November 15th, 2011

The Addictive Drug that Government Will Never Prohibit


photo credit: Herodoto

Over the past several decades, governments at all levels of society have incorporated into their codified laws prohibitions against drugs. Reviewing lists of banned substances has become an exercise in linguistic gymnastics. Consider just a few of the many, many items placed on prohibition by the government: gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, a general anesthetic with minimal side effects; 12-Methoxyibogamine, used to help cure opiate addiction; 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, used medically to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder; alpha-methyltryptamine, an anti-depressant; and dihydrocodeinone enol acetate, a semi-synthetic substance similar to hydrocodone, a popular pain reliever.

Here in Utah, the state government has gone so far as to ban a synthetic marijuana substitute called “Spice” as well as bath salts. But despite the sustained attack on all sorts of natural and synthetic drugs, there is one drug—an extremely addictive and popular one— that government will never prohibit.

Drugs laws in general are predicated on the assumption that though drug consumption is an individual behavior, the effects of that consumption, especially in the aggregate, are a net negative to society. Laws punishing the production, distribution, and use of drugs are therefore an attempt to prevent individuals from causing harm to society as a whole.

In pursuing such policies, the government which seeks to discourage drug use in fact encourages the abuse of and addiction to the one drug it loves and will never outlaw: control. Infinitely more problematic than a man ingesting marijuana is the politician who abuses the institution of government to exercise powers that have no legitimate basis nor delegated authority. This infectious addiction has permeated all levels of government, becoming a contagion spreading to every policy and issue in which government has any influence and impact.

Initially, a few people who had access to it experimented with this drug and had limited success in getting the “high” they sought after. Over time, trial and error has produced a far more potent synthesis of the drug which has created countless thousands of addicts and untold destruction to society.

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, asked:

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

History has conclusively answered the question. The overwhelming majority of government edicts seek to control the behavior of peaceful people by regulating, criminalizing, mandating, and subsidizing their actions. While such central planners excuse their policies in prohibiting drug use on grounds that such drug use hurts other people within that drug user’s sphere of influence, they fail to apply the same standard to themselves. The arrogation and abuse of authority to use coercion against other people whose lives they wish to shape has a far more disastrous effect on society as a whole than does the ingestion of a plant by a man in his home. The latter’s actions may only negatively affect the lives of a few people, if at all. The former’s actions, on the other hand, affects the lives of all who have the misfortune of living under his jurisdiction.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote:

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial… the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.

Similarly Noah Webster cautioned us:

Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.

Many people fret over the “second hand” effects of a person’s drug consumption, and rightly so. To the extent that one individual’s actions cause harm to another individual, then there is opportunity for the law to intervene and uphold justice. Yet those who so often clamor for the law to control a person’s drug consumption and discourage drug use become, in the process, enablers of a far more deadly, addictive drug whose side effects create not only “second hand” concerns, but rather permeate the entire social fabric and affect millions of lives with the single stroke of a pen.

If we are to outlaw drugs, then let us criminalize the worst drug of them all: the coercive control of sovereign individuals. Let us reject the notion that the punitive arm of the state can and should be employed to exceed its moral authority and instead impose whatever a majority of a legislature wishes. And most importantly, we must eliminate the cognitive dissonance permeating our society which supports outlawing certain harmful drugs while deeply inhaling the worst of them all.

By criminalizing an individual’s drug consumption, the government turns a personal problem into a national disaster. But by allowing the criminalization of that drug, we turn a personal drug addiction into an systemic one. The second-hand effects felt by a few then become the routine oppression felt by us all.

7 Responses to “The Addictive Drug that Government Will Never Prohibit”

  1. November 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    As a former Libertarian, I believe that drugs should be legalized but I have some questions for you, Connor.

    First, should there be an age limit for who can buy drugs?

    Second, on drugs like antibiotics where some people would take them for colds, should we restrict them? (Since we don’t have many back up antibiotics should bacteria get an immunity to what we have.) Legalizing it could jeopardize us all by creating bacteria immune to all our antibiotics.

    Third, should drugs like Heroin be labeled so we know how pure it is? So there aren’t overdoses from people switching products.

    Fourth, would you support DUIs for different drugs and enforcement of them?

    Fifth, would you allow drugs to be advertised to children on children’s television programs?

  2. Brint Baggaley
    November 16, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Tron,

    I’m going to take a try at looking at some of your questions. I could be right or wrong, as we can only try to apply principles and theorize about outcomes. The principle I first look at is responsibility. The Welfare State has been around long enough that I don’t believe we really understand being fully accountable for the consequences of our decisions. If we were to dismantle the Welfare State and look at things from the standpoint of a more responsible society that would result, I think most of the questions would be quickly resolved. No one would watch a television station that advertized drugs to children because they would know that their children would be influenced toward making a completely destructive decision. DUI, I believe would be much less of a problem if people were used to being fully accountable for their choices. Labelling would not be necessary. It would simply be known that if you bought something from a shady person, you are taking the risk of dying. I don’t think this post dealt with prescription anti-biotics, so lets not worry about that and leave it as status quo. Age limits are already useless as it is generally underage persons who get involved in drugs now. A society which accepts responsibility for choices would not wait for the government to protect everyone, but parents would teach children to run fast from drug pushers. There would be examples to show them of kids who didn’t and are now not employable and have nothing. In short, I believe the now thriving illegal drug business would not last very long. However, if we legalize drugs without dismantling the Welfare State and becoming more responsible, I believe people will be supported by the State in their poor choices and we could well end up with a bigger problem than we now have. (I have seen this in Europe).

    Final point, I think we have been conditioned to look for some Utopian way to do everything. Can drugs exist and no one get hurt? No. Can we have a true free market economy and everyone be a millionaire? No. Realistically there will always be problems. This shouldn’t be an excuse for government tyranny (which tends to simply create more problems, therefore more tyranny). I believe we simply must accept that problems will exist. There won’t be a perfect way to legislate (or not legislate) anything. The existence of problems allows us the ability to learn, grow, use agency, and exercise charity toward all men, thus fulfilling the devine plan for this world.

  3. November 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I will agree with you on the addictive nature of the most notorious pain killers. Frankly, I think that many of these drugs are legal due to our adverse lobbying situation; however, I could be wrong. The question I have for Connor is what you consider beyond the realms of the majority to define as “moral.” Throughout American history, it has been the legal tradition to legislate or litigate “morals,” that govern society…like prostitution, bigamy, incest, drugs, abortion, marriage, etc., where do you stand in terms of delicate constitutional balance between the majority will and minority rights…

  4. November 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Great post, Connor! Couldn’t agree with your analysis more.

  5. November 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    Connor,

    I have to have a prescription for my albuterol inhaler. Albuterol is not addictive, has no dangerous side effects, and won’t even give you a buzz. Not sure why I need a prescription for it. The only thing I can think of is to limit access to non-asthmatic athletes looking for a boost. So why not make gatorade prescription only as well? Well, because Pepsi won’t make as much if it were prescription only, because no one would pay $30 for gatorade.

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