10/03/10 - Jeffrey Miron

Jeffrey Miron, Harvard Prof re report to Cato Inst: "The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition" + Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance & Phil Smith of Drug War Chron re re Schwarzsneggers signing marijuana decrim bill

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Jeffrey Miron
Harvard Professor



Cultural Baggage / October 03, 2010

(Civil war music)

There’s only one way to run a drug war
You have to make one choice
It’s the silver or the lead
No need to think about it
Take the money or you’re dead
The drug war lives on forever

Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory hallelujah
Take the money
Take the money


Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”


My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I should say special edition. Today we begin the celebration of NINE years of the Drug Truth Network with ninety-one affiliate stations in the US, Canada and Australia. We’ll have more of that as the show progresses.

I want to introduce our first guest, Jeffrey A. Miron. He is the Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University. He’s a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He’s the author of Libertarism from A-to-Z and he blogs at jeffreymiron.com. With that, let’s welcome Professor Jeffrey Miron. Are you with us, Sir?

Jeffrey Miron: I’m here. Thank you for having me.

Dean Becker: Thank you so much. You just had a major report issued through the Cato Institute talking about this problem of drug use. It’s called The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition. Could you begin to summarize that for us, Sir?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: So, this new report looks at a relatively narrow issue. It just looks at the impact on government budgets of switching the current policy of prohibiting drugs to a policy in which drugs are legal.

There are two main effects. If we legalize drugs, then we don’t need to spend the money that we currently spend on arresting people for drug laws violations, prosecuting them, imprisoning them, etc. So, there’s a reduction in government expenditure.

Secondly, if drugs are legal, we can tax them in the same way that we tax any commodity and maybe even tax them at a somewhat higher rate, which currently happens for alcohol and tobacco. So, there will be additional tax revenue and that means that state and federal budgets – government budgets would move more in the direction of sort of smaller deficits, if we were to legalize drugs. So, that’s when the report examines.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir and contained within it there are all sorts of statistics talking about the impact on arrests and monetary cost and so forth, broken out for the various states, as well, correct?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: That’s correct. There’s federal versus state and for the states, it gives the state-by-state breakdowns. That’s correct.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Now, I live in Houston and in many categories we lead the world in our incarceration rate. I’m hoping this coming spring, in February or March perhaps, to lead a series of examinations by the numerous colleges that have begun to investigate this as well, here in the Houston area.

I guess what I’m trying to say here, sir, is that each and every state in this Union is cramped. It is under financial duress at this point. It’s something that each and every one of them ought to examine, correct?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: It is certainly something they should examine. I would emphasize that they should examine it because it’s the right thing to do, independent of the budgetary impacts. There are two sides to that.

On the one hand, while the budgetary impacts are not trivial, they’re not huge either. It’s certainly not the case that any of the states or the federal government currently facing all of these budgetary pressures is going to make a major difference by legalizing drugs. It’s just one small part of the economy. So, it will have an effect but it’s not going to solve the problem.

The second thing that I would emphasize is that even if there were minimal budgetary impacts, there are many good reasons to think that legalizing drugs is the right thing to do. So, I would like people to think about those basically because of considerations of freedom. The government should be letting people do what they want to do, even if sometimes those actions are harmful to them.

As long as those actions aren’t harming innocent OTHER people for a vast majority of drug use, as with the vast majority of alcohol use. The harm, if it occurs at all, occurs to the people who use the drugs or the alcohol and tobacco, not innocent people. So, the presumption should be that the people get to do what they want in a free society.

Dean Becker: Yes, Sir and I think you’re right, considering the enormity of the fiscal problem this is not going to seal the flow of dollars, it’s going to make a minimal difference, as you say.

Again, I would support you in the fact that the international implications of this Drug War are enormous. What’s going on in Mexico, Afghanistan and other exporting countries and the violence, corruption and so forth is massive as well, right?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Absolutely. All of those things are big negatives. The violence that we see in US cities because of disputes between different drug gangs and so on, the violence we see in Mexico because of disputes between drug cartels with each other or between the cartels and the government.

All of that is directly related to the fact that prohibition drives the markets underground and the corruption that occurs both domestically and even more abroad is again an artifact as a result of drug prohibition not of drugs per se.

Imperfect quality control that occurs in the black market is a result of prohibition. People accidentally take drugs that are extremely pure, thinking that they are taking drugs that have relatively moderate doses. Almost all the things we think of as being negative about – that are related to drugs are an artifact of drug prohibition and not effect of drugs per se.

Dean Becker: Yes sir, Professor Miron, you know there are – I can’t keep up anymore, just countless publications and broadcasts dealing with the subject predominantly these days of marijuana and the situation – the potential situation in California to legalize it for adults.

More and more – well, it’s a slow movement but a few more politicians are beginning to discuss this need to reexamine this like Senator Webb has a bill that he’s trying to get the Senate to coincide with the US Congress to reexamine our whole criminal justice system. Your thoughts, sir, that would be a great money saver, would it not?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: It certainly would be a money saver and does seem to be the case that in the last several years, there’s been a little bit more discussion of the possibility of legalization from mainstream politicians, national level politicians as opposed to sort of local level politicians but, we had some of that in the 1970s.

We saw in the 1970s, twelve states decriminalize marijuana. It felt in the 1970s as though the pendulum was swinging away from prohibition toward a more tolerant policy and yet, it swung back very heavily under Reagan and Bush. So, I certainly hope that we’re going to move in the direction of legalization or at least scale back our prohibition. It’s not obvious that the country has a whole is ready for that or actually thinking in that way.

The polls on the marijuana legalization initiative are – in many cases, show that it’s not going to pass. Some of them show it will pass and some of them don’t. So, even in a state thought of as being so liberal or being so sympathetic, it’s not clear if that policy is going to change there.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Once again we’re speaking to Jeffery A. Miron. He’s Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University. Jeffrey, you – this is not the first time for you. You have written rather extensively in regards to the fiscal situation regarding this Drug War, have you not?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Yeah, I’ve been writing about this for seven, eight, nine years. The sequence of papers that I have written have all basically been extensions of the first versions and have expanded to include non-drugs other than marijuana, in addition to marijuana and expanded to include full legalization as opposed to just criminalization and so on.

The current thing available on the Cato website is the most comprehensive and up to date. So, the numbers are more recent and I think the details of the methodology have been worked out. I should say that any of the numbers that anyone produces on this issue are subject to plenty of uncertainty. It’s hard enough to estimate aspects of the above ground market of things that are legal, when you are trying to estimate magnitudes of something that is illegal; of course it gets harder yet. I think it does provide at least a rough idea, a ballpark estimate of what orders of magnitude we’re talking about.

Dean Becker: Yes sir, yeah. Like you say, it’s hard to know what’s going on underground and extrapolate from that what might happen following legalization. There have been those in California, I think it stems mostly from the marijuana dispensaries, who have been objecting to that Prop 19, saying it would minimize or take away access for medical patients, which I don’t think makes much sense.

You had a recent piece that came out in the Los Angeles Times – I believe it was – Drugs and Conservatives Should Go Together. Do you want to kind of tell how that ties together?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Well, the point I was trying to make there is that if conservatives adhere to the principles that they annunciate the positions that they take on other issues. They, in fact, should be just as sympathetic to legalizing drugs as liberals or libertarians.

To give an example, a lot of violence is related to drug prohibition. If we legalized drugs and that violence went away. The arguments that gun control people make for more controls would be weakened substantially because we would no longer – they would no longer need to say, “Look, there’s all this extra violence in America compared to Europe.” I think that would be much less the case, were we to legalize drugs.

The attempt to promote national security is hampered significantly by having drugs be illegal because there’s a lot of resources devoted to keeping drugs from getting across the border instead being devoted to making sure terrorists don’t get across the border and so on.

So, the point of that article is that, if one cares about the issues that conservatives care about, if one applies the principals that conservatives tend to emphasize like individual responsibility and so on, constitutionally limited government and several other aspects then conservatives should be just as much in favor of legalizing as anyone else.

Dean Becker: Alright and this is kind of not your bailiwick perhaps but as I indicated earlier, the publishing industry and the broadcast media are starting to focus on this situation more than ever before.

To give “our side” those that think we need to change these laws in a more straightforward matter, less chuckling up their sleeves, so to speak. It’s gaining more credence all the time. Is it not?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Well, I think it’s definitely getting a lot more discussion and it’s much more out there. It’s being at least mentioned by sort of mainstream media and mainstream politicians whereas there were points in the past where it was just regarded as such a bizarre view that mainstream people wouldn’t even discuss it.

To give one example, when Jocelyn Elders who was the Surgeon General under Bill Clinton, suggested that it might make sense to study legalizing drugs, she was basically fired within twenty-four hours. She didn’t even say, “We should legalize drugs,” she just said, “We should consider it.” We should think about the issue and that was regarded as so incredibly unacceptable at ths time. This was back in the early 1990s but she was gone in a matter of twenty-four hours.

It doesn’t seem to be quite that extreme at he moment. On the other hand, you certainly do not see Barack Obama or Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck or any of the mainstream figures taking this issue on in a significant way.

Dean Becker: Right. I think it was last night or the night before that there was a program on “Gerardo Presents” – or whatever it’s called and they actually had Judge James Gray on there and some others talking about the futility this – of continuing down this same road.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Yup. Right and I discuss this on places like CNN and so on. So, it’s getting discussed and that’s certainly a useful step in the direction of producing change on the actual policies but we still don’t know yet.

If California passes that will be a significant step. It will certainly lead to a lot of discussion more broadly, outside of California. It will also probably lead to a constitutional showdown between the federal government and California over whether the federal government can impose its prohibition law in California even though California might have legalized.

Dean Becker: Yeah, there was a parallel situation, I think, with alcohol prohibition where New York decided to pull out, if you will, to no longer try to enforce those laws, leaving it up to the Feds and the Feds were just overwhelmed, right?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Right. We do have a precedent and – from alcohol prohibition and many states actually, including some big states like Massachusetts, New York and a few others in the mid-Atlantic did not actually outlaw alcohol but the federal government intervened quite significantly in those states and it was a very sort of unhappy situation with the a state wanting to one thing and the federal government wanting to do something else.

Dean Becker: Alright, once again, we’re speaking to Jeffrey Miron, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University. Jeffrey, please point folks to where they might locate that study there on the Cato website.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: www.cato.org

Dean Becker: Ok and Jeffrey, I want to thank you for being with us. I want to kind of leave with this thought. We have over the years, as we’ve been talking about and seen this progress. Do you have any hint? Do you anticipate a change anytime soon, to the let’s say, the federal perspective on this?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: I anticipate that we will eventually change. I don’t know exactly how soon. I think what is gradually happing is that countries around the world, other than the US, are gradually moving away from the prohibitionist mentality that the US has been pushing for a long time and more and more countries that take a different view.

For example, Portugal recently criminalized, not just marijuana but all drugs. In practice, it’s not – it’s very close to defacto legalization, not just decriminalization. The more that happens in other countries, the more the US policy will look bizarre and the more examples we’ll have of countries that legalized and didn’t turn into a bunch of drug addicts, where the world didn’t end because legalization occurred. In fact, the world went along and numerous positive things happened, such as reduced crime, reduced overdoses and so on and so forth.

So, I think what is a plausible scenario for US policy to change is that many other countries will lead by example and at some point those examples become so overwhelming that the US then eventually follows suit.

Dean Becker: Alright, Professor Jeffrey Miron is there any other website you’d like to point folks towards?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: No, I think the Cato website for the study. If they are interested in my writings more generally, they can go as you mentioned earlier, to jeffreymiron.com

Dean Becker: Ok. Well, Jeffrey Miron, thank you so much and you keep up the good work and we will be calling on you again soon.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Thank you very much. I’m happy to talk anytime.

Dean Becker: Thank you.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Take care.


I know you can get this one. It’s on the TV everyday.

(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By It’s Side Effects

Runny nose, skin rash, swollen tongue, dizziness, vertigo, fainting, abnormal ejaculation, priapism, a persistent painful penile erection leading to permanent impotence.


Time’s up!

The answer from Boehringer Ingelheim: Flomax, for male urinary problems.


Sooner or later, marijuana will be legal. So says Bill Piper the Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and it was printed recently on CNN”s website. Bill, if you will, tell us what you think the future portends for legal marijuana.

Bill Piper: Well, we know that the polling numbers in support of legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol are increasing quickly around the country. Nationally it’s increasing about 2 % a year according to Gallup, which has been doing polls on this since the seventies. They predict a majority of people across the country will support full on legalization in about six years.

You already have majority support from people under the age of thirty and in California and other western states. So, it really is a question of time at this point. California voters are voting on the issue in November. It’s close. It’s fifty/fifty. Anyone in California or anyone who knows anyone in California needs to make sure that people go out and vote for it.

Even if it loses, it may come back in 2012 or Washington voters could vote on it or Oregon voters or Nevada voters. It’s just a question of time. Is it this year? Is it two years or is it four years? One way or the other, I would say over the next five or six years. At least one state is going to legalize marijuana and then from there the whole system of prohibition will slowly crumble down.

Dean Becker: I’m looking at this piece and you’re talking about that the war on drugs has not just failed; it’s created problems of its own. Do you want to talk about some of those problems?

Bill Piper: Sure. Well, it’s filled up prisons with non-violent offenders. The US has 5% of the world’s population but we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. There’s about 1.8 million people a year arrested for drug offenses, in most case non-violent offenses. So, that’s costing taxpayers huge amounts of money.

It’s breaking up families. You’ve got entire generations of children that are growing up with one or both parents behind bars instead of at home. You have huge civil liberty abuses as police knock down doors and violate the Fourth Amendment and seize people’s property without trial.

You have just outright, appalling racial disparities. Even though Blacks and Latinos are just as likely to smoke marijuana as Whites they’re far more likely to be prosecuted, to be arrested and prosecuted for it. As I like to point out, in Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow, she paints a really vivid picture of how once someone is convicted of a drug offense in this country, they become a second class citizen because they can become legally discriminated against in housing and in employment.

The federal government bars – prohibits them from getting student loans and public housing. Some states prohibit them from voting for life and so you have hundreds of thousands of Americans disproportionately Black or Brown who now can be legally discriminated against. That’s just some of the areas in which the war on drugs is doing more harm than good.

Dean Becker: Well, yeah you quote some statistics there. Let’s see if I can find them.

“While African Americans make up about only 13% of the US population and maybe 15% of drug users, they make up about 38% of those arrested for drug law violations, a truly mind boggling 59% of those convicted for drug law violations.”

Bill Piper: Oh, it’s definitely a shame. Wherever you look, no matter what the state, African Americans and Latinos use drugs at very similar rates as Whites. In some cases, they’re less likely to come into marijuana. Blacks for instance are less likely to smoke marijuana than Whites but they’re far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted.

Then once they’re convicted, they have that scarlet letter, essentially that allows them to be legally discriminated against in a lot of areas, housing employment, they’re prohibited from serving on juries and in some states they can’t vote. So, it really is a new form of Jim Crow.

Dean Becker: Once again we’re speaking with Mister Bill Piper with the Drug Policy Alliance. Bill, you know, down here in Texas we’ve been cognizant, if you will, of this barbarous situation going on in Mexico but it’s starting to make a huge impact across the country and around the world, isn’t it not? What’s going on down there?

Bill Piper: You know, Mexico right now is like Chicago under Al Capone, only fifty times worse, maybe even five hundred times worse. Since President Calderón there – he declared war on the drug traffickers about three and a half years ago and in that war twenty-eight thousand people have died. It’s getting worse everyday.

Police are getting killed, journalists, politicians, a lot of innocent civilians and it’s very similar to alcohol prohibition in the US. It’s largely being driven by US drug policy because the federal government estimates that 60-70% of the cartels’ profits are coming from the illegal sales of marijuana in the United Sates.

They’re getting billions of dollars and that’s billions with a “B”, billions of dollars a year that they are making off of illegal marijuana sales. It’s an enormous amount of money. They have private armies and they’re buying machine guns and they’re buying missile launchers and they’re buying off judges. It’s completely out of control and it’s starting to spill over into the United States. They operate in about 250 US cities, as well.

Even if you take Mexico out of the equation, just the impact of prohibition in the US in terms of the level of violence that it’s creating in the cities across the US in which various gangs are fighting over marijuana or methamphetamine. Prohibition doesn’t reduce drug use; it just makes drug use more dangerous. It fills our prisons with non-violent offenders. Then it just hands over billions and billions of dollars a year to drug traffickers and gangsters.

Dean Becker: Well, once again, we’ve been speaking to Mister Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Bill, please point them to your website.

Bill Piper: drugpolicy.org


Phil Smith: This is Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle. Usually I talk about corrupt cops but this week I want to talk to you about a story I wrote last night that has generated a record breaking, for us anyway, of 170,000 hits since I posted it about midnight California time. The story is California Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) Thursday signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. The bill reduces simple possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

Currently, small-time pot possession is "semi-decriminalized" in California. There’s no possible jail sentence and there’s a maximum fine of $100. But because possession is a misdemeanor, people caught with pot are "arrested," even if that means only they are served a notice to appear, and they must appear before a court.

That has happened to more than a half million Californians in the last decade, and more than 60,000 last year alone. Every one of them required a court appearance, complete with judge and prosecutor with a mandatory maximum $100 fine. That costs the cash-strapped state money it desperately needs.

Under the bill signed today, [SB 1449], by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), marijuana possession will be treated like a traffic ticket. The fine will remain at $100 and there will be no arrest record.

In a signing statement, Schwarzenegger said he opposed decriminalization for personal use – and threw in a gratuitous jab at Prop 19, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative – but he added that the state couldn't afford the status quo.

And here’s what he said, “I am signing this measure because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction in everything but name. The only difference is that because it is a misdemeanor, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury trial and a defense attorney. In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket."

Schwarzenegger’s signing of the bill garners this reaction from Dale Gieringer, Director of California NORML. "Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves credit for sparing the state's taxpayers the cost of prosecuting minor pot offenders," he said, "Californians increasingly recognize that the war on marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources."

The law goes into effect January 1. Even if Proposition 19 passes in November, it leaves in place misdemeanor charges for smoking in public or in the presence of minors. Those misdemeanors would become infractions under the new law.

That’s the story that got 170,000 hits for us. As always, there’s lots more drug reform news. Check us out on-line under www.stopthedrugwar.org


(Alien and space sounds)


The winds of prohibition howl
as the irrational maelstrom blows
pipe dreaming warriors raise their eternal chant
dancing for rain in the deluge of a drug war hurricane


(Wind continues)


Commercial Announcer: A message about cannabis from former Sheriff’s Deputy, Jeffrey Studdard.

Jeffrey Studdard : Like many other cops and law enforcement professionals, I’ve seen firsthand that the current approach on cannabis is simply not working. It’s lead to violent drug cartels, dealers in our schools and our streets and cost millions of dollars without reducing consumption.

That’s why cops support “Tax Cannabis 2010,” the initiative to control and tax cannabis.

It will provide billions to fund what matters and allow police to focus on violent crime.

It’s time to control it and tax it.

Commercial Announcer: If you believe it’s time to end cannabis prohibition, make a donation to Tax Cannabis 2010. Help spread the word about this common sense solution for a broken budget and a failed government policy.

Learn more at taxcannabis.org or call 510-251-2507. That’s 510-251-2507. Join the historic fight to change the system at taxcannabis.org. Paid for by taxcannabis2010 with major funding from SK Seymour LLC, a medical cannabis provider DBA Oaksterdam University, a cannabis educator.


Alright, I’m wearing my Oaksterdam shirt in support of Prop 19, common sense, logic and reality itself. I urge you to tune into this week’s Century of Lies. Our guest will be now retired Superior Court Judge James P. Gray. He is the author of numerous books and we’ll be talking about that.

Be sure to listen in this coming Friday, 11PM Central on Time4Hemp. I’ll be the guest host Friday and Saturday. That’s on American Freedom Radio this coming Friday.

You guys are the answer. Please, remember that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.