The Biggest Prohibitionist Lie Russ Belville

A listener of mine recently sent me a copy of the latest anti-marijuana legalization book from Ben Cort, entitled, Weed, Inc.: The Truth About THC, the Pot Lobby, and the Commercial Marijuana Industry. Cort is a board member for Project SAMUEL[*], the nation’s leading prohibitionist think tank, and a self-described recovering marijuana addict. And in his new book, he exposes the biggest prohibitionist lie. 

Cort’s actually one of the few board members who aren’t financially benefitting from the status quo—either by converting state and federal anti-drug education money into $3,000/appearance, all-expenses-paid reefer madness propaganda tours like his boss, Kevin Sabet, or by fighting to keep the drug-court-mandated marijuana consumers (like Cort, who was forced into “court-ordered meetings—lots of them”) flowing into the drug rehabs they own or operate, like a majority of the board.

[*] Smart Approaches to Marijuana Use… Except Legalization

Reefer Madness’ Greatest Hits

The Biggest Prohibitionist Lie

A quick glance at the back-cover bullet points for the book shows it contains all the typical bullshit you find in these prohibitionist tomes:

“There are more marijuana dispensaries in Denver than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined.”

Sure, but are there more places where you can get a cup of coffee or a hamburger in Denver than places you can buy pot? And for bonus points, how many people died from caffeine overdoses (20,000 ER visits annually) and obesity ($147 billion in medical costs) compared to deaths from marijuana?

“You’d have to smoke 15 joints in 1970 to get the same high as just one joint today.”

So, I guess Cort’s telling us today’s marijuana is just 1/15th as much of a respiratory hazard as 1970’s weed. Or he’s telling us weed from the 1970s, which we were told at the time would cause heroin addiction, chromosomal damage and man boobs, wasn’t really that bad.

“In 1996… average… THC… was 5% or less. Today, 30% in the norm…”

Apparently, Cort thinks that Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were smoking an ounce of ditch weed along with sipping their gin and juice. What difference does the average make when, as Cort mentioned in the previous point, tokers are working toward “the same high?”

“Indoor marijuana growing… accounts for 1% of the total electricity use in the US, producing greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) equal to that of 3 million cars.”

Dang, I guess we ought to change the prohibitionist policies that are forcing cannabis growers to not grow their crops under free sunshine, wind and rain, then.

“Pesticide levels six times the maximum allowed by the federal government have been found on plants quarantined at marijuana grow houses in Denver.”

Wait, so weed laden with poisons that an unlicensed grower would have just sold to unsuspecting customers on the underground market was instead caught and quarantined by a regulated system that includes inspections and testing?

“The black market has not disappeared; in fact, it has only grown since legalization.”

That seems mathematically unlikely.

Colorado has sold over $1 billion in legal weed. Before it was legal, all that weed was “black market.” So, if a billion dollars’ worth of product was removed from the illicit sales, illegal dealers would have to make up more than a billion in sales before they’d be bigger than they were before.

“Radical” Russ Makes Fun of Addicts

While this book has all the typical long-debunked dreck, it does contain one thing I’ve never seen in a prohibitionist’s book before: Me!

In a chapter called “The Lobby: Where the Gold’s At!,” Cort recalls the debate I had with him at Texas Christian University. He describes me as the host of a “twenty-four-hour legalization talk show,” which surprised me, as I didn’t know I was broadcasting in my sleep. 

He also described Marijuana Policy Project’s SUV, “wrapped and covered with weed plants and their logo,” which will surprise both MPP and the actual van’s owners, DFW NORML.

The Biggest Prohibitionist Lie

Cort uses the debate with me to paint a picture in which he’s the kind, considerate fellow seeking only an honest, forthright conversation, only to be met by me and “several young men who did their best to make me feel uncomfortable by surrounding me and standing inside my personal space.”

Those were some of my friends from DFW NORML, who were only doing their best to observe me and Cort meeting each other, the same way fans might surround a critic meeting a celebrity. I can understand how someone unused to being popular could be intimidated by that.

Cort laments the debate format because “people were less interested in data and more interested in ‘zingers,’” which is a charitable way of saying I kicked his ass in the debate, judging by audience reaction.

Then he turns to a Facebook post of mine prior to the debate in which I described him as someone who “supports testing my piss to determine my character, using cops to enforce sobriety, and incarceration of minorities at disproportionate rates.”

“I’m not sure what the ‘testing my piss’ thing was all about…” Cort demurs as he continues painting a picture of me as the uncaring, rude pot lobby shill. (By the way, Ben, I was talking about this part of your group’s agenda: “That possession or use of a small amount of marijuana be a civil offense subject to a mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program as appropriate. Referrals to treatment and/or social-support services should be made if needed. The individual could even be monitored for 6-12 months in a probation program designed to prevent further drug use.”)

Finally, to complete the character assassination, he recalls the part of the debate where he whined about being a person in recovery from marijuana addiction, who had to be assaulted by the smell of weed wherever he goes. I responded to him by saying “as a guy in recovery from obesity, I hate it when I have to smell the donut shop by my house.”

“My first reaction to him saying he was a food addict was compassion,” writes Saint Cort. “Eating disorders are a huge and growing problem in our society and I have plenty of friends who have struggled with them; they are actually more lethal in many cases than chemical addiction… My sympathy disappeared pretty quickly when I realized he was making fun of the daily fight I and others have to stay sober and was taking a shot at people who really do struggle with food-related addictions. The point I made was that nobody cares about responsible adults who want to get high….”

Responsible Adults Must Get Weed Somehow to Get High

The Biggest Prohibitionist Lie

Never mind that I wasn’t making fun of anybody’s struggle with addiction.

My father nearly died from alcoholism. My aunt and grandmother died from diabetes related to obesity. I myself have overcome dependence on alcohol and methamphetamines that put me in the emergency room for life-saving surgery.

You know, real addictions that can kill you. Unlike marijuana.

What Cort is (purposefully?) missing in this re-telling is that nobody is calling for donut shops to be shut down because of offending smells. Nobody is arresting or ticketing people who like donuts. Nobody is testing the blood sugar of donut eaters to determine their fitness for employment. Nobody is forcing people caught with donuts to submit to court-ordered Weight Watchers and mandatory Crossfit. Nobody is calling for Krispy Kreme’s CEOs to be imprisoned and their market turned over to thousands of home-based criminal donut labs.

All these little lies pale in comparison to that last lie—the biggest prohibitionist lie—he told.

His introduction states: “I am not concerned with casual adult marijuana use. So long as kids don’t see you… and you are not driving… I seriously don’t care if an adult chooses to consume weed.”

Yes. He. Does.

Final Hit: The Biggest Prohibitionist Lie

All the Project SAMUEL talk about fighting commercialization is a lie designed to deflect charges of being reefer mad prohibitionists.

After all, Washington, DC, in 2014, proposed legalizing personal use and cultivation without any commercial market. Guess who was virulently opposed to Initiative 71 in DC?

I asked Kevin Sabet in 2014 if he’d support Initiative 71, since it didn’t legalize any pot shops and only legalized “casual adult marijuana use.”

He told me he opposed it because, while it didn’t have any commercial aspect, the DC council was then going to try to add a commercial aspect later.

So, I guess Project SAMUEL is OK with “casual adult marijuana use,” but only if nobody ever buys or sells it now or in the future.

And that’s the Achilles heel of all this reefer madness bleating from Ben Cort, Kevin Sabet and the others—the marijuana market.

In order to engage in “casual adult marijuana use,” I have to have some marijuana. It doesn’t just magically appear in my bowl through wishing.

Somebody has to grow that cannabis. Somebody has to process it. Somebody has to sell it to me.

Project SAMUEL says those acts should, “remain misdemeanors or felonies based on amounts possessed.” The people who grow and sell cannabis should be subject to “assessment and mandatory treatment in prison.”

Ben Cort is telling you he doesn’t care about your “casual adult marijuana use” on page 1. Then, on page 121, he’s saying, “Your drug use, at any level, makes cartels stronger.” This is followed by page 127’s: “Consider that the drugs you are doing really do harm to someone other than yourself and loved ones. They contribute to violent cartels hell-bent on making quick and easy money any way they can.”

How can Cort claim he doesn’t care about “casual adult marijuana use,” while at the same time explaining how that adult use, absent a legal market, empowers violent cartels? 

If Ben Cort really didn’t care about “responsible adults who want to get high,” why would he insist they engage with a criminal market to do so? Sounds like the biggest prohibitionist lie. 


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