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.