Saturday, May 25, 2019

Have A Safe And Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Today is Memorial Day, often known as the unofficial first day of summer and National BBQ Day.  But let's remember what it really is--a day to honor all of the men and women of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  And that of course includes all of those who died serving our country before they were legally old enough to drink.  Let us all take a moment of silence to honor them.

As for Candy Lightner, the ageist turncoat founder of MADD who had the chutzpah and hubris to go on national TV in 2008 and publicly insult our troops, may her name and memory be forever blotted out. 

And as always, arrive alive, don't drink and drive.  It's just not worth it, period.  And it's very simple to prevent.   If you plan to drive, don't drink, and if you plan to drink, don't drive.  It's not rocket science.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Who Are The Real Radicals?

The word radical generally refers to a person or group that wants to make drastic and fundamental (that is, radical) changes to society.  Derived from the Latin word for "root", in this way it illustrates just how fundamental such change is called for.  Classic examples that you oldsters reading this may recall from back in the day include Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.  But is Twenty-One Debunked really such a radical group like some may think?

Is it really radical to want all legal adults above the age of majority (18) to have the same rights that people over 21 currently enjoy, including (but not limited to) the right to use, possess, share, and purchase otherwise-legal psychoactive substances?

Is it really radical to believe that alcohol should be legal for all adults, period, like it is in nearly every single non-Muslim country in the world (and even some moderate Muslim countries too)?

Is it really radical to believe that cannabis, which is objectively safer overall than alcohol and tobacco and less addictive than coffee, should be re-legalized (it was not always illegal, only for a tiny fraction of history) for both recreational and medical use, fairly taxed, and regulated no more stringently than alcohol or tobacco (and legally sold and/or used in many if not most of the same places as well)?

Is it really radical to believe that, when it is legalized, the age limit for cannabis should not be any higher than the legal age of majority (18), nor any higher than for the more dangerous and addictive already-legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco?

Is it really radical to believe that, for as long as tobacco remains legal and readily available, those over the age of majority (18) should retain the right to decide for themselves whether or not to choose pleasure over longevity and indulge in this (albeit dangerous and deadly) substance?

Is it really radical to not want to punish the many (such as an entire demographic group) for the actions of the few?  And to prefer to hold individuals fully and solely accountable for their own misbehavior?

Is it really radical to believe that drinking establishments, and especially social hosts at private residences, should NOT be held vicariously liable for what their adult guests or customers do after leaving the premises following participation in voluntary intoxication on the premises?  And that personal responsibility for individuals should still be a thing?

Is it really radical to believe that, as John Stuart Mill believed, that individuals are fully sovereign over their own bodies and minds, at least as far as consenting adults are concerned?

Is it really radical to believe that our own bodies are NOT property of the state or any other entity besides ourselves, regardless of what the state or entity may claim or choose to provide us with?

Is it really radical to believe that adults should NOT have to be baby-sat?

Is it really radical to believe that if you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar?

Is it really radical to believe that under a system of federalism, the federal government does NOT get to force or coerce states to raise their own legal age limits for alcohol (or any other legal substance) higher than their own ages of majority?

Is it really radical to believe that under a system of federalism, the federal government should have far LESS (if any) latitude in terms of micro-managing authority over We the People than the state and local governments do, and when in doubt should really stay in their own lane?

Because if you think that these ideas are somehow radical, we've got news for you:  they are actually quite conservative and in line with both international and historical norms, even in our very own country before 1984 if you can believe that.  This shows just how far the Overton window has shifted both rightward and in the authoritarian direction, and just how far down the rabbit hole we have gone.

As Five Finger Death Punch would say, it's stranger than fiction, how we've decayed...

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Still No Increase In Stoned Driving Post-Legalization In Canada

Cannabis has been legal in Canada for everyone over 18 (or 19, depending on the province) since October 17, 2018, and yet six months later there has still been no noticeable increase in stoned driving and related crashes overall according to police.  While it may still be too soon to tell, that is still very encouraging news that takes much of the wind out the sails of both prohibitionists and ageists alike.

This adds to the growing body of evidence that legalization of cannabis was NOT a disaster after all, and that there is no good reason to set the age limit any higher than 18.  Food for thought indeed. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

What Does Big Tobacco Really Hate? Hint: It's NOT Tobacco 21 Laws

Clearly, Big Tobacco (including the quisling JUUL Labs who sold out to them) does NOT oppose raising the age limit for tobacco and vaping products to 21.  In fact, they now openly support Tobacco 21 laws, including the latest attempt at the federal level.  It appears to be a cowardly, treacherous Trojan horse to scuttle and pre-empt any laws that they oppose.

But what laws and regulations DO they really, really vehemently oppose these days?  That is the real question here and the answer is:
  • Higher tobacco taxes of any kind, especially on cigarettes but also on other tobacco and vaping products as well.
  • Flavor bans of any kind, whether menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, or fruity and candy flavors for vape products.
And it is very telling indeed that they oppose those laws so vehemently.  Additionally, as far as age limits go, they also historically have preferred purchase-use-possession (PUP) laws over sales-to-underage (STU) laws, since the former put the onus on young smokers/vapers themselves while the latter put the onus on vendors, and Big Tobacco really HATES the latter even if they pay lip service to it. This has been true with an age limit of 18, and probably will still be their quasi-official stance under an age limit of 21.

Given what we know about what Big Tobacco likes and dislikes, it should be pretty obvious how to combat them effectively.  Don't take the Tobacco 21 bait, Congress!  Keep it 18, and enforce it better by strengthening the Synar Program for retailer compliance checks, ban kid-friendly vape flavors, consider banning menthol cigarettes, cap nicotine levels of vape products down to European and Israeli levels, phase down nicotine levels in cigarettes to a non-addictive level, and raise the taxes on tobacco products (and add a more modest vape tax too).

To sum up Big Tobacco's thought process:
  • Raise cigarette or other tobacco or vape taxes?  HELL NO!
  • Flavor bans?  HELL NO!
  • Restrictions on nicotine content?  HELL NO! 
  • Raise the age limit for tobacco and vaping products to 21?  HELL YEAH!
Remember, anything that Mitch "Awkward Turtle" McConnell (and Big Tobacco) supports has to have some sort of sinister ulterior motives.  Twenty-One Debunked opposes raising the age limit any higher than 18 on principle, regardless of why they want to do it.  But now add in this sinister Big Tobacco dimension and it only becomes all the more repugnant overall.  It truly must be opposed.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

California's--And America's--Black Market Cannabis Problem

Looks like the black market for cannabis is unfortunately alive and well in states that have legalized cannabis. This includes California after over a year of legal retail sales, and in other legalization states even after several years of legal retail sales.  So what gives?

The two biggest reasons appear to be high taxes/prices and a limited number of legal dispensaries/outlets.  The black market can easily undercut such high prices and fill in the gaps left by not enough legal retail stores, and do not have to deal with the rather onerous licensing and other regulations that legal businesses must adhere to.  When there is an artificial shortage of legal cannabis, the black market easily picks up the slack, and where there is an oversupply that makes it less profitable, some of it gets diverted to the black market to sell illegally to other, non-legalization states as well.

And then there is that 21 age limit as well, which is currently the case in all legalization states.  That also encourages illicit sales as lower-hanging fruit compared to legal dispensaries with strict enforcement. Can we get a resounding, "DUH"?

So what to do?  Cut the taxes on cannabis, yesterday, for at least a year or two before raising them again.  Consider a complete tax holiday for a few months, like Oregon did when legalization began there.  Ease up a bit on licensing regulations (and fees) for both producers and retailers.  Allow at least all liquor stores to sell weed alongside their booze, and further consider allowing any store that sells cigarettes to also sell weed as well, including grocery and convenience stores.  Lower the age limit to 18, yesterday.  Encourage current black market dealers to "go legit".  And once these things are done, then crack down hard on the black market, particularly the illegal commercial growers and higher-ups in the illegal businesses and organized crime syndicates.

Problem solved.

And of course, fully legalize cannabis at the federal level as well.  Period.

Of course, once the black market is dead and gone, then by all means, tax away.  But now is NOT the time for overtaxation or overregulation.

So what should the tax on cannabis be?  To start with, we at Twenty-One Debunked believe it should be no higher that $10/ounce for bud and $2.50/ounce for trim at the production/cultivation level, with no other taxes aside from regular sales tax.  Consider a three-month tax holiday as well, like Oregon did in 2015.  Then, after the first year or two, the tax should be no higher than $50/ounce for bud and $15/ounce for trim, much like it is in Alaska today.  As for concentrates and edibles, those are best to tax based on THC content, e.g. 1 cent/milligram of THC.

Remember, there is really no good reason why cannabis needs to be regulated any more stringently than alcohol or tobacco.  After all, while it is not completely harmless for everyone, the fact remains that by just about any objective, rational, scientific measure, cannabis is safer than alcohol, tobacco, most prescription drugs, aspirin, and even Tylenol, while it is less addictive than coffee.  Thus our laws and regulations need to align accurately with reality, since facts > feelings, even in a "post-truth" society.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Awkward Turtle! Mitch McConnell Wants To Raise Federal Tobacco And Vaping Age To 21

In 2019, there seems to be one thing that Big Tobacco, JUUL Labs (which sold out to Big Tobacco), most anti-tobacco groups, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch "Awkward Turtle" McConnell (R-KY) can all agree on.  And that thing is a federal Tobacco 21 law that raises the sale age limit for all tobacco and vaping products to 21 nationwide.  Politics certainly does make some very strange bedfellows indeed!

This would require an act of Congress, of course, as the FDA is explictly denied (as they should be!) the authority to raise the federal age limit any higher than 18.  And unlike the drinking age where the feds had to make an end-run around the Constitution to coerce states to raise their drinking ages to 21, this time they will not have to do so and can simply set a federal age limit of 21.  They already set a federal age limit of 18 as of 2009, so that law can very easily be amended.  Crucially, this law  only applies to the age limit for sales, and only sellers are targeted and penalized (unlike the drinking age in which public possession by young people is an offense), so this is still within Congress’s authority.  

Except, of course, for the substantive due process and equal protection argument invoking the 14th Amendment, since the age limit would be higher than the age of majority, but that is a separate issue from state's rights and the 10th Amendment.  And that can potentially be challenged in court, albeit as a VERY uphill battle.

Thus, this bill is likely to pass, unfortunately.  Write your Congresscritters and convince them to oppose it.  And point out all of the other things they can do instead:
  • Raise the federal cigarette tax, apply it to the producer level, and set a national price floor to discourage interstate smuggling.
  • Create a federal vape products tax on all nicotine-containing vape juices and pods, ideally proportional to nicotine content.
  • Ban fruity and candy flavors in any nicotine-containing product.
  • Cap the nicotine content of vape products down to European and Israeli levels.
  • Give out free nicotine patches, gums, inhalers, etc. to any smokers who want to quit (NYC already does this.)
  • Consider gradually phasing down the maximum allowable nicotine content of combustible cigarettes to a non-addictive level.
  • Consider gradually phasing out menthol cigarettes like Canada did and the EU is in the process of doing.
  • And last but but not least, enforce existing laws better in terms of the current 18 age limit for tobacco and vaping products.  In fact, amend the Synar Amendment and Program to raise the passing grade for retailer compliance checks from the currently low bar of 80% to 90% and then 95%, and include vape products.  
But do NOT raise the age limit any higher than 18.

Have A Safe And Happy 4/20

We at Twenty-One Debunked would like to wish every cannabis user a safe and happy 4/20.  For those who don't know, 4/20 (April 20) is the unofficial National Marijuana Day, based on the number 420 being code for cannabis dating back to the 1970s.

Please keep in mind that while driving under the influence of cannabis alone is not as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, it is NOT really safe or wise to do so, particularly with higher doses.  So avoid doing so, and if you do toke up, try to wait as long as you can (i.e. a few hours) before getting behind the wheel, as that can make all the difference.  Also, coffee and sleep will not sober you up--only time can--but they can take the edge off of any residual fatigue.  And certainly do NOT drive twisted (high and drunk at the same time) under any circumstances, period, as that is worse than either subtance alone.  Even fairly small amounts of alcohol when combined with weed can make driving all the more dangerous in combination, albeit with the silver lining that the impairment from such small amounts wears off fairly quickly compared to larger amounts.

The two most important rules for life in general, according to the ancient Greeks, are as follows:  "Know thyself", and "Nothing to excess".  These certainly apply here.  And we will add another one:

"When in doubt, wait it out".

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Canada's Black Market For Cannabis Won't Die Quickly

Six months after Canada's cannabis legalization went into effect on October 17, 2018, the black market still seems to be alive and well.  This is despite rather modest taxation of legal weed, and the fact that the age limit is 18 or 19 depending on the province, as opposed to 21 in the US states that have full legalization.  So what gives?

Apparently, there are chronic shortages of the herb throughout Canada that persist to this day, with the legal stores often selling out too quickly, and the black market dealers seem to have no difficulty filling the gap, and cheaper.  Why is this happening?  Well, it is clearly not due to any real scarcity, but the artificial scarcity of overregulation.  Most provinces only allow it at government-run stores which are few and far between, while the few privately-run ones are also few and far between due to a limited number of licenses.  The rollout of legal weed has been painfully and deliberately slow so as not to offend the public-health crowd too much, and they don't even sell edibles, beverages, or hashish yet (until October 2019, a whole year after phase-one of legalization began).  So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how this would create shortages for illicit dealers to fill.

Best thing for Canada to do?  Implement phase-two of legalization yesterday, as it is long overdue.  Consider a tax holiday for a few months, like Oregon did when legalization began there.  Ease up a bit on licensing regulations (and fees) for both producers and retailers.  Allow at least all liquor stores to sell weed alongside their booze, and further consider allowing any store that sells cigarettes to also sell weed as well.  And those provinces that set the age limit at 19 (including Manitoba, despite their drinking and tobacco smoking age being 18) should lower their age limits to 18.  Encourage current black market dealers to "go legit".  And once these things are done, then crack down on the black market.  Problem solved.

Of course, once the black market is dead and gone, then by all means, tax away.  But now is not the time for overtaxation or overregulation.

Remember, there is really no good reason why cannabis needs to be regulated any more stringently than alcohol or tobacco.  After all, while it is not completely harmless for everyone, the fact remains that by just about any objective, rational, scientific measure, cannabis is safer than alcohol, tobacco, most prescription drugs, aspirin, and even Tylenol, while it is less addictive than coffee.   Thus our laws and regulations need to align accurately with reality, since facts > feelings, even in a "post-truth" society.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Does The Latest Brain Study Vindicate The 21 Drinking Age? Well, Not Exactly.

There is a new brain study making the headlines these days.  This study examined postmortem brains of three groups of people:  1) 11 people with alcohol use disorders (AUD) who began drinking consistently before age 21, 2) 11 people with AUD who began drinking consistently after age 21, and 3) 22 people who did not have any AUD at all, though many of them drank at least somewhat.  And among the three groups, only for the early-onset AUD group were epigenetic changes related to the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) found, particularly in the amygdala, which is responsible for regulating emotions.  These changes are thought to lead to difficulty regulating emotions, problems with anxiety, and even be part of the pathophysiology of alcoholism itself.

So what does this really mean, exactly?  First of all, the researchers seem to have arbitrarily picked 21 as the dividing line between early-onset and late-onset AUD drinkers, and made no further distinction within the early-onset group (i.e., before 15, before 18, first drink, first drunkenness, first regular drinking, etc.).  Secondly, the study looked at a small sample size of people with alcohol-use disorders (think alcohol abuse/dependence, alcoholism, truly heavy, heavy drinking for many years or decades), who at the time of death averaged well over 10 standard drinks per day and over 100 drinks per week, over 30+ years.  Males were also overrepresented (in fact there were zero women in the early-onset AUD group), and the early-onset group drank significantly heavier then the late-onset group.  It is probably safe to say that these drinkers are NOT representative of the vast majority of those who drink before 21, and given how early the onset of early-onset AUD drinkers tends to be, it would also be safe to say that this early-onset AUD group largely began drinking well before 18, if not before 15.  And even among the late-onset AUD group, the relative lack of epigenetic changes certainly did NOT stop them from becoming alcoholics in any case.

Furthermore, there is no temporality to this non-longitudinal study, so we don't know whether or not these epigenetic changes were due to pre-existing vulnerability or perhaps the early use of other substances such as that now-infamous neurotoxin, nicotine. (Most of the study subjects were smokers, apparently, and about 90% of adult regular smokers typically begin smoking before age 18).

Thus, this study tells us NOTHING about the difference between people in general who begin drinking at 18 versus 21.  NOTHING.  Nor does it vindicate the ageist abomination that is the 21 drinking age.  And anyone who claims otherwise is being, shall we say, "economical with the truth".

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Do Tobacco 21 Laws Really Work?

One preliminary study seems to think so about California's law that raised the age limit to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21 as of June 9, 2016.  But the devil is really in the details.  The study did not, I repeat, did NOT, look at actual teen smoking rates, only the degree of retailer compliance as measured by decoys, which did in fact improve since then in terms of sales to people under 18.

The two problems with this logic are 1) it is not necessary to raise the age limit to 21 to discourage retailers from selling to people under 18, as simply better enforcement against scofflaw vendors would do the trick, and 2) survey data do not really show any decrease in teen smoking that can be unambiguously linked to the policy change, whether in California or elsewhere with a Tobacco 21 law.  Teen smoking dropped nationwide from 2015 to 2017, and while it dropped somewhat faster in California, keep in mind that California also raised their cigarette tax significantly during that time, by $2.00/pack, and Pennsylvania saw an even larger drop in teen smoking despite keeping the age limit 18 and a cigarette tax hike of $1.00/pack, only half as large.

As we have noted before based on survey data for the past few years, there is really no robust correlation between a state or local smoking age (whether 18, 19, or 21) and the teen (or adult) smoking rate.  The strongest predictors of both teen and adult smoking are the tax/price of cigarettes and the prevailing social attitudes towards smoking, and in fact prices seem to have a larger effect on young people than adults.  It is practically axiomatic.  Retailer compliance is also inversely correlated with smoking by people under 18, but again it has proven to be entirely possible achieve nearly 100% compliance without raising the smoking age any higher than 18, as long as there is the political will for it.  And it doesn't even require the criminal justice system at all, since the best tobacco-control success stories involved only administrative penalties (i.e. fines and/or tobacco license suspensions) against rogue vendors.  Nor does it require criminalizing young people themselves.

If anything, if NYC is any indication, retailer compliance actually deteriorated following their age limit hike from 18 to 21 in 2014.  This was in spite of heavy crackdowns against contraband tobacco during that time.  In any case, while teen smoking rates declined in NYC following the law change, they did not drop any faster than the rest of the state or the nation as a whole, in fact they declined at a slower rate in NYC compared with the control locations, and teen vaping actually increased despite the fact that the law applied equally to e-cigarettes as well as combustible cigarettes.  If that's "success", we would really hate to see what failure looks like.

Oh, and about Chicago's supposed success, keep in mind that raising their age limit to 21 in 2016 was not the only new tobacco control law passed around that time in the Windy City.  And the cigarette taxes there also went up significantly shortly before the age limit hike to 21 as well.  Thus, there were too many variables to really tease out the effect of the Tobacco 21 law on teen and young adult smoking rates.

And in fact, this also once again calls into question how effective the 21 drinking age (and now toking age in some states) is as well.  Spoiler alert:  not very.  Thus, if there is a silver lining to the recent hike in the smoking age to 21 in some states and localities, it is that re-running this same failed social experiment with a different age-restricted psychoactive substance only to see it fail yet again in more modern times, a fortiori, is probably the strongest evidence against the very concept of such ridiculously high age limits in general.  If you give the pro-21 crowd enough rope...