How to Demolish a Phony Number

Watch, and Beau Kilmer will show you how it’s done: you keep smiling, and you keep your knife so sharp that the number you’re killing doesn’t even feel it going in.

Jon Gettman is a marijuana-legalization activist with a Ph.D. from George Mason University. He made up the statistic that the value of the annual U.S. marijuana crop is $36 billion, which is off by roughly an order of magnitude. (Activists and drug warriors share the habit of wildly inflating drug-related numbers.)

When Michael Montgomery of the California Watch project of the Center for Investigative Reporting asked Gettman about the calculations in our marijuana legalization book that blew his estimate out of the water, he replied, more or less, that the problem was our failure to get adequately stoned: “Non-using analysts are woefully ignorant about marijuana consumption amounts or practices,” he huffed. But by the time the ABC Bay Area affiliate got to him, he had decided to change the subject:

The issue here is not the dollar or the production amount, it’s the issue of drug control. Under the current policy, drug control is a fallacy.

In other words, “Yes, I made up the number, but I’m on the side of the angels.” [The TV reporter describes this as Gettman “standing behind his research.” For “standing behind” read “backing rapidly away from.”]

Another activist and author, Ed Rosenthal, decided to take refuge in ignorance, describing the controversy as two blindfolded men throwing darts. But neither one tried to deal with Beau’s simple calculation: to believe Gettman’s numbers, you’d have to believe that the average person who smokes pot at all smokes twelve joints a day.

Come to think of it, Gettman may be right: some numbers make more sense if you’re thorougly wasted.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.