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What Would it Be Like if Heroin Were Legal?

Right now, street thugs and international cartels have the power. Does that really make us safer?
 
 
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Photo Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

 
 
 
 

The most frightening image conjured up by the term “drug legalization” is that of a chaotic free-for-all, where heroin is as unrestricted as chewing gum.
 
Not so fast. If you plan to go into the chewing gum business, you’ll soon learn that the state will not let you:
 
·        sell  fruit juice or beer and call it chewing gum,
·        put floor shavings or dangerous chemicals in your chewing gum,
·        claim your chewing gum cures cancer,
·        hire people to sell your chewing gum on the street without a license.
 
In short, what must be in, what must not be in, what you can say about, and who can sell chewing gum, are all regulated. There’s no age restriction on purchase, any more than there is on the purchase of aspirin. But make no mistake, this benign substance is heavily and appropriately regulated.
 
And if it weren’t?
 
How would you feel about a child being offered a pack of gum—attractively packaged and half price— containing one part per 1,000 of energy boosting strychnine  and no government body charged with preventing this?
 
Regulations are the checks and balances that keep some of us honest and the rest of us safe. We modify regulations in accordance with evolving science, state law, and political pressure. Regulations are openly discussed, periodically adjusted and always enforced with police power. In addition to product purity, regulations often involve age limits and restrictions on promotional freedom, typically around schools.
 
So much for alcohol, sex, voting, driving, and chewing gum. What about heroin? Who regulates heroin? Who sets its potency, price and age limits, who profits from it, sets its tax rate, and decides whether it is marketed to our children?
 
Street thugs and international cartels. Feeling safer?
 
Prohibition creates the incentive-laden, free-for-all street anarchy that snares our children as sellers and users. Legalization, paradoxically, means regulation. Meaningful regulation.
 
It is safe to say that in a country which regulates chewing gum and licenses hair dressers, legal heroin will be tightly regulated, and correctly so. It will be seen as a dangerous, adult-only drug that some can handle without incident, but others cannot. Just like alcohol, only stronger.
 
But unlike alcohol, which was a preexisting, legal enterprise before its prohibition, don’t expect full page ads promoting heroin on the day of its legalization. The faucets of promotion can be effectively sealed from day one. And, of course, it will never be sold without strictly enforced age restrictions, under any conditions.
 
It will be something that adults can get, as is currently the case. But stripped of its outlaw allure and extreme, prohibition-created profitability, its purchase and sale will not cause blood to flow in our streets or our jails to fill. It will continue to be used as an emotional crutch by those who spend their lives in the thrall of addiction, regardless of the legal status of their drug of “choice.” But treatment will be easier to come by as addicts no longer fear state reprisal from a futile, moralistic crusade.  And as the state no longer threatens them, they will no longer threaten us.
 
The addicted will be seen as more needy than exotic. The Swiss, now followed by half a dozen European nations, have been doing just this for over a decade—dispensing heroin to heroin addicts on a non-profit, medical basis—and have enjoyed significantly lowered rates of addiction, crime, disease and death. The addicts are safer. The streets are safer. Life goes on.
 
Legalization works. It strips the glamour from drug use. And cuts street dealers off at the knees.
 
Legalized regulation of all drugs will yield a quieter, safer world, as we say goodbye to community-destroying street violence, family-destroying arrests, folk-hero drug dealers, dirty needle deaths, deaths from contaminated drugs, widespread corruption and SWAT team smack downs.
 
Send your daughter out to the store for chewing gum and a six pack. She’s come back with the gum. They won’t risk their license to sell her beer.
 
Street thugs pushing heroin don’t have that constraint—the constraint of legalization.