Monday, September 24, 2007

Why legalizing drugs wouldn't increase drug abuse

In Amsterdam, according to Reason Magazine, psychedelic mushrooms sell in stores over the counter. Only one-twelfth of the city's people surveyed have even tried them and one in a few hundred has shroomed in a month, the article says.
In parts of the USA, police and guards routinely kill civilians in drug raids, sometimes based on wrong addresses or bum steers. One recent victim was a 92-year-old woman.
Drug abuse kills US citizens often, and usually early in life.
Long ago, we lost the war on drugs; the drugs were making more sense than the war was.
Drug abuse is a plummet into the pits of despair. It isn't funny. It isn't glamorous. It isn't a game. It kills children. I don't take it lightly at all and neither should you. So, what causes it? And what can stop it?
People are living things, and when living things need something, they go out to find it. Warning young people that getting high will endanger them is like warning starving cats that the steaks they have found are two days past date and not cool enough. Talk away, but stand back and be ready for a disappointment.
When heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, mushrooms, hashish, marijuana and alcohol were legal, over the counter, at any store that felt like stocking the items, for anyone with the small bit of money to buy them, abuse was rare, though use was common. Most people in 1900 had too much to look forward to to mess up their lives with dangerous chemicals.
By 1932 many of these substances were illegal. Abuse was common. Crime over drugs had skyrocketed.
Why? Americans had seen the countryside spill into the cities in search of work, families scatter, jobs turn more mechanical and less human, all for money -- money that one day had vanished. There was no going back, and little faith in tomorrow.
Meanwhile, drugs were hard to hide, in their sweet thinners. They had to lose weight to fit in the shoe and in the floorboards. The condensed forms were less palatable and much less social but far easier to sell. And they were far easier to become addicted to and to die on.
It started to take a certain type to be a successful drug salesperson. Your mother's friend down the street wasn't selling Mrs. Winslow's Syrup anymore, but you noticed cold-eyed men in alleyways whispering their pricess to passersby. These men didn't ask how your mother was. They just told you to get moving and keep your mouth shut.
Prices rose fast. Stealing financed drugs. Murder covered the anonymity of the market. Despair drove people to try "harder" (more concentrated) substances in search of hope. Drugs made their own pressures and fears and users fell faster into deeper horrors as they struggled to feel like going on. Eventually we had the world we live in today. It's not over yet. Prohibition is still seeing what will happen if it tries a little harder.
The prohibition forces are now pushing to ban tobacco. What will happen when they succeed?
I would guess that tobacco will become dirtier. Filters will be a forgotten old quirk. Theft and murder will increase somewhat. Underground smokehouses will open everywhere. These will be enclosed and suffocation will become common. Innocent people will die at police hands during mistaken arrests.
The answer to tobacco deaths is probably not prohibition. Perhaps the passing of time will wear tobacco out of existence. Generations that grew up smoking grow too old to enjoy taking risks. New generations don't want to smoke, aside from the odd fad, and those fade.
The answer to alcohol deaths is probably not prohibition, either. It is likely to be a more mature approach. Cultures where parents give small children tastes of liquor, where learning to drink slowly is part of learning table etiquette, have few drunk drivers and few deaths from cirrhosis of the liver or alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is the food that's a drug, the drug that's a food. It takes an adult to handle it alone, but kids can learn to be adults about alcohol if adults can teach them. Relaxing the liquor laws might result in fewer "binge" drinking youths; by the time men and women are alone all weekend, they will already see beer and wine and margaritas as something to accompany meals.
The answer to drug deaths is probably also something saner than prohibition. Perhaps the law could distinguish highly addictive, easily lethal drugs from less risky ones and regulate them more moderately, according to their usual dangers. There could be age limits, dilution laws for the strongest ones, and restrictions on the transfer of large quantities. Parents who get high and leave five big lines of cocaine on the table where the toddler can get to it could be punished for child endangerment, which is their actual crime. Drug education could be taken more seriously if it were more truthful.
What if we say "No" to drug prohibition and "No" to drug abuse too?


  1. This reminds me of the study after WWII, when some U.S.government agency was trying to find the best way to feed up the starving Europeans. Ultimately, they found out the way to put the most weight on their subjects was to put them on a reducing diet. Not a weird diet, just low calorie, balanced, nutritious but _restricted_ food. The men all gained lots of weight.

    Also, the adage "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

    Besides, what "alternative economy entrepreneur" would go into the legal drug business? About as many as go into chocolate manufacturing and sales.



  2. Interesting approach. I guess there is a part of me that wants to resist such an idea because drugs are, as you pointed out, very destructive.

    Your argument is persuasive enough, though, to remind me about an observation that I made about the prohibition of alcohol. Prohibition basically empowered the mafia and we have been trying to get rid of them for the better part of 100 years now. It also began the chain of gun control laws in our country.

    The interesting thing is that prohibition was a bad law. It went beyond what God had laid out as moral behavior. As such it failed miserably.

    I wonder if prohibition was successfully passed as a result of the temperance movement that accompanied the revivalists of the early 20th century? Do we have the gun control issues (and other issues that you have pointed out) because the church overstepped the bounds that God set?