Thursday, April 06, 2017

on legalizing drugs

This Economist video presents a good argument for legalizing drugs—and not just "soft" drugs like marijuana, but even hard drugs like heroin:

I'll all for drug-legalization. While I'm generally anti-regulation and anti-overtaxation, I think we Americans are missing a huge opportunity to do some economic judo on vice-related industries like pornography, prostitution, and drugs. Our current stance, which is softening but still too stringent, shows that we learned almost nothing from the Prohibition era. What happens when you enact prohibition? You get speakeasies and Al Capone, with all the attendant violence and murder. Just look at cartels today: same thing.

If the government wants to bleed the population's wallet dry, let this be done through vice. If the government wants to indulge its mania for regulation, let this be done through vice instead of through taxation. With the government in control of vice-related activity, (1) authorities get massive revenue (watch the video to see what the Colorado government is raking in), (2) crime goes down as gangs and cartels are defanged, and (3) pressure in our prisons decreases. Meanwhile, rehab facilities get a boost and—strangely—overall drug usage may actually decrease once drug possession and use are decriminalized.

This is apparently what's happening in Colorado where, ever since drugs were liberalized, usage among youths has gone down. The above video shows similarly improving trends in Portugal. It's simple psychology: drugs are no longer the forbidden fruit, which makes them inherently less interesting. Hell, you can draw a parallel with women's ankles: back in the weird era during which the sight of a woman's bare ankle was considered scandalous, all it took to send people into a Victorian tizzy was the slight lift of a hem.* Now, with people parading naked on TV, an exposed ankle holds no interest for anyone.

Of course, there are those who are uncomfortable with government's assuming the role of pimp or drug dealer. Surely government is a more noble enterprise, yes? I say: why not give government these seedy responsibilities? Government, far from being noble, is a filthy business; putting it in charge of pimping and dealing strikes me as perfectly apropos, morally and politically speaking. And if it's a choice between government-regulated vice or war on our streets, I should think that this choice would be a no-brainer. Legalize it all!

* has an article on "sex myths" that claims the ankle-baring fetish was untrue, but the relevant section of the article doesn't actually debunk that particular cultural trope. Oops. This article, meanwhile, addresses the notion that Victorians, scandalized by exposed ankles, also covered the legs of their pianos (or tables, as the Cracked article notes): this furniture-related notion is a complete fabrication. As for women covering themselves, this seems to have been true: "Certainly the strict dress codes of the time denote that female legs and ankles remain covered under swathes of fabric, and to bare them is considered wholly indecent."


Charles said...

Great vid.

I have mixed thoughts on the issue, but when I examine those thoughts and am honest with myself, I realize that any misgivings I have come from my own prejudices and preconceptions--not so much about marijuana, but about harder drugs like heroin.

While it's hard to argue with the logic of decriminalization, I still have to admit that it was a bit weird to arrive here in Cambridge and be walking around when suddenly... *sniff sniff* Hmm... that smells an awful lot like pot. I'm kind of getting used to it now.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, I have my own prejudices and moral qualms when it comes to vice. Like you, I'm chary of the harder drugs and what their potential effect on society might be, but let the government figure that riddle out.

The thing to watch out for, from a libertarian point of view, is whether a drug user becomes a danger to others as a direct result of his drug use, e.g., having a psychotic episode while behind the wheel.

This is going to require the regulation of certain behaviors (e.g., no getting behind the wheel until X amount of time has passed or, in the case of LSD users susceptible to flashbacks years later, no getting behind the wheel at all, ever again), which gets us into uncomfortable territory regarding privacy rights.

Such laws would have to be crisp and precise, not vague and subject to multiple interpretations, which could easily lead to abuse by law enforcement.

I realize my post made this issue sound black-and-white when it really isn't, but all in all, I still support the judo approach to solving the problem of addiction, gangs, cartels, and government revenue. The basic human fact, here, is that you can't legislate human vices out of existence: you have to work with those vices in a way that keeps society running smoothly.