Legalizing drugs

      1 Comment on Legalizing drugs

Many people, both in real life and online, have asked me what my opinion about drugs, specifically their legalization, is. This is usually asked in a context where the drug being discussed is marijuana, but the question can and should probably be discussed for any drug that could be considered illegal.

First of all, it is important to realize the fact that “drugs” is extremely vague. When you hear the word, you either think about medicine or illegal drugs. Obviously, in a situation arguing about if we should make them legal, we need something more specific than “illegal substances”.

You could say “anything that causes an addiction”. That would definitely include Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine, etc. But it would also include cigarettes, alcohol, coffee and chocolate. I’m pretty sure most people don’t argue about the possibily of criminalizing chocolate.

You could also say “anything that causes ill effects and no benefit whatsoever”. But the problem is that people use them. I personally have never done any drugs or smoked cigarettes, so I can’t really know what positive effect they have, but it has to, at the very least, give pleasure of some sort. The negative effects are definitely more important than the temporary fun, but if there was no fun, there wouldn’t be so many people throwing their lives away for one more fix. I can understand that some people suck at weighting cost/benefits situations, and end up addicted to drugs, but I don’t believe people would be dumb enough to get addicted if there wasn’t at least a small benefit, even if it is extremely short-lived.

Furthermore, you could argue, again, that chocolate causes health problems for a temporary small pleasure benefit.

The difficulty in choosing what to legalize comes from the fact that, no matter how hard you try, you have to be pretty arbitrary in your decision. You can’t find a universally accepted definition for substances that should be illegal without causing riots because you just turned a minor thing that everyone likes into a crime. So you have to arbitrarily choose some, and hope for the best.

Actually, this isn’t even speculation. That’s literally the only reason why cigarette is still allowed. Even though it is arguably more dangerous than marijuana, causes a very strong addiction, and incommodates any non-smoker around you, it stays legal because of two reasons. First, too many people are addicted, and no government wants to make this huge group of people their enemy. Second, the profit from the industry is incredible, so multi-billion dollar companies would go somewhere else if you made their product illegal, which also sucks for a government.

I’m usually a big advocate of freedom, and logically, natural selection. If there was a product available in any supermarket that is literally poison, and the packaging clearly indicated this, and grown adults bought it and drank it, and ended up dying, I wouldn’t advocate banning this product. It is everyone’s responsibility to take care of what they are eating and drinking, and if they fail at doing so, they are the only person to blame. Of course, anyone creating or selling incorrectly labeled dangerous poison should be severaly punishable by law. Anyone feeding such a poison to their kids or guests should also be prosecuted. That’s only natural.

That’s exactly how I feel about cigarettes. The package literally tell you “hey, this product sucks and will destroy your body”, with explicit pictures of such destroyed bodies, at least here in Canada. Anyone who buys them anyway and smokes them is entirely reponsible for their destroyed body. If Marijuana, Cocaine, meth, etc also destroy your body, brain or both, they should be correctly identified as horrible products, and then sold anyway. It is entirely the buyer’s fault if they end up destroying themselves. I understand that this is controversial, but you have to keep something in mind. Right now, kids are getting addicted and ruining their lives by buying those same products from the street. I believe that at least some of those kids would not do so if they knew everything that is wrong with that product. I also believe that those who would still use them have absolutely no right or reason to complain.

But there is still a problem. Some categories of people can’t be expected to be responsible or even sensible. A good example would be 5 years old kids. If they can’t understand what poison means, and can’t read the word anyway, they shouldn’t be responsible for making that choice. That is why, in my perfect world which would be everything but perfect, all those “controversial” substances would only be available to people that are considered adults in the country. Here in Canada it would be at 18 years old. Sale should be denied to minors, and any adult caught selling, giving, sharing or making such a product available to a minor should be prosecuted with child abuse or negligence, depending on if the act was on purpose or not and if the amount was big or small. And yes, I would include alcohol in controversial substances. Of course the police won’t show up at your house if you let your teen taste a sip of wine, but if they happened to see you do it, there should be some kind of punishment. Basically don’t go out of your way to catch such small crimes, but still treat them as a crime.

But we’re not done here. Cigarettes stink. Marijuana stinks. Drunk drivers are dangerous. Drunk pedestrian are dangerous too. Cigarettes can be dangerous for other people too, like smoking in your house around your children for 18 years.

So I would add one more detail to my “everything should be well documented and legal for consenting adults, so that any ill effect is entirely their fault” stance. Any of the “controversial” substances, like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, can only be used (no specific law about display) in a location that you either own, or have the specific permission of the owner to use, or be under the effect of, a particular substance in. Furthermore, any such consent is void if the location is public (you don’t use cigarettes at the bus stop and fill it with cancer-smoke for hours afterwards) or in use by minors. Which means that, for example, schools, even privately owned, would not be allowed to give cigarettes consent, but a bar would be allowed to give alcohol consent to customers. This also means that if you have children, then you can no longer smoke at home while they are here. It won’t stop you from smoking while they are at school, but at least the cancerous air will be a lot more dissipated when they get home, as opposed to smoking right next to them. This also takes care of the drunk driving problem. You do not own the street, it is public, so being under the effect of alcohol while driving would be a crime. Yes, I do not discriminate on the amount. There is no amount of alcohol that will make you drive better, and depending on the person it will either be worse, or at best equal to your normal abilities. Driving is already extremely dangerous, and I think it is ridiculous to allow any amount of cognitive-blocking substances in the blood of drivers. But, on the other hand, if anyone drunk driving causes an accident, even if they die in it, they are the culprit, not a victim. The victim is the normal car that was hit by an irreponsible drinker. So, if you happen to own enough land to drive on it, then by all means have fun driving drunk. Just don’t do it on public roads.

Of course, in a perfect world, drugs wouldn’t exist. And with a perfect population, with my system, nobody would ever buy any drugs or alcohol, and they would soon disappear because nobody wants them. But our world isn’t perfect. My system is a direct danger to anyone who isn’t smart enough to take care of themselves. That’s a problem for, for example, people with severe mental problems, who don’t deserve to get addicted to stuff because they literally couldn’t understand the risks.

My system is not perfect. But I think it would be better than our current world, where teens can get drunk at home, people are allowed to hurl hundred of pounds of metal at incredible speed on public roads with many distractions, at night, surrounded by other people, while under the effect of substances that are well known for their cognitive-blocking abilities, as long as they don’t have too much of those substances in their blood, and smokers are allowed to risk giving cancer to their kids just because they didn’t care about getting cancer themselves.

So that is my stance. I am for legalization, with big changes to our societal rules for those newly legalized drugs and the ones who are already legal, but I am also completely against drugs in general. I’d just let everyone make that decision for themselves.

  • Kingfisher

    When it comes to drugs, whether they are legal and illegal, and whether they are explicitly pharmacological, or functionally so (refined sugar, for example), I think prohibition is a bad way to go about addressing the issues that come along with them.

    I’m more interested in the concept of ‘harm-reduction’. The point of legally restraining any substance is that there is some sort of hazard associated with it that warrants protection. If people are still being harmed by the substance in spite of restrictions, then the restrictions are not being effective in their primary function. There is debate about many drug laws that their point is not actually harm reduction; they are thinly veiled mechanisms for corrupt officials to abuse criminal codes for their own ends. There is some credence to these views.

    So if I were to design laws purely to reduce the harm they cause, here’s how I would do it: First I would classify the hazards I wanted to prevent. I would differentiate between potentially fatal hazards, or hazards that lead to permanent damage, to hazards that could be remedied after the fact. I would differentiate between hazards that affect bystanders, and hazards that are limited to the users themselves.

    Once the hazards were classified, I would design laws and regulations that sought to reduce the harm. By identifying the harm in a systematic way, you can develop a variety of strategies to mitigate the risks. You can even find data on a variety of strategies throughout the world and throughout history.

    I think one of the most successful strategies I’ve seen is the one that has been applied to tobacco. Tobacco is a harmful and addictive drug, but one that has rarely been illegal. A number of strategies have been used, and the consumption and damage of it is way down from the peak. Among these strategies;
    – High taxation on tobacco products both to discourage use and mitigate social damage.
    – Age restrictions to prevent the sale and marketing to young people.
    – Widespread banning of indoor use to reduce exposure to bystanders.
    – Graphic warning labels on all products to remind users of the risks.

    In terms of harm reduction for all drugs, I’d start with one thing. Make it a violent crime (aggravated assault maybe) to sell any hazardous substance without the proper hazard labeling. Make all drugs legal (though still regulated as needed [ie. by prescription]), but if the contents of the package are different from what’s on the label, which has toxicity information set by government standards, then the seller is guilty of a serious crime. The main effect of this is I would expect the rise of recreational dispensaries. These would have professional chemists to test everything they sell, and have the paperwork to back it up.

    This would limit most of the hazard to personal choice, and would make it easier to restrict marketing to young people. The residual hazards, like impaired driving, health effects, etc, could then be studied and mitigated more effectively.

    In essence, stop treating drugs as special. They can more effectively be dealt with as separate hazards of consumer safety, social health, pollution, and general pathology.

    Also, completely decriminalize use. Going after users is like treating the victims of assault as accessories.