Let's All Become Drug Addicts - Legally

Let's all become drug addicts - legally.

(See here) a piece that appears on LewRockwell.com written by Dr Walter Block, a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where he argues for legalizing drugs within the confines of the city of New Orleans.

First, I find it difficult to not just state "There them Libertarians go again!" and leave it at that. However let us examine what the "learned Doctor" has to say.

Dr Block takes a lot of time trying to explain the economics of drug sales. He will not get much argument from me there. Allow free enterprise absent the black market to determine the cost of drugs, and keep the politicians from tacking on tax rates like they do to tobacco, and the cost would plummet.

However Dr Block is not satisfied with this. He seems to think the reason society makes the usage of some drugs illegal is only through some capricious and arbitrary method. Note how he makes the point that:

If feeding a drug habit cost about as much as eating a few candy bars per day, these people, these human beings, could lead quasi-normal lives. They could have ordinary jobs. Without the desperate search for the next "fix" and the wherewithal to finance it, this flotsam and jetsam would be turned in one fell swoop into productive members of the New Orleans community.
I am not sure where Dr Block thinks all the employers are going to come from that are supposed to rush in and hire these drug addicts. While Loyola University might be willing to offer some of them a job ("They could have ordinary jobs.") I am uncertain anyone else is going to be quite as willing to take a chance on them. Part of the problem is going to be that employers are going to be left wondering just how "productive" these addicts who would be "turned in one fell swoop into productive members of the New Orleans community" are going to be with a needle stuck into their arms. Will they even be able to get through an entire eight hour work day without the need for the next fix?

As for Dr Block's contention that legalizing drug addiction will not lead to more drug addicts, as when he states:
There is surely no one, at present, who refrains from drug use simply because of prohibition. At least, under legalization, no one would go to school yards and try to hook youngsters, as at present.
Let me point to my own experience in the United States Navy. When I went into the Navy back in 1976, drug usage within this service was wide spread and such usage was often winked at within some commands. Before I entered the service, my own experiences with drugs were extremely limited, but I quickly became a fairly heavy user of drugs after I entered the service due to the wide spread, and accepted, usage I witnessed. Now I am not only speaking of what happened to me, I am speaking about everything that I witnessed that happened around me. After the United States Navy adopted a "zero tolerance" policy towards drugs, usage rates plummeted and I myself "kicked the habit".

While legalizing drug usage might remove some of the "profit motive" from the school yard, this will be replaced by increased levels of peer pressure that will arise. The statement that "There is surely no one, at present, who refrains from drug use simply because of prohibition." is outrageous. When the United States Navy cracked down, drug usage rates went down. Had the United States Navy legalized drug usage, the rate of usage would have skyrocketed.

Look, I find it difficult to imagine that multitudes of society going into drug induced stupors due to needles in their arms are going to be a good thing for society. Legalizing and reducing the costs of the drugs is not going to lead to less usage. Common sense indicates that this is going to lead to MORE drug addicts.

As I said, it really is hard to just not dismiss this whole intellectual argument as just another instance of Libertarians shooting their mouths off for another instance of "unrestricted liberty" no matter how large the cost is to society.

Dr Block, your rights to liberty end where mine begin. I am too fearful that drug addicts that are free to pursue their addiction legally are going to impinge on my own rights too dramatically.

Drug usage is illegal. It should stay that way. There are reasons for why this is so.


Blogger Michael said...

There is instruction in looking at this problem from the point of view of economics, but there is not necessary wisdom.

Economics, however, does give us a very powerful tool in analysing why ideologically based policies inevitably fail. At some stage, one must consider whether our goal is to "uphold the ideology" or reducing the absolute amount of harm caused by illicit drugs in our community.

Certainly, there is very good evidence that treating illicit drug dependence as a health issue (rather than a crime) not only reduce harm (insofar as the health of the addicted individual as well as drug-related criminality) but is also much cheaper to the community. Methadone programs for heroin uses is a very good example.

That is not to say that we should simply hand out illicit drugs to carte blanche and the "slippery slope" argument is a logical fallacy.

With regards to people who use drugs and live normal lives, having worked as an inner Sydney GP, I can tell you that this is in fact very common. I have met many young professionals who regularly use illicit drugs but who function "normally" within the workplace. Now, that is not to say that illicit drug use does not have an effect on their finances, on their relationships, on their mental and physical health.

Nevertheless, treating the addiction as a problem related to health (e.g., alcohol dependence) rather than necessarily one of criminality is usually more successful.


2/22/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

I am not against efforts to treat drug addiction. I am against efforts to legalize drug addiction.

Make it legal and you will have more drug addicts. Even "some" examples of drug addicts living "normal" lives does not convince me. Perhaps these examples are only the exceptional cases of those who have the willpower to control their addictions.

Perhaps another society other then my own will attempt to take the steps necessary to prove I am wrong, that legalized opiates is actually good for society. I am unwilling to take the gamble. Perhaps Sweden can prove that a socialist society can co-exist with a sizable portion of the populace being drug addicts - grin.

2/27/2007 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

It is not a matter of being "proved" wrong or right. Look at any anonymous survey. The rates of use of illicit substances are often surprisingly high in some populations. Few of those people will have the "visible" problems of drug addiction that is portrayed in popular media.

That is not to say that there is not some harm.

However, the view that something must be "legalised" or "criminalised" is a very superficial and dogmatic view. Something can be both a controlled substance and "legal". Alcohol and cigarettes are common examples (e.g., there are laws who and how someone can purchase both).

What is clear is that for many of these illicit substances, treating addiction as a crime is counterproductive. It does not significantly reduce the rates of addiction and by limiting supply, increase the rate of criminality.


2/28/2007 03:41:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

I think your are too dismissive of the need for "proof". Just because rates of usage are high while illegal does not mean the reates of usage would not climb even higher if legalized.

In his article (in the 2nd paragraph) Professor Perlstein mentioned that drugs were once legalized in England for a brief period of time. Why do I mention this? Evidently, England tried this approach (legalization) and for one reason or another found it necessary to once again make drugs illegal.

If it didn't work in England, then why would it work in the USA?

2/28/2007 06:44:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/03/2007 04:47:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Note: deleted post to fix a semantic error: does --> doesn't

I would believe that trying to abstract meaning from a throw-away comment on a country that you know nothing about to be rather foolish.

England has to my knowledge never legalised any "hard" drugs. In fact, no country has as there are international treaties forbidding this. Many countries do "de-criminalise" personal usage.

There are many reasons why policies change. Most decriminalisation policies are intensively unpopular with certain lobby groups. That doesn't mean that they don't work.

In the countries that have decriminalised certain drugs (e.g., marijuana is usually a good example), there is usually no apparent increased rate of usage and neither is they any increase in drug related crime. Indeed, there is usually a massive reduction (a proportion of course, being that simple possession of small quantities in no longer a crime and no one is trying to catch you anyway).

Insofar as various other substances (e.g., amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, etc.) decriminisation doesn't mean making it legal, which is the point I was getting to before. It means treating addicts has having a health problem and trying to fix it rather than throwing them in gaol.


3/03/2007 04:49:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

As long as other countries do not choose to lead the way as to the legalization of hard drugs, I do not see any reason for my country to grab the reigns. I am dead set against legalization of hard drugs until it is PROVEN that this would be better for society as a whole. Until then, I tend to believe that societies have not adopted anti-drug laws through arbitrary methods. Our forefathers found these substances were bad for society and outlawed them. When it is PROVEN our forefathers were wrong, I will be willing to change the laws.

As for marijuana, sorry, you are dealing with an expert in the usage of this drug. I find it to be amongst the most intolerable of drugs to society. Research has shown that the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana build up in the fat of the human body resulting in the mind being affected for weeks from past drug usage. My own personal experience with the drug bears witness to the accuracy of the research. When I was given a chance to "dry out" it took a couple months for my mind to shake off the effects of the drug.

While I have never heard of any research on the issue, there have also been reports that marijuana usage has triggered psychotic episodes in users. Again, I will refer to my own personal experiences. My own usage resulted in delusional thinking. Not seriously delusional, as I will still able to function in society, however it was self destructive. I will admit that the psychotic episodes could be explained through more then the drug usage alone. At first my marijuana usage, heavy as it was, did not result in delusions. In fact, I could point to certain social positive aspects to the usage. However I got "busted". Shortly after being busted, psychological problems emerged. Looking back I at least partially blame the psychological struggle I myself had with "it is wrong, I got busted" with the "but there is nothing wrong with it" while I was under the influence of the drug.

Now, I will admit that while I used marijuana, the usage could not have been described as recreational. It would more accurately be described as lifestyle usage. My experience has been that most users were not recreational but lifestyle users. These lifestyle users will still be "under the influence" while operating motor vehicles for example even if it has been several days since they last consumed any of the drug due to buildup in the fat cells. My own experience bears witness to the accuracy of the research that claims this.

3/15/2007 10:52:00 PM  
Blogger Boris Epstein said...


Was anyone forcing you to use drugs when you were in service? I doubt it. So, whatever choices you made you made voluntarily.

No libertarian that I know of calls for people to use drugs. They are against making a crime of drug use. Those are two different things.

3/28/2007 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...


The atmosphere at the first "real" command that I served at did not "encourage" drug use but certainly did not discourage it. Under this atmosphere, drug usage mushroomed.

We had people responsible for monitoring the gauges on a nuclear reactor who were under the influence of drugs.

Perhaps I was wrong to say the atmosphere did not encourage drug usage. After all, I had experimented with drug usage prior to entering the service and decided it was not for me. However, at this command, I felt motivated to enter into the drug culture to become "one of the guys". If I wanted to be a member of the society that existed at the command, I needed to be a user of drugs. If I failed to use drugs then I was always going to be an outsider.

Should people operating nuclear reactors be under the influence of marijuana? Should people operating a large truck on the interstate be under the influence? Should people manufacturing toilet paper be under the influence? To each question I answer no.

You might try to say that the same statement could be said of alcohol. However recreational use of alcohol is not akin to marijuana use. THC builds up in the fat cells of the human body so that once consumed, the effects of marijuana does not cease on the human mind for weeks after initial consumption. Studies have shown that marijuana has a "half life" so that after an evening encounter with the drug the user is still under the effects the next morning. This is not true of alcohol. After an evening binge the alcoholic might have a hangover the next morning but he is no longer drunk.

Some drugs are illegal to use. There are good reasons for why this is so. I do not have to rely on studies alone for my opinion. My opinion is base upon personal experience.

4/13/2007 02:42:00 PM  

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