Saturday, February 13, 2016

Marijuana (Yet Again): Drug Policy for American Drug Culture

            In a letter to the editor posted on line on Feb. 3 and later printed in the Ventura County Star, Al Knuth of Camarillo, CA, argues that marijuana is "Not a harmless drug" and notes that he has "personally witnessed the recreational use of marijuana destroy the lives of some relatives, friends and others [… through] divorce, loss of jobs, loss of friends, loss of ambition, criminal acts, etc." and adds, "the use of alcohol causes about 88,000 deaths and more than $224 billion in damages per year in the United States," finally asking rhetorically, "Do we really need to encourage and legalize yet another 'harmless' drug for our society?"

            A very close friend of mine had addiction problems leading to criminal acts, loss of job, divorce, and ultimately his death. His addictions started with beer and cigarettes and ended with beer and cigarettes, but I don't conclude from that personal experience, nor from the clear facts of the harm done by alcohol and tobacco, that we should make nicotine an illegal drug and return to alcohol prohibition.

            What I do conclude is that we need to recognize that mainstream America has drug problems, and we need a rational approach to dealing with them.

            A rational approach would classify drugs dispassionately and scientifically, do the math and public-health analysis, and attempt to limit harm; and a rational approach would get over our puritanical heritage enough to acknowledge that most people use psychoactive drugs because it gives them pleasure and to acknowledge pleasure as a good thing and to be placed in the equations along with harm.

            The US federal and local governments gave up on alcohol prohibition for complex reasons, but most justifiably because capital "P" Prohibition did far more harm than good. If you count jail time as often justified harm, but still harm; if you count sucking people into the US criminal justice system as punishment in itself, even when they're acquitted; if you count punishment disproportionate to crimes (and historically racist) as an outright evil — then marijuana prohibition currently does great harm.

            Better to treat psychoactive drugs as a group and regulate stringently drug pushing. For net harm reduction while allowing drug users to seek pleasure and drug addicts to avoid pain, it would be useful to legalize for those over 18 possession of any recreational drugs while limiting advertising and aggressive marketing. Like, it makes no sense to put people in jail for selling a few grams of marijuana while allowing brilliantly-executed alcohol ads on television and "happy-hour" at your local bar to ramp up the use and abuse of booze.

            We need tough-minded policies on drugs: on all and any drugs, of both underclass and mainstream American drug culture.

            If there are First Amendment issues with limiting advertising and marketing of alcohol as a recreational drug — and there are — well, we dealt with similar issues with tobacco.

            If people aren't doing their jobs because they're stoned fire them: not for using drugs but for not doing their jobs. If people are endangering others because they're driving while zonked, punish them for endangering others. If limiting the pushing of currently legal drugs will result in increased unemployment, then former bartenders and others of the deserving unemployed should be given generous support and aid finding other jobs, and ad agency flacks and marketing folk can be offered retraining for more honest work.

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