s also prohibited.” Although there’s some very liberal ones, who will say, “No, it’s okay.” I think there were probably a lot of Muslims who rationalized by saying, “I can have whiskey, it just says wine.”
0:47:23 Jacob Sullum: But… And then there was a controversy among Muslim legal scholars over the status of tobacco. So that was a very widespread habit among Muslims who didn’t drink at all. Would still use hookahs, “Was that okay?” And ultimately, there were a few rulings saying, “No it’s not?” Why? It’s not because it’s inherently evil, but because it’s damaging to the health and therefore it’s prohibited. It’s not the psycho activity. It is the health consequences of smoking, that’s the problem. Well, so now if you have vaping, you have e-cigarettes, you’ve eliminated almost all of those health consequences, is that now acceptable, even though it’s the same active ingredient. It’s in a different form. Is that therefore, acceptable? And so I’m not trying to pick on anybody, I’m just trying to tease out the rationale and see if it is context-dependent and result-oriented in the sense that it’s the results that matter, it’s what this actually does in the context of your life that matters.
0:48:25 Jacob Sullum: And I feel like any time you dig into these sort of… What seem broad prohibitions, you start to get to that kind of reasoning where it’s like, “Well is it really causing a problem? Is it really a big deal?” Unless the original like prohibition was very specific. It’s very hard to get away from the prohibition of wine, ‘cause that’s explicit, but when it comes to other kinds of psychoactive substances it’s not… Well what about hashish? Is hashish implicitly covered by the ban on wine? I think people start to look at… And the people who said hashish should be forbidden from Muslims would say, “Look at what it does. It makes you lazy and you just lie around, you don’t accomplish anything,” or whatever. They’re making arguments about the consequences as opposed to something being inherently wrong with it.
0:49:11 Trevor Burrus: And that’s the same… It’s true with public health officials when we’re looking at… Mormons who have these principles for what should and shouldn’t be regulated which doesn’t seem entirely consistent and a lot of public health people have a similar type of inconsistencies or the way they approach different substances, or the ones that they use versus the ones that they don’t use.
0:49:29 Jacob Sullum: Well to some extent they do. I mentioned that… You can find public health people who are like, we absolutely should have needle exchanges, it’s proven to work and we should open up supervised injection facilities, which is still very controversial and illegal under federal law. At least according to the Justice Department, even though some cities would like to do it.
0:49:48 Trevor Burrus: But others are…
0:49:48 Jacob Sullum: But then you say, “Well what about vaping?” And they’re like, “We have to ban that, ‘cause a whole generation of kids are getting addicted and we need to ban… ” Definitely they’ll say, “We should ban flavored vaping products and some of them will say, “We just should ban it entirely.”
0:50:00 Trevor Burrus: Well, [0:50:00] ____.
0:50:00 Jacob Sullum: Well what about the smokers who had switched to vaping and now they’re gonna go back to smoking. Well ultimately they would like to ban cigarettes I guess, but…
0:50:11 Trevor Burrus: The soda taxes also are often not put on frappuccino things from Starbucks. There’s a lot of inconsistency here too.
0:50:21 Jacob Sullum: You remember Michael Bloomberg’s big beverage ban, right?
0:50:26 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, yeah.
0:50:27 Jacob Sullum: It was like the details of that were… If you work at a place like Starbucks and you have to figure out what’s allowed, what’s not allowed, you’re tearing your hair out. I think they ultimately did exempt, I think they exempted coffee shops just entirely ‘cause it was just impossible. But… His idea was not just that you tax it, it’s beyond taxing the soda. There’s others… Other jurisdictions with their taxing sugary soft drinks. And it’s sort of a public health, like we want to discourage it but also we want to raise money and we…
0:51:03 Jacob Sullum: We’ve eared marked this money for this wonderful purpose. For preschool programs or whatever. It’s like, “What if you’re really successful and everybody just stopped drinking soda and now you have no money for this wonderful program.” They kind of want people to keep drinking soda. But typically what will happen is that the people will just go to neighboring jurisdictions where they don’t have the same soda tax. So he went beyond the tax, we’re just gonna allow sodas above a certain volume. I forget, was it a pint? I think it was pint, I think it was a pint was the cut off. “Nobody needs a 32oz soda, nobody needs a Big Gulp.” It’s that attitude right there, summarized in that sentence is very scary. Michael Bloomberg is sort of… He embodies that whole attitude of this public health tyranny and he sincerely believes it.
0:51:46 Jacob Sullum: I don’t think he’s faking it and I don’t think he’s doing it for political reason in my eyes. He sincerely believes that smart people like him have a duty to less enlightened people to encourage them to improve their lifestyles, so they will be healthier and live longer. That he honestly believes that. And he’s given speeches, this is government’s highest purpose.
0:52:05 Trevor Burrus: Also guns. Also guns.
0:52:06 Jacob Sullum: It’s like really? That’s the highest purpose? It’s not protecting us against foreign invaders, it’s not arresting violent criminals, it’s not administering the court system. No, before all of that is making sure people don’t drink excessively large sodas. But he really believes that and obviously that has… That extends to even during his service as Mayor, you saw that it extended to things like salt, and trans fats, and all kinds of tobacco products, and really anything that poses a risk.
0:52:36 Trevor Burrus: So, the libertarian mantra in this is informed consumerism and what? If you wanna hurt yourself, you can, but there’s pleasures out there that they can be had in harmful substances. And we need to defend those pleasures a little bit more than maybe we have been.
0:52:54 Jacob Sullum: Yeah, I mean look, you can’t avoid it. You can ban a lot of things, you’re not gonna ban everything. People are always… And even if you ban it, obviously, it doesn’t eliminate it.
0:53:00 Jacob Sullum: As we’ve discovered over the last hundred years of drug prohibition. You can pretend it’s gone, but it’s not actually gone, and in many ways it becomes more dangerous. But is that how humans should live? Is that what… Is the… To live a virtuous meaningful life, do you need to be protected from every possible temptation by force of law? Is that how humans should live? Is that a way…
0:53:27 Jacob Sullum: To have… For humans to flourish? That’s a deep question, right? And communists answer that one way, and other kinds of collectivists answer it one way, whereas individualists have a different answer. And they will say, “First of all, I like this and you may not like it, it may not be your cup of tea.” Maybe in some cases literally not your cup of tea. If you’re Mormon. But that doesn’t mean that you should stop me from doing it. And furthermore, go beyond that, ‘cause I like it. I enjoy it, that pleasure is important to me and you should respect that. Furthermore, you may have people making bad choices when it comes to these things and harming themselves. That’s definitely gonna happen. But to have the government come in and second guess those decisions ‘cause maybe down the road, it will lead to ruin.
0:54:14 Jacob Sullum: First of all, I don’t think it’s gonna lead to better outcomes even from a cost-benefit perspective. If we’re gonna be pure utilitarians about this, I don’t think those bureaucrats are gonna be very good at weighing all the relevant costs and benefits, because they don’t know the person that they’re trying to regulate, right? You know yourself best. You know your own tastes, and preferences, and circumstances and all that, the government doesn’t have a clue about that. But somehow, it’s going to come in and tax and regulate you in exactly the right way to achieve an optimal outcome. I’m just skeptical that that’s gonna happen.
0:54:49 Jacob Sullum: And not to put too fine a point on it is it’s… One of the arguments for these kinds of interventions is that people are just not very good at understanding risk, and making decisions accordingly. And they tend to discount relatively distant hazards and all that, and they’re just bad decision makers. And they fall prey to all of these heuristics that are misleading, and therefore we need to come in, it’s like, “Wait, aren’t you human too?”
0:55:15 Jacob Sullum: So, we just established that humans are so bad at reasoning, right, that even when it comes to the circumstance of their own lives, which is the thing they know best, better than anyone else, they’re still not very good at it. But somehow you’re gonna come in and you don’t know any of that information, but you’re gonna be better. It’s like how does that work? So, I’m very skeptical from a practical point of view, but just morally it’s not justified. And when it comes to drug policy, I always push both of those arguments.
0:55:43 Jacob Sullum: One way of saying it is that it’s just not… It’s not right to arrest people for doing things that don’t violate other people’s rights, and putting people in cages for things like growing marijuana or selling cocaine. It’s just wrong, it always will be wrong. Even if you can show that now we have fewer potheads, and which we don’t because it’s not very effective, but even if you could, it still wouldn’t be justified. And once you violate that principle that people should be sovereign over their own bodies and minds, and they should be able to decide what goes into their own bodies, it causes all sorts of problems. So that’s the practical part of it, is you may not philosophically agree that people are sovereign over their own minds and bodies, but you’re gonna have to recognize the consequences of disregarding that principle.
0:56:28 Jacob Sullum: And they’re very serious. And they’re… And we can see them all around us in terms of the impact of the war on drugs. Not just on drugs… The drug users who face a much more dangerous environment, not just in terms of violence and corruption, but not just here but in other countries, right? Who are sort of pressured to imitate our policies in terms of people who never even touch these drugs, right. Who so their car radios… I don’t know if people have car radios anymore, it’s not that good an example, but they’re getting burglarized more then they otherwise would be because above the people who do become addicts, now their habit’s much more expensive than it would be if the drugs were legal. So that’s a significant effect, because people are buying valuable property, they’re selling it at a drastic discount so the size of the loss is greater than the benefit, even to the addicts. So even if you disregard whose property it is, that’s a serious problem. All the ways in which the courts have whittled away at civil liberties in order to facilitate the war on drugs.
0:57:28 Jacob Sullum: So you don’t use drugs at all, you don’t grow drugs, you don’t sell drugs but you still can’t be confident the police are not gonna knock down your door and accidentally kill you or kill you on purpose. Because they knock down your door, and you think it’s a burglar, and you take out your gun, and now you’re dead. And that happens. And for sure your dog is dead. Even if they don’t kill you, they’re gonna kill your dog. Just in these cases where they… Just to give you one example that’s on my mind ‘cause I read about it recently. This case in Kansas, where this father was growing vegetables in a science project with his kids. He goes to this hydroponic store, and he buys, I don’t even know, it actually never specified what he bought, he bought some kind of equipment or supplies for that purpose. He leaves that store. A cop who is stacking out the hydroponics supplies store makes a note of the guy’s license plate number, looks up his information. And this is… This was in Kansas State, he was in Missouri but he passes the information on to the cops in Kansas, ‘cause the car is registered to someone in Kansas, and this ultimately leads to a raid on the house. Now…
0:57:44 Jacob Sullum: It wasn’t just the fact that he visited the store. What that did is that caused an investigation where the cops searched through the trash. Why are they able to do that, by the way? They’re able to search through your trash without a warrant. That’s because of the war on drugs, because the Supreme Court said, “That’s okay. People don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their garbage.” You could be… Once you put it on the curb, it’s fair game for anybody.
0:58:44 Jacob Sullum: And so they rummaged through the trash repeatedly and they found… What do they call it? Vegetable matter that they… First time they came across it they’re like that doesn’t seem suspicious. The second time they’re… I should say that they had planned to do this especially for… I’m sorry the stoner holiday…
0:59:10 Trevor Burrus: 4/20.
0:59:10 Jacob Sullum: 4/20. So April 20th is coming up, they were going to do a big publicity stunt where they raid, do marijuana raids on April 20th. And so far, they don’t really have any evidence. So they they find the wet vegetable matter and it was like, that’s nothing. They come back again, they find the same stuff and now they think it looks like marijuana. And they do a field test and it supposedly tests positive for THC. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. People and experience have shown that they react to all kinds of legal substances and identify them as drugs. But on the strength…
0:59:45 Jacob Sullum: And then they come back again and they test the trash can, and they supposedly get a positive again. But it turns out it was tea. And the wife of the man who was doing the indoor gardening, makes tea, she likes tea. This was such a comedy of errors, because the cop who found it… He’d never even seen loose tea before, he didn’t even know what that was. But he was pretty sure this was marijuana, and then the lab tech who later looked at it after the raid, was like this doesn’t look anything like marijuana. If you look at it with the naked eye, under a microscope, it doesn’t look anything like marijuana. Turns out it’s not marijuana, we test it, in fact it’s not. But they raided this house, and they terrorized this family and they tore apart their house because they’re sure there’s a marijuana garden somewhere.
1:00:28 Jacob Sullum: And even after they’re like, “Okay, we’ve explored every possible space where they might be growing marijuana. Surely they’ve done something else illegal.” [laughter] And it turns out they had done nothing, they hadn’t broken the drug laws. So there’s an example of somebody who’s not involved with drugs at all, and is collateral damage from the war on drugs. Another familiar example is civil asset forfeiture, where police take stuff. Now when you explain this to people who haven’t heard about it, they think it’s like, that can’t be true. Police will take your property and they just alledge that it is connected to drugs in some way. They don’t have to say how. If you ever read these affidavits, they’re just boilerplate, it’s like, I found a large quantity of cash which of course is inherently suspicious, and I’m alledging that it is either the profits from selling drugs, or maybe he’s gonna use it to buy drugs. It’s something to do with drugs. Take my word for it.
1:01:23 Jacob Sullum: Okay, so once they’ve done that, now the burden is on the owner to try to recover it, and very frequently it costs more to hire a lawyer then the stolen… I say stolen, cause it is stolen, property is worth and this can happen to anybody, you don’t have to actually be involved in drugs, you just have to be carrying what the police consider to be suspiciously large amounts of cash, or maybe you have a house and unbeknownst to you, somebody who lives there… This actually happened. Grandparents can lose their house cause their grandson in the backyard was growing a couple of pot plants. And some people lose their property. So that’s just yet another example of the chaos that ensues from violating this principle that you should respect people’s choices when it comes to what they put in their own bodies.
1:02:10 Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, you can find our Free Thoughts discussion group on Facebook or on Reddit at R/free thoughts podcast. You can follow us on Twitter at Free Thoughts Pod. As always, please rate and subscribe to us on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible and Landry Ayres. To learn more, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.
1:02:36 Aaron Ross Powell: Www.libertarianism.org’s podcast The Pursuit is back with Season Two. It features real stories of people who are pursuing happiness in the face of pernicious institutional forces. Subscribe on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.