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March 20, 2007

UK Indpendent, After Championing Decrimilization Of Marijuana, Now Reverses Policy As The Addicts Come Rolling In

Back in college, a roommate and I would argue about drug legalization. He actually used once in a while, I didn't, but I took the libertarian position (legalize them, tax them, everthing will work out fine!) and he took the conservative position.

Why? Well, he said that as far as he was concerned, it was likely to certain that making drugs more freely available would result in him doing more of them -- much more. And, further, he played the "I've been to Europe" card. But this time to make a conservative point: "Dude, I've seen the needle parks. I've seen all the young heroin addicts on the dole. Without state control over drug use, it gets to be a bigger and bigger problem."

And actually, because of that, I changed my mind. I dropped my libertarian utopian position of "Let everyone do what they want and everything will just turn out jake!" and instead adopted the posture that a lot of people actually do need the nanny-state's bossing them around on drug-use issues, and that without it, they'll be right screwed up for a good part of their lives.

The libertarian position seems to be a winner for very responsible, very together sorts of people who have a great amount of control over themselves. But we don't make laws exclusively for those who have their shit together; we also have to consider all those whose shit is quite disordered.

Anyway, after campaigning vigorously to decriminalize the "harmless" drug marijuana, the UK Independent is now more concerned about the latter sort of people, who turn out to be greater in number than they'd expected:

More than 22,000 people were treated last year for cannabis addiction - and almost half of those affected were under 18. With doctors and drugs experts warning that skunk can be as damaging as cocaine and heroin, leading to mental health problems and psychosis for thousands of teenagers, The Independent on Sunday has today reversed its landmark campaign for cannabis use to be decriminalised.

A decade after this newspaper's stance culminated in a 16,000-strong pro-cannabis march to London's Hyde Park - and was credited with forcing the Government to downgrade the legal status of cannabis to class C - an IoS editorial states that there is growing proof that skunk causes mental illness and psychosis.

By the way, in blah-blah school, I happened to know a kid that was borderline retarded due to a serious pot habit.

My roommate told me that whenever he began to think he was doing too much pot, he'd think of this other kid (his friend), and that would put him off pot for a couple of weeks.

"Oh come on," I said. "The kid must always have been that way. Pot can't do that."

"Yes it can," my roommate told me. "Believe me: at one point, that kid was bright."

I realize the plural of anecdote is not data, and perhaps I shouldn't be taking so much drug-legalization punditry from potheads, but, well, from what little I know, there really is a problem. Oh, not for most people, maybe. But for some.

And it's well and good to talk of liberty, but when your liberty comes at the expense of someone else's happiness... well, the drug-abusers did it to themselves, of course, but any real and honest discussion of legalization must begin with the premise that, in granting the whole nation more liberty, a certain number of people are going to be consigned to lives of miserable addiction and borderline retardation (not to mention death -- maybe you can't kill yourself on pot, but you can OD on most other drugs).

Incidentally: I'm not saying that just because some people will suffer or even die under a decriminalization regime is reason enough to to keep drugs criminalized. I'm a realist; I know raising the speed limit 10 mph will result in x number of additional highway fatalities and y number of collision-caused spinal cord injuries and z number of maimings and disfigurements; that fact alone isn't enough to prove we shouldn't raise the speed limit.

It's an ugly fact, but human lives can be assigned a value when we do these utilitarian calculations; even those who claim that every human life is of incalculable worth are kinda lying: they have their own fuzzy estimate as to the value of a human life, too; they're just not upfront about admittting it. If they truly believed that human lives had almost infinite value, they would insist on reducing the speed limit on highways to 45 mph and mandating that every car include the most effective collision-mitigating equipment money can buy (raising the average cost of a car up 15 or 20 thousand dollars).

I'm just saying that if we're going discuss this, we have to figure out precisely how many net new human deaths we'll be causing. These pie-in-the-sky fantasias about virtually no bad consequences from legalization -- some even argue straightfacedly drug use will fall, now that the "outlaw chic" cache of drug use is removed! -- are the slogans of fairly stupid and dishonest advocates, not real thinkers interested in honest predictions and judgments.

Laboratory Alaska: Since Alaska has moved recently in de-criminalization direction, I think it would be the perfect test case to see the exact results of decriminalization. It's separated from the mainland, making it somewhat harder for one state to begin exporting its own individual drug policy the whole country.

If Alaska continues along this path, I'd support giving the state an exemption regarding federal drug laws. See what happens in five or ten years, and then make a decision. If the costs of the policy are outweighed by the benefits, fine, legalize across the country.

But I'd sort of like some empircal evidence for the proposition that legalizing drugs will be a net-positive policy.

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posted by Ace at 07:38 PM

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