Reason for a New Age

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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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Drug Policy – Part 1

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/05/15

In general, my position would be that while the government is far from perfection, even still if you see them doing something that you disapprove of, quite likely if you had the service of a team of researchers and experts you might well come close to the same answer as you see out in the world from day-to-day. When things go wrong, more likely it’s because even the experts got it wrong, not because the layman knew something that they didn’t.

A case where this might not be so true is when new discoveries are made in the world. If those discoveries are well-covered in the media and gain traction in the public consciousness, then politicians will move to analyze and act on the information — for example in the case of global warming where, essentially, the choice was to do little-to-nothing as one would expect (see the Climate Change series, particularly parts 3-4). But when those discoveries aren’t very well popularized, politicians as a class are generally non-fussed to investigate nor act on the information. As someone whose income depends on maintaining popularity, they have no incentive to rile the waters for the sake of something their electorate hasn’t ever heard of. You might blame politicians for that, or you might blame the mass media for failing to properly educate the populace, but ultimately newspapers educate the populace about the things that the populace wants to pay to read about. Your average person who buys newspapers or watches the news has children and they know that Drugs are Bad and that their children are susceptible to being lured in to drug abuse. They don’t want to read about anything but grunt force to combat drugs. There simply isn’t any profit to be made by telling them that they’re ignoring information.

What a Person Wishes to Do to Themselves is Their Own Business

In times past I’ve argued that a social security web is probably for the best, though in principal one could say that it’s everyone’s own right to screw themselves over by improper foreplanning, and I’ve argued that allowing people to sell their own bodies is probably bad, though theoretically it doesn’t involve anyone else. From that, you might think that I don’t subscribe to the idea that people have a natural right to mess themselves up as they see fit. In actuality, I’m quite happy to let people screw themselves up. You’ll remember that one of my arguments for social security is that the general public will always end up voting for it, so the point was moot.

But overall, I’d say that my position is far more nuanced than an absolutist, Libertarian ideology of personal sanctity. The two places where I agree to intercede into self-destructive behavior are:

1) It actually does end up costing or harming the rest of society, so it’s not just an issue for the individual.

2) Most cases are due to issues of human cognitive failings, rather than personal choice. For instance, if a person chooses to jump off a bridge because his life sucks, I respect his right to do that. However, if a version of the game of chicken developed where kids were daring each other to jump off a bridge first, then I’d view that as a situation where it is acceptable to step in and attempt to stop the practice because its not an issue of choice, it’s an issue of destructive herd mentality.

In essence, #2 is a branch of #1, highlighting a particular version of social harm that can easily be overlooked so that it doesn’t seem like it’s an issue that affects anyone else.

Now, in the case of drugs, there are two versions of potential social harm. Firstly is the issue of social pressure. Most people do not choose to take drugs, they start using them because taking drugs is what is done among their peer group. Secondly is that a drug user is liable to commit crimes either under the influence of the drug or, if heavily addicted, as a way to earn money to support their habit. If both of those issues could be solved, I couldn’t personally care in the slightest if a person was smoking crack in his basement or not. It doesn’t affect anyone but him and he is aware of the dangers.

The Danger of a Drug

While I don’t personally care about the harm that a drug can cause to the individual (so long as he took of his own will), it is still a consideration that most people put in when considering the relative dangers of allowing drugs to float freely in the marketplace. This danger can either be via the amount that the drug affects ones senses, and hence the chance that you will do something stupid, or the potential for the drug to act as a poison on the body (either all at once, or incrementally over time.)

People also generally care about the relative addictive qualities of a drug. It is considered a risk that someone will try something either due to medical needs or because of peer pressure (or out of general ignorance) and end up becoming hooked. The influence of the drug or the illegal nature of the drug might then lead to the person getting into trouble and screwing up their life, a fact which they are powerless to stop due to the addictive quality. Since the potential legalization of drugs is on the table during this discussion, we won’t consider the possible ill-effects that can come of buying and selling illegal narcotics, only the potential for the mind-altering properties to get the person into trouble.


Before embarking on a general discussion of drug policy, I would like to discuss marijuana.

In a rational world, one would be able to draw out a chart with three axises, one for addictiveness, one for the strength/duration of any mind-altering features there are of the drug, and a third for the physical/poisonous danger of the drug. One should be able to say that within a particular cuboid near (0, 0, 0), those chemicals are safe for public consumption and anything else is (for example), illegal. You would not need to individually create a new law per narcotic, only to ask the FDA to test the drug in a laboratory setting and set its position on each of the three axises. More importantly than that, anything other than this rational method of handling falls prey to judicial review. Like I pointed out in my discussion of judicial review, if you dislike the amount of sugar being consumed by the populace, arbitrarily choosing one or two high sugar items while leaving plenty of others to choose from is unacceptable as law.

Personally, I have never smoked, drank, nor done drugs. I think people who do are almost certainly morons who have fallen prey to the idiocies of the rest of society. Banning all drugs and summarily executing anyone caught with any would, so far as I’d be concerned, be a perfectly acceptable option to dealing with drugs if they are actually a danger to society. So it is very safe to say that I have no particular love of adding marijuana to the roster of legalized narcotics available in daily life. But by all rational consideration, if the world is happy enough to allow such drugs as alcohol and tobacco to be publicly and legally sold, one must allow the production and sale of marijuana. It is less addictive than both tobacco and alcohol, its dangers as a mind-altering substance is less than alcohol, and its toxicity is probably on-par with an unfiltered cigarette (which is legal). There is probably a decent bet that, if legalized, a filtration system to remove some percentage of the carcinogens from marijuana cigarette would be developed and implemented. And of course, it’s worth noting that the relative toxicity of a drug is probably not a matter we should concern ourselves with (beyond the issue of second hand smoke).

Because marijuana is not properly a “drug”, it doesn’t count so far as the rest of our discussion goes. The debate for or against it is solved by simple jurisprudence, without having to review any issues of drug policy at all. You may personally think that the world would be better off without another legal narcotic, but regardless of our desires we live in a land based on the rule of law, and the rules of law are that law not be capricious. If you don’t want marijuana in the public sphere, you have to be willing to give up alcohol and cigarettes.

You might argue that marijuana and alcohol combined in the body create an effect greater than the sum of its parts. Even if that is so, that would be cause for criminalizing the taking of both of these narcotics at the same time and/or fashioning much stricter consequences for driving under the influence of both. For example, there are various chemicals which you are free to buy and sell, but combining them into a bomb or poisonous gas is prohibited. And in a rational world, at least until such time as it was demonstrated that the effects of having both drugs legal was a serious worry to the general welfare of the nation, prohibition is presumptuous. The original logic that went into the banning of marijuana appears to have been that — at the time — Mexicans and blacks smoked marijuana, and Mexicans and blacks caused crime. Since we now know that marijuana mostly causes people to become placid, it’s unlikely that there was actually any particular causal link. Point in fact, if there is a correlation between marijuana and violent crime, it’s most likely a negative relationship, making it less likely that the person will commit a violent crime.

The Question of Addiction

Prohibition of drugs is generally considered to be towards the goal of preventing addiction. There is a theory, however, that there is a maximum addiction rate for drugs which actually prevents almost everyone from becoming addicted.

A simple example is that of alcohol, which is of medium to high addictiveness. When people go to college or university, there is often a strong drinking culture. For four years, a significant percentage of our population drinks excessively at least once a week. At the end of that time, however, nearly all of them stop without any particular hassle. Similarly, since the push to stop smoking has started in American society, the number of smokers (as a percentage of population) continued to fall from around 1965 to perhaps 1988, but since that point, the level has more or less stabilized at around 20%. Regions like California seem to have continued to decrease, but that’s possibly due to a fewer number of people starting the habit, while older smokers pass away.

With smoking being of high to very high level addictiveness, it seems to be that at least 50% of everyone can successfully stop, and of course another large percent never tries. The level of alcohol addiction is perhaps around 4% of the total population (of those of non-partying age), but with only about 60% of adults drinking alcohol at all, it seems to be that about 93% can successfully moderate their intake. Though I’ll admit that I don’t trust the accuracy of those numbers. Addicts can be high functioning and hence are unlikely to be listed among those who are dependent, and “adults” includes those in college. It might be safer to assume that the number of people who couldn’t quit drinking is around 25% percent (to make a wild guess), lining up with its halved level of addictiveness compared to tobacco. I would further speculate that the person who is most likely to have a hard time quitting one drug is the same person as will have a hard time quitting another, this study on the correlation of food addiction to drug addiction seems to support that.

The Drug Abuser

For the purposes of our discussion, I’d divide the classes of drug abuser into 5 groups:

1) The teen or young adult party goer.
2) The poor.
3) The poisoner, using drugs as weapons for purpose of prank, rape, or murder.
4) The hippie or libertarian.
5) The adult addict, previously of group 1 but whose addiction didn’t fade or who was prescribed a medication and became addicted.

Groups 4 and 5 are our low-impact groups. It’s unlikely that they will affect anyone else except perhaps a spouse or their near family. More importantly, the way to diminish group 5 is to diminish group 1. Doctors are aware of the risk of habit forming addictions and so we can presume that if one was prescribed that the doctor felt the risk was worth it. I don’t know that I would recommend naysaying that. For our purposes, we will ignore both of these classes. The other three, however, really must be discussed separately. The causes and potential solutions are going to be entirely unrelated.


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