by Carl V Phillips
I wanted to call attention to a new essay about bans by Marewa Glover, probably the most thoughtful and clear-reasoning person who still self-identifies as a tobacco controller. The piece is entitled “Do We Really Need Another Law? The cost to New Zealand of banning smoking in cars,” which describes its titular focus and the motivating policy proposal. But it is more a wide-ranging examination various implications of bans and tobacco control more generally. It is a long read at 16K words (which she calls a book, even though I would call it two long blog posts :-), but easy going and worth the time.
You can find it at her institute’s website, here. (Needless to say, by recommending it I am not endorsing every word of it. I have some disagreements.)
One aspect of the material that I think she underplays a lot is a generic issue with all drug-war bans. This particular proposed ban does not create black markets, one of the major problems from bans. We are watching that play out now in the US, where vaping (the delivery system) is getting blamed for a bunch of people who got sick after vaping what was apparently a bad batch of synthetic cannabinoids. Why did people get a bad batch? Because bans mean black markets which mean no effective regulation. Why do those particular drugs even exist? Because real cannabis is (mostly) banned and, more so, because people get drug-tested for it and can thus lose their job or parole.
But a comparably harmful aspect of bans, which is huge in the case of the car ban, is creating law-enforcement discretion. That is, every additional crime on the books — anything that someone can be punished, stopped, searched, or detained for — creates one more opportunity for harassing people on the basis of race, age, appearance, political belief, etc. “Stop and frisk”-type policing is a hugely destructive effect of drug bans of any sort. When one of the arguments “in favor of” a ban is, as Marewa reports in the car ban case, “oh, don’t worry; it is not as if there is going to be so much enforcement that many people get fined”, the situation is even worse. That is basically saying “the only time this law will be used is when law-enforcement chooses someone to harass.”
Perhaps things are not so bad on these counts in Paradise New Zealand, though Marewa does note some such problems (rather downplayed). They are certainly a problem in the US, to say nothing of the Philippines or Thailand. It is not too difficult to imagine police randomly stopping cars driven by dark-skinned people because “I saw what appeared to be smoke inside the car, and there appeared to be a child in the back seat.” Or stopping every car on the way to a political rally. Again, maybe not so much in NZ (yet?), but if you cannot imagine that happening in the US and many other countries, you are not paying attention.
We are currently awash in stories of rape and other sexual abuse that play to the tune of “one law for the rich and another for the poor”. But we should not forget that about 99% of such discriminatory enforcement results from substance use bans.