I’ve taken a fair amount of flack for my call to recall Columbia (MO) First Ward City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, including from dinosaur prohibitionist Don Stamper, who labeled me and my associates “an embarrassment to community leadership”. Yet neither Ginny Chadwick nor Don Stamper, nor anyone remaining in the (small) coalition of people who still stand behind Chadwick’s leadership ventured a single response to my core argument in favor of making the marijuana cultivation laws less punitive: that making it easier for Columbians to engage in small-scale home cultivation of marijuana will decrease the total number of interactions between marijuana users and marijuana dealers in black-market transactions, leading to modest decreases in black market violence and fewer bodies on the street for Chief Burton’s officers to find.
While my particular angst with Chadwick’s leadership is rooted in her flip-flop on marijuana policy, the same fundamental economic logic applies to Chadwick’s other major policy initiative: her proposal to ban cigarette and e-cigarette sales to people under 21 years of age (and additionally to ban the use of e-cigarettes in indoor spaces). This policy, while restricting access, does nothing to decrease demand, and therein lies its fatal flaw: Some black or gray market vendor, likely acting outside of any legal or regulatory process, will inevitably emerge to meet the demand for tobacco products in Columbia from the 18 to 21 year old demographics. This inevitability brings with it two distinct externalities: first, the very real prospect that black market tobacco vendors will seek to maximize profits by selling product to minors (the market of 18 to 21 year old consumers is not as large as the market of 12 to 21 year old consumers) and the substantial likelihood that black market profits will drive black market violence, as dealers seek to maximize and protect their turf.
Instead of regulated, licensed vendors selling regulated products to adults, black market dealers will capture that market, selling product to anyone who has the cash. And these dealers won’t just carry tobacco products: to maximize profits, they’ll also transact illegal pharmaceuticals and other hard drugs. In other words, Chadwick’s policy of tobacco and marijuana prohibition will act as an open invitation to violent foreign cartels like Sinaloa, who are very sophisticated about finding and developing new markets. In Ginny Chadwick’s Columbia, tobacco prohibition is the gateway to this future.
We’ve walked down this road of failure for a long time. Alcohol prohibition gave rise to immensely powerful cartel gangs, at least until 1933, when Americans realized the utter failure of that policy. And 40+ years of the War on Drugs has created essentially the same horrors as foreign cartels ravage Central and South America and violate American borders. America now leads the world in incarceration of our citizens and we pump tens of billions of dollars every year into narcotics enforcement with nothing positive to show from a public policy standpoint.
In recalling Ginny Chadwick, we have an opportunity to move in a more sensible direction. We don’t have to resign ourselves to more violence and more economically-driven challenges to our social and governmental structures. We don’t have to resign ourselves to more bodies on the street. Our law enforcement has much better things to do than arrest people for marijuana cultivation or tobacco use. The First Ward, which has seen the brunt of racially divisive politicking, needs leadership that respects citizens as citizens and does not attempt to subsume our American rights under the morass of failed prohibition.
It’s time to recall Ginny Chadwick (and demonstrate to prohibitionist dinosaurs like Don Stamper that he’s on the wrong side of history).
I know we’ve debated this back and forth, so let’s hash things out a bit! I understand your frustration about the marijuana bill (even if I’m more sympathetic to Ginny’s side.) However, your arguments about the under 21 smoking ban falls a bit flat.
Basically, I’m afraid that public health research doesn’t bear out your conclusions at all. First, it is important to understand just how destructive smoking is to public health. By most counts, smoking is still ahead of obesity-related illnesses when it comes to the leading causes of preventable death in the US and it is estimated that 1 in 5 (!!) deaths are directly attributable to smoking. Even further, the vast majority of smokers take up smoking well-before they are 21, with over 80% starting before age of 21.
So, if we want to improve public health, we’ve got to find a way to cut these rates. And simply put, one of the most effective ways to do this is to make smoking more expensive. According to a 2014 paper by the CBPP (link: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3978) tobacco tax and price can have a dramatic effect on the percentage of people who choose to take up smoking. Further, studies have found (link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15951460) that smoking bans that extend to 21 could drop smoking rates by up to 80% from people aged 14-17, the exact sweet spot that we want people to NOT start smoking.
I’m aware that your rebuttal would be “well yeah, but what about the black market for cigarettes that will inevitably start?” And in my counter to this, i’m going to bring us back to basic taxation and policy and the idea that inevitably, black markets are going to cause price spikes in goods. We’ve seen this with marijuana, where the fact that it is that legalizing it is highly likely to drop the price over time, as production costs plummet. So yes, people from 18-21 will be able to get cigarettes, but it will be harder and prohibitively more expensive. Again, tie this with what i said above, when cigarettes are more expensive, we have fewer smokers and fewer people start smoking.
TL;DR version: Smoking bans under 21 make it harder for under 21 people to get cigarettes and it makes it a lot more expensive. More expensive=fewer people willing to do it (especially factoring in black markets.) Really, the public health equation here is VERY simple.
How many people would a 18-21 smoking ban save from death? Over what horizon?
If one person was shot as a result of black market cigarette transactions in the next year would that represent a failure of this policy?
Are we going to save people from their own choices or from inevitable black market violence? Is it fair to assign different moral weights to these different outcomes?