Missing moods at the Boston Globe
By Scott Sumner
Polls show that 58% of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana. Even Texans support it. But an initiative to legalize pot in (very liberal) Massachusetts may fail. One reason is anti-legalization editorials like the following, in the highly influential Boston Globe.
When I think about the prospect of legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts, I surprise myself by sounding like my father. Cannabis tourism? THC-infused lip balm? “Budz and sudz” crawls? What is the world coming to? . . .
Like most Massachusetts citizens, I voted for legalization of medical marijuana when it was on the ballot in 2012. But the chaotic rollout of that measure is a cautionary tale. Recall that within weeks of the election, implementation of the new law was on its way to becoming a fiasco of falsified license applications, shoddy background checks, allegations of corruption and influence-peddling, voided licenses, and lawsuits galore. Communities objected, and licensing stalled, as dispensaries were sited in residential neighborhoods instead of clinics or pharmacies, where they might have maintained at least the patina of therapeutic purpose. Meanwhile, thousands of deserving patients suffered until the first dispensary finally opened in Salem last June. If the state can’t handle a nonprofit medical marijuana market for a limited number of patients, can we reasonably expect it to establish an all-cash, profit-driven buzz bazaar without a hitch? . . .
The editorial continues on in the same vein, with lots of minor bureaucratic points. Notably missing is any discussion of the 400,000 Americans currently serving in prison for drug violations, or the millions more whose lives have been scarred by their criminal record. One might have expected some acknowledgement of the vast racial inequities, the fact that whites are as likely to use pot as blacks, but far less likely to go to prison. After all, Black Lives Matter has become a hot topic at liberal papers like the Globe. But when it comes to drug legalization, minorities are almost invisible. Instead we get this:
As with legalized gambling, the states are in a competitive frenzy to hatch these golden geese before the market is saturated. It’s beggar-thy-neighbor time, and no one wants to miss out. States are salivating at the prospect of easy revenue without the pain of raising taxes.
But marijuana revenues, like gambling income and other forms of “voluntary taxation,” are a cheap, fractured way to fund public services. Instead of people contributing equitably to the common good, a smaller subset foots the bill. Sure, some people will smoke pot whether it’s for sale at the 7-11 or not. But does the state need to endorse it, or — worse — come to depend on it?
Possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts for seven years. Before we embark on this billion-dollar bender, maybe we should just take a breath.
The endorsement comment is just silly. Massachusetts has legalized the sale of cigarettes—does anyone seriously believe the state is endorsing the use of cigarettes? The comment about decriminalization is telling. It’s a signal to affluent suburban moms, “don’t worry, if your teenage son gets caught buying pot, he won’t get a criminal record. Instead we’ll send the sellers of pot to prison, and those are mostly minorities.”
Back in January, Bryan Caplan did a brilliant post on “missing moods”. Here’s a sample:
2. The immigration restrictionist. Immigration from the Third World to the First World is almost a fool-proof way to work your way out of poverty. The mechanism: Labor is more productive in the First World than the Third, so migrants generally create the extra riches they consume. This doesn’t mean that immigration restrictions are never justified. But the reasonable restrictionist mood is anguish that a tremendous opportunity to enrich mankind and end poverty must go to waste – and pity for the billions punished for the “crime” of choosing the wrong parents. The kind of emotions that flow out of, “The economic and humanitarian case for immigration is awesome. Unfortunately, there are even larger offsetting costs. These costs are hard to spot with the naked eye, but careful study confirms they are tragically real. Trapping innocents in poverty because of the long-run costs of immigration seems unfair, but after exhaustive study we’ve found no other remedy. Once you see this big picture, restriction is the lesser evil. This is true even after adjusting for the inaccuracy of our past predictions about the long-run dangers of immigration.”
I have met a couple of restrictionists who privately express this mood, and read a few who hold it publicly. But in percentage terms, they’re almost invisible. Instead, the standard restrictionist moods are anger and xenophobia. Mainstream restrictionists hunt for horrific immigrant outliers, then use these outliers to justify harsh treatment of immigrants in general.
I notice the same thing about immigration foes.
I’d expect the drug warriors at the liberal Boston Globe to lament, “It’s unfortunate that the drug war has led to the incarceration of 400,000 Americans, mostly minorities. But alas, we need to pay this heavy price in order to avoid becoming a horrific hellhole like Colorado, Washington or Oregon.” But we don’t even get that argument. Instead, they seem oblivious to the pain caused by their policies. In previous posts, commenters often tell me that these drug criminals are “bad people” and would be doing something else like robbing banks if they were not selling drugs. I say bad laws make bad people.
BTW, this is nothing new for the Globe. A few years back a “right-to-die” referendum had a big lead in the polls, and then lost narrowly after the Boston Globe came out against it. They are the sort of paper that seems liberal on any given issue, except those that would actually give people more freedom.
PS. I should emphasize that this is just one editorial, and may not reflect the official position of the Globe.