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That is what I meant by "first principles": first, how do we decide which "drugs" to allow and which to prohibit?

You are trying to set me up for an argument I cannot possibly win.  I'd just be target practice for the smart boyos around here.

The problem is there is NO RATIONAL WAY of distinguishing between what drugs should be legal and which not.  There are huge shades of grey between various drugs in terms of toxicity and social consequences, and huge variability as to what these might be depending on the context, and so if you move the boundary a bit there is no logical reason why it shouldn't be moved a bit further.  

Thus if you legalise Marijuana, then why not E?  If cocaine, why not heroin - you are only discriminating in favour of the middle classes if you don't.  If you are trying to reduce Alcohol and Nicotine and prescribed drug abuse then legalising anything else is moving things in the "wrong" direction.

There is no "solution", only desperate attempts at containment not helped by the obvious hypocrisy, class bias, and irrationality of it all.  

Probably the only logical or rational alternative to criminalisation is medical regulation but I can't see why a doctor would prescribe cocaine to someone if there is the remotest chance his patient might overdose, mix with other drugs, or suffer an adverse reaction.  He would be sued to hell and anyway, we are already over-medicalising health and happiness to a huge degree.

The only other possible option is to "legitimise supply" of virtually all non-lethal drugs by making it the purview of legit pharma companies under quality controlled conditions and sold to adults in Pharmacies but without prescription.  That creates the problem of - I can get heroin without prescription but not an antibiotic - idiotic isn't it?

So then we get to the full libertarian position - all drugs should be freely available without state or medical "interference" and its is up to people themselves to educate themselves and decide what to do with their bodies.  

"Education" doesn't always work and I would expect a massive increase in accidental and other fatalities and medical traumas - but would it be worse that the current situation where are huge consequences because of the criminalisation process itself - drug trade turf wars, dirty needles, AIDS, hepatitis, and the traumatic effects of the crime required to fund drug taking.  I simply don't know, and that is why I would favour a slow, incremental, evidence based approach.

However, I would caution against the "progressive" assumption that criminalisation is all part of a massive capitalist, imperialist plot to to dominate the  world through "THE WAR ON DRUGS" or to repress progressive libertarian ideals in society.  Of course there are "political agendas" at work here but they may not be quite what they seem.

It is just as possible that it would be in capitalism's interest to decriminalize drugs and create a huge bonanza for "legit" big pharma, health care and related industries not to mention the tax revenues that could accrue to Government.  However  the price of illegitimate drugs is coming down all the time, so there probably wouldn't be a big reduction in crime if the legit versions were no cheaper and people still had to fund their habit.

It may just be that the decision is taken out of "our" hands and that our societies will be flooded with cheap illicit drugs in any case.  In that case the purely pragmatic decision would be to legitmise the whole lot and cut out the illegal middlemen. Many would argue we have reached that point already.   Perhaps the health care costs of decriminalisation would be offset by the savings on the very expensive criminalisation process, and perhaps "education" will succeed in ensuring that the vast majority of people will suffer no serious consequences.

If I were to hazard a guess it would be that that is the direction we are headed in whether we like it or not.  Perhaps it will be a bit like the porn industry where th first instinct of conservative society is to ban it, but gradually the barriers get rolled back (how do you define porn anyway?), and people get so used to it they hardly notice it anymore.  There is only so much the state can do to protect you from yourself and others, and the best approach is to equip you with the education to do it for yourself.

Managing a transition is always easier if everyone is agreed on what the end state should be.  My purpose here was to stimulate a debate and see if we can come to a consensus on what that end state should be.  Otherwise forces beyond our control will drag us in a certain direction anyway.

In 30 years time all the drugs illegal now will probably be freely available with (optional) medical supervision.  But will it be a happier, more just, and more rational world?

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 7th, 2008 at 08:24:41 AM EST
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