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Drugs are natural or synthetic chemicals that affect biochemical processes in living organisms. They differ from food in that, unlike foodstuffs, drugs are not consumed for nutritional purposes, but rather for their physical and/or psychoactive effects (a food product may contain or be partially made up of one or more substances that classifies it as a drug). One could attempt to eat a diet solely of drugs and in their altered state of consciousness they may develop some philosophical justification for this, but regardless, would starve — although, depending on the drug they may not feel very hungry anyway.
Drugs are generally divided into two categories — the ones your mother gives you (which don't do anything at all), and the ones a hookah-smoking caterpillar offers you (and you know you're going to fall). The latter are frequently illegal, or at least heavily regulated. Psychoactive drugs are scientifically divided into three groups - depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens.
"Drug liberalization" refers to elimination of laws prohibiting the sale or consumption of drugs. More realistically, the legal changes come in the form of relaxation of laws, or at least relaxation of the enforcement of the laws, or expansion of special cases. Such examples are when marijuana was (temporarily) reduced from "Class B" to "Class C" in the UK, or in parts of the US where it has been legalized for medical use.[note 1]
Drug liberalization has numerous arguments for it, ranging from the fairly libertarian ideas of personal choice to the practical side of being able to levy a tax on such a trade, with numerous comparisons to existing legal drugs (namely alcohol, tobacco and caffeine). Supporters of liberalization view the consumption of drugs as a personal matter, i.e., "what you stick into your own body is your business" and interference by a state or other governing body is a violation of property and privacy rights that are currently used to protect the right of individuals to engage in any potentially dangerous activity, from skydiving to extreme spank-o-thons. Bound up with the arguments from personal choice is the fact that consumption in moderation is relatively harmless — by this line of reasoning, complete prohibition of drugs does not make sense, only the control of excessive or dangerous use, or use that violates the principle of informed consent should be enshrined in the law of the land.
The harms posed by many illegal drugs have been greatly exaggerated during prohibition, as illustrated by documentary films such as Reefer Madness. Other times when there are genuine harms, these are compounded by the nature of the black market and unscrupulous dealers mixing in dodgy additives, plus a fear of very real legal consequences for seeking help in an emergency.
From a practical side, currently banned drugs would be legally covered, not only would such things be regulated — thus making them safer — but they'd also be taxed. This two-fold result of liberalization would help both the end users of drugs (which are often more dangerous because of what they are cut with) and the government, which take money from existing legal drugs which also fall under their control. It is also claimed that legalization would essentially destroy the black market economies for these drugs (street gangs for example) by handing them over to legal economies — after all, while there are plenty of small-time hustlers for booze and cigarettes no one turns to street gangs to buy them. Those who argue this point tend to turn to alcohol Prohibition as an example, where alcohol was banned and black market economies rose up almost immediately — when it was repealed, the black markets disappeared just as quick.
As a hypothetical effect, legalization would cut down on prisoner counts and costs, since people would no longer be thrown in jail for possession of these drugs, and since police raids to seize these drugs would no longer be necessary. Although this could be claimed for legalizing anything from murder to file-sharing. Also, since many thefts are committed by drug addicts in need of cash for a quick fix, and hard drugs are often used by pimps and gangsters as a means of control over prostitutes and petty criminals, it remains dubious whether legalization of these substances would genuinely reduce crime, or actually increase it. However, we should keep in mind that from a financial point of view, these acquisitive crimes are committed in order to fund an expensive habit, and the prices of drugs are inflated precisely because they are illegal.
From a scientific perspective, liberalization may also open up avenues in medical science or open up other uses outside of consumption that could previously not be researched legally due to prohibition. Currently to do research on illegal or controlled substances, scientists must apply for very strict licenses (their control within the chemical industry is on par with radioactive substances and animal testing) potentially slowing or hampering what could be very useful research. This is most often argued by marijuana liberalization activists, as the drug is known to have medical uses.
Whether total legalization would work in practice is certainly unknown. Research into what effect laws have show only that drug use (or misuse) isn't simply correlated with how stringent the laws are. Even in places like Amsterdam, long reported as being relatively liberal on drugs, drugs aren't encouraged or fully legalized. Actual double-blind and controlled experiments to see if such a system would work are practically non-existent, partly because the entire concept of legalization is opposed from the start by social conservatives, but also because of the legal issues surrounding such experiments. Given a lack of the ability to "experiment" with this sort of idea, we can look at historical perspectives for a comparison. A few hundred years ago, in Victorian England, opium-based drugs were fully legal and often quite socially accepted and even encouraged. Of course, such a system didn't "destroy the world".
The—mostly libertarian—idea that currently illegal drugs would "self-regulate" if legalized may be on shaky ground.[note 2] Alcohol and cigarettes are most certainly legal in most parts of the world, but these in no way have, overall, self-regulated into light, recreational use — most likely because excessive drinking and smoking kills you slowly.
Most arguments against liberalization revolve around variants of "drugs are bad, m'kay?". Chemical addictions can be developed very easily and quickly with drugs such as opiates, cocaine, and crystal meth. Thus the paternalist argument against legalization is that a government, with a duty to protect its citizens, should protect it against these dangers by keeping the drugs illegal and the public informed of their dangers. Some drugs, such as PCP, present patently obvious public safety issues. Governments also have clear interests in avoiding the plethora of economic and societal problems associated with a populace rife with drug problems, such as increased poverty, unemployment, crime, health problems, and early deaths; one need only look at China during the first decades of the 20th century, when enormous percentages of the population pissed away their lives in opium dens and played a large role in paralyzing unification efforts, to see what they're afraid of.
Having said this, although China did indeed have a serious problem with opium addiction, it is debatable how much this was due to the drug itself. Opium was introduced to China by Arab traders in the 7th century, and it was only during the Qing dynasty that it was banned, a move that arguably made things worse and paved the way for the Opium Wars.
Chemical addiction to certain drugs is arguably not a choice of the user, since the habit arguably becomes an almost uncontrollable instinct, removing the informed consent of the drug user. If drug use was always a conscious and informed choice (as libertarians often tend to argue when advocating liberalization) then rehab centers would either A) not be needed or B) have a much higher success rate. However, this is equally true of alcohol and cigarettes, which can also cause chemical addiction and are legal in most countries.
They hate the idea of drug testing legislators but demand it of those seeking welfare.
A few well known drugs include:
From Mommy's medicine cabinet
- Cough syrup (particularly ones containing codeine and/or dextromethorphan)
From da caterpillar
From the corner store
- Beer, wine, whisky, and other varieties of alcohol
- Purported legal highs
- Marijuana (if you live in a place where it's legal to use)
Drugs and religion
"Narco-Saint" is a figure religiously venerated by those engaged in the drug trade. Among those identified include La Santa Muerte and Jesus Malaverde. The real life Malaverde was a Mexican Robin Hood, a former railroad worker turned social bandit who was hanged in 1909 in Culican. Drugs may also be used as part of a religious ritual. Shamans use them regularly as do Rastafarians, who believe ganja (cannabis) to be sacred.
- Although growing it, even for this purpose, remains an offense at the Federal level.
- This view was sort-of espoused on Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, where they claimed that people who were dumb enough to go overboard on drugs would die off, almost like a form of natural selection, leaving only the people capable of doing it in safe moderation.
- Apologies and thanks to Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick, White Rabbit.
- Lee, K. C., Ladizinski, B., & Federman, D. G. (2012). Complications Associated With Use of Levamisole-Contaminated Cocaine: An Emerging Public Health Challenge. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(6), 581–586. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.03.010
- PLoS Medicine: Toward a Global View of Alcohol, Tobacco, Cannabis, and Cocaine Use: Findings from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys
- Eric W. Single — The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization
- World66 — Drugs
- Addiction in the Nineteenth Century, Susan Zieger, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University
- BBC — Sex, Drugs and Music Hall
- You could possibly refer to this as "Libertarian Eugenics"
- Cops: Collegian Dove Naked Into Garbage Truck: Georgian, 22, was found laying in six inches of "dirty foul liquid" June 6, 2016 The Smoking Gun.
- Li, Xiaobing; Fang, Qiang (2013). Modern Chinese Legal Reform: New Perspectives. Asia in the new millennium. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813141206.
- Paul Ryan’s National Prayer Breakfast Comments Highlight the Problem with Religious Republicans
- See the Wikipedia article on endorphin.
- Tom Feiling. 2009. Cocaine Nation: How the White Trade Took Over the World. New York: Pegasus Books. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-60598-101-7.