August 9, 2005

This is your op-ed columnist on drugs.

Okay, commenters. You can take potshots at NYT columnist John Tierney, who adopts the libertarian position on drugs and seems to think that for most people who take meth the good outweighs the bad.


Karen A Wyle said...

No potshots here. I don't believe you've characterized the article quite accurately. Tierney doesn't state an opinion as to whether the good outweighs the bad for most meth users, although he mentions a couple of particular instances where it would. He does say that concerning the existence and enforcement of laws against meth, the bad greatly outweighs the good -- and quite convincingly, it seems to me. I'm embarrassed not to have already thought of one of his points -- that the increase in serious burn cases from home meth labs is a consequence of prohibition, not of the drug use per se.

ziemer said...

no potshots here either.

i agree that the current situation is the product of prohibition, as was bathtub gin.

i also suspect the prosecutions in georgia are wrong-headed.

i know what a "cook" is because i happened to defend one of the defendants in the first meth lab prosecutions in the eastern district.

i doubt these indians know what a "cook" is.

Anonymous said...

Jack Shafer over at Slate did a much better job of debunking the "Meth Epidemic" last week.

I'm so up in the air about the legalize drugs thing. It would be nice if you could legalize them because that would curtail the whole underworld culture of drug trafficking and violence.

But still we need a legalistic way to mandate severe treatment regimens for people who are either clearly addicted or at least reckless users. It's not taking the drugs/alcohol that's a problem, per se, it's the awful things _some_ people do on drugs (or to get drugs) that is the problem.

Tyler Simons said...

Seems to me that the Georgia cops arrested the South Asian clerks because they were doing their own job instead of the cops'.

Although I'm pretty much a free-market kinda guy, I don't really support the outsourcing of police work, especially to unwilling, unable and unpaid private contractors.

No wonder Tierney came out against the drug war.

But still we need a legalistic way to mandate severe treatment regimens for people who are either clearly addicted or at least reckless users. It's not taking the drugs/alcohol that's a problem, per se, it's the awful things _some_ people do on drugs (or to get drugs) that is the problem.

Seems to me we have a relatively good legalistic system to protect society from people who rob, assault and kill while on drugs or to get drugs. Tierney wasn't advocating the legalization of murder, theft, or beat-downs.

goesh said...

We all need to be taxed at a much, much higher rate (40%?)in order to take care of these poor wretches who were abused as children. Some of them were most likely orphans to boot. Jurisprudence can't ever rectify social injustice, only serious sacrifice by concerned citizens can do the trick and put a smile back on the faces of some of our unfortunates.

P_J said...

I don't have much to add to a discussion on legalizing drugs. I just want to say that I loved Ann's headline (and those ads from the 80's).

Okay - I'll open up a rabbit trail. Our kids get all the anti-smoking messages at school. I don't think even they know any adults who smoke. Why do they pick up preztel sticks and pretend to smoke? I remember doing the same thing at their age. It's a perfectly legal drug that they know is bad for them. What's the attraction? Is it some kind of mild rebellion? Does prohibiting drugs make them more attractive to kids?

Anonymous said...

Pastor Jeff -

Malcolm Gladwell does a good job tackling your question in his (otherwise somewhat overated) book "The Tipping Point". I can't synopsize it for you here but it's worth your time to check it out.

Tyler -

I wasn't really thinking of violent crimes. There's a whole class of addicts who never commit violent crimes (or DUI's, etc.) but who do cause quite a bit of suffering/harm through neglect of work and family, blowing all their money, etc etc. Currently, many end up in treatment only when they're busted for simple possession. If drugs are legal, these folks won't be stopped because it's hard to make being a shmuck illegal.

Tyler Simons said...


If you can point me toward some studies that say addicts are more likely to get successful treatment if they're busted, I'll consider your argument. I don't think that the anecdotal evidence is sufficient to continue to prohibit even the hardest drugs, which I'm not nearly as interested in legalizing as marijuana, hallucinogens, etc.

Drunks are guilty of all the bad examples you cite, too, no? Should we try alcohol prohibition again? It's more addictive (using the inane definition thereof that Tierney cites) than heroin, meth, or crack.

Bruce Hayden said...

Thanks Ann,

Overall, I am libertarian, and, thus, are in favor of legalizing most drugs. If someone wants to sit around smoking pot, that is fine with me. Just don't ask me to litigate all your environmental sensitivities for you, or all those who are now after you (I am talking 30 year effects, not short term).

But meth is scary. Not so much for the meth labs, which, as apartment owners we have to keep our eyes open for. But the fact that meth users often become totally amoral.

I got somewhat involved about five years ago when my secretary's daughter was a tweaker. I talked to the local cops, and they indicated that at that time, they attributed somewhere around 90% of the crime in N.W. Phoenix (where I worked) to meth. And this daughter's friends fit right in. A couple of them were bragging about boosting a car to get home from when they were bailed out for joy-riding. She had a boyfriend for awhile who was a one man crime wave - forgery, credit cards, hot checks, meth labs, and, ultimately, what got him sent up, was kiddy porn and prostitution.

Since then, it has hit my girlfriend hard. Her (soon to be ex) son-in-law and her step daughter. The later a convicted felon at 27. The former, ditching his wife and two small boys. He allegedly burned their house down for the insurance money (which was declined). The girl is hopefully recovering. The guy isn't there yet, and may never get there. He has lost several jobs in the last year or so, and doesn't even try much anymore, preferring to scam for his money. Hopefully, will end up in jail for at least missing child support.

Back to my secretary's daughter. She has been on the street for most of the last five years. I let her live in my house when I was in SLC, until her friends trashed it. No felonies yet, but no job either.

If the drug only screwed up the person taking it, I would say, go for it. But this drug does a lot more, including causing a significant amount of crime.

Bruce Hayden said...

As for meth and violent crime - not sure of that. It definately causes a lot of nonviolent crime, and we have been worried a lot about the father of my girlfriend's grandsons. Because of the way that he handled the kids physically, he hasn't been allowed unsuprevised visitation for several months now.

Because the drug seems to make its users quite a bit more unstable mentally, easier to anger, etc., I would not be surprised if there were a link between it and violent crime.

Bruce Hayden said...


I really don't care that much if some of these meth users I have met are successfully treated or not. I just want them out of the community until they can break their habit, if ever - which is extremely hard.

EddieP said...

How about the scam they run in small Georgia college towns. The campus cops get a tip there is some grass or shrooms or pills or other activity going on. They along with the local sheriff, DARE, the GBI, DEA, etc. etc. raid the dorm room and charge all of the kids with felony possession of a controlled substance, with intent to distribute.

Now they know the felony conviction probably won't happen, but what parent can afford the chance of a grand jury idictment. So you call a lawyer. His fee is $3000, and he says he'll try and get it reduced to a misdemeanor.

The parents happily give the attorney the three grand and lo and behold, the case is never heard about again. Now the campus cops got their atta boy, same with the sheriff and the GBI. The bail bondsman is happy to pocket his vigorish and the attorney takes the judge to lunch at the Country Club. Everybody wins except the hundreds of families dragged through tis scam. That's your war on drugs!

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that the criteria I would use in legalizing drugs is the amount of social damage they can be expected to cause if legalized, and I would use alcohol as the benchmark. It does have social costs, probably significantly above those of some of the currently illegal drugs.

As a result, I would probably legalize marijuana, and maybe even heroin. Cocaine? Not sure. LSD? Maybe - but don't want trippers driving, but, then, would they be that worse than DUIs? But by that metric, I would continue to keep meth illegal, as I would some other drugs, such as PCP, Date Rape Drugs (Ralphies?).

XWL said...

When it comes to drugs, some of my ideas are ultra-libertarian (if such a thing is possible)

Full legalization of anything anyone is foolish enough to put in their bodies.

No prescriptions for any drug of any kind (again anyone who wants to abuse medicines will find a way, doctors involved or not).

Ending the drug war (and taxing the drugs) would both free up vasts resources and create new revenue streams, it simply makes too much sense for politicians ever to endorse such a move on a widescale basis (sorta like a National sales tax replacing income tax).

Matt Barr said...

Is it really a fringe (which is what I read "libertarian" to be a synonym for in the post) position to say "why send a hard-working clerk to jail for not divining that someone else might manufacture a drug?"

The drug war is prosecuted at a level wholly disproportionate to the harm done, particularly when you factor in the harm done by the drug war itself -- armed gangs operating with a cash flow that would make many NASDAQ-listed companies blush, arbitrary, mandatory punishments that often alarmingly exceed the wrong being punished, and most recently, as Tierney mentions, targeting completely innocent bystanders. He doesn't mention laws providing for jail terms for parents who don't report their kids' drug activity, but there's nothing more sickening than that going on today in any crack house or meth lab.

All that said, I hate the "Prohibition didn't work" argument against the drug war. "The drug war's not working" is far more relevant and powerful.

I'm what I'm coming to find is the rare libertarian who is against drug abuse, promiscuity and, say, gambling but doesn't think There Ought To Be a Law where individuals can make better, more informed choices for thmselves without harming others. I'm too square for the meetings.

John A said...

Well, he mentioned but did not stress - as I think he should have - that methamphetamine is not the same as amphetamine, as morphine is not the same as heroin is not the same as hashish.

Amphetamine, while they can certainly be abused, are (relatively) safe and don't provide much of a "high" - meth, on the other hand, is really only used to get that high.

As to the legalization thing, no, I don't think all should be legal. But I do think that marijuana, for one, should be moved from outlaw status to controlled-substance status(no, probably not just entirely re-graded to about the status of ibuprofen).

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add that I had a prescription for dexedrine throughout law school. Never got me high, just kept me from running off the roads as I commuted 70 miles each way to school. Amphetamines do have a place in medicine. But as far as I know, meth does not.

Lou Wainwright said...

The damage that drug users cause to themselves carries almost no weight in my position. To first order drug legalization has two major effects on me and my family:

1) Increases drug use and therefore increases the likelyhood that we'll be injured in a DUI or other negligent accident.

2) Decreases crime rates associated with a black market and therefore decreases the chance of getting harmed by crime.

The concern about Pot legalization is that I don't think the crime rates associated with Pot are large, so #2 isn't significantly improved. And because of the duration of its effects, and only partial imparement, I suspect its increased use may significantly increase DUI rates.

I have heard arguments that Pot legalization will reduce Pot consumption, and while I think it is possible, I've never seen convincing
data to indicate it is likely. We could also combat the DUI problem by drastically increasing the penalties for DUI, which would lessen my objections. Honestly if you wanted to win my vote, simply tie Pot legalization to a raised (higher) threashold for DWI conviction paired with significantly increased penalties, and I think there will clearly be a net good.

As for the harder drugs, legalizing them doesn't generally mean making them free, so while there will be some crime reduction it won't be total as theft will still occur. And if, as many are arguing, Meth causes an increase in violence independant of crime related to theft, it is hard to see how legalization could benefit society.

For the case of a drug like heroin or LSD that is possible, but unlikely, to be combined with violence or driving, the crime assocated with the black market is probably worse than the harm from increasing use, so I'd favor legalization.

Daryl Herbert said...

Meth is a horrible drug. Tierney is talking about other amphetamines that would be legal if we scaled back the drug war, and would presumably be distributed by doctors.
None of that changes the fact that meth is incredibly destructive. The Drug Warriors are not exaggerating about this one.

It destroys people physically, it makes them unemployable, dangerously violent/paranoid, they don't take care of their kids; it's really horrible.

Don't take my word, ask someone who has firsthand knowledge (I'm glad I don't). Not a Drug Warrior bureaucrat, but someone like a social worker or a cop.


I think the main thing limiting LSD's users from doing more of it is that it's hard to get. The danger of legalizing LSD is that its users would be able to get it very easily, which would mean they would be likely to take a lot more of it in a shorter time period, which means they would be frying their brains and becoming zombies much faster than they're already doing now. LSD is way too damaging to people to legalize.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Bruce Hayden makes some good observations about meth users. I happen to live in North Phoenix, and my block sees its share of tweakers, and what the drug does is frightening in terms of behavior and appearance; a very physically taxing drug.

miklos rosza said...

i worked in an urban ER for a number of years and it seemed like almost all violence and carwrecks was alcohol-related.

but then, alcohol on the breath is so unmistakable... and people using illegal substances were reluctant to confide (under the mistaken apprehension that whatever they said might be passed on to the police).

decriminalization of marijuana seems unlikely to do much harm. a couple of times i saw it induce panic attacks or tachycardia but these effects wore off.

Bruce Hayden said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

Bruce: I deleted that post because it revealed embarrassing facts about noncelebrity individuals. If you can redo that so that it isn't specific, you're welcome to recomment.

Tyler Simons said...

I'm not so sure that legalizing any drug would increase DUI's. I might be wrong -- this is total speculation -- but the people who would be driving under the influence of pot, acid, etc. are probably already driving drunk. In other words, generally speaking, there wouldn't be more f**ked up people, they'd just be f**ked up on different substances.

ploopusgirl said...

Yeah, Leroy, that makes sense. I trust my 80 year old grandfather to go down to the local drugstore and pick out his own blood pressure medication and pick out his own dosage. Who needs prescriptions! Also, way to put both physicians and pharmacists out of the job with one inane idea! You're my hero! :>

XWL said...

I have a quandry, do I respond to ploopusgirl, or not?

Given the tone of her post (and most of the other comments attributed to that poster) she/he is quick to make a cheap theatrical point without engaging in ideas.

Does the above paragraph bring me to his/her level? Or am I just ruminating on what good netiquitte is regarding amplifying on ideas in previous posts by me that may have been mischaracterized by subsequent posters.

I don't believe ploopusgirl honestly believes that doctors and or pharmacies only function as pill dispensaries who would vanish without their government mandated role. Instead her hyperbole must be intended to denigrate my position, which is her right to do, but it is my responsibility to challenge.

I know myself, and most that I know regardless of age, would still feel compelled to consult a physician with or without an Rx pad.

Anyone looking to abuse prescription drugs now can find ways to do so, even with the gatekeeping function provided by doctors and pharmacies.

I probably didn't need to clarify my position to the vast majority of other readers, but nevertheless, the purpose of having a comment section would seem to be to engender the free flow of ideas so that people from all sides of an issue can think outloud and test their theories in the marketplace of ideas.

If anyone has a more rational defense and approach to why prescriptions are necessary given the vast amount of information now available to every consumer I'd like to hear it, cause I've never found the practice truly and rationally defensible.

Nels said...

Leroy, while I don't know if I entirely agree with you, what you wrote seems at least reasonable. As an analogy, I would offer that while we are all perfectly free to replace the brakes in our cars and then hurtle down the freeway, endangering not only ourselves but everyone else on the road, most of us are not skilled mechanics, and, recognizing this, we choose to outsource the work to experts.

I'm glad to see that there are some posters here who have real-world experience with meth addicts. Unlike pot, it is a morally corruptive drug, driving people to a state in which only two things are certain: every word out of their mouths is a lie, and they are going to steal your stuff. Alcoholism is no fun either, but at least most alcoholics can semi-function for quite a number of years. Perhaps there are some "casual" meth users, who have it under control, but I've yet to encounter one: it drags people down very fast, leaving them unrecognizable.

in_the_middle said...

ask a da, a public defender, or a plain ol' cop about such a thing as a 'casual' meth user. they will tell you there is no such thing.

honestly, why is this all so black and white. shades of gray always exist and drug legalization is no different.

i'm sorry, i rarely agree with pro-legalization for one huge reason: kids. i'd much rather see kids drinking wine like the french than smoking pot because suddenly it's legal

controlled substance, you say? okay, let's take pot for example. how would you control marijuana the way you do vicodin? you can't grow vicodin in a planter on your deck.

meth is unreal. i've had very direct experience with a 'casual' user who got caught up in it. the poster who said alcohol is more addicting is twisting silly stats that mean nothing.

try real life. the war may be failing, but i'm not ready to open the floodgates to the stoners on the highways unless it's mandatory and immediate jailtime and permanent detox for first offense DWI, period.