Skip to main content

Legalized pot would mean more addiction

By Kevin A. Sabet, Special to CNN
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Wed October 2, 2013
Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed use. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed use.
HIDE CAPTION
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A report says cheaper, purer illegal substances suggest war on drugs is failing
  • Kevin Sabet: Actually, global drug use has been stable over the past decade
  • He says some think legalization is the solution, but that would lead to more drug use
  • Sabet: Legalization means companies will try to increase addiction to make more money

Editor's note: Kevin A. Sabet is the author of "Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana," director of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) and a former White House drug policy adviser.

(CNN) -- "The war on drugs has failed" is a mantra often heard in policy and media circles these days. But not only is the phrase outdated (the 1980s called -- they want their slogan back), it is far too simplistic to describe both current drug policy and its outcomes.

The latest incarnation of this ill-advised saying can be found in a report arguing that since cannabis and heroin prices have fallen while their purity has increased, efforts to curb drug use and its supply are doomed to failure. This leads some to highlight the possibility of alternatives in the form of "regulation" (e.g., legalization) of drugs.

But a closer look at the data -- and the implications for a policy change to legalization -- should give us pause if we care about the dire consequences drug addiction has on society.

Kevin Sabet
Kevin Sabet

Globally, drug use has been stable over the past decade, though it is difficult to paint such a broad brush across countries and substances. But in the U.S. alone, there has been a 40% drop in cocaine use since 2006 and a 68% decrease in workplace positive cocaine tests. Overall in the U.S., all drug use has fallen by about 30% since 1979.

There are likely numerous reasons for this drop, but we can't ignore the fact that the world's top supplier of the drug -- Colombia -- has greatly improved its security situation over the same period.

With help from the United States, Colombia has managed to reduce the amount of land dedicated to coca growing by nearly two-thirds from 2000 to 2010.

Potential production of cocaine has also fallen more than 60%, though in places without such security enhancements -- namely Bolivia and Peru -- cocaine production has picked up. Still, this shows that progress is not only possible, it is happening.

As for the opiates and cannabis, trends vary widely in different regions around the world. While critics are right to say that prices have fallen while potency has risen generally, globally the picture is much more mixed (the global cultivation of poppy has actually fallen since 1997 worldwide).

In policy analysis, the key question that must follow any sentence that says "X policy is good/bad" is: "Compared to what?"

Free pot handed out in Colorado
Washington details pot sale rules

Some have offered legalization as a possible alternative. But we know from our experience with currently legal drugs -- prescription drugs (which are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S.), alcohol and tobacco -- that legality means commercialization, normalization and wider access and availability that lead to more use and addiction.

Legalization in the United States is likely to accompany a bombardment of promotion, similar to our other three classes of legal drugs. These industries will stop at nothing to increase addiction since their bottom line relies on it. In fact, we know that 80% of the profit from addictive industries comes from the 20% of users who consume most of the volume of the substance.

According to internal documents that the government forced Big Tobacco to release during its historic court settlement, those companies are ready to pounce on the golden opportunity of drug legalization.

It is no wonder that the parent company of Phillip Morris, Altria, recently bought the domain names "AltriaCannabis.com" and "AltriaMarijuana.com." If this sounds frightening, it should be.

Big Tobacco tried for decades to conceal the harms of their drug, and millions of lives were lost as a result. We are naive to think that this wouldn't happen with any other drug that is legalized.

Where does that leave us? That legalization is not a solution does not mean we have to be content with the status quo. Proven interventions such as community-based drug prevention efforts, drug treatment courts, offender re-entry programs and probation reform should be more robustly implemented and taken to scale. It is shameful that the richest country in the world can't figure out a way to make drug treatment available to all who need it, and we must stop relying on incarceration to deal with the drug problem.

Interestingly, though, according to criminologist Mark Kleiman, if all drug prisoners were released tomorrow, we would still have four times the number of people in prison than our historical incarceration rate instead of five. That tells me that the root causes of drug use, trafficking and crime, must be seriously tackled.

On the other hand, legalization -- especially in ad-obsessed America -- would not only sweep the causes of drug use under the rug, it would open the floodgates to more addiction, suffering and costs than we could ever bargain for.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kevin Sabet.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT