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High Anxiety
Posted by FoM on February 22, 2001 at 09:48:38 PT
By Jacob Sullum
Source: National Review
Jonah Goldberg wants to "reserve the right to judge people harshly who use drugs, sell drugs, or who endorse either." No one, of course, is proposing to take away that right, but some of us wish he would exercise it with a bit more discrimination and common sense. Assuming that Goldberg does not condemn all use of psychoactive substances, he must have in mind some principles that enable him to say when drug consumption is morally acceptable and when it is not. In the case of alcohol, people routinely make such distinctions. 
They see a difference between children and adults, between responsible and irresponsible use, between moderate drinkers and alcoholics. The same sorts of distinctions can and should be applied to other drugs, whatever their current legal status. The failure to do so  the insistence that all use of illegal drugs is, by definition, abuse  is a way of avoiding serious moral discourse. Let's consider marijuana, which Goldberg says he's "in favor of decriminalizing and probably legalizing." Isn't there a clear moral difference between a guy who smokes pot occasionally, on weekends, or in the evening, yet manages to be a responsible, productive citizen, and a guy who is stoned all the time, flunks out of school, slacks off at work, and has trouble maintaining relationships? It is reasonable to "judge people harshly" for leading lives so dominated by marijuana (or any other drug) that they achieve nothing of worth and fail to meet their responsibilities to friends, neighbors, relatives, and employers. (Legally punishing them is another matter.) But anyone who accepts moderate drinking will have a hard time explaining why moderate pot smoking is beyond the pale. The government's own data indicate that people who use marijuana typically do so in moderation. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, some 76 million Americans, more than one-third of the population over the age of 12, have tried marijuana. About one-quarter of these people report using marijuana in the previous year, and about 15 percent say they've used it in the previous month. Around 14 percent of the people who use marijuana in a given year, and less than 4 percent of those who have ever tried it, report smoking it on 20 to 30 days of the previous month. A 1994 study in estimated that 9 percent of marijuana users have ever experienced "drug dependence." The comparable figure for alcohol was 15 percent. Perhaps Goldberg agrees that there is no moral distinction between marijuana  the main target of the war on drugs, accounting for nearly 700,000 arrests each year  and alcohol. But he seems to believe that any use of "heroin and PCP" is so reckless that it should always carry a moral stigma. I will not try to talk him out of that, except to note that the vast majority of people who use these drugs do not become addicted or suffer lasting harm. Whether heroin and PCP are so dangerous that any prudent, responsible person ought to avoid them hinges on how one assesses the risks. In the case of heroin, for example, it matters whether addiction is essentially a random affliction that can strike anyone or a process over which people can and do exercise control. In any case, these drugs have never been very popular. The government's survey data indicate that 0.2 percent of Americans have used heroin in the last year, while 0.1 percent have used PCP. By this measure, marijuana is nearly 50 times as popular as heroin, 100 times as popular as PCP. Moral stigma has something to do with that, but so does the fact that the effects of heroin and PCP do not appeal to nearly as many people as those of marijuana do. In a legal market, marijuana would still be one of America's favorite intoxicants, and it would be joined on the shelves by mild preparations of coca and opium, currently almost impossible to obtain because prohibition encourages the sale of drugs in their most concentrated forms. Judging from the alcohol market, where beer and wine outsell liquor and pure alcohol hardly sells at all, consumers will overwhelmingly prefer sipping poppy tea and chewing coca gum to injecting heroin or smoking crack. This does not mean that "the free market can solve our drug problems in a flash" (as Goldberg caricatures the libertarian position), any more than scrapping the 18th Amendment eliminated alcoholism. The case for repealing drug prohibition is based on two main propositions: that it does more harm than good, and that it violates the fundamental right to control one's body and mind. It is possible to hold either or both of these views and still condemn drug use on moral grounds. Indeed, the conventional wisdom among reformers is that defending the morality of drug use needlessly antagonizes those who might otherwise be inclined to agree that the war on drugs is counterproductive and unjust. That is why you will often hear ritual denunciations of drug use in seemingly unlikely places such as the Cato Institute. But the repeal of alcohol prohibition would have been impossible if most Americans did not recognize that people, by and large, can be trusted to drink responsibly. A successful campaign to end the war on drugs will also depend upon a belief in the possibility of temperance. Note: Jonah Goldberg is wrong.By Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason Magazine. He is writing a book about the morality of drug use. Reason Magazinehttp://www.reason.com/ Source: National Review (US) Author: Jacob SullumPublished: February 22, 2001 Address: 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10016 Copyright: 2001 National Review Contact: letters nationalreview.com Website: http://www.nationalreview.com/ Forum: http://www.nationalreview.com/forum/forum.shtmlRelated Article:The Right Dope - Jonah Goldberg http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread8736.shtml
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Comment #2 posted by ras james rsifwh on February 22, 2001 at 10:51:24 PT
"JUDGE NOT"
THE SON OF THE ALMIGHTY JAH RASTAFARI, JESUS CHRIST, SAID; "JUDGE NOT..." and "IT IS NOT WHAT GOES IN YOUR MOUTH THAT DISGRACES YOU. IT IS WHAT COMES OUT." give all praise and thanks to JAH RASTAFARI for this time...the final hour and the final judgement of the FATHER; "THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS BE WITH THE ALL. AMEN."
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Comment #1 posted by observer on February 22, 2001 at 10:48:36 PT
Well Put!
The case for repealing drug prohibition is based on two main propositions: that it does more harm than good, and that it violates the fundamental right to control one's body and mind. It is possible to hold either or both of these views and still condemn drug use on moral grounds.Nicely stated.also see:Thomas Szasz, Our Right To Drugs, 1992http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0815603339/ Richard Miller, The Case for Legalizing Drugs, 1991http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0275934594/ 
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