Skip to main content

Legalized pot would mean more addiction

By Kevin A. Sabet, Special to CNN
October 2, 2013 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
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
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT