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November 13, 2008

Comments

Seems like a false choice is being presented here: status quo or full legalization.

I welcome you to develop that idea further. I'm not dogmatic, but pragmatic.

The War on Drugs is wreaking havoc in Mexico and Colombia (not to mention America - with money spent, imprisonment, etc.).

If there is a way to undo that absent full legalization, I'm all ears.

I think you're right that too little is made of the way the war on drugs impedes our foreign policy objectives. And, as you note, our domestic objectives. Many crimes by their nature have a negative effect on those who aren't the perpetrators, but in the case of drugs it's their illegality itself that generates the negative externalities. I simply can't understand why we continue the war. Let ATF (in whatever guise it exists now -- not sure) regulate the trade, tax the heck out of the stuff, and we'll be good to go.

The War on Drugs is wreaking havoc in Mexico and Colombia (not to mention America - with money spent, imprisonment, etc.).

If there is a way to undo that absent full legalization, I'm all ears.

I'd flip that around. Drug use wreaks havoc in the United States, particularly in poor and vulnerable communities. If there is a way to undo that absent the current regime, I'm all ears.

I'd flip that around. Drug use wreaks havoc in the United States, particularly in poor and vulnerable communities. If there is a way to undo that absent the current regime, I'm all ears.

But this refutes itself. If drug use under the current regime is wreaking havoc on Americans, then the current regime is not working. So even if legalization doesn't end that phenomenon, it will make vast improvements in other areas.

Bottom line: humans have been using drugs since they first discovered that certain fungus gave them a rush oh so many thousands of years ago. Trying to come up with a system that eliminates that altogether is unrealistic absent extreme fascistic and draconian measures.

Attempts to prohibit drug use through the legal regime have been failures. The criminalization of the drug called alcohol was such an acute and pervasive disaster that it was overturned soon after passage. The failure to recognize how serious the repercussions are from the attempt to criminalize marijuana, cocaine and even heroin use has led to many horrendous outcomes that continue to this day.

Worse, even, than the effects of smoking a joint.

should say "it will at least make vast improvements..."

The War on Drugs is wreaking havoc in Mexico and Colombia (not to mention America - with money spent, imprisonment, etc.).

Not to mention Afghanistan, where your aerial spraying of herbicide on the locals' poppy fields deprives them of needed income and turns them against our military.

That the governments objectives in the War against Citizens Getting High conflict with the objectives in the far more important work in Afghanistan apparently does not trouble our paternalistic crusaders in charge.

"Drug use wreaks havoc in the United States, particularly in poor and vulnerable communities. If there is a way to undo that absent the current regime, I'm all ears."

I'm not sure what you think follows from this. The current regime doesn't stop drug use from wreaking havoc in poor and vulnerable communities.

It further causes hugely corrosive civil liberties side-effects in the same communities, involves very intrusive police measures (because victimless crimes don't get reported by either party, promotes further distrust with police, provides a black market to fuel gangs and gang violence, and this has provoked a para-military approach in the police force which is IMHO socially destructive.

Further it causes all sorts of problems for other countries (see especially Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan).

For something that causes so many nasty side-effects, you would want it to have an enormous positive benefit.

I'm skeptical that the current drug war approach has more than a very modest positive side, and I'm not really aware of anyone who argues that it has the wildly positive side that it would take to counterbalance all of its negative effects.

Eric, the drug dealers are the ones wrecking havoc. If you legalize drugs you will only embolden them to further violence as they fight over who among them will come out on top in their battle against humanity.

Personally I would increase funding to law enforcment agencies for the purpose of wiping out the drug dealer gangs/cartels.

Drug dealers should be classified along with terrorist and genocidial killers as perpetuators of crimes against humanity.

There is no middle ground with such people. We have no choice but to deal with them harshly and bring them to justice. The crime they perpetuate has destroyed millions of lives in every economic class in every area of the world. They must be stopped. It is time to get serious about this and stop treating it like a minor problem. Too many innocent lives are at stake. Justice demands no less than our best effort.

A distiction should be made between dealers and users. Users are victims, not always completely innocent victims but victims nevertheless. Dealers are nothing but inhuman scum. Users and dealers should be dealt with accordingly.

I'd flip that around. Drug use wreaks havoc in the United States, particularly in poor and vulnerable communities. If there is a way to undo that absent the current regime, I'm all ears.

But this refutes itself. If drug use under the current regime is wreaking havoc on Americans, then the current regime is not working. So even if legalization doesn't end that phenomenon, it will make vast improvements in other areas.

You could extend this to say that it's not just "not working", it makes things worse. The current regime makes drug dealing a disproportionately lucrative, attractive criminal cancer in poor and vulnerable communities. (You find very few people hawking moonshine and cigarettes on streetcorners, or killing each other - and bystanders, and police - to compete for the trade and silence suspected informers.)

@ken: but if you cut the drug dealers out of the system, you make it a lot safer. Legalization lets mainstream venturers take over the production, and you can sell the drugs at, um, drug stores.

Sure, some will try to operate outside the legitimate market. And there are still people who make moonshine. But you don't see the kind of liquor-related violence you did during prohibition, do you?

Eric, the drug dealers are the ones wrecking havoc. If you legalize drugs you will only embolden them to further violence as they fight over who among them will come out on top in their battle against humanity.

Um, are you really this dumb? If you can buy pot or heroin down at CVS, what need would you have to buy it in a baggie from some dude in a dark parking lot?

You do understand that the end of Prohibition meant the end of mob-controlled bootlet liquor, right?

Ken - that's like saying legalizing alcohol would only embolden Al Capone to further violence. We didn't see giant armies of booze-gangsters after Prohibition was repealed.

Eric, the drug dealers are the ones wrecking havoc. If you legalize drugs you will only embolden them to further violence as they fight over who among them will come out on top in their battle against humanity

No, if you legalize drugs, the dealers will disappear, as people will instead buy from legal sources at more affordable prices.

Just as the bootleggers disappeared after prohibition was repealed.

Personally I would increase funding to law enforcment agencies for the purpose of wiping out the drug dealer gangs/cartels.

This has been tried several times over the past 40+ years, and it hasn't worked.

Drug dealers should be classified along with terrorist and genocidial killers as perpetuators of crimes against humanity.

They are actually already afforded less Constitutional protections than any other class of citizen - and that would be "accused" drug dealers mind you.

There is no middle ground with such people. We have no choice but to deal with them harshly and bring them to justice. The crime they perpetuate has destroyed millions of lives in every economic class in every area of the world. They must be stopped. It is time to get serious about this and stop treating it like a minor problem. Too many innocent lives are at stake. Justice demands no less than our best effort.

The only way to eradicate drug dealers is to legalize drugs. Without the illegality involved, there would be no demand to buy from such people.

If 7-11 sells marijuana, people will take the safer, cleaner, cheaper alternative.

If you're serious about your disdain for drug dealers, than you should be serious about legalization. It would be their death knell, once and for all.

I once attended a talk by Joseph McNamara on drug legalization while I was in college. He basically said that drug legalization was such a toxic subject that you couldn't even get someone to fund a study of the what the impact of legalization might be. Much less actually propose a policy. That was many years ago and attitudes have obviously changed, but good luck advocating legalizing anything more than simple possession of marijuana in the U.S. at the federal level.

"Attempts to prohibit drug use through the legal regime have been failures. The criminalization of the drug called alcohol was such an acute and pervasive disaster . . ."

Except for the way it decreased alcohol use. That part was not so much a failure as a success.

The difference between alcohol and cocaine is pretty large.

Many functioning alcoholics find a way to make it through the day. Few cocaine addicts last long.

Alcohol, while addictive, isn't nearly as addictive as cocaine.

Cocaine has no inherent limits on use like alcohol. IOW, it's relatively hard to overdose on alcohol, and pretty easy to overdose on cocaine.

OTOH, alcohol probably causes more long-term health problems than cocaine, although it's difficult to tell since we have few studies of long-term cocaine use.

I think it's cute when you talk about legalization. I really do. Because eventually, you'll start thinking about how to do it. And then you'll start thinking about either regulating it (and having a huge black market, and essentially the same problems we have now), or not (and having a shitload of cocaine addicts in homeless shelters.)

And then there's meth. That's a fun one.

And we can talk about heroin. That's good times, too, although probably a tougher call. There's functioning heroin addicts out there.

Anyway, it'll be fun watching you grapple with the actual problems of drug laws, rather than those easy solutions that exist in theory.

If 7-11 sells marijuana, people will take the safer, cleaner, cheaper alternative.

I dunno; depends on whether they can get the good shit. My guess is you're going to have to go to the Farmer's Market to get the killer bud.

Wow. An Eric Martin post I can agree with. Cool.

Probably a decade and a half from now, people will be suing Big Ganja for their assorted cancers and collective declines in productivity.

That was many years ago and attitudes have obviously changed, but good luck advocating legalizing anything more than simple possession of marijuana in the U.S. at the federal level.

We gotta start somewhere. I'm actually mildly hopeful that budgetary and fiscal woes could focus the attention of the public on the money to be saved by legalizing marijuana.

Money has a way of changing minds. For example, surely the economic crises had something to do with some Americans' stated willingness to "vote for the n****r."

IOW, it's relatively hard to overdose on alcohol, and pretty easy to overdose on cocaine.

And yet, over a thousand Americans, on average, die as a result of alcohol poisoning each year.

Except for the way it decreased alcohol use. That part was not so much a failure as a success.

Not entirely impressed with this argument. There are a lot of extremely inefficent, destructive ways to reduce drug and alcohol use, but one doesn't judge their worth to society on one narrow criteria such as that.

I think it's cute when you talk about legalization.

I think it's cute you think I'm cute.

I really do.

I do too.

Because eventually, you'll start thinking about how to do it. And then you'll start thinking about either regulating it (and having a huge black market, and essentially the same problems we have now), or not (and having a shitload of cocaine addicts in homeless shelters.)

Well, there is a middle ground as in the way alcohol is regulated. And, um, there are already a load of addicts in homeless shelters.

And then there's meth. That's a fun one.

I wouldn't know. Never tried it. But if coke was legal, there would be less demand for meth.

And we can talk about heroin. That's good times, too...

Again, wouldn't know. But then, there is already methadone treatments and other means to decriminalize.

Anyway, it'll be fun watching you grapple with the actual problems of drug laws, rather than those easy solutions that exist in theory.

I'd have the same amount of fun watching you do the same. Cutely.

Eric, you are doing a bait and switch. The topic is not pot and you know it. The topic is cocaine, heroin and similiarly addictive drugs.

You go into your local 7-11 and buy a taste of heroin from either a guy behind the counter or someone in the parking lot and your life is forever changed.

You lose your job, you lose your home, you start stealing, you pimp out your preteen daughter, you no longer have free will. It has been stolen from you by those who sold you an addictive drug that is by its very nature designed to take over your will control your desires.

Same with cocaine. It may take a few more 'tastes' but it is every bit as addictive as is heroin.

How anyone can desire to legalize products that by their very nature steal your free will and completely dehumanize the user is beyond my understanding. There is no one immume to the addictive nature of these drugs. No one.

Once someone is a victim of drug addiction they do need help and that is where more public money can do some good but not at the expense of lessoning the fight against the perpetuators of the crime itself.

That is all I have to say. There is no room for compromise on this topic.

"I'm actually mildly hopeful that budgetary and fiscal woes could focus the attention of the public on the money to be saved by legalizing marijuana."

Don't forget the money raised by the marijuana stamp tax!

I think society's attitude towards drug use has to change for it to become a real discussion. Medical marijuana (which I think went legal in another state last week) is the thin end of the wedge. And younger people don't seem to be making the full 180-degree turn from use to outrage, the way many of our parents did.

We gotta start somewhere.

true, I'm just saying that the opposition to anything more will be fierce

The British system was (once) that any addict (envisaged as an addict to opium-derived drugs, since that was the usual) could report themselves to their GP, who would provide them with the drug they were addicted to on prescription - clean, safe, and in measurable quantities. Addicts were encouraged to seek help for their addiction, but it was considered an acceptable outcome if they simply managed their addiction - lived a healthy, productive life on a steady supply of clean drugs.

That was back when the most likely means of someone becoming an addict was that they had been given too many pain meds while undergoing treatment in hospital, and the number of registered addicts across the UK was (so I read) something like a thousand.

Then in the 1960s there was an explosion of interest in drugs, many people tried them out of interest, got addicted, reported themselves to their GP... and the change from a thousand to ten thousand terrified the UK government and they adopted the American system of treating addicts as criminals instead of patients.

Result: crime, misery, disease, and death. Yet no one will consider returning to the old, sane system, not least because the US would find a close ally ditching their system intolerable.

You go into your local 7-11 and buy a taste of heroin from either a guy behind the counter or someone in the parking lot and your life is forever changed.

You lose your job, you lose your home, you start stealing, you pimp out your preteen daughter, you no longer have free will. It has been stolen from you by those who sold you an addictive drug that is by its very nature designed to take over your will control your desires.

Same with cocaine. It may take a few more 'tastes' but it is every bit as addictive as is heroin.

You have no idea what you're talking about do you?

Do some research on the actual addictive properties of each, because the above is reefer madness.

To clarify: any legalization should be accompanied with widespread educational efforts meant to dissuade usage. And in the end, people that would be inclined to try heroin or coke would, just as NOW under the current approach, those that would be inclined to try heroin or coke would.

Neither causes the type of addiction on one or a few uses, as you indicate. But both are dangerous and destructive and should be dealt with in a somber fashion from a governmental regulatory point of view.

How anyone can desire to legalize products that by their very nature steal your free will and completely dehumanize the user is beyond my understanding.

Maybe it would help if I explained to you that people use those drugs today, in large numbers, despite their illegal status? Anything?

There is no one immume to the addictive nature of these drugs. No one.

Yet these drugs do not hook addicts after one use, or a couple, as you claimed.

"Eric, you are doing a bait and switch. The topic is not pot and you know it. The topic is cocaine, heroin and similiarly addictive drugs."

Well so far pot is still illegal, and we have all the ridiculous enforcement issues from that.

Frankly I'm probably willing to go as far as legalizing cocaine, and potentially heroin. As far as meth goes, probably my drug culture understanding is crappy, but my understanding was that meth was used mainly because it was a synthetic and produceable in your bathroom substitute for cocaine, not because lots of drug users would really prefer to use it over cocaine (it has lots of nasty side effects for relatively similar up sides).

How anyone can desire to legalize products that by their very nature steal your free will and completely dehumanize the user is beyond my understanding.

Even assuming that this is true, at what point does it become acceptable to you to allow the 'justice' system to dehumanize them into targets for SWAT raids based on flimsy to no evidence, possibly gun them down (or their pets) and throw them into a prison system with violent offenders where they are systematically dehumanized further and lose their free will and their rights to the government machine?

What Seb said.

Since ken has been banned multiple times, and his IP will be banned once again as soon as Hilzoy reads this thread, I wouldn't advise getting into conversation with him, both because it's the reward he seeks, and because he won't be around for long.

For the record, I know at least 3 people who used heroin between 5 and 10 times, and found it not particularly more addictive than pot, and found tobacco vastly more addictive, and harder to quit, contra the After School Special/drug fiend/Ainslinger myth those with no actual personal knowledge perpetuate.

Undoubtedly many folks find it more addictive than the few people I know, but, again, no one is arguing that drugs, including the more powerful ones, are harmless. The question is whether it's easier to deal with that problem via medical treatment, and helping people deal with the problems that make them turn to escapist drugs, or instead our current system of making people into criminals simply because they're self-medicating, or foolish, or making bad decisions, and giving them a criminal record and lifestyle for as long as they remain untreated and in need, or after they've been thrown in prison, which obviously is a better outcome for them (he said sarcastically).

Except for the way it decreased alcohol use. That part was not so much a failure as a success.

Care to cite some stats on this? My understanding is that alcohol use fell during the early years of Prohibition due to supply shortages, but by the end had risen back to pre-Prohibition levels. Because alcohol had been a legally produced drug, it was relatively easy to get the legit producers to stop after passage of the Volstead Act, but after a few years bootleggers were sufficiently funded and organized that the black market supply was able to fully compensate.

Also, if Prohibition was such a success, why did so many of its former advocates support repeal?

Many functioning alcoholics find a way to make it through the day. Few cocaine addicts last long.

Um. Don't know many coke users, do you? Coke has never been my kind of drug, but I do know quite a few regular (daily) users, and they all hold down jobs just fine. Same with speed. In fact, the only addict I know whose addiction has destroyed his life is an alcoholic.

BTW, I notice you (and the other drug warriors posting here) don't even touch marijuana. I suspect that's because its illegality is so transparently absurd that you'd rather focus on "hard" drugs where you think you have a better chance of not looking foolish.

Legal cocaine or heroin or meth could be controlled for purity, potency, and price.

Think of something like cocaine "tonic", which is lower potency, doesn't give a huge rush, is relatively more difficult to use in large quantities, and might grow a social ritual around itself, also helping to control usage.

This means less damage for the addict: Fewer OD's, fewer poisonings, less addictive preparations, and less need to become a burglar to "feed the habit".

(Illegality drives the drug towards high potency, binge usage, irregular quality, and high cost.)

This is not even considering the damage to society.

Yes, you may have more addicts or borderline addicts, and you certainly will have a greater number of people who try the substances at least once.

But you will have to rely on the general common sense of the population, and reinforce that with social mores.

For example, I enjoy alcohol a lot, and I liked it the first time I tried it, and I almost always like drinking; however I do not actually want to drink every day, especially not heavily, because I do not enjoy the effect that would have on my life.

Keep it away from children, monitor usage, integrate it into society, and I think you'll be OK - or at least better-off than with illegal drugs.

ken will have to find another, similar IP to post from now, sad to say.

Sorry if I wrecked anyone's fun.

This is a second-term issue. The first term plate is full: recession, Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, energy, financial services legislation and bureaucratic housecleaning / regulatory updates is a full four-year slate.

I think the message is that after fixing healthcare this is the next great deadweight around taxpayers' necks. This has to be a pocketbook issue to have any traction amid all the screaming and yelling from police chiefs, prison guards and blue noses.

Ignoring the trolling part of this thread for ao moment, i would be ok with some level of probation/treatment for some of the hard drugs. i think most distribution channels could be dried up that way.

as for the trolling part -
[i]Except for the way it decreased alcohol use. That part was not so much a failure as a success. [/i]
the people who are most concerned about scary drugs are usually ok with alcohol. The neo-(ETOH)prohibitionists are usually those concerned with 'health'

Medical marijuana (which I think went legal in another state last week)

You may be thinking of MA, which decriminalized possession of 1 oz or less of marijuana.

I did really enjoy the "There is no one immume to the addictive nature of these drugs. No one." comment. lols were had.

I do find it somewhat annoying that in these conversations cannabis gets mentioned, as do stimulants and opiods, but never psychedelics, dissociatives or empathogens. I wonder if its something like they seem religiously threatening or harder for people to put in a box.

I don't think we can look to Obama for leadership on the Drug War. For now, we have to start on the local level.

Any chance we can use the California initiative system to vote on pot legalization & regulation? If that works out OK, then look at other substances later on. Earmark some of the tax dollars to addiction research and addiction effects, call it a win.

Two thoughts:

TheWesson, thanks for that excellent comment.

MobiusKlein: agreed. Not Obama, but local level action.

The Sentencing Project put out some information on Obama's positions (and Clinton's and McCain's) a while back.

I recall something that would be worth looking for (I don't have the time now, but I don't want to forego marking a potential trail in this thread): I remember seeing a plotting of rates of illegal drug use that indicated that waves of high use declined before the calls for action and harsher legislation crested - one possible explanation being that people's knowledge or observation of the danger or damage had caused the decline in use.

If this can be located (and if it's valid), it would say something about the relationship of usage rates to law enforcement efforts - or about how much those efforts are actually "holding back."

Except for the way it decreased alcohol use. That part was not so much a failure as a success.

Look up "jake leg".

There is no one immume to the addictive nature of these drugs. No one.

Clearly, this one is aware of all drug use traditions.

If there is a way to undo that absent the current regime, I'm all ears.

Decriminalize possession for personal use and treat problematic drug use as a medical problem.

Next question.

Thanks -

yoyo - I agree, it is odd that psychedelics come up so rarely in these discussions, since they certainly have a better safety profile than stimulants or opiates. Particularly in light of the semi-new issue of salvia prohibition. If mescaline is fine for the Native American Church, for example, with such a good and uncontroversial safety record, why isn't it right there with pot in the this-is-silly column?

Maybe it's just that hallucinogens are odd, or lend themselves to urban legends and colorful blown-up-news-story incidents... (Imagine if every odd thing a drunk did were treated the same way!)

"Any chance we can use the California initiative system to vote on pot legalization & regulation? If that works out OK, then look at other substances later on."

A number of states, including California (and Colorado), have decriminalized, and allowed for medical marijuana use, which hasn't stopped the federal government from enforcing and prosecuting like mad.

Think of something like cocaine "tonic", which is lower potency, doesn't give a huge rush, is relatively more difficult to use in large quantities, and might grow a social ritual around itself, also helping to control usage.

I've heard this suggested before. It made me wonder what would have happened if Prohibition had only applied to hard liquor, leaving beer and wine legal. I can't imagine much bathtub gin or moonshine being produced in that case.

Full disclosure - I've tried about everything but heroin and PCP, at least of the stuff that was fairly readily available in the 80s, some countless times. The worst and most dangerous things I've ever done occurred when I was drunk on alcohol, which is the only drug I regularly consume now. I know lots and lots of people who have similar histories. Of those addicts that I've known recently, who made it out of their 20s relatively free of drug problems, most became addicted to prescription drugs.

Places that have decriminalized non-medical marijuana in the U.S.. More here.

yoyo:
I do find it somewhat annoying that in these conversations cannabis gets mentioned, as do stimulants and opiods, but never psychedelics, dissociatives or empathogens. I wonder if its something like they seem religiously threatening or harder for people to put in a box.

IMHO it's because they are naturally less popular. If you look at the drugs human beings like the most, the ones that have had huge markets for hundreds or thousands of years, they're either uppers (e.g. caffeine) or downers (e.g. alcohol), not sideways-ers.

That is, what people tend to go for are drugs to make them think faster or slower -- but not drugs to make them think *differently*. Insofar as there's a natural market for drugs, uppers will tend to be at least an order of magnitude more popular than sidewaysers, and downers (including pain-killers both physical and emotional) will be most popular of all.

BTW: I thought I was tossing up a softball with the post title, and no one wants to claim their prize?

sorry...waiting for the speedball brah

Don't the Iranians and Colombians know that we've got a terrorism-appeaser taking office in two months?

The federal Controlled Substances Act makes state-level action largely futile. Witness the DEA busts of medical marijuana facilities in California. And given the state of interstate commerce these days, any effective regulation (essentially turning cocaine into a prescription drug) would have to be at the federal level.

Ah, now that is a delicious critique from the right.

What does this even mean? "The American Conservative" is an isolationist paleocon magazine, they probably hate interventionist foreign policy at least as much as you do.

I understand that the legalization of opioids worked wonders for Imperial China.

Since ken has been banned multiple times, and his IP will be banned once again as soon as Hilzoy reads this thread, I wouldn't advise getting into conversation with him, both because it's the reward he seeks, and because he won't be around for long.

Actually I think ken made a significant contribution to this thread, albeit unintentionally. A careful reading of his comments shows pretty conclusively that Manichean Dualism and an attendant belief in purgative and therapeutic violence can be as addictive as any drug. I hope that ken gets some help in dealing with his addiction, and in the meantime he can serve as a warning to others who may be tempted to experiment with this system of thought.

Probably a decade and a half from now, people will be suing Big Ganja for their assorted cancers and collective declines in productivity.

LOL.

And they'll want payment in pints of Ben and Jerry's.

That is all I have to say.

Inshallah.

Thanks -

The U.S. intervention in Colombia isn't really about drugs. The War on (Some) Drugs is cover for support for a counterinsurgency war and a national-security-state government in a country with a bunch of extractive industries.

What does this even mean? "The American Conservative" is an isolationist paleocon magazine, they probably hate interventionist foreign policy at least as much as you do.

That's why I prefer their critiques of Democrats! I mean, no one would call them creatures of the left, correct? So, yeah, I prefer the conservative opposition to be anti-interventionist, and let them call out Dems for their excesses.

Should I, instead, prefer the neocon critique of Democrats because...they're interventionist?

@Eric: I thought the title was too much of a softball to mention the Cash reference. But it's a good one!

Think of something like cocaine "tonic", which is lower potency, doesn't give a huge rush, is relatively more difficult to use in large quantities, and might grow a social ritual around itself, also helping to control usage.

In fact, there is something similar to a "tonic" right now in Bolivia and other S. American countries which use coca tea the same way coffee is used here. Simply chewing on the leaves (with some slightly basic seashells) is also popular. Each cup contains only a tiny fraction of the average cocaine dose, and the native folk have used it for centuries with no apparent harm. Apparently it also helps with altitude sickness (the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, is over 13,000 feet). For more see http://www.vbs.tv/shows.php?show=512722982>here.

Exhibit #9,527 in idiotic drug war policies is the total ban on the coca (meaning unprocessed coca leaves) trade in South America--of course, stuffed down the throat of the relevant countries years ago by the US. This leaves coca-producing countries like Bolivia with a massive surplus of artificially cheap coca easily bought up by the drug cartels, as you need a truly massive amount of raw leaves to make cocaine. We've also deprived other South American countries of their traditional beverage, and unnecessarily impoverished Bolivia.

The US response to this, of course, it to tell Bolivia to farm bananas, which don't grow for shit in the Andes.

Sad to say I think Obama will probably do nothing on this front. The most we can hope for is a halting of the DEA raids on medical marijuana facilities.

Yes, you may have more addicts or borderline addicts, and you certainly will have a greater number of people who try the substances at least once.

That alone is a very good argument not to legalize hard drugs (I will ignore Cannabis, I think it's beside the point discussing it here).

But you will have to rely on the general common sense of the population, and reinforce that with social mores.

Good luck with that, it will never work.

We already have a huge addiction problem in our societies (with both legal and illegal drugs), and there is no doubt it would grow much worse, if heroin could be purchased at every corner store as easily as a pack of cigarettes - the flesh is weak.

italics off

off

sorry, one more try

I don't get it - somebody jump in please, thx.

if heroin could be purchased at every corner store as easily as a pack of cigarettes

At the turn of the last century, it quite literally could. It was marketed by Bayer as a household pharmaceutical.

I'm sure it was abused, but I'm not aware of the abuse being more of a problem than it is now. Less so, I believe.

Thanks -

I know all that, russell, I simply don't think it is relevant today, because the conditions are very, very different today - the damage is done and I'm sure it would only get worse, if hard drugs were legalized.

By "worse" I mean "even larger number of addicts = more individuals suffering", which is my main concern. But even if we ignore that for a moment, I'm pretty sure the detrimental effects on society would be huge and crime wouldn't simply go away either.

Given that the Surgeon General has declared tobacco to be as addictive as heroin, I don't see why the demand for legalized heroin would be much greater than the demand for tobacco is today. Any ideas novakent?

Any ideas novakent?

I'm not sure what you're trying to say: the percentage of smokers is somewhere between 20-60, depending on country. Are you saying it wouldn't be a problem if all those people were on hard drugs? Are you saying cigarettes cause as much suffering as drugs do? That there is no difference between mind-altering drugs and cigarettes, caffeine or chocolate?

By "worse" I mean "even larger number of addicts = more individuals suffering", which is my main concern.

That's a reasonable concern, and I do not mean to minimize it. I'm not sure I'd be in favor of the outright legalization of hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, or meth.

Marijuana and other psychoactive plants -- mushrooms, peyote -- I just don't see what the big deal is. Probably entheogens generally, whether plant-based or synthetic.

The thing that I think is obvious is that what we are doing now is, by pretty much any measure you might want to consider, a failure.

Lots of people still use drugs.
There is still a huge illegal market in drugs.

We've put a lot of young folks in jail for basically getting high, we've created an enormous and growing prison industry, and we've undermined the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

We've created weird profit centers for law enforcement, who are now authorized to seize and sell property owned by alleged dealers and users, even before conviction. We've militarized the police forces - every town now has its own home-grown SWAT team.

And we're knee-deep in military adventures in countries like Columbia, Peru, and Afghanistan, trying to nip the supply at the source.

People like to get high. As far as anyone knows, they always have.

Some ways that folks get high are harmful to them and others, at least some of the time. So, we need to manage that, just as we do for commonly used things like alcohol and tobacco, and for things that are pretty much just used in a medical context.

But note that "manage" does not have to mean something ranging from criminalization to war.

Stuff like marijuana and hash should just be legal. There is no really good argument to the contrary.

Stuff like heroin, cocaine, etc. may make sense to control. So, control it. But decriminalize possession for personal use, and treat addiction as a medical problem, not a criminal one.

And get the hell out of Columbia and any other place that we're supporting military campaigns against growers and dealers. I don't see that it's helping, and it just creates other problems.

My two cents.

Thanks -

"By 'worse' I mean 'even larger number of addicts = more individuals suffering', which is my main concern."

They suffer far more when they're tossed in prison, or have to engage in the life of furtively avoiding law enforcement, and deal with criminals, I suggest.

"But even if we ignore that for a moment, I'm pretty sure the detrimental effects on society would be huge and crime wouldn't simply go away either."

I don't believe anyone sane is claiming that drug legalization is a panacea, and will make all the problems of drug addiction, and the dire effect it has on many people and families, go away. It won't, of course. The point is simply to treat those problems as medical and social issues, rather than criminal issues, thus removing the vast increase in one's problems that the criminalization brings. There will still, of course, be an utter need to treat the problems of addicts and addictions. It'll be a lot easier to do that if people don't have to hide their condition, deal constantly with criminals, or be thrown in prison, with all the horror and life-change that entails.

I suggest that the positive deterrent effect of criminalization, while certainly there, has proven to be far outweighed by the negative effects.

If this isn't so, why don't we go back to making alcohol illegal? Why don't we make tobacco illegal? (Note: I think these would be terrible ideas, myself.)

There is no truth to the idea that Russell and I are policy identical twins, separated at birth.

It just mostly seems that way.

(Sotto voce: because we're right.)

I'm not sure what you're trying to say: the percentage of smokers is somewhere between 20-60, depending on country.

I thought we were talking about policy in the US so I'll limit my remarks to there. In the US about 20% of adults smoke. Of those, about 55% smoke less than one pack a day.

Are you saying it wouldn't be a problem if all those people were on hard drugs?

I'm saying I'd like to see you make a case for what would happen if 10% of the adult population regularly used heroin. As has been discussed on this thread, criminalization ratchets up potency and ensures that the user population is likely to be very seriously addicted. That means that in a world where drug use was decriminalized, the user population would not necessarily look just like the user population for heroin today. What would it look like? You tell me. You're the one making claims about what a future with legalized heroin would look like.

Are you saying cigarettes cause as much suffering as drugs do?

Cigarettes are a drug delivery mechanism. Nicotine is a drug. I did not mean to imply that suffering associated with tobacco was proportional to suffering associated with heroin if that's what you're asking.

That there is no difference between mind-altering drugs and cigarettes, caffeine or chocolate?

No, I am not saying that at all.

There are other deterents to using drugs that may be more effective than the current criminalization is. I, for one, don't worry nearly as much about getting arrested as I do about my health, my job, taking care of my family, etc. If heroin were legal tomorrow, none of that would change for me. These things might not be so important to an 18-year-old, but I don't think getting arrested is even what keeps the 18-year-olds who don't use heroin from using it. That's a big part of the point here. The laws don't do what they're supposed to do. They just put a lot of people in jail at a higher cost to society, and there are lots of other things in life that far more effectively prevent people from using drugs. Maybe there should be more of such other things instead of cops and jail.

If caffeine isn't mind-altering, what's the point?

This is one of those cases of conjugation: I enjoy caffeine, you take drugs, they have drug problems.

Ingesting caffeine is taking a drug. Lots of people are addicted to it. It isn't that harmful, and it's manageable, and quitting, while difficult for some, isn't that difficult for others? Welcome to the argument for various illegal drugs.

And get the hell out of Columbia...

Fine, just don't send them to NYU ;)

Fine, just don't send them to NYU ;)

Arghh!

Tricksy South Americans with their fiendish proper name spellings!

Thanks -

Stuff like heroin, cocaine, etc. may make sense to control. So, control it. But decriminalize possession for personal use, and treat addiction as a medical problem, not a criminal one.

I actually more or less agree with that, the devil is as always in the details, though. How do you control it? Dealers would instantly exploit the decriminalization of personal possession. Treatment instead of punishment is good, but there needs to be a compulsory element to it, because otherwise the addiction will always win. Also, drugs can be tremendous fun until they're not anymore (watch Trainspotting) and many more people would try them and get hooked in a heartbeat if they were legal, so how do you counteract that?

If heroin were legal tomorrow, none of that would change for me.

Good for you, but you really should try to imagine how the mind of an addict works. They're different from you, their brain is centered around one overwhelming priority. It takes ages to get them back to normal, to have them value the same things you value. And I don't think making it easier for people to slip into that terrible state of mind is such a great idea.

Ingesting caffeine is taking a drug. Lots of people are addicted to it.

I don't like these false equivalences. People addicted to caffeine steer airplanes, drive ambulances, perform heart surgery and do all sorts of other things. Heroin addicts not so much - at least I would hope so.

Today I smoked two packs of cigarettes, had a couple of double espressos and a diet coke - not very healthy I guess, but I was pretty productive, got all sorts of stuff done and had a nice evening with friends. If I was addicted to drugs, the chances of that happening would have been rather low.

"Heroin addicts not so much - at least I would hope so."

It depends, of course, on how powerful/pure a dose you take, on how much you take, how often you take it, and how recently you've taken it prior to doing the relevant task, among other factors, as to how much it would affect you.

"If I was addicted to drugs, the chances of that happening would have been rather low."

Let me attempt to restate one of the aspects of my point, since I obviously didn't get it across: there are so many kinds of "drugs," I find the utility of generalizing about "drugs," as a unitary category, next to useless. How about we talk about one drug at a time, or at least one narrow category of drugs at a time, for starters?

As for the caffeine, the relevant question isn't how you tolerate the drug you're enjoying; it's how well you'd be doing if you were withdrawing from it cold turkey. Now, to be sure, withdrawing from caffeine isn't all that hard for most people, relative to many things, but the fact is that withdrawing from coke and even heroin isn't all foaming at the mouth, impossible to do, the way it is in much fiction, either. The psychological factors still tend to be a lot more important than the physical, so far as I can tell from my own set of anecdotes with people I've known.

But by all means, let's avoid false equivalencies.

How do you control it?

I don't know. Let's figure it out. It would be hard to do worse than what we do now.

Heroin addicts not so much

I know, personally, two people that have died from heroin overdose.

One guy worked as a garment cutter in NYC for pretty much the entire time that he was an addict.

The other guy was a musician.

So, no heart surgeons, which is no doubt for the best. But lots and lots of junkies work responsible day jobs of one sort or another.

My overall point here is that the way we are dealing with drug abuse currently is not working. We need to do something else.

Thanks -

I also would prefer heart surgeons that don't gulp high octane coffee before performing surgery. I think it is even in the guidelines (no alcohol or caffeine before work).

Good for you, but you really should try to imagine how the mind of an addict works. They're different from you, their brain is centered around one overwhelming priority. It takes ages to get them back to normal, to have them value the same things you value. And I don't think making it easier for people to slip into that terrible state of mind is such a great idea.

How much easier is relevent, I think. The point being that, in my opinion, outright criminalization of, say, heroin or cocaine, doesn't make it very hard for people to slip into that terrible state of mind you describe. But what criminalization of these drugs does do is create a lot of business for criminals and put a lot of people in jail, and not at no cost to society or without causing tremendous suffering.

I'd get back to the suggestion of legalizing low-potency forms of such drugs to mitigate the harmful effects of addiction.

And I think Gary brought up the point before that, by the same logic you're applying to hard drugs, one could make the same argument that alcohol should be criminalized, in light of the lives ruined by its abuse. We know how that worked out when it was tried.

"The point being that, in my opinion, outright criminalization of, say, heroin or cocaine, doesn't make it very hard for people to slip into that terrible state of mind you describe."

About a decade ago, or a year or two more, I spent a year living on the Lower East Side of NYC, on Clinton St. Two blocks over, several heroin dealers always openly hawked their wares, by brand name, as was the case on a few other blocks in the neighborhood. Day or night, I could go down there and buy heroin, if I were of a mind too. Same as you see on The Wire. The guys just hang out in front of a store or stoop, calling out their brand name to every passer-by, sometimes every dozen yards or so away from each other.

It was never that it would be a criminal act to do go buy some that deterred me. The odds of being arrested for buying were always fairly small, if not extremely tiny. Again, go watch The Wire if this is foreign to your life experience and neighborhood. Buying junk ain't a fraught act in most big cities; in such places, it's done right out in the open, all the time.

What deterred me, despite this perfectly easy availability -- and this applied all the years, which are still the majority of my life, that I lived in NYC, during which getting to that, or the selling locations up in Washington Heights, where I lived for several years, or down/up in Harlem, or in various areas of Brooklyn, etc., were only either a walk or a bus ride or subway ride away -- was the fact that I knew that getting into a heroin habit would have vastly more downside than the upside, and I didn't want to give it even one try, simply because for all that the "OMG, you'll never be able to resist it again if you try it once" claims are overblown for most people, and so are the "OMG, you'll never be able to quit on your own" claims, it's perfectly clear from actual observation that it's incredibly darn easy to slip into enough usage to soon enough have an expensive, deleterious, habit, that is certainly hard enough to quit that the downside was obviously vastly higher than the upside.

But that's what deterred me: the nature of the beast. Not the criminalization, whose effect in a large city ranges, if you're not in the business and are only a customer, and can hold down a job, between negligible to non-existent, with only an occasional turn into problematic. (Driving a car sometimes puts you in violation of the law, too, but it doesn't stop most people from choosing to drive a car.)

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