State of the Union

Legalize Opium, Not Heroin

That the war on drugs, in its current form, is a failure is obvious to all but the most blinkered observers. But the proper response to this failure is a matter of contention. Pope Francis, for instance, recently suggested we address the underlying causes of drug abuse (without ending prohibition). Others recommend treatment-based approaches. The more libertarian among us are likely to back complete legalization of all drugs.

I would like to recommend a policy that does not reject any of the above as possibly the ultimate answer to this failure, but takes a measured, experimental step that, while running little risk of making matters significantly worse, holds out, I think, great hope for improving them.

With marijuana, the question is apparently being decided in favor of gradual, piecemeal legalization. But heroin and cocaine legalization has far less support, and with good reason: these drugs are far more addictive than pot. (I am not saying that therefore they should not be legalized, merely that is understandable that people might be more sanguine about marijuana legalization than about legalizing harder drugs.) I wish to suggest a halfway sort of legalization that I feel offers several potential upsides: let us try legalizing the milder substances from which cocaine and heroin are derived, namely, coca leaves and opium.

Perhaps if we could simply make cocaine and heroin disappear by wishing it were so, it would be the best of all possible solutions. But basing policy on fantasy is generally a poor choice. (Please see the second Iraq war for evidence.) And the current policy of strict prohibition has fueled organized crime and led to the increasing militarization of our police forces. My proposal offers the following advantages over the current situation:

  1. It allows us to test the waters of just how socially damaging full cocaine or heroin legalization might be, without simply plunging in head first. If simply legalizing coca leaves and opium produces droves of drugged-out zombies (which I don’t think it would), we could rule out full cocaine and heroin legalization, and even consider repealing this halfway legalization. If the effects are that bad, we can be sure that they would have been worse if we had legalized the harder forms of these drugs.
  2. A strong libertarian argument for full legalization (I say ”strong,” and not “decisive,” because I think there are significant counter-arguments here), is that many people are able to use these drugs in moderation without destroying their lives. (See the work of Jacob Sullum if you doubt this is true.) “Why,” the libertarian asks, ”should these people be denied legal access to them simply because others will abuse them? (And note: while such usage is often referred to as “recreational,” it might often more accurately be described as”medicinal”: such moderate users may suffer from problems in focusing, and find that a mild dose of cocaine alleviates this difficulty, or be in chronic pain, and find that a mild dose of heroin offers them the best relief.) Well, these moderate, responsible users ought to find a milder, safer, and legal form of the drug they use to be a very welcome thing indeed. They could avoid the risk of arrest, of unregulated and adulterated street products that may contain dangerous additives, of job loss, and would enjoy a much greater ability to control their dosage.
  3. The considerations in point number two indicate what I think would be the greatest potential upside of this idea: its impact upon the economics of the trade in hard drugs. The shift in consumption predicted above would greatly lessen the demand for the more dangerous forms of these drugs. Read More…
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Would John Stuart Mill Tolerate Barilla at His Table?

The progressives of today see themselves as the inheritors of the tradition of Western liberalism. They are the advocates of human freedom, liberating the individual from the shackles of the past and from superstition and prejudice. But too often they forget the foundations of the liberal tradition to which they pay homage. I suggest that they might with benefit turn to John Stuart Mill, to learn something of what “the liberty of thought and discussion” really means.

These thoughts are prompted by the furor generated by pasta king Guido Barilla’s interview in which he asserted that his company, now the largest supplier of pasta in both the United States and Italy, would continue to use only “traditional” families in its advertising and would “never” portray a “gay” family in its ads. His remarks led to worldwide efforts to boycott his company’s products to voice displeasure at the Barilla’s supposed bigotry.

What did Barilla say to touch off this tempest? First of all, he did not choose to remark upon this topic: it was his interviewer who chose to raise the issue of the ubiquity of traditional families in Barilla’s marketing. Barilla answered honestly, said that he supports the traditional family, and if gays did not like the fact that his advertising reflected that support, they were free to buy another pasta.

Barilla certainly made a strategic error and perhaps also revealed some animosity towards homosexuals. (Perhaps he may have just spoken thoughtlessly.) He would have been much better off saying, “If people do not like our advertising, they are free to buy another pasta.” There was no need for him to single out gays in his response, and doing so was rapidly turned against him. Reporters even went so far as to simply lift the second half of that sentence out of context and report Barilla as saying, “Gays can buy another pasta.” This ignoring of context verges on journalistic malpractice. Barilla’s other, more liberal, statements have been roundly ignored, for instance: “Io rispetto tutti facciano quello che vogliono senza disturbare gli altri”—“I respect all who do what they wish without disturbing others.” Or: “Nutro il massimo rispetto per gli omosessuali e per la libertà di espressione di chiunque”—“I have the utmost respect for homosexuals and the freedom of expression of anyone.” Read More…

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