Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Drug Legalization Does Not Equate To Freedom

Drug legalization is all the rage these days. Advocates of drug legalization say it would stop crime, give us smaller government, increase personal freedom, and increase tax revenues. But these arguments are seriously flawed. Moreover, the focus on the drug users’ personal freedom misses the point. Here’s why drug legalization is a bad thing.

The Case For Regulation
The case for regulating drugs (i.e. criminalizing their use outside of a controlled environment) is quite simple: societal harm.

When it comes to regulation, the government should not be in the business of protecting us from ourselves, nor should we accept semantic arguments that make self-destruction into a societal issue. But the government should be concerned about dangers that are posed to others. Indeed, when a person engages in activities that can hurt other members of the public, then some form of regulation is usually proper. For example, we regulate who can drive because a many-thousand pound vehicle can kill if it’s driven wrong. We regulate poisonous emissions from factories, so the plant won’t drop a poison gas cloud on a town. We regulate explosives, we regulate hazardous chemicals, and we regulate alcohol, all because these are dangerous to other members of the public, and there is little or no way for the public to protect themselves from those dangers if they are misused.

The same is true with drugs. When people take drugs, their mental state becomes impaired and they lack the restraint/ability to take the kinds of cautions that human beings normal undertake in their actions, and they lack the hand-eye coordination needed to safely engage in certain dangerous activities. This turns even ordinary activities into dangerous ones. Indeed, consider the bus driver who gets high and hits pedestrians, or the gas plant operator who gets high and explodes the plant.... there is simply no way for the public at large to be aware of these dangers or to protect themselves. Thus, regulation of some form is proper to prevent these people from injuring others.

So maybe you just criminalize the injury rather than the usage, right? Well, there are two problems with that. First, it’s small comfort for the victims when their injury could have been prevented. But more importantly, this will lead to massive economic waste. . . the other instance where regulation is proper.

Think again, about our discussion of privatizing all roads and the problems that would create. A similar problem exists with regard to drugs. If the government did not prohibit recreational drug use, the public would be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time and money protecting itself from the negative effects of drug use. Employers, for example, would face liability if their employees got high and crashed a train or a company car or erroneously prepared someone’s taxes. Thus, not prohibiting drug use would result in widespread drug testing of employees. Insurers would surely follow as no car insurer will want to insure a drug user. As will doctors, police, heavy equipment operators, anyone in a position of trust, and so on. Therefore, to allow a few people the freedom of getting high, the rest of society will have their privacy invaded by constant drug testing.

Moreover, the link between drugs and crime has been proven (DOJ estimates that 80% of crime is drug related, and around 40% of criminals report being high at the time of the crime). Combating the vandalism, the theft, the assaults, and other crimes that accompany drug use will require a massive increase in police forces and prisons, or the employment of private security, which means your taxes go up and your safety goes down.

Thus, regulation is proper in this instance.
The Problems With The Legalization Arguments
Now lets look at the arguments for legalization. The legalization arguments are essentially that legalizing drugs will reduce crime, will shrink the government, will increase tax revenues, and will increase personal freedom. None of these are true.

As an aside, to make these arguments more palatable, legalization advocates have focused solely on marijuana, which is not as dangerous on a personal level as “hard” drugs -- though a large number of legalization advocates will eventually admit under questioning that they believe all drugs should be legalized. Admittedly, there are obvious differences in the negative effects of marijuana and something like methamphetamines on the users, e.g. meth tends to destroy the body and the mind in short order, whereas the negative effects of marijuana are long term and not as severe. But in any event, this argument is a red herring because both drugs cause the mind-altering effects that I’ve identified as the basis for allowing regulation. In other words, marijuana may not be as bad as other drugs for the user, but the risks to third parties are the same, and it is only the effects on third parties that should matter when it comes to regulation.

1. Reduction In Crime: Advocates of legalization argue that legalization will decrease crime in two ways. Neither argument has merit.

First, they point to prohibition as an analogy, and they claim that we created the cartels by making drugs illegal (just as we arguably created the mafia by making alcohol illegal) and we could make them powerless again by making drugs legal. But the end of prohibition did not end the power of the mafia. Nor would legalization end the market for illegal drugs. Indeed, unless you accept total legalization, including allowing children to buy drugs, then there will continue to be a market for illegal drugs as there will continue to be people who cannot obtain them legally. Even then, high taxes encourage smuggling, as is the case with cigarettes today. Thus, just like the end of prohibition did not end the mafia, there is no reason to believe that legalization will end these cartels, especially as the drug market would become significantly larger (and therefore more profitable) if drugs became legal.

Further, just legalizing marijuana, as legalizers currently suggest, would achieve nothing. California legalizers argued that this alone would end the grip of the Mexican cartels. But a study by the Rand Corporation found that only 3% of Mexican drug cartel profits came from importing marijuana to California and that legalizing marijuana would have little effect on their profits. Indeed, if one examines this issue, you will find rather quickly that drugs are only one part of the cartels’ business -- the rest involves protection rackets, extortion, kidnapping, theft, counterfeiting legal drugs, and even exporting stolen oil to the United States. Legalizing drugs affects none of that.

Legalizers also claim that if drugs were cheaper, drug users would be less inclined to steal to support their habits. But as anyone involved with criminal law can tell you, these people do not steal to supplement their income, they steal because they have no income. . . they don’t work.

2. Shrink The Government: Legalization advocates say that legalization will lead to smaller government because there will be no need for drug interdiction. However, this argument is one-sided and simplistic. First, the end of prohibition didn’t result in an end to the FBI or the ATF. Secondly, to the extent you only legalize marijuana, nothing will change as interdiction will still be needed to stop other drugs. Third, unless the plan is total legalization (i.e. anyone can buy), other government agencies will need to be created to monitor the sale and distribution of drugs. There will also be increased policing required to deal with the increased crime. And there will be drug tests for all accidents and crimes to see if there should be a “while high” charge added -- unless you intend to simply ignore the drugs entirely. . . which would increase the risks to the public by letting drug users claim the accident was beyond their control.

Basically, legalization will not eliminate a single government agency or agent, while simultaneously increasing the scope and reach and intrusiveness of government into other areas of our lives.

3. Increased Tax Revenues: This argument too looks only at one side of the equation. Yes, if you tax drugs, you will get more revenues from that source. But at the same time, you will incur the costs of dealing with the increased drug use. That means lost worker productivity, increased crimes, increased hospitalization, long term health problems, etc. Moreover, this argument is intellectually dubious as this argument could just as easily justify legalizing murder, because we could tax each killing.

4. Increased Personal Freedom: Finally, many argue that legalization will increase personal freedom. But as explained above, it depends on whose freedom you are looking at. Yes, it increases the freedom of drug users, but it hurts everyone else’s freedom. It’s highly likely that the entire public will face invasive and expensive drug testing at every turn. It’s likely that we will be less safe as more addicts commit more crimes. It’s likely that we will be surrounded by more cops and more prisons to deal with those crimes. It’s likely that to regulate the distribution of these drugs, we will find ourselves facing more regimes like we have today, where you can’t even buy cold medicine without being put into a computer. That’s not an increase in personal freedom, that’s an increase in some people’s personal freedom while destroying the freedom of everyone else. It is akin to letting me build a radioactive sludge pit in the center of town. Yes, it increases my freedom, but it hurts everyone else around me.
The problem with the legalization arguments are that they look only at one side of the equation, i.e. what are the benefits to the drug user and what could happen if drugs weren’t a problem. But they are a problem, and there is another side of that equation.

This is a debate that gets lost in feelings. I feel drugs are bad. I feel drugs are not bad. You shouldn’t be able to tell me what I can do with my body. We shouldn’t let people hurt themselves. All of those arguments miss the point. The real issue here is that innocent people will be hurt and their freedoms destroyed if we go for legalization.

And that’s why Californians did the right thing.


T_Rav said...

Thanks for posting this, Andrew. I've had arguments about this (and prostitution) repeatedly with libertarians--who I think mean well, but they're missing too many sides to the issue. Personal freedom in cases like this is never as cut-and-dried an issue as it's made out to be.

Tennessee Jed said...

sounds like an argument for a return to prohibition, because you could have just as easily substituted alcohol for marijuana. Certainly those victims of d.u.i. receive small comfort from the fact alcohol is an "accepted" drug.

Mike K. said...

The only thing I would add is that drug legalization wouldn't increase anyone's personal freedom. There's nothing liberating about addiction.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, You're welcome. I have a great deal of sympathy for the "government should not tell us what to do" argument, but in this instance, I think the negative effects on third parties are just too high (no pun intended).

I think it's very appeal to hear "why can't people do what they want to behind closed doors." But in this case, the problem is that it doesn't stay behind closed doors, it goes out into the public and starts to cause problems. And that's where we need to consider regulation.

Now there are alternatives that could be considered. For example, you could allow "dope rooms" where the person can't leave until they are no longer high. But I think simple legalization is a bad idea.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, To a large degree we already impose serious restrictions on alcohol. It can't be sold to minors, it's a crime to give it to minors, it's an added offense to most crimes, it converts accidents into crimes, you can't buy it just anywhere, and the bar owner/restaurant is libel if they serve someone who is visibly impaired. It is a crime to be drunk in public, it is a crime to drive with even minor amount of alcohol in your system. We regulate who can make it, how they make it, and who can sell it. So it's not prohibition, but it is heavily regulated.

In any event, I see where many of these are argument could be used to argue for prohibition..... although there is one crucial difference: it is easy to spot someone who is drunk, it is not as easy to spot someone who is high.

Alcohol causes all kinds of easy-to-spot side effects from the smell you can't hide, to the loss of balance to dilated pupils, to raised voices even when talking, to most people beginning to speak gibberish. By comparison, when people are high on pot, they often only appear to be stupid, but there is little evidence that they are high. Meth is similar, they appear to be very alert, with few other signs of intoxication.

So I would argue that the reason there is a difference between drugs and alcohol that warrants prohibition in one case but not the other is that the public can spot someone who is drunk, but not someone who is high. Thus, the risk that drunks will be allowed to work by their employers or operate as doctors etc. is very low, whereas the risk that people who are high will do the same is significantly higher. Thus regulating alcohol and criminalizing incidents while drunk is enough, but the same is not enough with drugs.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, That's very true. But as I note in the article, I don't believe the government should be in the business of trying to save us from ourselves, it should only try to stop us when what we do is likely to hurt other people.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I see all your arguments against legalizing pot. I have come down on the "don't legalize" side, but I'm still not entirely convinced. So much of what you've said about alcohol is accurate, but I'm not so sure it doesn't apply equally to pot. The field sobriety test given to drivers would work almost as well with pot. They might be a little better at the finger-to-nose or walk the line test, but most would fail reciting the alphabet backwards or counting from 100 backwards.

I can smell alcohol on a drinker with no problem, and I can tell you that I can smell marijuana almost as well (much like a non-smoker can smell cigarette smoke on a smoker's clothes).

But my heart and head still say that we have enough goofy teenagers around without making them goofier with legalized pot. As for adults, I see the problem smoker as very much in the same class as problem drinkers. The possibilities of addiction appear to be higher for marijuana than with alcohol, but on the other hand, the potential for doing serious harm to others appears greater for alcohol-abusers than for marijuana abusers.

Still, over all, I am yet to be convinced that adding another stupefier to the legal recreational pharmacopia is a good idea. I'm torn on the issue of benefits versus burdens, and therefore prefer to err on the side of caution. And I do agree with you that once legalized, the proponents will move on to attempting to legalize harder drugs.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, The general public really can't spot people who are high, especially when you're talking about meth or cocaine, also many pot smokers are good at masking the smell -- which is why I think drug testing would become widespread, which would be a reduction in freedoms.

I see alcohol as a different issue, as I've mentioned in the comments, though some of the arguments made in the article could apply to alcohol as well.

Ed said...

Excellent points! I always think about it in terms of just the government telling the individual what to do, and in that way it seems like legalization makes sense. I hadn't thought about the other end of it. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Andrew: I agree that most people can spot someone high on coke or meth, but except for the argument that pot legalization is the camel's nose under the tent, I don't find that a compelling argument against pot legalization. But I still agree that legalization advocates have not yet proven their case to my satisfaction.

Amusing sidenote. In the 60s, when the Haight-Ashbury ("Hashbury") crowd were toking up, the police could easily identify which residence the pot smell was coming from. So they'd make a bust. The hippies figured that out, and started burning incense to mask the smell. Thereafter, the cops would make the busts where there was the strong odor of incense.

It's against the law to be drunk in public. It could also be made illegal (as it already is in many states) to be high in public. And in each case, it's the police who make the decision to arrest or not. The average person may not recognize the smell of pot on clothing or emanating from the breath, but most cops can.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That's the thing about government, it's always a balancing of interests, and when people only look at one side of the equation, then you get bad policy.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, But the problem isn't the cops. As I note in my article, the problem with legalization will be the response of the public, which can't recognize someone who is high like they can someone who is drunk, and who will need to protect themselves with widespread, repeated drug screening.

DUQ said...

I do think that sometimes the government does need to protect people from themselves like when they have shown they won't learn. You're right about drug testing. I wonder why no one ever brings that point up?

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, People don't bring up the drug testing issue because they only focus on the individual drug user, they don't think about the effects on society at large.

In terms of protecting us from ourselves, it very quickly becomes a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line between keeping people off drugs because drugs are bad for them and keeping people from buying burgers? That's why I think regulation should primarily be focused on harm to others.

CrispyRice said...

Thanks for this article, Andrew. I have a hard time with this issue, because I feel it to be wrong, but I don't have a good, logical argument against pot alone. I don't have a good comeback against the "marijuana is no different than alcohol" argument.

I know recreational pot users who are no different than the people who have a glass of wine with dinner. On the other end of the spectrum, I know people who are alcoholics and people who are "potheads" and neither can function without total abstinence.

I'm just not sure that pot alone is different enough from alcohol. However, I'm not about to support legalization, and I would fight like heck if they tried to outlaw booze, LOL. But I don't feel like I've got a logical basis for that stance.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Crispy. The real difference between the two is the ability to detect their effects.

When people think of this issue, they think of the responsible upper middle class people who have the occasional drink/joint at home.... or they think of the addict lying in the gutter. But those aren't the problem. The real problem are the people who are neither -- those who get high/drunk, and then venture out into public to do their jobs or drive around.

And that's where the difference becomes important. You can get high and no one knows you're high except that you seem a little slower (pot) or hyper (other drugs). But alcohol is much more obvious.

To me, that is the reason the one is more dangerous than the other -- you can spot if an employee is drunk, but you can't necessarily spot if they are stoned unless they are so stoned to the point that they can't function. And that makes it much more dangerous for people to take drugs than alcohol.

CrispyRice said...

I don't know, Andrew. The alcoholics I know can drink **A LOT** of booze before they start to seem impaired.

Notawonk said...

the "reduction in crime" argument falls apart when you apply it to crimes that are worse, so logically it makes no sense (to me) to apply it here.

*lets make killin' legal and there will be less killin'!*

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, Absolutely true. That's one of those that sounds ok until you realize that it could be applied to anything. It's basically an argument that says, if we pretend to ignore a problem, then it won't be a problem anymore because we don't recognize it as such.

Plus, in this case, there is another aspect to consider and that's the increase in crime from having more addicts. No one wants to consider that because then the whole argument falls apart.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, You build up a tolerance for drugs and alcohol that lets you take in more before you begin to experience the symptoms.

The problem is the people who light up, change clothes and then head to work. They just seem mellow. They don't have the loud voice, they don't breath alcohol, and they don't lose their balance as drunks do. Same thing with meth, meth just makes you see hyper, even though it messes with your perception of reality and causes a whole host of other problems (including paranoia).

CrispyRice said...

Well, I see your point, Andrew, but I don't find it a strongly compelling argument. You could make the same argument with a drinker who has just enough to seem ok, but isn't quite on his game.

Don't get me wrong - I'm NOT in favor of legalization. It just does strike me as a fuzzy area.

Ponderosa said...

The ‘libertarians’ who are pro-drugs /prostitution/gambling/etc. are at best leading with their chins but more likely just not serious people at least politically.

Really? Free [usually included] drugs are your highest priority in life, honestly?

Why don’t we address tax policy, spending, the role of government or a whole host of other issues – first, then you can go get high. If not, leave already - Amsterdam is calling.

Anyway, I obviously agree with your conclusion. Current drug laws are appropriate.

But, I strongly disagree with the societal ill approach. It makes me very uncomfortable. The same line of reasoning was used to justify Obamacare and once in place the justification will grow and grow. Next up: food justice.

I’d rather we just classify each drug as a poison and be done with it.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I understand your point, but you have to think about the liability aspect of this. The first time an accounting firm gets hit with a huge judgment because their accountant admitted to being high when he did the tax returns, or the first time a salesman runs someone over, companies will ban drug use. But the law will say banning isn't enough -- it will say that to avoid liability, you need to put procedures in place to guarantee that people aren't working when high. That means drug testing for anyone who has a job that could result in hurting someone. And the reason is that you can't tell who may be impaired by drugs at the moment by looking at them. BUT, you can almost always tell who is impaired by alcohol.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, I think this issue has hurt the libertarians significantly. In fact, I think they've been dangerously close to being viewed simply as a pot party. And you're right, trying to legalize drugs is probably the least important issue facing America these days, and if that is their primary motivation, then they aren't serious.

I think societal ill is the only way to look at whether or not regulation is valid. I see your point about ObamaCare, but I see that an "semantic abuse." They tried to turn what is basically a personal injury into a society harm by saying "but we're going to have to pay for you." I don't accept that. I think societal ill must be limited to actual harm to third persons or massive waste incurred by third persons to protect themselves from harm.

Unfortunately, the left likes to appropriate these ideas and play the semantics game with them. The same way they try to turn tax cuts into "giveaways" they try to turn personal injury into public injury... and then even expand it to try to spin personal-non-perfection into a public injury. I reject all of that.

Joel Farnham said...


So far, no one has given me any compelling reason to not regulate.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Because I believe a solid case for regulation exists, I agree. I think the burden shifts to providing a reason to de-regulate and I see nothing that is compelling or persuasive.

I understand medical usage and I have no problems with that -- where it's legitimate. But so far I see no benefits that outweigh the costs associated with deregulation.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - you did a good job, counselor. Not enough to sway me (I'm not buying the easier to detect red herring) but a good job nonetheless. :-)!

AndrewPrice said...

Alright Jed, we'll agree to disagree! LOL!

Ponderosa said...

The societal ill is the mother of all slippery slope arguments. And until such a time that it has been wrested from the left...I am unable join you.
It is far too dangerous.

The government should have very little legal standing in the life of an individual.

Some pothead lying around eating chips all day, while sad - is not a danger. He is not and should not be of legal or economic interest to the US.

Ethically or morally - sure. But persuasion is the answer not force.

Finally something to agree to disagree on!

@Joel or Jed: If a state legislature makes a drug illegal - is that reasonable?

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, I'm glad we finally found something to agree to disagree upon! LOL!

But let me ask, what basis would you use for determining when the government can or cannot regulate if not social harm? The problem is that any standard is subject to the semantics game, the key is finding a legitimate strategy that we find acceptable no matter what the left tries to do with it.

Joel Farnham said...


Most things are regulated in this country. Drugs are the last thing to even think about deregulation because we need SOBER talk and thought about deregulation. If drugs are deregulated first, .... well you get the picture. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, LOL! Why am I thinking of a Cheech and Chong routine?

T_Rav said...

Although I'm a bit tardy, I would like to submit one rationale for the "why is alcohol legal but not marijuana" argument. Simply put, alcohol is a part of the culture. Marijuana is not. That is, yes, both are a part of "pop culture" as vaguely defined by our modern world. But you don't have blue-collar factory workers just going home or to the bar and lighting up the way you do them opening a cold one (to use the slang). It's still very possible to maintain the illegality of marijuana; it's demonstrably near-impossible to criminalize alcohol consumption. Alcohol is probably more dangerous than pot in a lot of ways, but the latter is still not exactly a consequence-free drug. With that in mind, and seeing as how one of the major points of the conservative viewpoint is to achieve the best feasible (emphasis on "feasible") sociopolitical system, I think it makes sense to preserve the distinction between the two.

StanH said...

This is where my small “l” libertarian kicks in, and I separate from my conservative brethren.

Your right the Mafia didn’t go away after prohibition was lifted, they simply moved over to drugs for a time.

Regulate it exactly like booze, which by the way is the most evil drug there is IMO. There are many, many more people in the graveyard from booze than drugs. As Lawhawk said do a field sobriety test, make people register as drug addicts, like the methadone program, for heroin addicts, treatment, etc.

To me the Drug War as coined by Nixon has been a monumental disaster, costing hundreds of billions of dollars for what? …30,000 killed south of the border, in three years, so that some feeble minded asshole can get high. A jobs program for jailers, cops, judges, and attorneys (all deference to present company). My stepdad was a lawyer, and one of my best friends is as well, so I don’t have any attorney vendettas, although as Shakespeare said, “kill all the lawyers,” …kidding.

We need to try something different , because what we’re doing now has made things exponentially worse IMO.

Now tear into me.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's true. Many things that we do are not based on logic per se, so much as culture or our view of who we wish we were rather than who we are. And I think you're right that alcohol is so ingrained in our culture that there's no ability to change that anymore. . . barring some massive cultural shift. Marijuana does not share that status.

And the pro-legalization lobby isn't helping itself by the way they frame this issue. They frame this either a game for rich professionals or spoiled college kids.... ex-hippies and hippie-wanna-be's. That will not endear them to middle class America.

Moreover, they've made no secret of their incrementalism approach, i.e. going for medical marijuana as a trojan horse for marijuana legalization and being open about using marijuana legalization as a trojan horse for legalization of other drugs. That kind of behavior makes voters suspicious. So does playing down the risks. There are many people who are hurt by addiction and the legalizers act like that doesn't happen.

(That said, the regulation crowd has also overstated the risk for years, and that didn't help them.)

Finally, let me add that even if these arguments do apply to alcohol, the fact that we choose to ignore the problems of alcohol (which are undeniable) does not mean we should legalize marijuana. In other words, just because we let some murders go for one reason or another does not mean we should let all murderers go.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, you dirty hippie! Just kidding, hat's not how we do it here! We're not liberals... we allow dissent! :-)

I would say though that having spent time in Methland, formerly known as West Virginia, that if we legalized hard drugs like Meth, this would be a very different country and few of the other freedoms we talk about would matter. That stuff destroys people and they, in turn, destroy everything around them.

I think an argument can be made for marijuana legalization, but I just don't see it. In terms of the alcohol comparison, I agree that alcohol is bad... but that doesn't mean we give up on trying to stop other bad things. (And no, I'm not advocating alcohol prohibition.)

I do agree that a different approach is needed, however. I think we need to work on the demand side, on the treatment side, and we need to change the punishment scheme for small time users. I also am not a fan at all of property seizure statutes, which I think give the wrong incentives to police departments and courts.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, that's a really good point. That one substance is legal and another is not, and they're both bad for you, doesn't mean you ought to legalize both of them. (If push comes to shove, I would say outlaw both of them.)

And regarding the meth, southern Missouri could give West Virginia a run for its money on a good day, so I know exactly what you're talking about. For a while when I was in elementary school, our county had the highest levels of meth busts in the U.S., which we always viewed as an accomplishment and got really mad when a county in Arkansas stole the top slot. (Our county is freaking boring otherwise.) That stuff is the poster child for the anti-legalization movement. In fact, it's probably why I'm so hard against drugs, because if you're not actually on them in my region, you can see what they do and it totally turns you off.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Thanks! It's one of those arguments that you see a lot -- particularly as a lawyer.... they didn't arrest everyone else, why should they be able to arrest me. That's flawed logic.

Moreover, it's not like we have totally legalized alcohol either. We limit who can drink it and when, where they can buy it, how much they can consume in public, and what activities they can do when they drink. We do random testing and non-random testing in some cases. We stiffen criminal penalties for it as well. So at best, the alcohol argument would suggest a heavily regulated scheme. But if one is going to advocate that, then the burden is on that advocate to prove that a similar regulatory scheme for marijuana as we have for alcohol is warranted or workable. I don't think it is because they are different substances with different effects.

In terms of Meth, you definitely understand what I'm talking about then. The problem with the drug debate is that it's largely a rich kids debate. They sell the issue as a bunch of well-adjusted professionals or future professionals who just want to do some drugs at a party or smoke a joint on the weekend away from the office.

But that's the most sanitized version of the drug world. They always try to ignore the people whose lives are destroyed by drugs. Like the users who live like insects in some sort of nest, who kill old people for their SSI checks, who burn their kids with cigarettes (true story -- woman burned her name into the back of her kid's neck with a cigarette), and who otherwise cease to be recognizable as humans. That needs to be considered in the debate as well. But the legalizers ignore those issues because it doesn't fit the narrative, which is basically: "I think I can do drugs responsibly, so they should be legal."

Individualist said...


According to Zac GaliwhateverhisnameisIaintgonnagoogleit last movie trailer you can easily tell the pot smokers because they all have glaucoma.

I break from libertarians on this issue and like the south park teacher I say "drugs are bad Ok". I know the hard drugs must be illegal. Marajuana is tricky. It i not good to allow it but I find a hard time arguing that it should be legal when booze isn't.

What does bother me is I visited a friend of mine and his roommate is a kid taking classes at U of M. He is taking a class called "Drugs and the American Society" which from talking with him appears to be indoctrination for drug legalization. He does not even think acid sould be illegal. Even told me you drive fine on acid which worries me greatly. Still what the heck is the University thinking. I guess they are trying to hard to open their students' minds.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I've argued with a great many legalizers and they usually do their best to avoid getting beyond pot because most people don't think pot is that big of a deal and they know that once they start saying "kids should be allowed to have meth," people get pretty upset very quickly. BUT, if you keep pushing, they will eventually admit that their ultimate goal is to legalize everything. And by "legalize," they mean anyone can buy it, with no regulation whatsoever.

And it doesn't surprise me that a college course would be little more than propaganda for this issue as most political college classes are little more than propaganda these days and this issue is being pushed heavily on college campuses.

When it comes to the alcohol v. marijuana debate, I think it's false logic to say that just because we don't ban alcohol, we shouldn't ban marijuana (see the discussion above). If anything, that argument merely suggests that we should increase the level of regulation on alcohol, not that we should not legalize marijuana.

Also, keep in mind that we don't give alcohol a free pass either -- it's one of the most heavily regulated products in the planet, banned in some circumstances (kids, people on parole, on the job), and we punish its misuse. So the dichotomy they set up of "legal alcohol v. illegal pot" is a false premise.

Ponderosa said...

Joel - Dude! I like totally get your point! Way cool.

Andrew - yes there must be standards but at this point I have no idea where to start.
Things are beyond absurd.

It as if each and every human and all the actions for each individual on the planet function like a butterfly effect every day, all day. [The only exceptions are made are for people in countries not named the 'United States']

So because we each impact the world in some infinitesimal way – we must be told what to do and if that doesn’t work - controlled.

Some group, somewhere discovers some new societal ill and it is off to the races.

That said - meth is poison to all who use it.

Whereas most of the adult populaton can moderate the intake of alcohol and in moderation it has actual health benefits.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, I know what you mean, a day doesn't go by that we aren't told about some new crisis that needs the government to step in and change the way we live. It's pretty pathetic.

And it is funny how the things we do wrong don't seem to be wrong when they're done in China or India. . . isn't it?

Agreed about meth.

Good point about alcohol having benefits if it's used in moderation. That could be a basis for its tolerance in our culture?

Game Master Rob Adams said...

My 2 cents on this issue is that although I think you have made a very good point in your blog I think that any governmental control like this is inherently against the Constitution.

Also in order for your arguments against legalizing some or all of the drugs to work one has to assume that people are not doing illegal drugs because they are illegal. I believe this is a fallacy because it assumes that the people that are not doing it are not doing it because it is currently illegal.

I present the opposite in that most people when they want something they do it anyway. Those people that would do these hard drugs will probably do them anyway since these drugs with the exception of maybe mary are a means of escaping ones obligations in life.

I hold that while it is true that some will try it and that certain drugs like cocaine only take one time to become addicted from what the studies say that not only will legalizing mary reduce the cost because the war on drugs would cease but also would increase revenue as a cash crop.

Now if we assume that people cannot make up their own choices to do good or bad just because something may be legal now that they know is a bad choice for them personally aren't we taking away the very nature of our party? Is our party about taking responsibility for ourselves or is our party about controlling others? You cannot have it both ways.

I propose that in fact people will choose to either do the drugs or not and the legality of it will have absolutely zero impact. The parents still need to tell their kids that this is not OK. For instance, I believe that not wearing one's seatbelt really has numbers for both pro and con. I choose to wear my seatbelt but if I did not want to wear it there really is nothing that the government can do to FORCE me to do it.

Take responsibility for yourselves and make sure to tell your kids that drugs are bad mkay but don't tell the people that they cannot have the ability to choose for themselves.

Game Master Rob Adams said...

I do believe Andrew that this is the first time I have disagreed with one of your posts.

AndrewPrice said...

ACG, Disagreement is fine. In fact, I almost expect it on the more controversial issues because people do have different views.

You make some good points, although I would say that we are not the party of no government, we are the party of less government. And I think this is one of those moments where regulation is best, just like I think it's a good idea to keep alcohol away from kids or drivers.

I'm also not sure that I believe that more people wouldn't do it if it became legal. The law sends signals about what is right and wrong and there are many people who do follow those signals -- not to mention that many people simply don't know where to find it right now... a problem that would go away if you could buy it at the grocery store.

I think if you look at the high usage rates of alcohol and prescription drugs, that drug use would reach similar levels if the government were to say: "go ahead, we don't care."

Also, unless you mean total legalization, then the interdiction costs will continue as the government will continue to try to stop harder drugs from getting into the country and as they work to keep drugs out of the hands of the people who are still not allowed to use them, e.g. kids, people on parole, people who have jobs that have regulated jobs that require them to be straight.

Also, let me ask, would you be willing to trade allowing this for allowing employers, insurers, etc. to start constant drug testing? And what do you do about people who would then be denied insurance because of drug use? Would you create a state insurer to pay for them or would you force insurers to cover them or would you just let them drive around without insurance?

CrisD said...

I am a "just say no" mom which makes me an anathema to many--especially libertarians. So I will give you the hilarious argument that Greg Gutfeld's mother gave on Red Eye:

"Oh, dear, you know, it is such a difficult world for these young people--putting that in their hands would just make it so much harder."

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, The "Just Say No" campaign was highly ridiculed by the press and the Democrats at the time... but it proved to be very effective.

Parenting is where everything begins with people. If they get good values, then tend to live by those values their whole lives. And teaching kids to stay off drugs really does work.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, and I concur.

I used to be agnostic about legalizing drugs until I worked in an ER.

The craziest people I had to deal with were those on meth and usually something else (such as meth and psychiatric meds, a very bad combo that usually made the user very violent).
Not that meth isn't bad enough, but the mixers were the worst in my experience.

People on drugs almost always hurt their families, particularly the addicts and mixers as well as society, including nurses, paramedics, doctors, cops, security guards, etc., and that doesn't include people driving or working on drugs who make a mistake that can kill and hurt several people, and yes, even devil's weed can do that.

BTW, another source of demand for drugs is folks who are in a lot of pain (physical and/or mental).

Unfortunately, we have made very little progress in the last 30 years or more on pain management (believe me, I know).

The meds we have now can be addictive and most have unwanted side effects.

This causes a lot of people to abuse alcohol and/or drugs that usually wouldn't and it's a problem we should address anyhow, but it would definitely cut down on demand if we had better pain meds and better trained doctors on how to prescribe them.

A pet peeve of mine (especially with military or VA doctors) is the severe underprescription of pain meds (because some people abuse them or commit an verdose and die).

For example, I have never had an addiction problem. 12 years ago my doc prescribed me oxycontin and it works much better than morphine but without the bad side effects.

Unfortunately, like it always does, the govt. essentially don't want doctors that work for them prescribing it because some idiots took too many and died.

So now, myself and many other vets can't get it even though in my case the doctor thinks I should have it.
And you already brought up the cold meds thing.

This type of govt. interference (brought on by some stupid state and/or federal politicians) really pisses me off because they punish law abiding folks like me because a few idjits od'd accidently or on purpose with legal prescription meds (or OTC in the case of cold meds).

And they interfere with doctors with veiled and not-so-veiled threats and won't let them do their jobs.

Anyhow, just a different angle to consider if the govt. ever gets smart about reducing the demand for illegal drugs or alcohol.
At least they could do something to mitigate the problem in this area.

It's not a problem for me (other than a lot of pain) but I know a few vets who do self medicate with booze because they are in more pain than they can stand.
It's a problem with civilians as well as vets I'm sure.

Dealing with mental pain would be more problematic.
There has been progress made in this area of medicine, but obviously not enough, yet.

Sadly, the people who do self medicate for mental pain never get any tangible relief and they make it worse, actually, for themselves, their family and often other folks.

BTW, the mafia didn't just make money withalcohol and drugs. They also made money with extortion, gambling, prostitution, theft, and a host of other crimes.

The mafia was in business long before prohibition and actually didn't get involved with drugs until the 60's and 70's.

Now they are politicians, primarily democrats and they are still extorting and stealing (far more than their predecessors).

Individualist said...


I am not sure that I agree the VA doctors are being too cautious with pain meds. I know someone became addicted to pain pills after an automotive accident.

The ambulance chasing lawyer sent her to a doctor that put her on oxy, zanaz and several other pills. She told me she was taking several a day.

The problem with opiates is that they work by deadening the nerves. When the pills wear off the nerves "wake up" and the resulting rene3wed nueral activity expresses itself as pain stimulus.

My friend has told me that she would rather die than withdraw. She has the desire to quit as her addiction has destroyed her life. Problem is she does not have the fortitude to deal with the shakes. She went into a detox that cutr her off completely and could only stay one day due to the shakes.

She is not compeletely weak. She was a marine stationed in San Diego. Pain Medicine is very dangerous becasue the addicitin is physical. An addict that goes cold turkey could die.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, If it was only people ruining their own lives with drugs, then I wouldn't care. Everybody has the right to injure themselves. But the effects go well beyond the individual. Drugs hurt a lot of people. And legalizing will only make that worse. The argument that somehow this will make it better is ludicrous and flies in the face of human experience.

On prescription drugs, there is a delicate balancing act. Some doctors hand out way too much. Some don't have out enough. And one of the problems is that we don't really understand pain enough. I've dealt with a lot of shrinks and pain management doctors through my practice and that is the one thing they all agree upon -- we don't understand pain or really how best to treat it. That really needs to be studied and then the politics taken out of it entirely.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, In my experience, the way most people get hooked on pain pills is that they take them too fast. They take a pill. It doesn't work right away, so they take another. Then the first one kicks in, but they assume they need too. But that second one is where you start to shift from pain fighting to feeling good. Soon these people are taking two at a time because they think they need two. Then, when those act too slowly, they take another. Soon they're up to three... four... five... etc. And at that point they are basically getting high rather than treating pain. And they become hooked on that feeling of being high.

The pills aren't the problem, it's the way they are taken which becomes the problem.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Indy.

Oh, I agree the opiates can be addictive, particularly in high doses.
I've been very fortunate not to have that problem. Indeed, I don't like taking them at all and will often skip doses if I can handle it.
I've gone months, sometimes without it until it gets to be too much.

The problem is there really has been no breakthroughs in better pain meds for decades, let alone non-addictive ones.

Plus, the policies can differ from VA to VA (same with military hospitals which are worse as far as uniform care which is why I chose to go to a VA instead. Unfortunately, my wife doesn't have that choice).

I understand why the higher ups are leery about giving docs more leeway, and indeed, some docs are leery and not without good reason, however, each patient is different, and, like private practice, docs should have more leeway.

I've had the same doc for twenty years and he says the red tape involving pain meds, particularly oxycontin is an overreaction by the bureaucrats because there are vets who get addicted and some that will OD.
However, not all vets have that problem so why are they punished?

I'm not saying oxy is a miracle drug. We do need better pain meds that aren't physically addictive and doesn't have bad side effects.

Until that time, docs should be able to prescribe them if they think nothing else is working well, or alternate, since they can be more addictive than the others.

This would go a long ways in helping to decrease the number of patients that self medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs.

I'm sorry about your friend and I hope she heals up soon and gets over the addiction.
Her accident must've been very bad to be prescribed that many oxycontin.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew: I concur and wasn't advocating legalization. I'm dead set against that.
I was just saying that many patients end up self medicating because we have few meds that really work well, and those can be addictive.
Plus the lack of more uniform care.

I do care about the patients that get addicted through no fault of their own (I know that's not what you meant), and I think research efforts should be concentrated on that problem and developing better meds and that would help.

I also concur that it's stupid to sentence the addicts to hard time in prison just for using.
Dealers, yes, throw the book at 'em.

At any rate I think that mandatory treatment and monitoring is cheaper than prison.

Individualist said...


The doctor was paid for by a law firm that regularly has ads about helping those in accidents. The law firm sent her to this doctor. She was prescribed the drugs for a period of eight months until the suit was settled with the insurance company. Then she was cut off and left addcited.

Much of this situation is her fault in part from abusing the drugs but....

How could the doctor prescribe that many pills to begin with. Even if she was taking them to fast shuld not someone have cut her off before it got bad.

A year and a half ago I had a hemorroid that I had to go to the ER for surgery. The doctor insisted and giving me a script for percocet even though I told him I did not want them. He gave it to me anyways. I bought the other medication but that one I never filled. I would rather have pain than the possibility of being addicted the way I have seen her.

I don't think the doctor or the lawfirm in this case were ethical but I only know the story third hand. To me though doctors that are not responsible in giving these pills out should be incarcerated more than drug dealers. At least the crack dealer does not try to make the crack as a medicine.

Individualist said...


On a second note: Why are subutext and opiate blockers so expensive over $1,000 a month.

And are they really worth it. I have heard they have bad side effects.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I agree. :)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Indy, I have no idea why opiate blockers are so expensive and have no experience with them. Perhaps they are relatively new and there are no generic ones yet.

As to the side effects, I looked them up. There can be bad side effects but only about 1%-5% of those who take them experience the bad side effects so I presume it's relatively safe.

It sounds to me like the doctor overprescribed.
I mean, I was literally dying when I was prescribed oxy and it was only 2-3 pills per day (can't recall the mg's).

Certainly, cutting off a patient cold turkey is not sound practice!

I concur, the penalty for mistakes like that should be steeper. It's not like it's that complicated.

I urge your friend to look up, or get help looking up everything she can find out about the meds she takes.

In fact, I urge everyone to double check what their doc gives them, know the side effects, and double check with the pharmicist to make sure other meds or vitamins/supplements don't interfere with the meds.

The same with treatments. Docs make mistakes and it can only help if he patient understands at least the basics of the prescribed course of treatment and from at least a few reputable sources.

I have been blessed that my doc has never made a mistake in my treatment (he's very good at his job), but I did have a few docs before him that made several mistakes.

I wouldn't have known if I hadn't done my own homework and in one case it may have saved my life.

Mike K. said...

Andrew, I think you're right for the most part about how addiction happens. A few years back I had my gallbladder removed, and I was taking Percocet for the pain. I got down to only needing one a day at bedtime, so I wouldn't be jolted awake if I turned wrong in my sleep.

After three or four days of this, one night I took the pill and not long after, I realized that my bed was the most comfortable place in the world. I had never noticed that before. And my sheets were so smooth and my blankets so soft and warm. I'd never felt so wonderful.

"So that's how it happens," I thought, and stopped taking them--until I got my first kidney stone. It's funny that, for me, when I was truly in pain I didn't get that euphoria, but when I didn't really need it I did. Scared the heck out of me.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I can't take full credit for the thought. That's how I've seen it happen with my clients, and then I ended up talking to several experts in pain and addiction. They said that the amount of the pain drug that people take to cure pain isn't the problem at all. Once the pain goes away, they can stop taking the drug with no problems no matter how much they needed to treat the pain.

The problem is when people take more than they need to treat the pain. That extra bit creates a peaceful, happy (or euphoric) feeling. And people get addicted to that. Moreover, it often happens without the person even realizing it because they only observe that the pain has gone away and they don't realize the artificial happiness they are getting.

So the end result of what these people said is that addiction is very hard to recognize and very hard to treat. And there are no hard and fast rules, it's all about making sure the person is truly just treating the pain.

P.S. I take it you and everybody else are getting e-mail notification of comments, because I'm amazed how many people have revisited this thread today! This post is almost two years old! :)

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