Come for the Argument That Casual Drug Use Shouldn't Be Treated Differently Than Alcohol, Stay for the Spirited Comments

Yesterday, I posted a column at Time.com arguing that casual drug use shouldn't be seen as categorically different than casual alcohol use.

The news hook, of course, was Rep. Trey Radel's pleading guilty to cocaine possession after getting nabbed in a Washington, D.C. drug sting (great use of police resources, by the way, nabbing a guy buying a few grams of coke in a Dupont Circle bar from an undercover cop).

I document in the piece that exceedingly few people who use currently illegal drugs go on to become regular users of those substances, much less addicts. Even Radel, a conservative Republican from Florida, didn't say he was a cocaine addict - instead, he blamed his decision to buy coke on his alcoholism.

Here's a snippet from my article:

Prohibitionists typically deny the very possibility of responsible or voluntary use of currently illegal substances. They argue that drugs such as coke, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine and even marijuana are verboten precisely because they simply can’t be used casually. Any use either already constitutes abuse or quickly leads to it. “Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal,” former drug czar William Bennett and former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano wrote in a 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “they are illegal because they are dangerous.”

Nearly 50% of people have tried an illegal drug at least once, yet most don’t repeat the experience. With cocaine, most who have tried it not only don’t go on to became addicts under even the most expansive possible definition of the term, they don’t even go on to become regular users.

According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.5% of Americans ages 12 and older have tried cocaine at least once, but just 1.8% report using the drug recreationally in the past year. And just 0.6% have used it in the past 30 days, which would seem to be the minimal definition of a casual user.

The same pattern is true for heroin, which is typically talked about as magically addictive. Fear of the drug is surely one of the reasons why just 1.8% of Americans have ever tried it at all. But only 0.3% report using it in the past year and just 0.1% in the past month. That pattern simply shouldn’t be possible if these drugs were as addictive as commonly thought.

Read the whole thing here. And check out the comments section, where a thoughtful and full-blooded discussion is taking place over the question of whether drugs should be illegal and whether people can in fact use these substances responsibly. "Gifting the market in narcotics to ruthless criminals, foreign terrorists, and corrupt law enforcement officials is seriously compromising our future," writes one commenter, while another says, "You're only addicted when you can't afford it."

Opponents of legalization are well represented too, but I think it's a sign of the times that Time.com is not only open to running articles titled "What’s So Bad About Casual Drug Use?" but readers are seriously debating the merits of a major change in federal policy.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    readers are seriously debating the merits of a major change in federal policy.

    Time has readers?

  • alexisaudrey||

    my classmate's step-sister makes $83/hr on the computer. She has been fired for nine months but last month her payment was $14664 just working on the computer for a few hours. go.....W­W­W.D­U­B­3­0.C­O­M

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    With cocaine, most who have tried it not only don’t go on to became addicts under even the most expansive possible definition of the term, they don’t even go on to become regular users.

    That's why first offenses need to be dealt with harshly. Who knows when the system will get another crack at these people.

  • ||

    I blame the Koch brothers for keeping us from cracking this rock of immorality.

  • flye||

    I can't wait to read this article when I go see my dentist in 4 months.

  • ||

    4 months? You'll be lucky if this edition is in their office in 4 years.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Radel, a conservative Republican from Florida, didn't say he was a cocaine addict - instead, he blamed his decision to buy coke on his alcoholism.

    Statements made under duress are not especially credible. He could just as easily have said the cocaine made him kill President Kennedy.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    ...whether people can in fact use these substances responsibly...

    I used to work with a guy whose girlfriend had access to pharmaceutical cocaine. Good times.

    I used crystal meth and cocaine for years, until I got to the point where I had too much to lose by failing a drug test or getting busted for possession. I stopped.

    If it were legal, I'd probably unstop, occasionally.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Did Mary show up in the comments as she always does? Let's find out:

    Aw, nope. Usually she stalks Nick at Time, but not today.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    ...but I think it's a sign of the times that Time.com is not only open to running articles titled "What’s So Bad About Casual Drug Use?" but readers are seriously debating the merits of a major change in federal policy

    That's cute and all but... it's 2013. Not 1985. I appreciate your optimistic sheen, leather-clad, black-mopped one. I just do not share your enthusiasm with very old rags coming of age at a very late date.

  • Will4Freedom||

    I'm new here. In the process of looking for others "most like" myself with regards to political beliefs, I've been drawn to the Libertarians. On most things, their belief system aligns well with my own.

    The Drug issue is a sticky one, though. I agree that the money and resources spent in locking up the occasional marijuana user is a total waste.

    But having a daughter who's had problems with drugs, and seeing how it has impacted her life, I just can't bring myself to the "legalize all drugs" platform.

  • PD Scott||

    OK, would her problems have been better or worse if she'd gotten busted by the cops and had to do a little time?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    But drugs are NOT legal now and your child STILL has a drug problem. Should drugs be made extra-illegal or something because as it stands now... rather than the system caring for people who are prone to addiction the system ultimately ends up fucking them up. Ultimately addiction leads to criminal records and criminal records equal an unparalleled roadblock to independent living.

    Legalization opens the door to a safety net for the most vulnerable without criminal stigma (your daughter) and a way to avoid the nonsense of judicial torment for those who are chemically-wired to responsibly enjoy the occasional alternate state.

  • steedamike||

    Will, I felt the same way a short time ago. When I was watching some Ron Paul youtube videos and he mentioned that he believed that all drugs should be made legal, I felt a negative emotional response to that statement. Now, I'm totally in agreement. I guess for some, like myself, certain ideas appear 'extreme' when you are first exposed to them. But when the emotion fades and you apply your principles and logic, things seem to fall into place and become more clear. For myself, I believe that drug abuse can be harmful to the users and their loved ones, but that doesn't trump everyone else's right to decide for themselves the best way to spend their free time.

  • Procrastinatus||

    I'd have to agree with you, Will. It's hard to imagine that society will be better off with $5 meth samples available at every gas station counter, or if every energy drink distributor could start slipping crack into their product unregulated. That sounds like an extreme example, but deregulating drugs completely is an extreme position to take. One COULD marriage SOME drug regulation with Libertarianism under the guise that some drugs cause a loss of personal faculties, and as such can create a danger to others. As such drug use in public could constitute a threat of agression and should be outlawed, but most will see that reasoning as a stretch. I'm of the opinion that like most things, as drug prohibition isn't an Enumerated Power defined in Article I of the Constitution, nor a protected right defined in the Bill of Rights, it should be left to the States. That way we can see at a State level which policies really are best. That's kind of the whole point of Federalism.

  • ||

    It's hard to imagine that society will be better off with $5 meth samples 40's of Old English available at every gas station counter, or if every energy drink distributor could start slipping crack caffeine into their product unregulated.

    There is literally no difference.

    Would you say that heroin is more dangerous now with a multi-billion dollar drug war being waged against it than it was in 1895 when you could buy it at your local pharmacy counter? Even from a purely utilitarian perspective, prohibition doesn't work. It causes more harm than it alleviates.

    drug use in public could constitute a threat of agression and should be outlawed, but most will see that reasoning as a stretch.

    Public intoxication is already a crime in virtually every jurisdiction in America. The logic is tortured, as you point out, but nevertheless, it is. To the extent that you infringe on the rights of others as a result of your intoxication, you should be charged for those infringements. Being intoxicated in and of itself isn't a public danger or even necessarily a public nuisance; it shouldn't be illegal.

  • Procrastinatus||

    "There is literally no difference"

    That's, I mean that's the argument that you're going with? That a distributor slipping crack into a drink is "literally no different" than caffeine? You really want to run with that? You think that claim is going to make the legalize meth crowd appear more rational?

    "Even from a purely utilitarian perspective, prohibition doesn't work".

    Maybe, maybe not. The reality is that you don't know and I don't either. Your ideology may lead you to believe that you know, but we simply don't have a control example to compare it to. There exists no identical societies back to back to determine if we're better off with hard drugs legalized or not. That's why I believe the answer, like most issues, is at the state level. Let some states legalize and some not, and then compare. Easy peezy.

    "To the extent that you infringe on the rights of others as a result of your intoxication, you should be charged for those infringements."

    Libertarian theory isn't really concise on that. One argument is that the threat of aggression is the same as aggression. You can own a gun, but you can't walk around and point it at people because they will evaluate you as a threat. You can own an aggressive dog if you want to, but at the moment you lose control of that dog I'm entitled to put the animal down if I feel threatened. It's a small step, logically speaking, from that to a substance that causes people to lose control of their faculties.

  • Procrastinatus||

    And yes, meth does cause people to go batshit crazy. I've literally seen it happen. I'd simply rather there be laws against people pointing guns at me in public, likewise and people being tweeked out around me in public than having to shoot them personally.

  • James Taggart||

    Portugal and the Netherlands have decriminalized drug use and the result has been lower usage and addiction rates. And lower rates than in the US.

    Of course, decriminalizing in the US would result in a major income loss to the state subsidized prison industry, law enforcement unions and defense lawyers - the major opponents.

    As usual, at the root of most social evils we find crony capitalists, unions and lawyers.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Nick, I read some years ago, an article that cited studies showing that the actual addiction rate in this country for any particular drug was typically (and stubbornly) low: No matter what happened to promote or discourage drug use, the addiction rate stayed fairly constant. In looking into the facts for your recent articles and postings, did you see anything to indicate a change in that circumstance, or do we still have more-or-less constant rates of addiction? I remember that fact as being used both to calm fears that legalization would turn us into a nation of addicts, and to make the point that the money and effort spent on the Drug War was completely wasted, and could be used for so many other, better things (including treatment) if we were simply to declare Drug Peace.

  • robynana||

    my friend's half-sister makes $64 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for five months but last month her pay check was $13540 just working on the internet for a few hours. browse around this web-site ...................................
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    http://www.FB49.com
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • Paul Pot||

    If drugs really were as bad as the bite of a zombie, then everyone would be a drug zombie by now.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement