al wazir: <HeMateMe: Strange how times change.>
Marijuana and opium have been used in Asia for thousands of years. In the 19th century marijuana was legal in this country, though its use was not widespread. (I don't know why not.) Opium was also legal, at least in the form of laudanum, a tincture of opium powder in alcohol. Heroin was first synthesized in 1874 from the painkiller morphine, one of the constituents of opium. Laudanum and morphine are still used in medicine and are available by prescription.
Coca, which is native to the New World, has also been used from time immemorial. Cocaine was isolated from coca leaves in 1855. It too was unregulated prior to the early 20th century.
I have always considered cannabis safe for recreational use, though as with any pharmaceutical it's possible to overdose. I have never understood the rationale for its prohibition. Prohibiting the use of marijuana while allowing the nearly universal sale of alcoholic beverages make no sense. Though alcohol also has been consumed since the dawn of civilization, it has well-documented medical hazards and no proven health benefits. It is a toxin; that's why we say that someone who is drunk is "intoxicated."
In contrast, the principal health threats posed by heroin come from the stuff that's mixed with it, from overdoses, and from contaminated needles -- not from the heroin itself. And though neither heroin nor cocaine is a danger to health if free from adulterants and taken in controlled amounts, addiction is a serious personal and social problem. Because heroin is illegal it is costly. Users resort to crime to pay for a fix, and in some cases damage their health in other ways, such as neglecting to eat properly because they spend all their money on their habit. And someone who is zonked out for hours every day is not a productive contributor to the economy.
But we tried prohibiting alcohol, and that didn't work. Prohibiting marijuana didn't work either. So if marijuana becomes legal, why not legalize heroin and other recreational drugs as well?
I recall the first time I heard a libertarian argue that heroin use should be legal. I said something like "You can't be serious!" But he was.
Wouldn't that just be a way to turn the US into a nation of addicts? Wouldn't heroin become a more serious problem if it were legal, even if its use were made safe?
Well, not necessarily. After all, the risks of drinking and smoking are well publicized. Partly for that reason and partly as a matter of personal preference, some people don't drink or smoke at all. And while alcohol can be habit-forming, most people who drink aren't alcoholics.
And we're already a nation of addicts. We're all addicted to food. We all eat every day. Eating costs us an enormous amount of time and money. Sometimes people even steal to satisfy their food habit. Much of what we consume satisfies no known nutritional needs, and a lot is downright harmful. And obesity is epidemic. By any reckoning, food addiction is as bad a public health and social problem as drug addiction. But it does seem likely that if heroin were legal and widely available the incidence of drug addiction would increase.
How can heroin use be made safe?
The answer is, the same way that the safety of foods and prescription drugs is ensured: through government regulation and inspection, like any other product covered by the Pure Food and Drug Act.
I envisage the sale of heroin limited to *state stores* (like the sale of liquor in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and some other states). Alternatively, with carefully honed regulation heroin could be marketed in the private sector, just as marijuana products soon will be. The product would undergo checks for purity and the dosage would be carefully calculated. Since the raw material it's made from, opium seed pods, costs no more to grow than poppy seeds, it would be much cheaper than it is now. Being addicted would no longer be an inducement to crime.
That leaves the problems of needle sharing and needle disposal. One of the most common ways to contract AIDS is from shared needles. And even now, when only a tiny minority of the population are regular users, needles are strewn about parks and public beaches. Anyone stepping on a needle risks infection, possibly with HIV.
The answer is for the state to take responsibility for disposing of the needles and syringes or disinfecting them, by requiring users to surrender them after *a single use*. And the straightforward way to do that is to insist that users shoot up on the premises of the store. In other words, the state would provide and maintain shooting galleries, or else inspect and oversee private ones. There is a historical precedent: opium dens.
I admit this proposal sounds bizarre, but it solves the problem. It's better than the alternatives.