Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cuba and Marijuana - Strong Emotion And Political Power Have Too Long Trumped Reason

"President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War."  (NY Times)
When Nixon, in 1970, announced he was going to China to reestablish diplomatic ties, it was 21 years after the Communists defeated the Kuomintang.

It's taken almost 65 years since Castro took over Cuba in January 1959, for the US to finally begin to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Havana was both prosperous and corrupt before the revolution, and there was a huge economic gap between the cities and the rural areas. From PBS:
Between 1952 and 1958, Cubans from all walks of life -- students, businessmen, mothers, politicians -- united in opposition against Batista. Author Carlos Alberto Montaner describes the mood: "the talk was about democracy, freedom and respect for human rights; the... objective was to restore the rule of law that had been swept aside by Batista."
Cuba had been a Spanish colony and then, after the Spanish-American War essentially became a colony of the US.  Again from PBS:
Since achieving independence in 1902, Cuba had suffered what simply could be called bad government. A bloody and costly struggle to achieve independence from Spain had devastated Cuba's economy. The insurgent leaders, known as the  had been decimated. José Martí, Cuba's , was killed in battle in 1895. On May 20, 1902, the birth date of the first Cuban republic, no leader had the power to harness the passions and ambitions unleashed by independence. The U.S. Congress passed the Platt Amendment, granting the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuba to protect its interests there. The U.S. position further undermined the legitimacy of the government, as it placed the United States at the center of Cuban affairs. Invoking the Platt Amendment, the United States would occupy Cuba between 1906 and 1909, and continue to intervene in later years.
If we hadn't been so consumed by the Cold War and still being lapped by the ripples of the McCarthy era, and had not been so blindly supportive of American business interests in Cuba, we might have worked with Castro from the beginning.  But CIA chief Allen Dulles and others were hostile.  His (and his brothers') strong support for US business interests can be seen in this discussion of the Dulles brothers and Nixon in 1948.  By 1959, John Foster Dulles was dead, but Allen was CIA chief,  presumably with the same interests of protecting US corporations. Castro's flirting with communism was a big problem for them.  Castro versus the Eisenhower Administration gives a sense of the competing interests and policies.

We don't know how all the wealthy, who fled Cuba for Miami, made their fortunes in Havana, but in many cases, I suspect they would not want their true stories exposed.  Other people had more legitimate gripes.  But the Cuban-Americans, bolstered by the US loss of face by having a Communist country 90 miles from its borders, have been able to hold the Castro regime and the people of Cuba hostage to US embargo for over 50 years.  Whatever evils Castro has committed, and he clearly did not live up to the revolution's promises of democracy, they aren't worse than other countries we have diplomatic relations with - China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, our WW II enemies Germany and Japan, and various South American dictatorships over the years.  The difference is an emotional difference fired up by an active Cuban refugee community.  Even the sting of losing a war to Vietnam only lasted 20 years before we had full diplomatic relations again.

In the same way, marijuana was emotionally linked with the hippies and  the anti-war movement of the 60's and 70's.  And a huge illegal drug smuggling business whose wealth is able to corrupt law enforcement officials, legislators, and private companies.   

In both the cases of Cuba and marijuana, US policy was twisted from reasonable and humane by strong, negative emotional reactions and the power of those with a vested interest in the status quo.  For many, marijuana represents lawlessness and the anti-government protests of the Vietnam war.

Cuba has had and continuous to have serious issues.  Moving toward normal diplomatic relations with Cuba ends a 55 year grudge.  It doesn't solve all the issues, but it's a step forward.

Legalizing marijuana also moves us to more reasonable and sensible approaches for dealing with the side effects of marijuana use.  It doesn't mean we'll adopt good policies.  Certainly the new Alaska law legalizing marijuana, is imperfect.  It gives away too much power and incentive to private sector businesses  to sell as much grass as they can.  The state needs to craft regulations to most sensibly implement the legalization, such as requiring more consumer protection in terms of quality of the products and labeling and limiting advertising.

But at long last we can stop the costly, ineffective wars against Cuba and marijuana users, and move on to more positive and productive relationships.

Just as Nixon's trip to China is seen as his greatest legacy, I'm sure that Obama's reopening our relationship with Cuba will be a big part of his legacy.


  1. Steve,

    Could you maybe reference the support for your declarative statement that 'the new Alaska law legalizing marijuana gives away too much power and incentive to private sector businesses to sell as much grass as they can'?

    It was my understanding that the new law directs the legislature to promulgate policies and regulations which don't as yet exist.

    I'm thinking your decree-like hyperbole isn't constructive when nothing is as yet cast in stone.

    I'm ok with people who may be hesitant about their support for the new law, but I would wish that opposition's statements be, at the very least, veridical.

    1. Reasonable question. I could have been more precise. There are several options in legalizing marijuana. You can just decriminalize it, which already was the law in Alaska for small amounts. The problem there is that it’s hard to legally get marijuana. So you also need to have options for dispensing it. Again there are some options, the key ones being
      1. having government dispensaries where people can buy marijuana, and
      2. for profit businesses that sell marijuana products

      In the latter case, the businesses have an incentive to sell as much marijuana as they can so they can make as big a profit as possible. In Colorado, the array of products is well beyond leaves for smoking. They are making an array of baked goods with marijuana in them which will make marijuana more attractive to many. It also means some people may end up consuming marijuana without knowing it because they think they are getting cookies or brownies or whatever baked good it's in.

      The Alaska initiative is intended for private businesses to sell marijuana.
      The initiative allows only for “'Reasonable restrictions on the advertising and display of marijuana and marijuana products.” I’m sure that for the backers of the initiative, ‘reasonable’ does not mean banning all advertising.

      I personally don’t think that having an industry with an interest in selling as much marijuana as possible, like the alcohol and tobacco industries, is a good way to go. I think people who want marijuana should be able to buy it, but no one should be pushing its use for profit. This initiative makes it more likely that there will be people with an interest in increasing the consumption of marijuana. That’s what I should have said to be more precise. Thanks for catching that.

  2. People consume too much alcohol and they die. Consume too much pot? You might feel really weird and pass out, but that's about it. Let's cut down on the hyperbole.

    1. Anon, what specific hyperbole are you talking about? Joe Blow identified a specific sentence and he was right. I wasn't clear about what I was saying. Can you identify specific sentence(s) that bothered you?

  3. Because you have business trying to sell a product doesn't automatically lead to an ever expanding base of customers, nor does it automatically lead to total saturation of any existing customer base.

    The study of economics is littered with 'theories' that are proven to 'work', in a mathematical sense, in an unconstrained ideal fictional universe.

    Good economic theorists admit their theories aren't applicable to real world realities which are tempered by conditions not controlled for in the 'experimental' stage of the theorizing.

    Yes, in an unconstrained fictional 'free market', it may theoretically appear as if business will grow until it expands to fill all market niches and saturates all the customer bases one can imagine.

    The real world of business doesn't actually work that way. There are any number of constraints and controls which are either inherent, or applicable by government regulation of business.

    Look at alcohol, according to your premise, alcohol would have expanded into market niches and enlarged into customer bases that reality shows didn't, and won't happen.

    Marijuana won't be any exception. There will be regulation, there will be societal customs and norms which work to ameliorate any drive to take advantage of problematic marketing schemes. Just as it works in all markets in the real world. Limitations exist that you're not giving any recognition.

    Similarly, your presumptions about edibles is narrowly constrained by similar fallacy. Edibles did not arise because someone wanted to find a way to entice any certain market niche. Many medical marijuana edibles evolved from the need for an alternative delivery, not everyone who can benefit from the product can 'smoke' it. People ate herbaceous plants long before anyone discovered they could enhance the delivery through smoking it.

    Yes, if your interest is narrowly defined as being opposed to marijuana being allowed to be marketed like other products, you could claim all kinds of narrowly proscribed fallacies. But that kind of opposition is filled with declarations which are examples of fallacious hyperbole.

    1. Joe Blow, you are more effective when you actually quote what I wrote. Your last comment puts words in my mouth. You attack arguments I never made. I’m sure you are familiar with the straw man fallacy, but let’s spell it out for other readers: From The Nizkor Project:

      “The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of "reasoning" has the following pattern:

      1 Person A has position X.
      2 Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
      3 Person B attacks position Y.
      4 Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
      This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.”

      For example, you start off with:

      “Because you have business trying to sell a product doesn't automatically lead to an ever expanding base of customers, nor does it automatically lead to total saturation of any existing customer base.”

      Please show me where I said anything about ‘ever expanding base of customers” or “total saturation of any existing customer base.” I simply said

      “the businesses have an incentive to sell as much marijuana as they can so they can make as big a profit as possible.” Key words here: they have ‘an incentive” and “as possible.” My point, by setting up a comparison between a business selling marijuana versus a government dispensary selling it was simply that private businesses are going to have more incentive to sell more product than a government dispensary.

      What you say here has nothing to do with what I said. Then you start attacking things I (didn’t) say about alcohol.

      You write:

      “according to your premise, alcohol would have expanded into market niches and enlarged into customer bases that reality shows didn't, and won't happen.”

      Exactly where did I say that? What bases and niches did I say it would expand to? The only thing I said about alcohol was:

      “I personally don’t think that having an industry with an interest in selling as much marijuana as possible, like the alcohol and tobacco industries, is a good way to go.”

      I did say they have an incentive to sell more (than a government dispensary). Period. Here’s what I said:

      “This initiative makes it more likely that there will be people with an interest in increasing the consumption of marijuana.”

      You're putting words in my mouth. Words I never said. However, since you bring it up, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claims:

      “In 2012, 87.6 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 71 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month.1”

      That's fairly high saturation.

  4. No no no, I'm not buying into that frippery. Forget trying to find cover behind your own hastily constructed straw man while attempting to justify an invention, your false accusation that I'm putting up a straw man.

    I have no need for a straw man, I have your quote.


    "It gives away too much power and incentive to private sector businesses to sell as much grass as they can. "

    I recognize that as your premise. You wrote it.

    We, and I, already agreed that's a faulty premise. (note your first response)

    I merely translated into some fairly common economic terms that which describes basically the same thing you premised. Selling as much as they can? (read expanding markets, that's the description for how your faulty theorizing would, if it could, occur in the real world.)

    I will point out once more there are no actual incentives nor powers granted extant within Alaska's new law as yet, there's simply an imperative that the legislature come up with a regimen for the licensing and regulation of sales. In other words, quite literally, the expectation is that there are going to be limits set on anyone being even remotely capable of 'selling as much as they can' .

    As is true of the examples I've noted, history is littered with examples where 'theory' was flummoxed by limitations such as real world events, cultural shifts, and societal norms.

    Markets don't exist in some esoteric bubble. The real world intrudes.

    As I pointed out, just because you have a market with participation of private businesses, it will not automatically lead to those business ever selling as much as they may theoretically desire. It doesn't happen. Controls of one sort or another, intentional or unintended, always push market theory on it's ear.

    All of which serves to describe the near polar opposite of your faulty premise. Your premise is without substance. It's hyperbole.

    As for your statistics?

    Any reference to one time use is immaterial, and citing percentages of people who imbibed any substance over any specific limited time period does not correlate to determinations of market limits or market restrictions. It's not a direct indication of quantities sold in a market, it's not really any indication of what the potential could be.

    Just as I said before, legal, cultural and societal controls are in play.

    Follow along a train of thought, how many of those polled in your example will only have one drink in said time period and how many are habitual binge drinkers who account for most sales? From your statistical offering, can you determine whether there has been any actual sales which meet or exceed the potential product quantity which could be supplied?

    No, you can't tell, because your poll question doesn't test for, nor does it account for those specifics because the narrowly defined poll question doesn't speak to anything more than whether someone had a drink or not in a given period of time.

    In order to determine market potential or market saturation, many more data points will need be gathered.

    I've no need to delve any further into your bias, it's clear you're opposed to the sales of the product and you'll not hesitate to resort to hyperbole in an attempt to prop up your bias. It's a fairly normal condition. Lots of people suffer the same misconceptions that they can do so with impunity.

    I only think it should be pointed out when such occurrences happen during any sort of public debate. I believe it's important to ground conversations in hard and fast realities, that means it's imperative that the participants work to correctly define and expose hyperbole and over-wrought sensationalism, neither of which lead to objective, reasonable, or logical constructive conclusions.

    1. I will just say that "as much as they can" means just that - however much they can sell. The 'can sell' implies there's probably more that they can't sell and they can't sell more because of the kinds of constraints you suggest. They can't sell all the marijuana there is, because of the various legal, economic, and social restrictions that exist. All those factors that you raise.

      The rest I'll leave up to readers to evaluate. I have no problem debating with people who question what I write. But I can't go on and on with people who challenge what I haven't even written. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, Joe, but you'd done this sort of selective reading and interpretation in the past. I've given you way more time than other commenters.


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