Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What if drugs were legal?

How would things be different if drugs were legal? I am talking about all drugs here: prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, controlled substances, illegal drugs like heroin and marijuana.

First of all there would be major financial upset to some segments of society. All the people in law enforcement involved in tracking down drug smugglers would be out of work. I think we could probably find other work for them. All the people involved in smuggling and distribution of formerly illegal drugs would find their profits slashed as other people started competing with them. All the people in prison who were convicted of smuggling, dealing, or simple possession would eventually be released and be out looking for work. Pharmacists would pretty much be out of work, as dispensing pills could be left to clerks. But that is all from the money angle.

What about society? Would it collapse in an orgy of drug induced mania? Would we have riots? Or maybe everything would grind to halt because everyone would be too stoned to care? What would all the former smugglers and dealers do for money now that their source of income has dried up? Perhaps they would try and form monopolies, much like they do now, only they would be competing for a piece of a much smaller pie. Perhaps they would turn to forcibly addicting people to drugs in order to drum up demand.

I do not imagine the health care industry would change that much. Insurance companies would not pay for drugs unless they were prescribed by a doctor, and who gets to be a doctor is still pretty much controlled by the AMA (American Medical Association). Manufacturers of prescription drugs could drop their advice to "see your doctor" and just straight out encourage people to buy their drugs. We would no doubt have a slew of tragedies and lawsuits arising from people trying to solve their own problems with easily purchased drugs.

The big change that libertarians like myself would expect to see would be a large drop in the number of violent crimes and property crimes. I suspect a large percentage of violent crimes are committed by people involved in the drug trade. There are large sums of money involved and there is no one you can call to arbitrate a conflict. Any and all disputes are necessarily settled with violence.

By making drugs legal, I would expect the price of addictive drugs to fall to perhaps ten percent of their current prices. Which means a financially crippling habit could be dealt with by collecting some spare change, which would put a stop to a lot of petty property crimes.

Drug testing for most jobs would fade away. No business wants an unnecessary expense. Where safety is involved they might continue, but only if they are compelled. Then again a proliferation of really dangerous drugs might mean drug testing for every employee every time they show up for work. Don't need some drug crazed psycho disrupting the assembly line, that would put a blip in profits.

Legalizing drugs might be a nice fantasy, but it is not going to happen. When I was a kid my friends and I used to talk about how absurd the drug laws were, and how anything that absurd could not possibly survive for long and surely sometime soon the laws would get changed. Now here it is almost forty years later and there has been almost no progress at all. Oh, there has been some liberalization of the marijuana laws, but is it even enough to notice? I do not think so. It is going to take a sea change of some kind before our drug laws change. Our current system is too much a part of the fabric of our society. Perhaps some great evangelist will come and persuade us to change our ways, or some cataclysmic event will trigger a change, but I think it more likely we will continue to muddle along with our insane system that destroys people and generates huge profits. Besides, where else could Hollywood get a plot for their next action movie?

No comments: