Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Grass IS Greener on the Other Side.

With the exception of alcohol and nicotine recreational drug use is illegal in most places in the world. Most take it so seriously that using drugs will get you fired, expelled or even some jail time. Supplying drugs is very likely to result in jail time, and in a few places will get you executed. It’s reasonable to conclude that drugs must constitute a serious threat to social order and wellbeing, if so many societies punish it so harshly. Stories of the problems drug users can cause families, not to mention the violent crime around the supply chain, seem to reinforce this view.

On the other hand a World Health Organization survey found quite high user rates. In the US for example 42.4% of adults used marijuana. If such a high proportion of the population use it, without society collapsing, can it be so bad? Some don’t think so. There have been many attempts to have marijuana use made legal. Generally these attempts have failed but in a few places they do succeed.

In this article I turn the torch of intelligence on the issue of marijuana legalization.

The Smart Vote is clearly for legalizing marijuana, or grass. The graph below shows the support, by IQ level, over time. There was a major drop in support during the Reagan and Bush administrations but support has steadily increased since then. It doesn’t look like changes in support for legalizing grass have much to do with intelligence. Nevertheless at all times there was a clear ordering of support for legalizing grass along IQ lines i.e. the Smart Vote always pointed toward legalizing grass being the correct idea.

Maybe the Smart Vote effect is just due to special interests. Recreational drug use is after all something more common in affluent societies and groups. I ran two separate logistic regressions so that the downward trend over time till 1992 and the upward trend since then would hide each other or dampen any other effects. The table below shows the results.

The different trends for the two time periods show up very clearly. As expected youth, being more liberal or male go with support for legalizing grass. On the other hand that education and income are unrelated is unexpected. For our purposes though the association between higher IQ and support for legalizing grass holds up when these confounding variables are controlled. The independent effect of IQ is so strong that it has a less than 1 in 10000 probability of being due to chance. We can therefore rule out interest biases relating to these variables accounting for the Smart Vote.

But why should legalizing grass be the correct thing to do?

Economists have long argued that the war on drugs is counterproductive. For example of Chicago University’s Economics Expert Panel 100% agreed that making drugs illegal raises the street price of the drugs because suppliers require extra compensation for the risk of incarceration and other punishments. 79% of them agreed that the Netherlands restrictions on “soft drugs” combined with a moderate tax aimed at deterring their consumption would have lower social costs than continuing to prohibit use of those drugs as in the US. Only 2% disagreed and the rest were uncertain.

The evidence suggests these economists are right. Attempting to outlaw an essentially victimless crime (or very low victim), greatly encourages serious crime with a far higher victim count. The experience of the Prohibition in the USA strongly supports this. Policing drugs uses up resources and manpower that could be better employed elsewhere. Furthermore, if it were legal it can be used as a government revenue stream.

With respect to drug usage becoming a social problem, note that making drug use illegal doesn’t reduce the actual use of them much, if at all. Some places where cannabis is illegal, like France or the US, have higher user rates than some places where it is basically legal, like the Netherlands or Spain. The US has a user rate of 42.4% for marijuana and 16% for cocaine. For the Netherlands the rates are 19.8% and 1.8% respectively. Furthermore the Netherlands has about 60% of the problem drug user rate as similar countries in Europe. It looks like the other measures the Netherlands takes to discourage drug use work quite well.

It makes no sense for something to be illegal if it is demonstrably less harmful than something which is legal. Yet cannabis continues to be illegal in most places, in spite of scientists classifying it as a ‘softer’ drug than alcohol.

Legalize grass (and maybe recreational drugs in general) – it’s the right thing to do.

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