I've got a new column up at Time.com. It's about the recent arrest of Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) for possession of cocaine. Radel has already pleaded guilty and has pledged to go to rehab. His arrest should make us think twice about the arbitrary distinctions between legal and illegal drugs and the social stigma that attaches to the latter. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was well-known for being a drunken lout, but it took evidence of him smoking crack for him to lose many of his powers. Similarly, Radel's drinking didn't raise eyebrows even as his buying a few grams of coke did.
In an age in which we are expected to use legal drugs (such as beer) and prescription medications (Adderall) responsibly, it's time to extend that same notion to currently illegal substances whose effects and properties are widely misunderstood. Indeed, the effects of coke, heroin, and the rest are a mystery partly because their outlaw status makes it difficult both to research them and have honest discussions about them.
Trey Radel has announced that he'll be taking a leave of absence from Congress while he enters rehab. Perhaps he does need to sober up – that's really for him and his family to decide – but it's far from clear that his problem is particular to cocaine or illegal drugs. Indeed, in announcing his plans, he didn't blame cocaine for his troubles but "the disease of alcoholism," which he says led him to make really bad decisions. And alcohol, after all, is perfectly legal.