Sober fun on St. Patty’s day


I teach at a local university and some years I teach on Saint Patrick’s day. It’s bad. Green beer starts flowing early, there are very drunk people wandering around all day, people passed out on the sidewalk, etc. Worst of all, it’s the default thing to do if you’re a young college student on St. Patrick’s day.

That’s why it’s so nice to see the growth of the Collegiate Recovery Program at University of Michigan. It would be cool no matter what, but it’s even cooler because they’ve been such good friends to Dawn Farm.

USA Today covered their St. Patty’s day event:

“Priority number one is to have fun,” says Molly Payton, 23, a general studies senior at Michigan, who has been sober for one year and attended the Sober Skate. “When I was in recovery, my big fear was that I wouldn’t have fun anymore … it was baffling to think I could have a life outside of drugs and alcohol.”

“For me, Fridays and Saturdays were tough,” adds Garrett Gibbons, 27, a graduate student in pathology at Michigan who is also in recovery.

“Those were nights when I knew I would party, knew I would drink. That’s why this is an important time for us.”

Alcohol’s place in our culture

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer.
A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following up on yesterday’s post, a few articles jumped out at me.

First, the Michigan legislature is considering lowering the blood alcohol level for boats and other recreational vehicles to 0.08, so that it matches the BAL for driving a car. Sorta makes sense, right? Look at the comments in the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. Yikes. Being allowed to drink to the point of impairment and still legally drive a boat is really important to us.

The other thing that caught my attention was another exchange from the interview I linked to yesterday with Kleiman:

Matthews: Roughly how much of the crime problem would you attribute to alcohol, percentage-wise?

Kleiman: Half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did…Of the class of people who go to prison, a lot of them are drunk a lot of the time. So that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have done it if they had not been drunk. It’s just that being drunk and committing burglary are both parts of their lifestyle. Still, alcohol shortens time horizons, and people with shorter time horizons are more criminally active because they’re less scared of the punishment. Most people who drive drunk are sensible enough to know when they’re sober that they shouldn’t be driving drunk. It’s only when they’re drunk that they forget they’re not supposed to drive drunk.

We need to keep them from drinking, which is what the 24/7 program does. We could also require everyone to be carded. Maybe you still get carded, but I don’t. But imagine everyone got carded, and if I had a DUI, I had a driving license showing I wasn’t allowed to buy a drink. You’d make the alcohol industry regulate its own customers. And I think you’d cut down on crimes substantially. But if I say that, I’m a nanny state fanatic, and if I say adults should be allowed to smoke a little bit of pot, I’m a crazy drug reformer.

This guarding of alcohol’s place in our culture puts us in some pretty crazy knots, huh?

“look at alcohol!”

Edited copy of Image:The Brewer designed and e...
Edited copy of Image:The Brewer designed and engraved in the Sixteenth. Century by J Amman.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I frequently find myself in discussions about drug policy. I feel strongly that incarcerating people for possession is stupid and wrong, but I’m reluctant to legalize drugs. (I think there are a lot of options in between.) In these discussions, I inevitably hear someone say, “Look at alcohol. It’s way worse and it’s legal!” My response is always, “Exactly. Look at alcohol. It’s a public health and public safety disaster.”

Mark Kleiman points out that higher alcohol taxes would reduce battery, burglary and murder. The problem? The power of the alcohol industry’s lobby. Michigan has been incredibly revenue starved and we haven’t raised the beer tax since 1966. And, the beer tax is a flat tax per barrel, so there haven’t even been any increases in revenues because of inflation.

From a recent Kleiman interview [emphasis min]:

Matthews: No, of course not, single-malt all the way. But how much power do the spirits companies have? It seems like they’d fight any price increase.

Kleiman: Much power. The spirits guys are not really important because they’re not the real market. The real problem is beer. The beer guys are powerful. It’s two thirds of the market. Not only do they have heavy campaign contributions to politicians, because they’re state regulated and thus have a stake in state politics, but customers don’t dislike their beer company, so if they get a political message from the beer company, they’ll respond.

Contrast that with tobacco, with a smaller number of lower status users who hate their providers. The cigarette companies have absolutely no luck mobilizing smokers. Smokers hate tobacco companies. It’s easy to say it’s just a tax on responsible drinking until you do the math. It would cost a typical beer drinker $36 a year. The man who’d get hit is the 10 beer a day drinker, and he’s the guy we want to hit.

Taxation is just about the perfect way to control alcohol use. It’s not complete, because you need controls for the real problem drinkers. But if we tripled the alcohol tax it would reduce homicide by 6 percent. And you’re not putting anybody in jail. But instead we spend our time talking about doing marijuana testing for welfare recipients.

Michigan’s medical marijuana business

Marijuana AdvertisingCrain’s Detroit has an article on the state’s medical marijuana business from the grow side to the physicians. The article says that there have been 344,000 patient applications in the state since 2009 and that doctors often charge around $150 to certify patients, that’s $51,600,000 in revenue for the docs. Here’s a little from the article about one of them:

“I discovered the medical benefits of marijuana in 2007 when I was doing suboxone therapy for narcotics addiction,” said Townsend, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Michigan State University and a medical degree from the Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine in North Miami Beach, Fla.

“I began to notice that as I was weaning people off of narcotic pain medications, those that were using marijuana illegally, and then with medical marijuana cards after 2008, weaned very, very well.”

After seeing thousands of patients over the past five years, Townsend has concluded that marijuana has a deserved place in a doctor’s black bag.

“I discovered that people were coming off using handfuls of Vicodin a month — high doses of Vicodin every day — strictly through the use of medical marijuana,” said Townsend, who termed himself one of the biggest advocates for it in the state — but never has used it.

“It’s very good for the treatment of Crohn’s disease, excellent for nausea, very useful for treatment of glaucoma and Parkinson’s disease,” he said. “I’ve seen it stop a seizure in front of me.”

Of the approximately 30,000 active doctors in Michigan, only about 1,900 have written a single medical marijuana certification, Townsend said. When analyzed further a year ago, 55 doctors in Michigan wrote 70 percent of the certifications, with Townsend being in that group.

55 docs wrote 70%? Let’s see, 70% of $51.6 million is $36,120,000 and let’s divide that by 55 docs. That’s $656,727.27 per doc!

I wonder what other kinds of care they provide to these patients?


Detroit, Booze and Temperance

This is a little after the timeframe of this article, but what’s a discussion of alcohol, Detroit and history without reference to the Purple Gang?

The Detroit News offers a little history lesson on alcohol and temperance in Detroit. I guess we’ve always been a

In 1834 — with a population under 5,000 — 100 people were licensed dealers selling liquor in Detroit; there was no estimate of the unlicensed. It was said there was a bar for every 13 families.

A traveler from New Hampshire with a strong Puritanical eye, a Mr. Parker, noted in 1834: “The streets [of Detroit] near the water are dirty, generally having mean buildings, rather too many grog shops among them, and a good deal too much noise and dissipation. The taverns are not generally under the best regulations, although they were crowded to overflowing. I stopped at the Steamboat Hotel, and I thought enough grog was sold at that bar to satisfy any reasonable demand for the whole village.”

However, saloons and bars were not the entire picture. Pharmacies did substantial business packaging and selling liquor for medicinal purposes.

Throughout Detroit, but especially in Corktown and Germantown, whiskey also was sold through groceries to such an extent that many grocers distilled their own whiskey and had sit-down bars in their stores. The term “grocery” became synonymous with “saloon.”

Records of temperance groups of the day show the desire to “reduce the number of groceries in the city.” At the time, whiskey was sold in barrels, smaller kegs, or demijohns (jugs ranging anywhere from five gallons to half a gallon.)

Keep in mind that this is during the period of our “national binge”.

In 1825 the annual consumption of pure alcohol was 7 gallons per person over the age of 15. Today it’s 2.49 gallons annually, nearly two-thirds less.


K2, Spice and legalization

I do not consider myself a drug warrior. (Though, few people do these days. It can be a little like racism. People attribute it to others, but never themselves.) I oppose incarcerating people for possession of quantities consistent with personal use. I favor policies that target demand rather than supply. I’m also skeptical of hype around new drugs that are predicted to lead the the decline of western civilization.

There’s been a lot of talk about the evolving, softening public position on marijuana. We’re seeing more and more public discussion about straight up legalization of drugs, domestically and internationally. (Those NYT discussions should be so great, but they are nothing approaching great.)
Then you have K2/Spice. It’s been a few years since it’s appeared in Michigan and the reflex to ban it does appear to slowed.

However, this small scale experiment with tolerating a drug appears to be coming to an end.

I have a few observations:

  • I’ve been reluctant to buy into the hype and, to be sure, there has been hype. At the same time, many people have responded to the hype by arguing that it’s just a cannabis analog and is no more or less harmful than cannabis. I don’t know a lot about the drug, but anecdotal reports seem to suggest that it’s not just marijuana by another name. There appear to be as many negative Erowid reports as there are positive or neutral reports. And, many of them state that there are differences between K2 and marijuana.
  • I find the marriage of legal capitalism and the drug troubling. Local gas stations, smoke shops and party stores display dozens of varieties more prominently than anything else in the store. (This NORML post describes the marketing.) The packaging uses images like cartoons, ninjas, yoga and Bob Marley to market it. A lot of it looks like it could be candy packaging. (Ugh! I feel like such a geezer saying this, but some of it reminds me of Warheads packaging.)
  • There does not appear to have been an attempt to regulate the drug(s). Could this have worked? I don’t know. Regulation seems to do little to hamper the marketing of legal drugs. I’d still prefer a ban with less harsh criminal penalties. My sense is that, with the possible exception of marijuana, the public doesn’t have the stomach for legalization. I wonder if tide will turn on marijuana as marketing increases. Time will tell.
UPDATE: I wonder what would happen if is wasn’t banned. I’m guessing you’d start to see some large manufacturers get more market share, more wealth, more clout and market in a more organized and effective way.
On the flip side, I also wonder if these kinds of companies would end up enjoying the kind of immunity that alcohol manufacturers maintain. We have a special place in our culture of alcohol and guns. Tobacco lost this protected status. It’s hard to imagine these companies enjoying this status. As suppliers go corporate, they become a target for lawsuits and risk management becomes necessary. What kind of risk management would they employ and what kinds of marketing restraint or checks would the create? I dunno.