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by Peter Moskos

October 19, 2008

Are drugs evil?

This is taken from the comments of a previous post.
Your comparison of a drug dealer to anyone who sells cigarettes and booze is interesting. I believe that even with the huge tobacco lobby at work, most tobacco products will be illegal within twenty years, and rightfully so. Booze is a different story because it is well tolerated by many who use it and not as addictive as amphetamines, opiates or nicotine.

I can't argue against legalization of marijuana because too many studies have suggested a low addiction and personal harm factor. The addiction and personal harm factors for cocaine, heroin and meth far surpass those for marijuana though, and I believe that if you are to make an argument for legalization it has to overcome the harm caused by using a substance.

Even with this academic B.S. aside, you have been to the streets where non-addicted dealers see what their product does to their customers, the desperation the ability to drop all semblance of humanity just to get high. Why do you defend those who lack the moral clarity to continue selling these substances when they see what it does to people? Or to put it another way, I have never seen a male heterosexual cigarette smoker offer to perform oral sex on a male 7-11 clerk just to get a pack of cigarettes. (Same goes for a marijuana user-It's not the price it’s the drug.)

I like your last point! And it's valid. I think the answer is quite simple: cigarettes are not as bad as crack and heroin. Yes, cigarettes kill a lot of people, but a nicotine addict is not like a crack addict.

But I don't believe there is a fundamental difference between one addictive drug and another. Alcohol does ruin lives. Cigarettes kill people. But heroin and crack can do it in a particularly ugly manner (not that throat cancer is pretty).

Here's the point: regulation does not equal approval. If regulation could lower drug use--and there's every reason to think it can--then we should regulate.

Plus I refuse to play the "moral clarity" game. There are recreational cocaine users just like there are recreational drinkers.

I don't believe drugs are evil. I think some drugs for some people are bad. I think heroin and crystal meth are very bad for almost all people. Many of my best friends regularly use alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and ecstasy without fucking up themselves, their families, or their jobs. They're not evil.

But my point isn't to encourage use. Quite the opposite: it's to discourage use. And since the U.S. has the highest usage rate in the world for pretty much every illegal drug, it's safe to say our current war on drugs doesn't work.

The idea of condemning the morality of drug dealers to me is a little silly. Unless you're willing to say capitalize is evil (and though it may be, I'm not), I'm not going to say drug dealing is evil. They used to say that about music, sports, and alcohol. Is it wrong to sell to drugs addict? Maybe. So what about methadone clinics?

And besides, condemn all you want, if we lock up one drug dealer, another will sell. That's the problem: we CAN'T STOP drug dealing. Repeat that. We can't stop drug dealing. Once we accept that, we can figure out the best way to deal bad substances. And if regulation can lower usage, lessen addiction, and raise money all at the same time, why not give it a try?

9 comments:

dave h. said...

Very well said, Peter. Most of the people involved in the game that I encounter are more confused and stupid than evil (there are notable exceptions). Corner dealers are a nusiance though, as you vividly describe in your book. But there are all sorts of laws you can use to inconvenience dealers w/ out arresting them for a drug offense. These folks are routinely involved in tresspassing, littering, mob action and disorderly conduct. Also, you can arrest street prostitutes for tresspassing, littering (ie. discarded rubbers, etc) and other offenses if you get constant complaints about them. Even though I disagree with drug prohibition, I am sensitive to the concerns of neighborhoods and realize that residents will demand action sometimes. The system is what it is, and the police will be expected to deal with the problems of the public drug market until the day we can make them disappear. I just hope we can stay on the right side of the constitution while we're doing it.

thinkforyourself said...

Peter,
Some questions:
"If regulation could lower drug use--and there's every reason to think it can--then we should regulate." What's your plan for regulation?
"I think heroin and crystal meth are very bad for almost all people." I'm glad that we agree on this point, but doesn't that fact lead to the reason for prohibition? Freedom to choose what you put into your own body is wonderful, but addiction precludes this freedom. It becomes necessity.
"Many of my best friends regularly use alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and ecstasy without fucking up themselves, their families, or their jobs. They're not evil." Some drugs are well tolerated by some people, but
do you have any productive friends who use heroin, crack or meth regularly? Of course we can't call a user evil.
"The idea of condemning the morality of drug dealers to me is a little silly. Unless you're willing to say capitalize is evil (and though it may be, I'm not), I'm not going to say drug dealing is evil."
Do you see a difference between capitalism as an economic system and making money selling a product that is obviously harmful to all of it's consumers? Even within capitalism there are penalties for knowingly selling a dangerously faulty or otherwise harmful product.
"They used to say that about music, sports, and alcohol. Is it wrong to sell to drugs addict? Maybe. So what about methadone clinics?" Do music and sports (alcohol is a different story) really equate with heroin, meth and crack? I agree that methadone is abused as a treatment both by addicts and healthcare providers, but is it not a medically accepted treatment when properly administered?
"And besides, condemn all you want, if we lock up one drug dealer, another will sell. That's the problem: we CAN'T STOP drug dealing. Repeat that. We can't stop drug dealing."
If you replace drug dealer in your sentence with rapist or murderer it is still a valid point. Do you also suggest we end the prohibition on rape and murder? Do we give up because the current approach requires a rebalancing?
Thanks,
Thinkforyourself

PCM said...

I would love to "rebalance." Prohibitionists don't allow for "rebalancing." It is dogma for them.

If we could somehow regulate rape or murder and the result would be fewer rapes and murders, of course I would support that change. Wouldn't you? But that doesn't make sense for rape and murder because t rape and murder are not caused by their prohibition.

People do kill themselves and other with drug-related crime because of drug prohibition. That's the big difference.

And no, I don't see a difference between the regulated distribution of cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription drugs and the regulated distribution of other drugs that are now, often arbitrarily, prohibited.

My plan for regulation? Leave it up to localities. I don't think there is best one-size-fits-all plan. Different solutions for different problems. But any solution that would get the yo-boys (young drug dealers) off the corners would be a huge victory.

For marijuana, I'd say Amsterdam-style marijuana bars. For harder drugs, perhaps on a prescription basis. But in neighborhoods that now have public drug dealers, I'd say regulated over-the-counter is better than the status quo. Anything to reduce usage and stop the shooting and the overdosing and the spread of disease.

Aaron Kinney said...

I bet that in prison there are people who suck dick for cigarettes. And I bet that if you make tobacco illegal across the land, you will see dick-sucking for Camel Lights behind 7-11s in due time.

People killed eachother for booze during prohibition. Tobacco is more addictive than alcohol. You think people won't go to great lengths to get the things they want when those things are pushed into the black market?

PCM said...

Cigarettes are "prohibited" on Rikers Island (NYC's HUGE jail). They have been for a few years. Of course there still are cigarettes. So now the going rate for an individual cigarette is $20. Maybe that is more than the going rate for a blow job.

thinkforyourself said...

pcm,
You're really giving drug dealers alot of credit to say that legalizing their product will get them off the corner. Do you mean that if we legalize, these guys will all form a line to get a job or learn a trade or get a degree in accounting? I think a more realistic scenario is that they will move on to a different illegal but easily profitable venture, probably one that has an element of violence. Let's be honest and admit that some people just don't want to live the life of holding down a 9 to 5 with a stable family life and real responsibility. (Please don't accuse me of any type of racism here because I am well aware of the demographics of the narcotics trade.) You are never going to sell these guys on living a normal life so please don't use that as an argument for legalization.

I respectfully disagree with these satements:
"And no, I don't see a difference between the regulated distribution of cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription drugs and the regulated distribution of other drugs that are now, often arbitrarily, prohibited." "For harder drugs, perhaps on a prescription basis."
Can you really see a legitimate medical need for crack or crystal meth or heroin. These drugs have not been arbitrarily banned. They have no legitimate purpose and almost always cause harm. I think there are some legal drugs that should be banned, but that's really another issue. Anyway, what would you say to your doctor to get a prescription for meth? "Doc, I really need to stay up for four days straight and dis-assemble small appliances, can you help me?"
Thanks

PS- Please know that I don't see much harm in limited use of marijuana except for the monetary support it currently provides to criminal groups.

Anonymous said...

I think we can stop drug dealing.
Nothing is impossible. If congress passed a law that said first-time offenders served mandatory 10 year sentences for any drug, and minors above 15 could be charged as adults, there would be far less dealers.

Don't give drug offenders a chance for parole either. If people know they are guaranteed long prison terms on the first offense, they wouldn't deal.

Anonymous said...

"These drugs have not been arbitrarily banned"

When was the last time you brushed up on your history? You think these substances were banned because the government 'cares' about your well being? That's the best joke I've heard in a while.

PCM said...

Yeah. Actually. I do. And my history is pretty good. Especially when it comes to the war on drugs. Not knowing who you are, I'd even guess I know more about this than you do.

Drug prohibition has a lot to do with (the often misguided) government's belief in public health. It certainly was one motivation behind the Harrison Narcotics Act (and the AMA's support of it).