CO082 Ed Gogek on the Case Against Marijuana

Dr Ed Gogek is a psychiatrist and a specialist in treating addiction.  He’s also the author of Marijuana Debunked: A handbook for parents, pundits and politicians who want to know the case against legalization

The BBC reported on the effects of marijuana legalization here. In addition I tried to bring up the Russell Newcombe and Sally Woods model for comparing the mortality risks of various drugs, but Ed was having none of it. This is the model:


There was a ballot initiative in Maine …

No, no hang on, this is serious stuff, it’s important I swear.

There was a ballot initiative in Maine a couple of weeks ago to preserve the voting system that they have there that is called Ranked Choice Voting.

No, seriously, don’t skip, this really is important and I promise that I’ll try to make it interesting.

About two years ago, the state of Maine introduced this voting system, and it’s really complicated and really simple at the same time. There was a ballot initiative a couple of weeks back that could have scrapped it, but that didn’t happen, so this system stays in force in Maine.

To give you the simple explanation, it means that to vote for a candidate, you put the number 1 beside his or her name. It’s that simple. But also, you have the choice – you don’t have to, but you can – put the number 2 beside the name of your second-favorite candidate. And 3 beside your third favorite, and all the way down.

The system is that simple; even a child who can tell you what their favorite ice cream is, and their second-favorite, and so on, could use it.

Now here comes the complex part. I’ll try to make it simple. Basically to win, a candidate needs to get more than half the votes. That’s pretty simple if there are only two candidates, but if there are several, like an a typical competitive primary, what happens if no candidate gets 50 per cent? That’s when that number 2, the second favorite comes in. The counters go to the candidate who came last. Clearly they’re not going to win, so the counters eliminate them, and move their votes to the other candidates, according to who the voters for that candidate gave their second preference to, the candidate they wrote in number 2 beside.

If then, nobody still has 50 percent, you keep eliminating the lowest remaining candidate, and redistributing their votes until the top candidate does get over 50 per cent. Normally, it’s the candidate who got the most votes in the first round who wins after all this vote distribution, but once in a while, it happens that, say, one candidate gets 45 per cent and the next guy gets 44 per cent; and the remaining 11 per cent is distributed among minor candidates. And, for some reason or other, those 11 per cent of voters strongly preferred the 44 per cent guy, and he gets, say, 7 out of those 11 percent and the 45 per cent guy gets the rest.

So the guy who came second with 44 per cent in the first round wins in the end with 51 per cent of the vote. Though, as I said, in practice, that doesn’t end up happening most of the time.

The real effect is why that usually doesn’t happen. Ranked Choice Voting changes the way that politicians campaign. Sure, they have to appeal to their base. But they also have to appeal to the middle ground. They don’t want to be the candidate that the base loves, but who alienates their non-core vote so much that they lose because no other candidate’s supporters would give them a number 2 vote.

That isn’t just a theoretical effect. Ranked Choice Voting – also called the Single Transferrable Vote system –  is used in a few countries around the world, notably Australia and Malta, and in Ireland, where I come from, it’s been used for almost a hundred years. And it’s had a profound effect.

Ireland was not alone to become an independent, democratic country in the aftermath of World War One. Several other small peripheral European countries were established as democracies then. Notably Spain, Portugal and Greece. And something happened in every single one of them, except Ireland. In every one, democracy failed. Pretty quickly they all became a military dictatorships.

In Ireland, in 1922, directly after independence, there was a bitter civil war; I won’t go into the reasons but enough to say that the two sides hated each other. The side that won became the government, and the side that lost boycotted the democratic system until they saw that was getting them nowhere.

They started contesting elections, and then in 1932, just ten years after losing the war, they won the election. It was not certain what would happen next. This was the 1930s. Democracy was not having a good decade. Dictatorships were being set up across Europe.

The outgoing government controlled the police, the army, the judiciary, and the guys who won the election knew this well. As they entered the parliament they were aware that they could be arrested, or worse. Just a few years earlier, dozens of their comrades, men they knew personally, had been shot while prisoners, on the orders of the people they were due to take power from. Many of them hid guns under the jackets of their newly-pressed suits into the parliament chamber; they weren’t sure what would happen next.

What did happen next was probably the most important thing in the history of Ireland as an independent country. Nothing happened. The outgoing government handed over power and went into opposition. Nobody was arrested, nobody was shot, there was no coup. Not that day, not later. And I believe one of the reasons that happened was because Ireland used, and still uses, the Ranked Choice Voting system. They use it to elect a parliament with multi-member electoral districts.

That makes it difficult and ineffective to try to gerrymander elections, and that means that any party losing power knows that they have a chance of regaining in the next election. And the way that you regain power is with civility. Remember that the system rewards politicians who appeal not just to their own base, but also to be the second choice of people who don’t support them.

First-past-the-post electoral systems, typical in the U.S. push politicians towards the extremes, rewarding them for riling up their base and getting their core vote out. Ranked Choice Voting pushes politicians towards the centre and rewards cooperation and compromise.

And it rewards civility. Whatever is being said about it, we are certainly lacking civility at the moment, and rewarding it would be a much better way to get it than lecturing people. So remember Maine and remember what it’s called: Ranked Choice Voting