Best of the Blogs: Responsible Drug Use

Here are some thought-provoking excerpts from around the blogosphere commenting on this month’s edition of Cato Unbound.

Drug Law Blog: Erowid Founders on Responsible Psychoactive Use and The Cato Debate Continues:

I’ve always found Erowid to be an extremely interesting and remarkable website, not simply because it contains so much information about a somewhat taboo subject (although that’s fun too) but because it takes such a principled stand in favor of the value of access to information. Erowid’s founders write:

Public information sources should prioritize accuracy and completeness over maintaining a single, politically driven message. It is inconsistent with the democratic ideals of American culture to corrupt information in order to support public policies. The issues are complex and sources should reflect that.

This should not be a controversial position in our society. Indeed, it should be a principle that we struggle to support, because democracies don’t work very well when voters are deliberately misinformed.

Heal Spiel: Narcotics Unbound:

Earth and Fire Erowid effectively argue that the notion of responsible drug use has as much relevance now as it does for an idealized post-prohibitionist future. Today, many, many Americans practice self-control regarding psychoactive substances, which are relatively easy for otherwise law-abiding citizens to obtain, especially if one includes legal “drugs,” such as alcohol or caffeine. And no matter the endless shuffle of kids charged with “possession,” who languish in the Juvenile Hall next to my school, or the bluster and spectacle of high-profile raids on marijuana dispensaries that cater to cancer patients. These shining examples of the DEA’s good work (as well as its upcoming “Target America Campaign” which first takes aim at Los Angeles in October), do nothing to temper the reality that even the most socially isolated individual can gain access to the Internet and access to drugs, practically within same Charter Bundle Package.

Stop the Drug Jonathan Caulkins vs. the Boring Drug War Debate:

I just don’t agree that following the law is always inherently “responsible,” except to the extent that the law will sometimes get back at you for non-compliance. Moreover, [Caulkins is] responding to an article that went to great lengths to explain how prohibition interferes with the ability to use drugs responsibly (e.g., unknown purity of black market merchandise, breakdown of communication between users and medical professionals, laughably bad anti-drug education, etc.). Caulkins is entitled to his belief that it’s always irresponsible to break the law, but that’s somewhat beside the point.

The concern that you can’t use drugs responsibly in violation of the law is a problem with the law, not a problem with drugs.

Note to readers: If you’d like to be included in a future “Best of the Blogs” post, please join in the conversation by posting a thoughtful response at your own site. You’re more likely to be included if you do more than simply throw us a link. We don’t mind the links, but the conversation is what we’re all about. And also, as usual, reprinting here doesn’t imply endorsement.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • In their lead essay, Earth and Fire Erowid stress the importance of developing responsible, fully informed relationships toward psychoactive drugs. Although drug prohibition has persisted for decades, the overwhelming majority of adults have tried at least one illegal drug, and these substances aren’t going away any time soon. Sadly, prohibition itself has stunted our knowledge of these substances, and, as in so many things, ignorance is both dangerous and irresponsible. Provocatively, they criticize even the word “drugs” as a tag for illegal psychoactives: Lumping them all together, they write, betrays a lack of understanding of their vastly different effects, risk profiles and — yes — benefits.

Response Essays

  • Jonathan Caulkins argues that the responsible use of psychoactive drugs is an overstretched concept, if by “psychoactive drugs” we mean everything from caffeine to heroin. In many cases, he argues, temperance may be the only responsible “use” of a given substance.

    Further, state prohibitions on pleasurable but risky acts are hardly confined to this area of law; their violation is not a genuine form of civil disobedience as long as pleasure itself is the real goal of the act. And the risks remain regardless. Duly enacted laws in a democracy deserve far more respect than this, and following the law is a part of the responsibility of all citizens.

  • Jacob Sullum notes that temperance and abstinence have been wrongly conflated, and that the Aristotelian view of temperance encompassed all of the moderate, reasoned, and honorable pleasures of life. He reiterates that virtually everyone uses psychoactive drugs of one kind or another, and that the overwhelming majority of use is responsible. He challenges the notion that the state has any interest in the private actions of individuals that do not harm anyone else, and he terms the impulse to protect people from themselves “unethical” and “an open-ended rationale for government intervention that logically leads to totalitarianism.”

  • Mark Kleiman takes up a theme already addressed by the other participants, namely the distinctions to be found within the catchall category “illegal drugs.” He notes that the risk profiles, motivations for use, and public health considerations of these substances are so far removed from one another that it may make no sense to continue to treat them as similar in public policy. Given the choice between full legalization and the status quo, he would choose the status quo, but, he argues, these alternatives should not be the only ones we consider.