1 Drugs II 2 James Q. Wilson: “Against the Legalization of Drugs” Wilson’s Project • Wilson’s arguments against the legalization of drugs fall into two categories: - Consequentialist: There is a strong likelihood of greater social harm resulting from the legalization of drugs than from their prohibition. - Appeal to Humanity: Mind-altering drugs “destroy the user’s humanity” and so are immoral. • Note: Wilson is concerned with the ethics of ‘hard’ drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, and not marijuana (though at least some elements of his argument seem extendable to marijuana and other ‘soft’ drugs). 3 Recall Boaz’s Argument • The government has no right to tell people not to use drugs. • The prohibition of drug use imposes costs on society that far outweigh the benefits. • As such, Boaz calls for a repeal of legislation that makes drugs illegal, so as to make people responsible for their own decisions. • (A similar argument cited by Wilton Friedman is cited by Wilson) 4 Reliving the Past Let us assume a case in which heroin had been legalized in 1972. What would have followed? • The price of heroin would have dropped drastically (Wilson says by 95%). • Now being sold in pharmacies, its quality would have been assured, as would needles needed for its use. • There would have been no more financial or medical reason to avoid heroin use. • Although likely still controlled (like alcohol and tobacco), children would have eventually gained access to it: “[Y]oung people have a way of penetrating markets theoretically reserved for adults.” (146) • Heroin use would have grown exponentially. 5 Back to the Future The public focus on heroin in the 1970s gave way to focus on cocaine on the 1980s. • This was especially true for its most potent form: crack. • And just as there were movements to legalize heroin in the ’70s, there were movements to legalize cocaine in the ’80s and ’90s. • The problems foreseeable with legalized cocaine are even more pronounced than those with legalized heroin. - Crack is worse than heroin by almost any measure.” (146) 6 Back to the Future (cont’d) HEROIN • Depending on administration, high can peak immediately or up to five minutes after use. • High characterized by relief of extreme pain, euphoria, and relaxation. • Negative side-effects can include disorientation and delirium, nausea and constipation, spasticity, addiction, and death in high doses. • Withdrawal sets in between 6 and 24 hours of discontinuation of sustained use. CRACK • High lasting up to 15 minutes, but peaking almost immediately on use. • High characterized by intense euphoria. • Negative side-effects can include cardiovascular damage, permanent brain damage, and others. • Administration methods can also result in damage to lungs or veins, weeping wounds, and dead tissue. • Each successive dose leads to more and more intense highs, and as such almost immediate withdrawal. 7 Back to the Future (cont’d) Consequences: • “Those people who progress to ‘bingeing’ on cocaine become devoted to the drug and its effects to the exclusion of almost all other considerations—job, family, children, sleep, food, even sex…” (147) • Not only are women more likely to use crack than heroin, if they are pregnant, the effects on their children can be disastrous. - “Some crack babies have for all practical purposes suffered a disabling stroke while still in the womb.” (147) - Estimates of about 30,000-50,000 “crack babies” born every year (about 7,000 in NYC alone). - And, of course, the women having such babies are usually not in any position to take care of them, and are usually unwilling to seek treatment. 8 Back to the Future (cont’d) • “The notion that abusing drugs such as cocaine is a ‘victimless crime’ is not only absurd but dangerous.” (147) - Our concern is with society itself: “Society is not and could never be a collection of autonomous individuals. We all have a stake in ensuring that each of us displays a minimal level of dignity, responsibility, and empathy.” (147) - We should expect certain standards to be met. 9 The Benefits of Illegality Treatment: Although there are some addicts who genuinely desire treatment for their addictions, the majority only desire short-term help after a bad crash. • Even many of those who enroll in programs seeking help are not up to the commitment. Compulsion: Research provides evidence that the longer one stays in a treatment program, the better the chances of reduction in drug dependency. When addicts enter into such programs under legal compulsion, drop-out rates are much lower. • It is not clear how compulsion could be achieved in a society in which such drugs are completely legal. 10 The Benefits of Illegality (cont’d) Education: Although drug-education programs in schools are new, it is difficult to see how such programs could effectively dissuade children from doing something perfectly legal. • Although we can, in part, dissuade tobacco and alcohol use through school programs, the long-term physical side-effects of drugs like crack are neither as well researched nor apparently as extensive. • “[W]hat do we say about crack? It is pleasurable, but devoting yourself to so much pleasure is not a good idea (though perfectly legal)? […] Everyone is doing cocaine, but you should not?” (148) 11 The Benefits of Illegality (cont’d) • Unlike tobacco use, dependency on certain mind-altering drugs is a moral issue. - Cocaine debases its users’ humanity: “Tobacco shortens one’s life, cocaine debases it.” - At a best guess, Wilson’s idea seems to be that cocaine (and similar such drugs) debases users’ humanity by making them effectively incapable of not using the drug. As such, it limits its users autonomy. 12 The Benefits of Illegality (cont’d) • Formally-speaking, Wilson seems to be pointing at an argument along the lines of the following: (P1) It is wrong to debase humanity. (P2) If it is wrong to debase humanity, then it is wrong to increase the chances that humanity will be debased. (P3) Cocaine use debases humanity (by negating the user’s autonomy, perhaps). (P4) Legalizing cocaine will increase the chances that humanity will be debased (because it will lead to greater use). (C) Therefore, it is wrong to legalize cocaine. 13 The Alcohol Problem Proponents of drug legalization tend to compare the situation with that of alcohol: • Alcohol, like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, is a drug, and consumed to excess leads to harmful consequences: “auto accidents, barroom fights, bedroom shootings.” - And to some it is addictive (though certainly less addictive than crack or heroin, to the degree that we can measure such things). • An advocate of legalization might concede that legalizing such hard drugs will have harms equivalent to those arising from alcohol use. - But, the advocate might add, as with alcohol, at least the problem would be out in the open where it can be treated. • Of course, we are having only limited success with alcoholism. 14 The Alcohol Problem (cont’d) - That heroin and cocaine addition is usually much more pronounced than alcoholism makes the prospect of ‘curing’ it that much more daunting. - Moreover, standard addiction therapy—living in drug-free therapeutic communities—requires great personal commitment, something in short supply among those most at risk for addiction (the young, the disadvantaged). • Suppose we had today only a half-million alcohol abusers (as we do hard drug abusers) rather than 15 million. - Knowing what we do about alcoholism and its consequences, would we make liquor legal in such a case? • “The government cannot legislate away the addictive tendencies in all of us, nor can it remove completely even the most dangerous addictive substances. But it can cope with harms when the harms are still manageable.” (149) 15 If I Am Wrong… • “If I am wrong” about the consequences of legalizing drugs, but they remain illegal, the cost will be primarily monetary: we will certainly incur heavy costs of law enforcement and “some forms of criminality”. • “If I am right” but drugs are legalized, millions of people and thousands of neighborhoods will suffer the consequences.