31 thoughts on “Legalize Drugs”

  1. While I agree with the position, the messenger has little to recommend him. The Stamper tenure of the SPD was dysfunctional and worthless.

    This is the guy who was appointed as a kinder, gentler chief, a progressive, politically correct cop who wouldn’t mind marching in pride parades. He was a political animal, not much liked by the rank and file officers, and incapable of decent leadership. Let’s not even go into his role in letting the Seattle WTO riots get out of hand.

    The Mayor Schell / Chief Stamper period was probably the low point of Seattle city government for at least the last 30 years. And that’s saying something.

  2. Whatever Stamper’s flaws as a police chief, IMO he presents a strong case for drug legalization. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t consider his arguments solely on their merits.

  3. The problem is with the ultra dangerious/addictive drugs like meth. We have seen it first hand in a major way here in Hawaii. Meth ruins lives after one use…not for people with the right mental/chemical predisposition for addiction/dependency..but pretty much for ANYONE who uses it…

    would you really want to make a drug like this available to every college kid who turned 18 or 21 and was able to go out for his inaugural hit of meth?

    I don’t think so…

  4. Alcohol is harmful. Are we worse off for repealing its prohibition? Meth is illegal yet easily available. College students can easily get drugs if they want them.

    When drugs are legal, the costs of drug abuse are borne mainly by users. When they are illegal, there is still drug abuse, plus everyone else bears heavy costs in civil liberties, in police and judicial corruption and in diminished respect for the law. And hundreds of thousands of people whose only crime is taking drugs have their lives ruined by being imprisoned. Surely these are high costs.

  5. I have long been in agreement with you Jonathan about drug prohibition, and am loath to support the legislation of morality, which is essentially what drug laws are. However, since I moved into a house a mere half-block from a notorious by-the hour motel (crack cocaine and crystal meth, with a side of used up prostitute, are the house specialties), my opinion has developed from “legalize everything” to a more nuanced view.

    There’s nothing nastier or more pathetic than a crack-zombie. The drug is so addicting and does so much damage to the brain that what was once a human is now a half-dead, sometimes violent shell. I see their ghostlike figures every day as I walk to work, gaunt, skeletal creatures with vacant eyes and a bestial demeanor. Statistically, treatment programs don’t work in any significant sense. Rehabilitation doesn’t work. As the old saying goes, the only thing that stops a crackhead from taking crack is jail or death.

    Arguments I’ve heard for legalization would include government regulation of safety and standards in line with what is already done for alcohol and tobacco, and remove the criminality of drug use, thus relieving strains on the prison system. This would work fine for marijuana, and probably even many harder drugs like heroin, LSD, and non-freebase cocaine. A person can be functional while using heroin, even over a period of years. LSD, despite the scare mongering, is non-addictive, even if it can cause weird brain problems if overused. Standard cocaine has a short high duration and is addictive only after continued use.

    However, crack is permanently debilitating. Users, legal or otherwise, are useless as productive workers, suck up social services dollars, and have exceptionally poor chances of quitting once they start. I don’t see it doing a damn thing for crack other than to increase the user base.

    It would be one thing if we were living in a libertarian utopia where each person was responsible for the choices they make, and they alone would pay the costs those choices incur. But that is not the world we live in, and crackheads are not going to be allowed to starve to death because of their drug abuse, at least not in the industrialized west.

    As I said, users of these debilitating drugs will stay on public support mechanisms indefinitely; it makes no difference what the legal status of the drug is. I’m not trying to make the nanny-statist argument here, but you’ve got to admit that, over the long haul and from a pragmatic point of view, it may be cheaper to keep crackheads in jail.

    So in summary, I’m in favor of selective legalization, and believe that certain cases do not fit the cost / benefit analysis commonly (and I believe correctly) argued by legalization proponents. I admit Crack may be the most extreme example one can find, but it is something I deal with every day, and needs to be addressed in any debate on the topic.

    D’ya think they’re going to take away my “certificate of libertarian leanings” I have framed on my mantle?

  6. . . . over the long haul and from a pragmatic point of view, it may be cheaper to keep crackheads in jail.

    I would rather see them on the dole than in jail, both for their welfare and everyone else’s. Legal drugs would cost less and the addicts would be much less inclined to commit crimes to support their habits. How many people get mugged by winos?

  7. Random thoughts on drugs/drug-laws:

    -I have two close friends who have both been to rehab. While both used recreational drugs, what ultimately pushed them over the edge were addictions to over the counter meds. One of them started the drug via a doctors prescription. (vicaden)

    -The biggest argument I’ve heard against marijuana is that it’s a gateway drug. What exactly is Alcohol then? I don’t know anyone that smokes a joint and then starts jones-ing for coke, but I know plenty of people who immediately start looking for cocaine after they’ve had only two or three beers.

    -How many people die each year from drunk driving, liver disease, doing stupid things while drunk? Alcohol is a killer.

    -There is a glamour factor to illegal drugs: Having either drugs or the connections to get them supplies status in today’s club scene. That will be eliminated if they are legal. The glamour supplied by possession of cocaine will be no different the that gained by buying a round of drinks.

    -Exactly how do we legalize drugs? Would it be at the federal level? Would states and localities still be able to regulate sales as they do alcohol? (eg. blue laws)

    -If I can buy cocaine at the corner store, do I still need a prescription to get antibiotics when I get a sinus infection?

    -The article calls for legalizing meth, but it’s legal now with a prescription (prescribed often to treat ADD.) So we are talking about moving it from the FDA to the new regulatory agency? Where does the FDA fit in?

    If there is one characteristic of our nations laws regarding drugs it is that they are wildly inconsistent. I also think the first step will have to be taken by the supreme court or voter referendums, because there are too many special interests with skin in the game for any first of it’s kind law to get through congress.

  8. One additional point was brought up by Mr. former Seattle Police Cheif that I find important.

    A number of Latin American Countris are heavily destabilized by the illegal drug trade.

    US Citizens pay alot of money to latin american crime lords for our drugs. The drug lords kill, bribe politicians at all levels, break down society.

    We’ll send DEA, guns and an occasional helicopter down, but do we make any serious efforts to stop the flow of money? We sure aren’t serious about controlling our borders to stop drugs (or people, or terrorists) from coming across.

    What if FARC makes gains in Colombia? They could be doing it with US Cocaine dollars. Who is responsible?

    Could Nuevo Laredo Mexico have a chance at peace if we made a real effort to stop cars from carrying cocaine across the border.

    There is a serious moral issue here.

  9. The legal-political details are key — How to legalize? I would prefer to leave it up to the States. Some would remain restrictive, some would liberalize substantially. Over time everyone would get a pretty good idea of what happens under different legal regimes. Pity that the Congress and federal bureaucracy feel the need to assert their authority in this matter, against the wishes of populations in individual States. Pity too that the States go along with it. Federal revenue sharing is behind a lot of this, I think.

  10. I would rather see them on the dole than in jail, both for their welfare and everyone else’s. Legal drugs would cost less and the addicts would be much less inclined to commit crimes to support their habits. How many people get mugged by winos?

    I think we disagree on the nature of this particular drug. As pathetic as a wino is, he is relatively functional compared with the brain-dead long-term crackhead. Your thinking is absolutely correct with a blow head, a junkie, and maybe even the venerable tweeker. However, I have definite doubts about our friend the crackhead.

    An additional fact, while not explicitly an argument against legalization, is certainly not an argument for it, is that crack and meth are not going to get much cheaper. they’re already $10 a hit, and you tell me if it’s going to be much cheaper after the taxman gets his paws in the mix.

    I think we can both agree that, whatever legalization approach is decided, it should be decided at the state level.

  11. I don’t know if it would be cheaper. However, if it’s legal there is no need for users to hide. And, more important, users are not criminals by default, so the marginal disincentive to commit crimes to get money for drugs is substantially increased.

  12. I wish I could be as sure about this as Jon is. I have struggled with the pros and cons ever since I read Milton Friedman’s arguments for it, which at the time were a similar breath of fresh air. I don’t think about it anymore as my conclusion always is the same: I don’t know.

  13. “…Alcohol is harmful. Are we worse off for repealing its prohibition? Meth is illegal yet easily available. College students can easily get drugs if they want them…”


    alcohol is not harmful….TOO MUCH alcohol is harmful. There is no “healthy amount” of crystal meth. You can’t use these two substances for comparison. The vast majority of people who drink alcohol once or even socially have no problem…whereas the majority of people who use crystal meth once end up with a serious addiction that modifies their entire brain chemistry…makes them more unstable and more violent…

    Drinking is considered acceptable by society so kids do it in much greater numbers…if meth were ever considered socially acceptable, then kids would start doing that in much greater numbers than they do it now…kids will tell story of getting drunk…even underage with their friends/dads/uncles and being so wasted, and our society tolerates it for the most part…I doubt you could find many families where the 20 year old kid shares with his friends/family how he was at a major “meth rager” last weekend.

    “…How many people get mugged by winos?”

    I served on grand jury for one year last year hear in Honolulu, and the VAST, VAST majority of all the cases we saw having to do with violence were related to meth usage. Wine doesn’t forever change your brain chemistry making you a violent animal…meth does…

    The bottom line is any drug that makes someone an addict that is unable to function in society after one use in most cases is not a good bet for legalization…

  14. Meth may be as bad as people say it is. I don’t know. I am skeptical, simply because past assertions about this or that drug invariably turning people into monsters have proved false in the case of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD, etc. Anyway, if people want to endanger themselves by taking drugs (or skydiving, smoking cigarettes, not eating vegetables, whatever) I think it’s their own business. If we want to protect people from themselves, let’s be honest about it and ban motorcycles, fatty food, etc. I don’t want to do that. If you do, fine, but in that case our disagreement is about freedom generally rather than merely drugs.

    There are already laws against assault, theft, murder, and so on. Why have additional laws against self-medication? Drunk driving is punished, but nobody cares if you get drunk in your living room. That’s as it should be, and I think for drugs as well. Laws against drug use or possession IMO are neither practically nor morally justified.

  15. Hard core meth use is as bad as the scare mongers say, and it does indeed turn people into thuggish monsters. That said, it isn’t the one-use addiction that Chris fears, and it is used recreationally by many with low IQs. It isn’t nearly as bad as crack in terms of addiction, but its effects do tend to be more violent.

    However, consistent users of Meth and Crack will be in Jail eventually for violating the other laws mentioned. So legalization doesn’t do much other than keep addicts on the street a bit longer.

    I’m willing to grant Jonathan complete moral supremecy on the issue, and his reasoning vis-a-vis freedom vs. the nanny state is impecable. But I’m still not not convinced that complete legalization is the right approach for all drugs.

  16. So legalization doesn’t do much other than keep addicts on the street a bit longer.

    Legalization should make much less frequent the currently popular practice by police of using military assault tactics to break into the homes of suspected drug users and dealers. This outcome alone makes legalization worthwhile.

    Not all of the crimes caused by drug prohibition are perpetrated by criminlals. Today’s frequent violations of civil liberties by government agencies, in the name of detecting and confiscating small amounts of illegal substances, are artifacts of prohibition.

  17. I tend not to favor drug legalization, especially for serious drugs of abuse like Meth. I have heard all of the arguments made by Jonathan those like him, usually less articulate than him, though Milton Friedman has made the case pretty well over the years, as has William F. Buckley.

    An interesting question is why drug legalization has never gotten anywhere politically. Virtually no politician of any stature would advocate it, and the public has shown no interest in it. Since the arguments have a degree of merit intellectually, why is this issue such a dead dog politically?

    In part it is probably a risk aversion issue. Once you legalize you can never go back, and if the worst predictions are true you are stuck with it. Also, there is a broken windows-type argument, hat having drugged-up people around is destructive to communities and property values and that this way we will get more of that and be less able to do anything about it. There is also a NIMBY component, which sees the drug problem as currently localized outside of middle class areas and groups and sees no reason to tinker with that arrangement. There may be more. Still, it is remarkable how often this argument is raised by small-l libertarians, and how little progress it has made.

  18. Chris, Captiain Mojo, Lex,

    Meth and crack are two of the strongest arguments for legalizing drugs. If cocaine and more benign forms of amphetamines were not illegal meth and crack would have never been invented.

    The argument in this case is the drug war causes a problem (meth and crack) and therefore we need to keep / expand the drug war. That type of argument makes no sense to me. Kind of like including all of the prison space required to hold non violent drug offenders as a cost of illegal drug use.

    The drug war has continued to get more expensive and causes more problems the longer it goes on.

  19. TJIT, let’s say I agreed with you, what is the magic word that needs to be spoken to the voting public? Drug legalization is not a popular idea.

  20. Lex,

    I’ve never argued that legalization is politically popular or even possible.

    I have argued that many of the arguments in favor of continuing the drug war make no sense. I have also argued that the costs of the drug war have steadily increased and its side effects have become more pernicious with time.

    Some open, honest discussion is needed on the issue. Unfortunately, it is a complicated issue and arguments for both sides of the issue do not fit well into the 30 second sound bite format much of the public policy debate on any number of issues seems to be stuck in.

    The media likes hysterical panic ridden stories so we see for example, the meth mouth stories, the avian flu panic, tax cuts for the rich stories, the roving gangs in New Orleans stories shooting at rescue helicopters, the cutting farm subsidies is going to ruin family farmer stories, etc.

    So I guess it would take some responsible reporting in the media, some politicians who are not afraid to discuss the issue, and some citizens who are willing to consider information from both sides of a controversial issues.

    In my opinion citizens honestly considering the issue is the most likely thing to happen. Seeing anything approaching responsible reporting out of the media is is the least likely.

    In other words good decision making requires an open flow of good information. We lack both of these on far too many public policy issues, not just the war on drugs.


  21. “In part it is probably a risk aversion issue. Once you legalize you can never go back, and if the worst predictions are true you are stuck with it.”

    Sez who? Recreational drugs were legal to start with. If they can outlaw them once, what’s to stop them from doing it again if the worst predictions are true?

  22. I can’t seem to resolve this ethical/practical qundry either. The only I’m really sure of is that decriminalization DOES NOT work. Baltimore city ran that experiment under Mayor Schmoke and it was a disaster. Outdoor drug bazaars opened in city parks guarded by the local dealers gun packin’ thugs. Crime and gang activity skyrocketed a groups jockeyed for control of the trade. We have two choices with drugs; legally traded or totally banned.

    I ask myself the following question; Are my children more or less likely to become drug addicted if drugs are legal? The answer always and unerringly returns ‘more likely’. While I’m sympathetic to the liquor prohibition analogy on idealogical grounds (it’s a persuasive argument) I’m not conviced on a practical level. A relatively small proportion of people are genetically predisposed to alchohol addiction, while large numbers are predisposed to addiction to heroin, cocaine, meth, etc. I agree with much of what Chris, above, said.

    It may be possible to legalize some drugs but not others. However, whenever we arbitrarily draw a line of that sort there will be advocates who wish to push the bar up one more tier to that level of drug that is deemed illegal. We see this now with gun ownership laws regarding which firearms are legal to trade and which aren’t.

    In many ways society is about imposing law and the law is about drawing lines. Lines will always exist. The question we eternallly debate is not if a line should exist where does the line exist and how does one determine that point in a rational way? From a firearm standpoint, the line drawn at fully automatic weapons. For drugs, the line is currently drawn to include alchohol but not more potent and addictive drugs. Marijuana should probably be legalized as well. However, I have a hard time contemplating the effects that legalized opiates and similar narcotics would have. Consider the opium dens of nineteenth century England.

  23. “Sez who”

    Once you create a legal industry with lobbyists, you will have something like the tobacco or liquor or gambling industry. It will be a classic public choice problem, a powerful interest group wanting to keep the legal status quo, and a diffuse group of people who want to make it illegal again. I am absolutely positive that this is a one way trip. I see no basis to think otherwise. If you are not sure you want to make the trip, don’t go, because you cannot come back.

  24. All thoughts are electro-chemical in nature. When you restrict the chemicals that one can ingest, you restrict the spectrum of thoughts that it is possible for them to have. Drug prohibition, in a real sense, is banning thought-crime.

    Oh, and as to the ‘what is easier for my kids to get, legal or illegal drugs?’ question, ask yourself this: do alcohol salesmen hang around the shadows near schools, or dealers of prohibited drugs, and from which is it easier for them to ‘score’?

    And the ‘meth is addictive after one use’ stuff above is pure propaganda. Meth is almost exactly like certain neurotransmitters, which is why the side effects when coming down from it are LESS severe than for many weaker amphetamines (and related compounds). The weaker drugs are ‘farther away’ structurally from the neurotransmitters that they mimic (which is why any of them work in the first place).

    How the hell do you think that doctors do 12 hour ‘miracle surgerys’ in most cases? without stimulants? If you suffer that delusion I’d suggest some research into the history of what used to be sold as Dexamyl (over $10 million per year sales, primarily to medical personnel, for over 10 years after it was removed from the US Pharmacopea). Oh, ‘scuse me, that was the ‘better than meth’ blend the doctors were so fond of.

  25. Oh and one more quick thing about all the anti-meth propaganda: much of the mental/physical degradation of many habitual users is due to really nasty impurities in the street-meth they do (the meth at the pharmacy has no such issues), and mixing it with alcohol, which is a big no-no. But the meth dealer on the corner does not include warning labels, does he?

  26. David is very vehement. Let’s assume he is totally right. Meth should be legal tomorrow. Why doesn’t this type of argument get much of a hearing anywhere except on a libertarian-minded blog? Are the overwhelming majority of voters stupid? Or are the libertarians missing part of the equation? Or are they failing to make the argument in a way that people find convincing? Or do the libertarians just want to satisfy themselves that they are right, and have no interest in ever actually getting the law changed?

    I am quite serious about this. No irony or sarcasm. If this is so darn obvious why does such a tiny minority look at it this way?

  27. I want the law to be changed. It seems clear to me that the costs of the current policy are enormous and the benefits small. I am appalled by the injustices committed in the name of eradicating drug use, by the corruption of law enforcement, by the murders committed by gangsters who are attracted by illicit profits, by the destroyed lives of users who are imprisoned or poisoned.

    The case for legalization may be unpopular but that fact does not make it invalid.

  28. “The case for legalization may be unpopular but that fact does not make it invalid.”

    If it is unpopular, it is effectively irrelevant, unless someone can find a way to make it convincing to a majority. I have long wondered why these arguments have no political traction. Merely restating that they are valid does not help to answer that question.

  29. The pro-legalization argument may indeed by fruitless in the short term, but not necessarily in the long term. That’s why the cause deserves to be kept alive. How much longer would the institution of slavery have existed if the early abolitionists had given up for lack of short-term political success?

  30. Again, I am not saying the argument should be abandoned. I am saying that the legalization advocates should try to figure out why something which is so obvious to them does not catch on with the vast majority of people. Some survey research would be nice.

  31. That’s a good point. I think I misread your comment.

    I’d like to know the answer too. There must have been some surveys done on this topic. Time to consult our friend Mr. Google.

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