Blogs > Liberty and Power > Legalization Not a Threat

Aug 23, 2005 5:23 am

Legalization Not a Threat

I believe that, lately, the person posting links in this space to the best articles has been Mark Brady. The essay by Brendan O’Neill on the war on terror and the article on the Australian experience with making incitement to religious hatred a crime that he linked to were both outstanding. However, his latest connection to Lionel Shriver asking"Why can't you buy heroin at Boots?" seems, probably because the subject interests me so, especially eloquent.

In the piece Shriver states that, “Were hard drugs decriminalised, it's dubious that consumption would appreciably rise.” Besides the historical fact, referred to here by me before, of legal drugs co-existing in late 19th century America with a functioning society, producing ever increasing wealth and rising standards of living, able to accommodate millions of immigrants there is also some empirical evidence to back up the author’s contention.

In 1990 a poll commissioned by Richard J. Dennis, then chair of the Drug Policy Foundation, asked people who had never used marijuana or cocaine how likely they would be to try those drugs if they were legalized. Of those who had never used marijuana only 1.1% said they were very likely to try it and a mere 3.1 % said they were somewhat likely try it under a legal regime. The numbers for cocaine were 0.5% very likely and 0.4% somewhat likely. Taking into account that trying a drug and being addicted to it are two different things, Arnold Trebach, in his book Legalize It?: Debating American Drug Policy, summed up the results of the survey by saying, “Put in other terms, after legalization, 99.54 percent of the adults in the country would not be addicted to marijuana, and 99.83 percent would not be addicted to cocaine.”

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Anthony Gregory - 8/23/2005

Economist Jeffrey Miron made a great normative case against prohibition at an Independent Institute event. Aside from his wonderful treatment of the classic arguments that the drug war breeds crime and disease, and his discussion of the tiny amount that prohibition probably does reduce drug use as not worth the many social costs, he made this refreshing point:

The first question is should some policy be used in the attempt to reduce drug consumption? Secondly, if the answer is yes, is the right policy prohibition, or possibly something else?

So let me start with a view that I will refer to as rational drug consumption. Standard economic model, which economists use over, and over, and over again to study the demand for toothpaste, or the market for personal computers or whatever, says people buy things because they want to. OK? They choose to do one thing as opposed to another, because they think it makes them better off. And so people buy drugs because they want to buy drugs, because they like consuming drugs, because it helps, it’s a form of self-medication, because it makes you look cool, because you enjoy being intoxicated, or whatever. . . .

And, even if one can point to situations where drug use seems to be irrational to almost any observer, it’s hard to deny that a lot of drug use, in fact, seems just as rational as anything else. It’s hard to distinguish why, to say why some people’s use of marijuana is any different than other people’s use of alcohol; why some people’s use of cocaine for the short-term enjoyment that they get, is any better or worse than other people’s short-term enjoyment from using alcohol, or engaging in sporting activities, or anything else.

So one cost of prohibition under this view, is any reduction in drug use by persons who would use drugs responsibly if drugs were legal. And that’s not a bizarre argument. It’s the same argument we make for keeping alcohol, cigarettes, cars, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and millions of other things legal, all of which have the characteristic that they can be misused, and they can cause harm if misused, but for the vast majority of users they’re not misused, and they provide enjoyment to the people who use them.

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