This post was edited and updated on June 29 2014, to include additional thoughts.
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A Rational Policy on Drugs and Alcohol
In my last post I argued against government prohibitions against drugs and alcohol. My position is that substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, etc., should be legal in the same way that alcohol and tobacco are today. I believe, however, that the distribution and marketing of these substances should be brought under direct government control. All of the commonly abused addictive substances are dangerous, and they have taken – and continue to take – an enormous toll on society. This cost includes lives, health, lost opportunities, money and general suffering and anguish. But it’s difficult to put old heads on young shoulders, and it seems that each generation – indeed each individual – has to learn these lessons anew. I don’t believe we can ever eradicate substance abuse entirely.
What seems especially wrong to me, however, is that we allow individuals and groups to prosper and thrive by actively marketing these products – an endeavor in which they have been extraordinarily successful. So we have various government agencies trying to reduce the incidence of alcohol and nicotine abuse while huge corporations are working towards the opposite end. I realize, of course, that most of the major alcohol producers say that they abhor alcohol abuse, and that they only encourage “responsible” drinking. These kinds of statements, however, always remind me of Hitler insisting that he had no expansionist agenda. The fact is that alcohol and tobacco manufacturers spend millions (billions?) of dollars promoting their products and linking their products with sexiness and success in the minds of potential consumers. To my way of thinking, this is simply wrong.
Here’s the system I would like to see in place. The manufacturers of these substances could continue to operate, but could sell their products only to the government. The government (federal, state, or county) would wholesale the products and would also have a retail outlet in each county. In heavily populated areas, there could be more than one per county. These outlets would be similar to the state-run stores in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, except that they wouldn’t just sell liquor. They would sell all alcohol and tobacco products as well as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc… All the addictive drugs would be available for adults to purchase through the government outlet, but nowhere else. Customers would be required to show an ID, and each purchase would be registered in a database. Customers whose consumption seemed excessive would be required to talk briefly to a counselor. The counselor would encourage them to think about their consumption of addictive substances – but if they wanted to pursue the purchase, they would not be prevented from doing so. People who came to the store in a state of intoxication would be taken involuntarily to a detox center where they would be detained until it was safe to let them go; i.e. that it was medically safe to discharge them.
All profits generated from the sale of addictive substances would be used to fuel preventive efforts and to support the detox centers. Prices of products would be set as high as practicable, but not so high as to encourage bootlegging and black markets.
Of course there are many who will decry the notion of government interference in the free market. But under the free market system, we have 450,000 tobacco-related deaths, and 85,000 alcohol-related deaths, and 17,000 illegal drug-related deaths each year in the United States.
Others will say that the government couldn’t run such an operation successfully. But the stores in Pennsylvania have operated successfully since 1933. Anyway, there it is: my humble suggestion for a more rational way for our society to deal with these dangerous substances, which we, as a species, seem to find so attractive.
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