The Needle and the Damage Undone


On Monday California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that allows the sale of needles and syringes without a prescription. The change, urged by the California Medical Association and Kaiser Permanente as well as the Drug Policy Alliance, is aimed at discouraging needle sharing, which spreads diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. This is one "harm reduction" measure that libertarians can comfortably endorse: It unambiguously expands freedom, and it does not involve taxpayer money, as do government-funded "needle exchange" programs.

Philosophical objections aside, the latter have always struck me as the wrong approach strategically, seemingly confirming the canard that what critics of the war on drugs really want is subsidized addiction (a charge that drug czar John Walters hauled out in his recent National Review exchange with the DPA's Ethan Nadelmann). In this case, by contrast, the government is removing a legal barrier to sanitary injection practices by allowing over-the-counter sales of needles and decriminalizing their possession without a prescription.