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The Harmlessness of Drugs, Part Eight Zillion

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Almost no sensible person denies that if we legalize drugs, more drugs will get used.  Such is the nature of temptation, not to mention dependency and addiction.

What will happen if more drugs get used?

More of this.  

I know some very smart people who support drug legalization.  I respectfully but emphatically disagree.  A legal system with an ounce of humanity will take considerable trouble, and impose considerable penalties, to reduce the chances that a tragic and horrible death like the one described in the story will happen.  

No system is infallible, and we should understand that not all drug use can be prevented. But to give up the effort because it's hard, expensive and (like all competing systems) capable of error strikes me as close to indecent.

6 Comments

Bill, Do you have the same reaction when it is laundry detergent leading to death in similar manner: http://www.wsj.com/articles/laundry-pod-poisonings-piling-up-1431632747.

Do we need more regulation and to give the federal govt more power to stop the evil tide of greedy pushers like Tide?

Doug: Perhaps you missed today's News Scan which reported: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that, nationally, deaths from drug overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014 and, from 2013 to 2014, deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin rose 14 percent, maintaining its position as the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans.

In the face of that, the Tide comparison seems kind of silly. Have you not seen what drug addiction does to tens of thousands of people every year?

Sounds like prohibition and tough sentences are not working so well, Michael, which is why I support major reforms. Do you?

Given that we still have 14,000 murders a year, sounds like prison sentences for murder are not working so well (prison sentences being the punishment in 99% of the cases), so should we support "major reforms"?

Like legalizing murder, perchance?

Or keeping it illegal, but imposing anger management (or greed management)?

Big problem here: We don't know whether X is "working well" unless we know how things would be WITHOUT X.

Do we know what heroin use would be without stiff punishment for it? And no, I'm not talking about some distant country or time. I'm talking about the USA now.

Doug,

One other question: Because we cannot sensibly outlaw all potentially harmful substances, does that mean we cannot (or should not) outlaw ANY harmful substance?

Because if the answer is "yes," I'm not following the logic of it.

Bill, the logical parallel between drug overdose deaths and appropriate drug regulations/prohibitions is not to murders, but to suicides using firearms and and appropriate drug regulations/prohibitions. I believe Prez Obama in his recent executive action to increase the reguation/prohibition of gun made much of the fact that there are roughly 20,000 suicides each year using firearms.

With that as the proper parallel, Bill, I wonder if you think we ought to criminalize suicide severely -- which could mean prosecution (and tough sentences) for people who attempt but fail to commit suicide and perhaps for those who negligently or recklessly enable others to commitment suicide?

If you want to stay on the topic of murder, I do support some major reforms like (1) heavy investment in smart gun technology, and (2) legalizing marijuana and trying to, through public health approaches, transform how we deal with drug use and abuse. Notably, we reduced the murder rate dramatically by ending alcohol Prohibition. I doubt ending marijuana prohibition will get us too much benefit there, but I do fear efforts to get even tougher on heroin offenses may be one contribuing cause of recent spikes in murders in some cities.

Finally, I think we both share the OW Holmes view that the life of the law is more about experience than logic. And the experience to date in Colorado seems to be, at least based on my perspectives, that major marijuana reform has had many more significant tangible benefits than does blanket marijuana prohibition. Ergo, I want to start by reforming our criminal laws in that space. In addition, the experience in Portugal with a public health (rather than a criminal prohibition) approach to drug problems seems to be working pretty well compared to what is going on in the US lately, ergo my interest in "major reforms."

Here is the key question for both Bill and Michael: what is the tangible evidence that criminalization and tough sentencing of drug offenders is "working" beyond the (reasonable) claim that things could/would be much worse without criminalization and tough sentencing of drug offenders?

I say this not to be obnoxious or rhetorical: I really am eager to see whatever data you would/could cite to show that that criminalization and tough sentencing of drug offenders works to reduce the harms of drugs.

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