Monday, April 23, 2007

"So what?"

Reason Magazine - Hit & Run > Measuring Prohibitions:
"Over at The Corner , Jonah Goldberg responds to my column on lowering the drinking age by making a drug war comparison. He's right. If the drinking age were lowered to 18, more 18-21 year-olds would likely drink (on the other hand, 80% of underage drinking would be eliminated!).

The more appropriate response to "more users" argument is "so what?" A slight rise in the number of recreational drug users is only a problem if you believe that there's something inherently immoral and destructive about smoking a joint or snorting a line of coke--any worse, say, than downing a shot of whiskey or a taking drag off a tobacco pipe. The subset of people who refrain from drug use today out of respect for the law, but who might experiment with drugs should they one day be legal, probably isn't one we need to worry about becoming addicted in mass numbers, or committing crimes to support their habit (which probably wouldn't happen anyway if drugs were legal--how many alcoholics mug, burgle, or kill for gin money?). Unless you buy the "gateway" theory of marijuana, or the "instant addiction" theory about cocaine, both of which have zero scientific validity, I'm just not sure having slightly more overall users will have much of a negative impact on society at large.

The question, then, is what's the problem?

Many drug warriors get downright offended when you ask them that... The problem for them is very simply that there will be more drug users. It's rather simple: Drug use = bad. More drug use = worse. Less drug use = success. For nearly forty years, these really been the only criteria for measuring the effectiveness of drug policy.

...To call alcohol prohibition a "success," one would have to consider overall consumption of alcohol in America the only relevant criteria. You'd have to ignore the precipitous rise in homicides and other violent crime; the rise in hospitalizations due to alcohol poisoning; the number of people blinded or killed by drinking toxic, black market gin; the corrupting influence on government officials, from beat cops to the halls of congress to Harding's attorney general; and the erosion of the rule of law."

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