There is no end to stories we hear in the news or from friends about cases of tragic deaths or other health emergencies from the use of hard drugs, like cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. However, it is the government itself that exacerbates the health risks associated with drugs. Most of the sudden deaths and emergencies associated with drugs are ultimately on the hands of govt. There are many reasons to legalize drugs, even hard drugs. I’m talking for adults only, not minors. I could talk about the ethical question of whether or not it’s morally appropriate to initiate violence, coercion, and kidnapping (prison) against a peaceful person for the sole purpose of “protecting” them from themselves, or I could talk about the organized crime and gang/cartel violence that prohibition creates, or the astronomical prison rates and associated harmful effects of incarceration on people, families, and communities, or the high govt budget costs of enforcement, or the gradual growth of govt and erosion of civil liberties, but right now I want to focus on the narrow topic of how the govt actually makes drug use much more dangerous than it would be in a free society. To clarify, I’m not suggesting that legalizing these drugs would take away the long term health risks and deterioration associated with heavy drug use. If legalized, I recognize that some people will still get addicted and heavily use drugs, causing their overall health to gradually deteriorate. I don’t generally blame govt for this type of harm caused by drug use. Instead, the point of this post is that govt’s prohibition is the cause of the severe and acute health emergencies and sudden deaths associated with hard drugs. Here is a list summarizing the basic points.
- Labeling, purity, and composition: In a free market where drugs are legal and can be bought at a store like other alcohol or over-the-counter drugs, the product’s composition is known and clearly labeled, and the manufacturer has an interest and incentive to give the customer a consistent and good quality product (partly because of the normal customer satisfaction incentives, and partly because the company could get sued if the product is laced with harmful incompatible substances). When you buy alcohol or Advil today, you don’t have to worry about it being laced with other dangerous chemicals, or that it’s composition or strength varies greatly from one purchase to the next, because these products exist in a legalized marketplace. However, the govt destroys this system in its prohibition and creation of the black market for drugs. In a black market where you buy from some shady dealer on the corner, it’s hard to know what you’re getting with any degree of confidence. The black market causes the composition to be highly uncertain. Black market drugs are sometimes laced with other harmful drugs or chemicals which may be relatively safe by themselves, but very dangerous when mixed with the main product. In fact, most deaths from “overdose” are actually due to mixing of incompatible drugs. When you consume drugs of uncertain quality and composition, the results can be disastrous, and sometimes lethal. Such deaths and other emergencies are ultimately caused by govt prohibition.
- Labeling and Dosage: If drugs were legal in ordinary stores, the label would clearly state how much of the carefully measured drug is contained in each serving, and what the appropriate dosage is for the desired effect. The strength, purity, and dosage would be known. However, under the govt’s black market prohibition system, this information is unavailable. Black market drugs vary widely in purity and strength over time, across dealers, and from city to city. Many overdoses are due to a user expecting one strength, yet getting another. The govt’s prohibition causes these deaths and health emergencies.
- Fear of Help: Prohibition causes users to fear getting help publicly, so they stay “underground” abusing until some crisis happens, even death. If drugs were legal, they wouldn’t fear prison time, and so they wouldn’t fear asking others for help, or going to various health organizations, rehab organizations, or hospitals. As long as they live in fear, they will keep their problem isolated in the dark, or only with other “underground” users in the same boat. Prohibition also makes friends and acquaintances of users who need medical attention reluctant to call for help on their behalf, because they don’t want their friends and family to go to jail. The govt exacerbates the addiction and health emergency problem.
- Little Education: When drugs are banned, there is less education available publicly on how to properly use them in a more safe and controlled manner and setting. Legalizing drugs allows people to feel safe and secure in their efforts to seek out education on the safe use of drugs. The govt decreases access and production of safety education.
- Higher Concentrations: Legalizing drugs would decrease the trend of drugs becoming more concentrated. Banning drugs drives drug producers and transporters to produce more and more concentrated drugs so that it is easier to hide them, either at stationary locations or during transport. Drug dealers are always trying to make it easier to hide their drugs, and smaller volumes are crucial in this, thus the drive for higher concentrations. If drugs were legal, this incentive is much weaker, and drug producers/distributors would feel safe and secure storing and hauling a load of ordinary volume drugs at ordinary concentrations. This will help drug users’ safety because sometimes an overdose is the result of a drug being much more concentrated than expected.
- Harder Drugs Due to Higher Concentrations: The above driver of producing and transporting less volume of drugs so that they can be more easily hidden also helps, partially, to drive the drug trade towards harder more dangerous drugs, because such drugs can be more compact in volume per amount of high experienced, and per price. Thus, a drug dealer would rather produce, transport, and hide $1 million in cocaine than $1 million in medium strength marijuana. The govt actually helps steer the drug trade towards harder drugs.
- Addiction-Relief Products: If people are addicted and want to end their addiction, the govt’s prohibition makes this difficult to achieve. In a free market society, businesses would cater to this desire and innovate to produce and sell various medications and other remedies that can counteract addiction, or at least produce and sell drugs/medications that satisfy the biochemical addiction, but are much less dangerous, all as part of a plan to gradually get off the addiction altogether or alleviate its worst effects. Currently, there is no free market for such addiction relief medications/remedies. I suppose there might be a few medications that exist for this, but you’d have to go through formal prescription avenues to get such medications, and this may be difficult for drug users, not just because of soaring health care costs (caused by govt) and various regulatory obstacles to getting the medications, but also because a typical user may be very afraid to seek out a doctor and seek these medications if drugs are outlawed and they fear being arrested or getting a blemish on their record.
- Quality Generally: Market processes spontaneously produce good quality products at low prices. One of the major market mechanisms is reputation and repeat business. This mechanism matures in an open market setting where a business can advertise and last long. However, in the govt’s black market system, a drug producer can’t advertise their quality and consistency. Also, customers can’t easily ask others in public or online what their experience was with a particular drug producer, so it’s difficult to get a patronage following through quality performance. It’s hard for customers to be able to steer to the higher quality sellers. Also, with the police frequently breaking up various drug production and distribution organizations, it’s difficult for a high quality drug dealer to gradually gain a good reputation. If he’s well-known and successful, his days may be numbered. Reputation requires open communication in the public. The black market suppresses open communication, keeping everything in the dark. The govt disturbs the normal free market processes that help ensure high quality and safe drug distribution to customers.
- Lack of Legal Recourse for Negligent or Fraudulent Distribution: In an open marketplace, producers are liable for harm that they cause due to gross negligence or false information about composition or strength on the label. This is technically fraud, which is one of the few appropriate roles of govt to restrict, since fraud (and contract violation generally) is effectively stealing and thus a property rights violation. This is yet another incentive and check on manufacturers to produce good quality drugs with correct labeling. However, in the govt’s black market system, if you get harmed (or die) from a laced drug or because the strength or composition was different than what the dealer stated, there’s nothing you (or your family) can do about it, besides taking your illegal patronage to a different dealer and trying your luck again. You can’t sue someone in the black market and bring them to court. The black market drug dealer has less incentive and little check to ensure consistently safe and high quality drugs.
Drug use in itself does not necessarily have to be dangerous. The danger comes with improper use, improper dosage, and using drugs laced with unknown dangerously incompatible substances. The govt’s prohibition is the cause of these latter problems, and thus the cause of most of the tragedies we associate with hard drugs. Remember that the tragedies that you hear of in the news of drug abuse happen under the current system of drugs being outlawed, during the age of prohibition and the war on drugs. Yet, these tragedies still occur under this prohibition, demonstrating that prohibition is not very effective in its goal of preventing these tragedies.