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Debating the war on drugs
August 9, 2007 9:28 AM   Subscribe

The British Transform Drug Policy Foundation has recently released their 2nd guide After the War on Drugs: Tools for the debate. Described as a guide for prospective and current policy reform advocates, it enumerates the points typically brought up against reform, and offers strategies to rebut them. Somewhat of a counterpoint to the US DEA's Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization.
posted by daksya (48 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Earlier report covered here.
posted by daksya at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2007


Great link. The tireless advocates are doing the Lord's work. The drug was is one of the most pressing human rights issues in the world.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 9:38 AM on August 9, 2007


Effing statists.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:40 AM on August 9, 2007


interesting stuff, thanks for the link.
posted by patricio at 9:53 AM on August 9, 2007


wait a minute...
posted by andywolf at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2007


I'm not sure how I feel about legalizing drugs, mostly because the information I think I need isn't readily available. Basically what is the present net cost to non-drug users of the drug war + social cost of drug addicts vs. what would be the social costs of addicts after legalization - tax revenue + wealth creation (investment returns)?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:02 AM on August 9, 2007


Boy, that DOJ piece is such self-serving propaganda that I need to go smoke a joint just to calm down after reading it.
posted by TedW at 10:06 AM on August 9, 2007


And I wonder if someone could clear up why banning alcohol and then repealing the ban required constitutional amendments, whereas bans on drugs do not require a similar constitutional amendment.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:06 AM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Did prohibition actually require an amendment, or did they just go that far because they were sassy? Serious question—I have no idea what the pre-amendment legal battle re: US prohibition was like.
posted by cortex at 10:10 AM on August 9, 2007


I think it required a constitutional amendment so it would "trump" state law and be federally enforceable nationwide.

But then again, I could just be on drugs.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:13 AM on August 9, 2007


Turtles' guaranteed five steps to end the war on drugs:

1. Accept the fact that humans are going to turn to psychoactive substances from time to time, just as elephants are said to seek out fermented fruit. When your lawmaker disagrees with this ask him if he is a teetotaller.

2. The government asks the pharmaceutical companies to design a drug that is pleasurable to take. My understanding is that this will not be hard as they routinely engineer the pleasure *out* of drugs they design for another purpose.

3. Price this drug to be more expensive than alchohol but less expensive than, let's say, cocaine. (There's no need to replace the Herb, which has its own health benefits and doesn't need to be interfered with. But if you're following this policy you've already legalized it.)

4. Engineer the drug so that it gives you a pleasant high, but one that is self limiting: the more you take the less you want to take more (like weed).

5. Engineer the drug so that you can get more of a rush by doing something like carving the blue core out of the white surround of the pill (got this from an SF novel) and make sure this is complicated enough that a ritual and paraphernalia develops around it. The small core of hard core pleasure seekers will follow this path but the drug will still be inherently safe.
--------

6. There will still be a group of people attracted to dangerous and dysfunctional activites who will seek out the existing expensive, illegal and dangerous drugs. You're never going to get rid of those but the above five steps will bring the vast majority of current illegal drug users into a safe environment.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:20 AM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


also, check out this thread from yesterday.
posted by andywolf at 10:23 AM on August 9, 2007


Are the same people who are in favor of legalizing drugs also in favor of removing the need for prescriptions to take other drugs and also allowing pharmacies to sell any drug they can come up with?

It would seem to me to rather hypocritical to prevent a drug being made and sold that helps treat some sort of cancer because it increases a chance of having a heart attack by a very small margin, and then saying that it should be legal to purchase cocaine or heroin.
posted by flarbuse at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2007



From this U. Chicago paper, the reason appears to be to make a ban more permanent:
An amendment to the Constitution obviously appealed to temperance reformers more than a federal statute banning liquor. A simple congressional majority could adopt a statute but, with the shift of a relatively few votes, could likewise topple one. Drys feared that an ordinary law would be in constant danger of being overturned owing to pressure from liquor industry interests or the growing population of liquor-using immigrants. A constitutional amendment, on the other hand, though more difficult to achieve, would be impervious to change. Their reform would not only have been adopted, the Anti-Saloon League reasoned, but would be protected from future human weakness and backsliding.
So given this logic, in the case of drug legalization, wouldn't you need a constitutional amendment to prevent backsliding into a ban again a generation later?

If you simply reclassify some drugs (e.g. pot) you don;t really eliminate the DEA and the war on drugs at all, because there are always harder drugs out there, and new drugs coming onto the market. So the cost savings wouldn't disappear.

In fact, without a constitutional legalization, I wonder if what you'd end up with is very close scrutiny of the drug industry and users by the drug enforcement apparatus, with constant and regular friction between the two. (I.e. is that legal pot or is it cut with something else) The DEA logic here would be that legal pot culture is mixed in with illegal drug culture.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2007


for a good dramatization on this kind of think check out season three of the wire. a police lieutenant makes his own "amsterdam" in baltimore without telling anyone else. not only a great show, but the guys that make it really know the material from personal experience. i think a pretty realistic rendering of the possible outcome. just looking at numbers only goes so far.
posted by andywolf at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2007


Are the same people who are in favor of legalizing drugs also in favor of removing the need for prescriptions to take other drugs and also allowing pharmacies to sell any drug they can come up with?

Good point, and my argument is that the drug or drugs the government contracts to be made and legalizes are safe and so do not require a prescription. There is no need for a physician's and pharmacist's supervision any more than for aspirin.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:33 AM on August 9, 2007


flabuse/turtles: That's not really what pro-legalisation groups envisage happening. They're all about the legalization and the regulation of the supply of drugs. The right to sell drugs would extend to government-approved variants only. The point of this being that there would be a quality baseline and a way for the government to affect the price and method of supply. The premise is that the majority of current users of illegal drugs would turn to the legal alternatives rather than continue taking variable quality/expensive unlicenced versions. I guess an analogy is of drinking moonshine - it's available but few people prefer it to 'properly' distilled (i.e. quality regulated) drink.
posted by patricio at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2007


It would seem to me to rather hypocritical to prevent a drug being made and sold that helps treat some sort of cancer because it increases a chance of having a heart attack by a very small margin makes you feel good too.

Fixed that for you.
posted by designbot at 10:51 AM on August 9, 2007


Heh. Good to see that they're still using John Marks' old U-curve from 'The Paradox of Prohibition'. But the reality is that in the UK, the current position is somewhere between the position of 'De-facto decriminalisation' and 'Prescription' -- a position which Transform acknowledge produces the lowest amount of social and health harms. (p.21)

Given that, most people who have been involved in the drug policy debate in the UK over the last twenty years tend to be Unconvinced Reformers. The laws against personal possession of drugs aren't enforced with any degree of rigour. The government has stated time after time that their real concern, and thus the place where the bulk of their efforts will go, are into heroin and crack cocaine. And even here, the real energy is put into capturing dealers rather than users. By and large, users get swept up into the system because they offend in some other way -- nuisance street dealing, shoplifting, pickpocketing, burglary, etc. rather than because of significant enforcement efforts. Though you do get efforts against low level dealers whenever they start to become a social nuisance -- selling on street corners, rather than using cellphones and making deliveries.

I was listening to Danny debating Paul Hayes, the Chief Executive of the National Treatment Agency, last week on Law in Action, and Hayes definitely had the better of him. (The NTA is the government agency that oversees and regulates drug treatment.) Whenever Danny started ranting about cannabis or MDMA, Paul was happy to concede that the vast majority of people using these drugs don't have a problem with them, hence our efforts go where they are most needed. And when it comes to prescription, we've seen an enormous expansion of Methadone treatment over the last five years -- as well as a bunch of pilot programmes aimed at evaluating heroin prescribing along the same model as the Dutch and the Swiss are using.

Looking at a recent draft of the new Orange Guidelines (Guidelines for clinicians working the treatment of drug dependence) recently, I noticed that there was some discussion of what diamorphine treatment would look like if the pilot programmes are successful. While I personally thought that the recommendations were a bit disappointing, I completely understand the reasons for them. If you can treat thirty people using methadone, for the cost of one person using diamorphine, you're probably going to go with treating the thirty.

And as someone who was around during the days of the old British system of diamorphine prescribing -- when you got the dope as take homes -- I've never been much enamoured with that model where you have to do it at the clinic, twice a day, 365 days a year -- including Xmas day. I think that it's helpful for the most chaotic, homeless users who are happy to sacrifice what little dignity they had left to getting the good dope, but I think it's probably unhelpful for high functioning heroin addicts who hold down a job but fail to benefit from methadone.

But all this is minor detail and tinkering at the margins. By and large, the UK pretty well has it right with regard to drug policy. Not as good as The Netherlands perhaps, and maybe Australia, but probably better than everywhere else. And the report, like most of Transform's materials, really doesn't have a good response to the argument that further liberalization of the hard drugs would increase prevalence.

In my experience, these drug policy think tanks tend to be made up of a bunch of recreational drug users who are energized by their right to smoke pot, or maybe snort a little coke. The experiment that they propose will have the greatest impact on the most chaotic and damaged users, who won't reduce their intake in response to price increases, but will actually increase their use. So, while I'm a firm believer that we should have an absolute human right to do what we want to our own bodies, and we shouldn't run the risk of being imprisoned for doing so, ultimately, I find myself supporting the status quo as an Unconvinced Reformer.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:56 AM on August 9, 2007


Also, paging maias...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:58 AM on August 9, 2007


Wow, that DEA Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization link actually made me angry; we are so entrenched in this stupid drug war that we can't even get meaningful explanations from the DOJ, this sheet is pure propaganda.

However, the prescription drug Marinol—a legal and safe version of medical marijuana which isolates the active ingredient of THC—has been studied and approved by the Food & Drug Administration as safe medicine.

And more to the point, a drug that the pharmaceutical companies have patented and can make money on, right?
posted by quin at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2007


Are the same people who are in favor of legalizing drugs also in favor of removing the need for prescriptions to take other drugs and also allowing pharmacies to sell any drug they can come up with?

I think it's pretty obvious that legalized drugs would come with certain restrictions, just as currently-legal drugs do. Alcohol and tobacco are carefully monitored, so why should legal weed or cocaine be different? "Legal" does not mean "totally unregulated", and to be honest, even if it did, the Drug War is still worse. I find it somewhat odd that people fear some kind of massive addiction social-costs increase (see Pastabagel above), even though the most dependence-inducing drug is already legal and available in every convenience store in the country. It seems to me that we already have hundreds of millions of addicts in this country, and they do just fine so long as they get their junk.

So no, I'm not in favor of getting rid of prescriptions and drug safety laws. I'm in favor of getting SWAT teams and street gangs out of the pharmaceutical business, and extending the drug infrastructure we already have to cover currently illegal drugs.

Personally, I'd rather we try to decrease drug use in general (and by this I mean all drugs, not just the illegal ones) by improving our culture and environment. I'm not holding my breath for that, so legalization is a good second-best. At least it's a start at getting us out of the police-state we're building.
posted by vorfeed at 11:13 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I didn't know the UK was in the war against drugs too. Man, you blokes sure know when to team up with the US.
posted by klarck at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2007



flabuse/turtles: That's not really what pro-legalisation groups envisage happening....The premise is that the majority of current users of illegal drugs would turn to the legal alternatives rather than continue taking variable quality/expensive unlicenced versions.

Patricio: That's exactly what I proposed, no?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:16 AM on August 9, 2007



If the main side effect of mj was an overwhelming desire to work your ass off for minimum wage I wonder if it would still be a target of the war on drugs.
posted by notreally at 11:26 AM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


flarbuse, you almost bring up a good point.

But there's a difference between regulating medicine (where you only take it because you think it's beneficial to your health), and regulating consumer products (where it doesn't have to be good for you, as long as people want to buy it and the makers don't glaringly misrepresent its safety).
posted by Riki tiki at 11:32 AM on August 9, 2007


klarck writes "I didn't know the UK was in the war against drugs too. Man, you blokes sure know when to team up with the US."

We aren't. Not really. We flirted with it for about five minutes, during which time we appointed a drug czar of our own. But then we sacked him.

It's hard to really fight a war against drugs though, when your Deputy Drug Czar is taking the Soros dollar under the table all along.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:38 AM on August 9, 2007


If the main side effect of mj was an overwhelming desire to work your ass off for minimum wage I wonder if it would still be a target of the war on drugs.

Probably not. What would happen to the economy if we outlawed coffee breaks?
posted by SBMike at 12:38 PM on August 9, 2007


There's no reason except for our Protestant derived morality for drugs to be made illegal. What is so ingenious is that the campaign against the War on Drugs has been so successful in deluding the public into believing that drug use is a moral failure and societal embarrassment. It in effect marginalized drug users, and made the abusive users the representatives of the group. It is as if we all thought of the town drunk when we think of alcohol.

I used to not be so hard-lined with the legalization of all drugs (in correction, I should note that drugs with clear overdose and harm potential should still remain legal and that if things like opium were legal we'd see less of a demand for more potent derivatives).

I came to this conclusion after reading a report on Persian opium use in the 18th century. A British report from Tehran stated that opium use there was regarded nearly identically as alcohol use in Britain: a lot of people use it, but very few people abuse it. If the culture normalizes drug use, abuse no longer becomes an issue for the majority of the population.

N.B., by "Protestant derived" I am referring to the culture of ~17th C. England where the belief came to be that making Earth like heaven would bring about the end of the world. It holds its roots in the new wealth created by the industrial revolution, etc. The end result is that any pleasure that might deter one from productive work is hindering the Lord's return and thus tantamount to the Devil's work.
posted by geoff. at 12:40 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


There's no reason except for our Protestant derived morality for drugs to be made illegal.

Apparently you've never read Homer's The Odyssey.
posted by ogre at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2007


England where the belief came to be that making Earth like heaven would bring about the end of the world...The end result is that any pleasure that might deter one from productive work is hindering the Lord's return and thus tantamount to the Devil's work.

So there's no pleasure or slacking off to be had in heaven either then? Well, what the hell's the point of trying to get there then?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:48 PM on August 9, 2007


Apparently you've never read Homer's The Odyssey.

Right, the idea of drug regulation we have now directly derives from Puritan England. I know it is a cliche, but the modern rationalization of chemicals for medical needs but not for recreational needs came from those early teetotalers.

I suppose you could make the claim it also was largely influenced from Calvinism at the time, and the demarcation between the differing new Protestant sects is slim, but it is of no coincidence drug prohibition began to rise as holier-than-thou colonists started traversing the world and coming into many weaker cultures and began to question what offense upon god caused them to be so weak against their European rivals.
posted by geoff. at 1:07 PM on August 9, 2007


Well stated, geoff. While we in Massachusetts are often viewed as secular progressives it's quite apparent to anyone paying attention that our Calvinist roots set the tone for the commonwealth.
posted by paxton at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2007



There is an enormous amount of prohibition-related harm seen in the U.S. that is not in the UK: they don't lock people up for decades on a first dealing offense, they don't lock up some 1/3 of their young minority men and they don't have the extreme violence that accompanies much of our drug dealing. They don't have the HIV epidemic spread by dirty needles and prison and now endemic to minority populations. They also don't see the intense violence and economic disaster that accompanies the trade in the source countries. The racism that fuels and is fueled by the drug war is not as much of an issue there.

Clearly Philip Morris Crack advertised 24/7 and sold at $3 a rock is a bad idea. But it's also a profoundly bad idea to lock up users at all (this only makes them worse, typically) and to lock up low-level dealers for decades while letting people who assault and rape and even sometimes murder in far shorter periods. It's also insane to essentially keep young minority people who screw up by dealing unemployable for life-- while letting white people off, mostly, and then severely punishing an unlucky few.

It's also unfair to sell some drugs that are more dangerous while sending users and sellers of less dangerous drugs away.

Certainly, if the U.S. went in the direction of the UK's less punitive, quasi-decriminalized policy in which violence associated with dealing is far more targeted than dealing itself, that would help. It would absolutely help to end the mandatory minimums and to put a heck of a lot more money into *evidence based* *non punitive* treatment. Marijuana regulation would also go a huge way to undercutting the hypocrisy and financial and human potential waste and insanely demonized focus of the drug war that hurts the very people it claims to be trying to help, with very little danger of increasing any kind of harm (Half of teens already try it and almost no one seems to be deterred from use by its status and this itself undercuts the rule of law). This would also have lots of positives like more police time to focus on violence, potential tax income, etc.

Tax could be used to fund drug treatment (though given that marijuana is the most used illegal drug and there is not one single adult treatment center devoted to marijuana addiction, most of this would be funding treatment for other substances)-- and if people were afraid that ads would increase use, they could be banned. You could even just legalize growing but not selling.

I think what will probably happen ultimately however is that pharma will invent safer, but pleasurable and productivity increasing drugs that it will be increasingly hard to keep out of people's hands and the risk/benefit equation will change. In the meanwhile, however, we've got to be way more creative than what we are currently doing because it is making us inhumane and causing tremendous waste of human potential.
posted by Maias at 6:16 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Clearly Philip Morris Crack advertised 24/7 and sold at $3 a rock is a bad idea.

I would really like the emphasize that this hypothesis does not reveal itself empirically. This is often an argument trumped out against legalization, but given the choice most users will go for the less addictive and less harmful alternative. Granted there will be users who will choose heroin or crack cocaine (and I would go a step further and claim that such users are far from the norm and most likely have underlying depression or other undiagnosed mental illnesses). The vast majority would be weekend cocaine users, some might do a bump or two before work, just as some people have a lunch beer or two. Given an arbitrarily large population set those who are "moderate abusers", the ones we don't see sloppy drunk but reach for that lunch time drink, would be more common than the ones we see talking to no one at 4AM on some street corner.

Not the healthiest, but there are myriad of choices that we as a society accept that people make that are not the best for their long-term mortality.
posted by geoff. at 9:25 PM on August 9, 2007


Pastabagel: what is the present net cost to non-drug users of the drug war + social cost of drug addicts vs. what would be the social costs of addicts after legalization - tax revenue + wealth creation (investment returns)?

There are no firm answers to this question, for the latter part, because essentially there's no suitable reference to use as a basis for induction*; and for the former part, because the drug war is a persistent affair that relies most on social engineering to maintain its support, which precludes an earnest inquirer from investing credibility in public data. Case in point of the latter, the estimation of even the number of cocaine users.

The most relatively reliable way to speculate on costs, IMHO, is to discover the mechanics of drug-related outcomes, and then attempt to model how the costs will change when the policy is changed. This is also a highly variable exercise as people differ over how much agency is attributed to the drugs per se, how much to extra-drug factors, and finally, what can realistically be modulated. Trouble is, the current policy has failed, and is failing, in terms of its public goals. There's limited scope for projection based on history and current practice (Dutch coffeeshops, heroin prescription..etc). Modeling via mechanics is the only viable option, and ironically, that won't change till some government actually legalizes drugs for a certain period of time. Hence, the dominance and longevity of prohibition, perversely, creates the great uncertainty that precludes it from being replaced.

*pre-1900 era represents a zeitgeist different enough that limited applicable inferences can be drawn.
posted by daksya at 10:57 PM on August 9, 2007


Geoff, the data shows that these drugs *are* price-sensitive so a very low price and lots of publicity can increase use. The worry is not so much creating new long-term addicts but creating the essence of new college binge drinkers, only with cocaine.

These users don't have a long romance with the drug, but because there are so many of them and it can be so risky, the population-level harm is high. In the 1980's, about 1/3 of young adults used cocaine (in itself, showing the ineffectiveness of prohibition) when it was widely promoted by celebs and even Scientific American as not being addictive. A surprisingly large number even used freebase (crack before it was marketed ready-made). While most of them didn't become addicts needing treatment, lots of them did become quite problematic users for a year or so, something that can have nasty effects on relationships, work, etc.

I'm not a big believer in the idea that alcohol advertising causes a ton of harm (data doesn't really support it and young people would want to drink even without it: there are no ads for illegal drugs now!), but I do think that when something risky manages to become trendy, you can get serious harm and can get people who would not otherwise have had that harm getting harmed. Few of these will become addicts (most addicts have pre-existing problems that tend to lead them to self-medicate in any context) but some will die of drug-related consequences like overdoses (even if they have a known dose: kids die of alcohol OD's now) and others will have other serious drug-related problems. So Philip Morris crack at very low prices is definitely not something any drug policy reformer (except perhaps some extreme libertarians who believe people and businesses should have right to do whatever they want) would support based on data.
posted by Maias at 6:04 AM on August 10, 2007


Maias - I think the point geoff. is making is that crack's prevailing demand isn't due to some intrinsic appeal of crack but circumstantial viz. relative economics, availability, (mis)conceptions, preferred drug among immediate social circle..etc. So, legalization doesn't have to translate to the same or worse marketshare persisting, subject to some unknown scale multiplier due to the legality and lower cost.
posted by daksya at 6:42 AM on August 10, 2007


Daksya-- my point was that low cost, high-profile advertising and a devious company pushing crack is a bad idea. He was arguing that people would choose lower potency products-- and this is often true, but it's still a bad idea to have low cost, highly advertised crack. Changes in drug regulation should take this into account.

are you arguing that philip morris crack at $3/vial heavily advertised would be a good drug policy?
posted by Maias at 12:01 PM on August 10, 2007


Maias: now you're adding your own qualifiers - "heavily advertised", you might as well as have added "daily door-to-door sales" in there, but your concern is noted. My point, and I suspect geoff.'s, is that 'legalization', as the Transform paper illustrates, simply refers to the transition from the current policy attitude to a non-punitive one. There are a variety of such frameworks that can be implemented, and it is is very unlikely that a framework that provides for "heavily advertised, $3/vial crack" will be a considered choice for a polity conditioned by drug-war propaganda, or the politicians who actually make legalization reality.

The other point is that even in a free-marketesque drug regime envisioned by many prohibitionists, low-cost advertised crack will be competing with just as cheap and easily available powder coke and other drugs. One hopeful ldifference will be that public health authorities and folk knowledge won't be loathe to admit that powder is safer that crack, and that consumers are prodded to these alternatives. Of course, my key objection to even that scenario is that in a legal regime, I don't foresee drugs packaged for snorting, smoking or injecting for too long beyond a transition period. These formulations and administration methods are the products of prohibition.
posted by daksya at 10:29 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Daksya, I am *not* adding qualifiers, the first post said "advertised 24/7" which means heavily advertised. And if crack's competition were heavily advertised powder, that would still be very problematic. Cocaine is not a benign drug--and all it takes is baking soda and water to make it into crack.

And if you are thinking of a regime that doesn't provide hardcore addicts what they want, you are thinking of a regime that doesn't solve one of the biggest problems of prohibition, which is the demand by a core group of highly troubled, difficult to deter people who will find service from a black market if such demand is not addressed.

Such a regime would be the worst of both worlds: lots of drug related harm to large numbers of short-term heavy users, lots of drug-related harm to active addicts (whose numbers probably would increase if you don't do anything to deter them pricewise because there are some addicts [though a very small group] who are simply addicts because they met their pharmacological match, not because they have pre-existing problems *and* the harms of the black market which would grow to serve the people who do want the intense forms of the drugs.

Besides, how you are going to ingest cocaine aside from snorting, shooting or smoking it? Eating coca leaves is just not a substitute for most people. The people who say that the less harmful forms would predominate are correct-- but that doesn't mean there wouldn't be many, many risk-loving young people and hurting addiction-prone people seeking the hardcore forms. See: existing market for vodka. Still with us.

Drug policy is complex-- you may not be aware that you are arguing with someone who has thought about it for decades and is widely published in the area (and is also a former cocaine and heroin addict)-- but it is not as easy as you are suggesting. It is a balancing act that is always going to include some harm. The point is to minimize that: which means trying to balance harms to addicts, harms to heavy users, harm to nonproblematic users, harms to families, harms from crime, harms from incarceration, etc.
posted by Maias at 3:48 PM on August 11, 2007


Maias, there's a myriad of examples where dangerous recreational use is driven down, not due to governmental interference, but cultural and societal knowledge that the drug is bad. From England's introduction of gin (which saw untold number of deaths and alcoholism rates due to the ingestion of gin at the same rates as they drank beer) to bathtub gin (which has been successfully eradicated due to education).

The primary draw to crack cocaine is the price compared to powder cocaine. There is no coincidence that cocaine is snorted among those with higher discretionary income than crack cocaine. Sure you will always get a small group truly abusing the drug, but society does not march towards continuously for harder drugs to abuse.

The largest factor in drug abuse for a society is the culture itself, which can easily be verified by looking at the drug and alcohol consumption habits across nations. They very wildly, especially among the young target demographic you seem to indicate is prone to be defenseless to drugs (alcohol consumption rates among British and Italy youth being the most telling difference, as would be any drug use among Japan and the United States, even recreational opium use in parts of Iran versus the rest of the world).

The idea that prohibition is keeping a group of people from "meeting their match" is absurd. A visit to Munich with 2-beer lunches and a visit to LA where a glass of wine may raise an eyebrow at lunch but four red bull and vodkas at a club is the norm should given an indication that the harmful effects of drugs on a society are complex, culturally motivated and nearly impossible to change vis a vis governmental intervention. The greatest problem is not being able to quantify the indirect effects of government prohibition, which has in many communities caused a complete mistrust in government and civil society at large.
posted by geoff. at 7:40 PM on August 11, 2007


Geoff, if you've ever freebased (aka smoked crack-- I have), you will know that the primary draw to crack v. powder *for those we need to worry most about (aka addicts)* has nothing to do with price and everything to do with the intensity of the high. I actually preferred injecting, which is even more intense.

You are completely (and seemingly willfully) misunderstanding my post. I am not arguing that prohibition is successful in generally keeping people from "meeting their match." (though it may do for some).

I am arguing that if you had widely-available, *heavily advertised*, *extremely cheap* cocaine it would not be an improvement on prohibition and might actually be worse in terms of drug-related harm. Not worse in terms of prohibition-related harm, of course-- but it would produce a different set of problems. A possibly better set-- but to argue that this is a good idea is to have clearly not been around the kind of massive cocaine use we saw in the 80's when cocaine was cheap, plentiful and widely seen (mistakenly) as non addictive.

Obviously, this occurred under prohibition: it resulted in the massive expansion of the drug war and mandatory minimums and heavy incarceration we are now dealing with.

But there was something going on with those scare stories, just as there is with the methamphetamine scare stories-- despite the ridiculous exaggerations that the media also puts out. People really do get hurt when they get heavily involved with these drugs and availability is part of the problem.

However, you can't adequately address availability with the crude tools we are currently using, since if you could, we wouldn't have the problem.

Now, consider the impact of tobacco regulation and ad restrictions, social stigma and price hikes on smoking. Next consider the opposite: lowering price, raising advertising, raising availability, decreasing social stigma. Mightn't smoking go up? The drug is legal in both instances-- but in one it's expensive, restricted and stigmatized, whereas in the other, it's cheap, hyped and trendy.

I am not arguing in favor of current policy (Google me, please!!!)-- but I am saying that, as I've said repeatedly, Philip Morris crack advertised 24/7 and cheap is a bad idea.

I can't believe anyone actually argues in favor of this as it is the straw man argument prohibitionists use to attack legalizers-- virtually none of whom support it, aside from some libertarians.

Paging Peter McDermott!!!!
posted by Maias at 8:33 PM on August 11, 2007


Maias: And if you are thinking of a regime that doesn't provide hardcore addicts what they want, you are thinking of a regime that doesn't solve one of the biggest problems of prohibition

Who says that existing crack addicts have to get their fix via heavily-advertised cheap retail? Like I said, such a regime is unlikely.

But more importantly, the turnover period determines the validity of your point. Most of the coke addicts today weren't addicts twenty years ago. In a regime which didn't provide crack easily but did provide other forms easily, the ones demanding crack will be those who are already hooked or habituated. As long as the rate at which new users initiate into crack doesn't match the current regime, they will eventually diminish. You're thinking about the existing population and extrapolating their persistence. The initiation into hard drug use is a function of policy (and that includes the attitudes promoted by the policy). Ultimately, legalization isn't being put forward to primarily lower harm expected in the next 5-7 years, but as the basic change for future drug policy.

In any case, as I've mentioned at Metafilter before, high-rate stimulants (injected, smoked..etc) are the most problematic category of drugs, and I don't personally support cheap crack at the corner store. What I do object is to the specter that legalization entails such a development. New safer drugs, public acceptance and availability of substitution treatments.. are why I'm unconvinced that in order for legalization to be effective, existing crack addicts have to get their fix cheaply and locally.
posted by daksya at 11:06 PM on August 11, 2007


Daksya, you are missing the point again: I am not SAYING THAT LEGALIZATION AUTOMATICALLY INVOLVES THIS, I am *opposing* that idea.

What I am saying is that if legalizers dismiss the problem of cheap, heavily advertised highly available stimulants as one that will not occur in a regime that permits such a thing, they will never get anywhere near realizing their policy goals.

Any regime that wants to legalize *and* reduce harm cannot allow Philip Morris crack advertised 24/7-- and suddenly, you hmmm aren't supporting this any more!!!

What I am also saying is that it is naive to think that no one will want or seek the intense products. A minority always will-- and this is one of the most difficult groups of people for harm reduction to deal with.

You seem to think you can put the genie of intense drugs back into the bottle. This is absurd: there will always be a group of people who seek the most intense experience and given the existence of these forms, they will find them.

Now, I do think a policy that gave people more access to less harmful forms and simultaneously reduced access to intense forms by taking the market away from street dealers could potentially reduce harm. But this is not one that involves Philip Morris crack at any stage of the game-- especially because once you commercialize, business interests push back against reducing their markets as cig companies do now.
posted by Maias at 6:50 AM on August 12, 2007


Maias: Any regime that wants to legalize *and* reduce harm cannot allow Philip Morris crack advertised 24/7

This is not certain, and that's what geoff. was saying.

What I am saying is that if legalizers dismiss the problem of cheap, heavily advertised highly available stimulants

Many will dismiss it due to political experience. Pot's not been legalized despite a 30-year effort and Carter's tentative allowance. There's no realistic chance that a populace not even willing to accept recreational pot legalization is going to accede to 24/7 cheap crack. Legalization, if & when it finally occurs will be cautious to begin with. The extreme libertarians are libertarian on drug policy simply because that's what they are on all fronts.

suddenly, you hmmm aren't supporting this any more!!!

Reread my posts and point out where I supported it in the first place. You originally said, "Clearly Philip Morris Crack advertised 24/7 and sold at $3 a rock is a bad idea.", where bad should be treated as 'Bad!!'. To which geoff. replied, "The largest factor in drug abuse for a society is the culture itself", and I chimed in with "legalization doesn't have to translate to the same or worse marketshare persisting" assuming your scenario actually came into place. Nowhere do I label your scenario as my preferred policy.

This is absurd: there will always be a group of people who seek the most intense experience and given the existence of these forms, they will find them.

For this committed group, policy will be an obstacle, not a dealbreaker. Ultimately, you can have provisions to deal with this group for the special needs that they present, but the broad character of the policy shouldn't be tailored to treat the entire population the same as the highly vulnerable. That thinking is indeed much responsible for the punitive policy that we do have in place today.

once you commercialize, business interests push back against reducing their markets as cig companies do now.

Two points:
1)they aren't omnipotent. Cigarette smoking has dropped in the long-run, and lot of restrictions on smoking have been put in place globally, despite their presence and efforts.
2)More importantly, unlike cigarettes, the legalized drugs won't be starting with a blank slate - the US culture won't approach crack as a new alien drug. There's decades of propaganda and even legalization won't wipe out that. So Philip Morris, even if it was allowed the airtime, can't claim that crack's a great high and there's nothing more to it. For better or worse, the future will emerge organically, and your scenario isn't plausible within that context.
posted by daksya at 8:13 AM on August 12, 2007


This is ridiculous. You continue to willfully misinterpret my position: nowhere did I say that legalization inevitably includes Philip Morris crack. Nowhere-- so why is this suddenly *my* scenario? I was saying that any sensible policy change would have to exclude this.

Second, the point of drug policy has got to be to deal with drug-related harm. A large proportion of drug-related harm comes from addicts. Again, nowhere did I suggest that the whole population be considered as addicts or potential addicts or anything of the sort.

The difficulty of setting effective drug policy is that things that work to help addicts may harm others and things that work to help others may harm addicts. There is also a huge group of people who will use in harmful ways for short periods of time if certain drugs are widely available. There are ways of reducing this harm-- but it is very, very complicated. If you look at the international debate over alcohol control policies, you will see why.

None of this is an argument for or against legalization-- my plea is to understand that this is not as simple as it appears on the surface and the way you try to caricature my position shows exactly why these debates tend to go nowhere, even when there are large areas of agreement.
posted by Maias at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2007


Maias: the way you try to caricature my position shows exactly why these debates tend to go nowhere

You got that right, except it's you throwing out this accusation: You continue to willfully misinterpret my position, which is without basis.

nowhere did I say that legalization inevitably includes Philip Morris crack

And I didn't accuse you of that. You're putting undue emphasis on avoiding an outcome which is pretty unlikely anyway. That's my point.

There are ways of reducing this harm-- but it is very, very complicated.

You can lay out (some of the) complications, and we can discuss them in concrete terms. But just saying "it's very complicated" is often an invitation to drop the subject.
posted by daksya at 12:04 AM on August 13, 2007


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