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Are They High?

What could be more stimulating than free beer?

May 24, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 34 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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According to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking pot is a drag on employee productivity.

Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely than their coworkers to have problems on the job. Several studies have associated workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.

Why, then, would the federal government pay people to smoke pot— and drink malt liquor—as a way to stimulate the economy? 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the fancy name of the 2009 stimulus bill—provided $389,357 to the State University of New York at Buffalo for project number 1R01AA01658001A—“Malt Liquor and Marijuana: Factors in Their Concurrent Versus Separate Use.”

President Obama was in Buffalo last week to tout the $862 billion in stimulus spending. He stopped for spicy wings and visited the headquarters of Industrial Support, Inc., to highlight a small business loan the company received as part of the Recovery Act. But he opted not to direct his motorcade five miles up Bailey Avenue to 327 Kimball Tower on the SUNY Buffalo campus, where he could have touted another key step on the way out of the Great Recession. 

The SUNY Buffalo grant pays subjects to answer their cell phones over a three-week period and describe their feelings as they consume malt liquor and smoke marijuana. 

An abstract on the website of the Office of Vice President for Research declares:

We appreciate the opportunity to refocus this application to achieve a single important aim related to our understanding of young adults’ use of male [sic] liquor (ML), other alcoholic beverages, and marijuana (MJ), all of which confer high risks for experiencing negative consequences, including addiction. As we have noted, reviews of this grant application, have noted numerous strength, [sic] which are summarized below.

Among those strengths: “The application is well-written” and “this research team has previous [sic] been successful in recruiting a large (>600) sample of regular ML drinkers.” We don’t know if those who judged the application well-written were using MJ or ML. 

The same scholars were behind a groundbreaking 2007 study that used regression analyses to discover that subjects who got drunk and high were more wasted than those who just drank. (“Those who concurrently use both alcohol and marijuana are more likely to report negative consequences of substance use compared with those who use alcohol only.”)

The lead researcher on the project, Dr. R. Lorraine Collins, had originally planned a four-year follow-up to the 2007 study. But, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard, she adjusted the time frame to two years so that she would be eligible for stimulus money.

The 2007 study boasted 639 “heavy-drinking” participants. And what innovative recruitment strategies did they employ to generate such interest—and eventually help them win taxpayer money from the Recovery Act? Free beer.

According to results published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors: “We advertised in local newspapers and posted flyers on college campuses asking, ‘Do you drink 40s?’ ” Each participant was given $30. Which might lead one to ask—only 639?

The new study, funded by the stimulus package, pays participants a minimum of $45 to imbibe. At an average price of $2.05 per 40-ounce beer, that’s one Schlitz Old Bull (my choice) a day over the three-weeks of research. Unless they’re spending it on a different research product. So the money from the government goes right back into the economy, just as Christina Romer drew it up.

It’s somewhat surprising that President Obama didn’t take advantage of his trip to Buffalo to tout this stimulus project. If he thought it was a waste he would, of course, have told us. “If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it,” he said upon signing the stimulus on February 20, 2009. “And I want everybody here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it.”

Even if paying people to drink beer and smoke pot contributes to a lack of motivation, the taxpayer money is expected to provide employment for three researchers, an impact that will be felt far and wide because, as the abstract puts it, “funding this research stimulates the economy of the Buffalo metropolitan region and the nation.”

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