Friday, April 10, 2009

Drug Standard: First, Don't Harm Others Much

Drug Week, Last Part

We have tried to prohibit a broad range of drugs that some people like to take. Some drugs are so dangerous to the people who take them and to the rest of society that the attempt to prohibit or very tightly regulate them is worth doing.

We have also learned the hard way that some drugs are so popular with a large minority of the population that we simply can't prohibit them. Alcohol has been a recreational drug of choice in every society that figured out how to make it from prehistoric times. It causes some terrible social problems directly, and is involved in nearly all other social problems indirectly. Almost every family has an alcoholic in the family tree within a few generations' span. Tobacco is a hugely addictive drug that holds a quarter of the population at any one moment, and has had a grip on more than half the population over time. Tobacco is the leading killer in America.

I take it as a premise that it would be socially impossible to ban alcohol or tobacco. Thus, the best social option is to regulate and tax it. Heavily.

My first standard for a social policy on drugs is "Is it worse than alcohol for society?" When people use it regularly, including that minority who will become heavy users, is the danger they pose to society no worse than the danger we already face from alcohol use? Given how dangerous alcohol is, that is a pretty easy standard for most drugs to meet.

My second standard for social policy on drugs is "Is it worse than tobacco for its users?" When people take an addictive drug, including that minority who become heavily addicted, is the danger they pose to themselves greater than the destruction we already face from tobacco use? Given how destructive tobacco is, that is a pretty easy standard for most drugs to meet.


Jared said...

I'm just curious as to why you choose to use alcohol and tobacco as your standards (i.e. - a drug must be "worse" than one of these drugs on one of the two axes.)

It prompts several questions:

1. Is this because you want social policy to be consistent with our existing policies?

2. If so, is that because you believe our current policies are appropriate - or is your decision criteria based only on consistency?

3. How do you justify where you place the "harm" lines (especially if your argument isn't based solely on consistency)? Is there some level of harm that is "acceptable"? Are there "benefits" to these drugs that outweigh the "harm"? Or is your argument based on solely on an appeal to liberty and/or freedom?

Gruntled said...

I take it as empirical fact that alcohol and tobacco could not successfully be banned by law in our society now.

The law is not the only way to regulate drugs -- tobacco use has gone down dramatically in a generation through better science, shaming, and time/place/manner of use restrictions. Still, this week's blogs have been about American legal policy.

I place social harm ahead of personal harm because the law is a social standard. But I do think some kinds of personal harm are so bad that the state has an interest in regulating the causes of that harm, even if the direct social harm is below the booze threshold. Hence my attempt to find a new choice for narcotics.