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.