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.

Advertisement

NEXT: Drinking vs. Quaintness

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.

  1. Needle exchanges are a second-best option where decriminalization of needle posession isn’t viable.

    Another political problem with needle exchange is that it centralizes the junkies’ needle shopping efforts. One skeevy customer in a drug store doesn’t make a difference, but 50 per day going in and out of the same place is a problem.

  2. joe–

    I think your point is well taken only if needles will be sold in pharmacies. I can envision other outlets (e.g. grocery stores, etc.) selling needles so that the “nuisance” problem is avoided.

  3. joe —

    When I was an undergrad, I spent several hours a week working at a needle exchange. You’d be very, very surprised at who comes in for needles. Pharmacies in rough-around-the-edges neighborhoods will likely attract a rough-around-the-edges clientele, but they probably won’t travel to the pharmacies where middle-income to upscale injection drug users (and there are PLENTY) will buy theirs.

    Adam

  4. Adam,

    My comment was addressed to the political realities of the programs/decriminalization laws, not the reality of how they operate.

  5. Of course, the steroid community – which Arnold knows well, will also benefit from this legislation. The primary benefit, though, will be to the much larger “recreational” drug (heroin, cocaine, etc.) community.

  6. “The primary benefit, though, will be to the much larger “recreational” drug (heroin, cocaine, etc.) community.”

    Perhaps in terms of numbers this is true, but the most significant benefit will be a “silent” one; all the folks who won’t contract AIDS and hepatitis. How refreshing it is to be able to describe a government initiative thusly: It unambiguously expands freedom, and it does not involve taxpayer money.

  7. It unambiguously expands freedom, and it does not involve taxpayer money.

    But I repeat myself. Narf!

  8. Along that line; I have a proposal: No government initiative should even be considered for approval unless it does at least one of these two; it unambiguously expands (or protects) the freedom of those being taxed and it does not spend taxpayer money.

  9. Happy Fall everyone! The Autumnal equinox starting right NOW! Day and night hours equal… I better post this before the moment passes…literally!

  10. “The primary benefit, though, will be to the much larger “recreational” drug (heroin, cocaine, etc.) community.”

    And they benefit…how? By the greater legal availability of sterile needles and syringes. If Mr. Lindsey is implying this is a bad thing, or neutral at best, and that this because of who is benefitting, then he is all too clearly albeit ominously showing us the frame of mind that drives much of Drug War.

  11. Lonewacko, I think you’re picking nits…big time. And just because you have a problem with a particular politician (I personally have a problem with pretty much all of them), doesn’t mean the law is worthwhile.

  12. Wacko, why would there be a “black market” if the needles are available legally?

  13. There is also a lot of senior poor diabetics that use needle exchange as well – presumably they will benefit as well…

  14. Lonewacko: (from the Lonewacko link)

    “A better idea would have provided some form of deposit like soda cans.”

    A better idea?? That’s not even a good idea. It would promote more handing of used needles in their transport to redeem the deposit.

    Also: What joe asked.

  15. Lonewacko,

    Also, a deposit would require MORE GOVERNMENT bureaucracy to monitor. Gag me with a spoon!

  16. Wacko, why would there be a “black market” if the needles are available legally?

    Food stamps are available legally, but there was or is a black market in them. What if some junkies need more needles than are provided? What if junior junkies aren’t able to get the needles and have to buy them a la asking an adult to buy beer? What if some junkies are excluded from the program? What if some localities won’t allow this? Why travel to other areas when you local needle salesman is available? Some of those might be stretches, others might not.

    While the “exchange” part certainly is a strong incentive to not throw away the needles, with more needles available some people might get careless. The punishment for disposing of needles is a joke because it’s unenforceable unless a cop sees a junkie throw out the needle. (If it’s a felony, which I’m pretty sure it isn’t, a citizen could witness it as well. If it’s just a misdemeanor, the cop would need to witness it. AFAIK.)

  17. Oh yeah, nice Neil Young ref, Jacob.

  18. fyodor:

    Rest assured, I do not believe this legislation is a bad thing. I do believe, however, that the recreational drug community has a higher propensity to share needles and use unclean needles than the steroid community. Those conditions, in combination with their higher population, suggests a greater benefit than to the steroid community. In fact, I only mentioned the steroid community because of my certainty that Arnold drew on some of his own personal experiences in reaching his decision on this bill.

  19. What you need to defend, Lonewacko, is not the claim that a black market will continue to exist, but the claim you actually made, which is that a more vigorous black market will result from this law.

    Currently, almost all junkies buy their needles on the black market. This law decreases the demand for black market needles by making many (if not most) junkies able to buy them legally. It increases the supply of black market needles by increasing the number of people able to buy them legally and sell them to junkies.

    So your claim, then, is that by decreasing demand and increasing supply, Schwarzenegger has created a more vigorous market for black-market needles.

  20. I say that this humane free market solution kills off the black market in needles in addition to conferring a substantial public health benefit.

    Lonewacko:
    “Food stamps are available legally, but there was or is a black market in them. What if junior junkies aren’t able to get the needles and have to buy them a la asking an adult to buy beer?

    Food stamps aren’t analogous to this legal needle purchase because food stamps have a greater value than the amount paid to the government (if anything) by those able to get them from the government. This is not the case with needles. As to junior junkies, there is not much of a black market for under age alcohol consumption. People over 21 just buy it for the kids.

    Dan:

    “It increases the supply of black market needles by increasing the number of people able to buy them legally and sell them to junkies.”

    But, the junkie can legally buy them as cheaply from the pharmacy as anyone else. This pretty much kills of any black market.

  21. But, the junkie can legally buy them as cheaply from the pharmacy as anyone else. This pretty much kills of any black market

    That’s the other half of the equation — the reduced demand for black-market needles. Some junkies will still need to use illegal means to acquire needles (e.g., because they’re under 18, or because they live in an area that hasn’t enacted the legislation yet). Those people will benefit from the increased supply.

    The end result will be that the current black market — phony prescriptions, stolen hypodermics, etc, sold to junkies at high prices, encouraging reuse and sharing — will be replaced with a “black market” akin to the “black market” that supplies 20-year-olds with beer. I.e., not really a black market at all. In any case, the idea that the black market will become more robust is patently absurd. There is nothing about this law that isn’t wonderful.

  22. As one of our great poets wrote:

    “You were born in the city
    Concrete under your feet
    It’s in your moves, it’s in your blood
    You’re a man of the streets”

    Based on my knowledge of low-lifes, the increased number of needles will increase the number of people trying to sell those needles. Maybe this program will swamp the market and render it much smaller, or maybe some new wrinkle will be found.

  23. Is Lonewacko making any sense to anybody here?

    If he is please translate for me.

  24. Isaac,

    Let’s just say Lonewacko seems to have missed the point of this law.

  25. Let’s say Shafter, Pumpkin Center, and Grapevine don’t allow this law in their communities (as, under the law, they can). Junkies will be forced to either: a) drive to Bakersfield or Fresno or even L.A., or b) rely on local sources who have done the same. Sure, lots of people could do b), and this might lower the prices of needles for communities that don’t allow this law. That will encourage a brisker black market for needles in those communities, no? What will the people in those communities do with the needles, take them back to their suppliers?

  26. Lonewacko-
    Are you suggesting that we keep needle sales illegal so as to weaken the black market dealing in them?

  27. Lonewacko:

    ” That will encourage a brisker black market for needles in those communities, no? “

    No. There will be no more of a black market for needles any more than there is for other legal products that are not availeable with out undertaking a drive to a community where they are availabe.

    The “black market” will be like:

    “Hey, when you go down to Melrose in LA for Pink’s or to Santa Monica for some fish and chips, please stop by a drug store for me”

  28. Needles give me the creeps.

  29. You are invited to check out some information in the field of http://www.ottawavalleyag.org/ http://www.ottawavalleyag.org/ phentermine … Thanks!!!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.