Earlier this month President Obama signed into law a federal ban on bath salts – a street name for a number of drugs, primarily MDPV, BK-MDMA (Methylone), and Mephedrone. They have effects similar to those of MDMA, amphetamines (Adderall), or methamphetamines. What started an investigation into bath salts was when a man named Rudy Eugene ate a homeless man’s, Ronald Poppo’s, face off. It was widely believed that the cause of the incident was bath salts but it was later discovered that the only drug Eugene had in his system was marijuana.
What amazed me was that no one waited for confirmation from the autopsy, there were no studies about the effects, safety, nothing. I think it’s important to look at these things and also why these designer drugs exist in the first place which is for easier creation and distribution than explicitly illegal substances.
So there are two ways to deal with the problem:
1. Try to keep up with designer drugs and enforce bans.
2. Don’t ban the drugs.
Here’s where a cost/benefit analysis would have been important (I’d bet my legs the government didn’t do one).
There are plenty of benefits in not banning drugs at all. We wouldn’t be using money and resources on the DEA, crime surrounding drug deals would end, and the U.S. government would no longer be waging a war on drugs that has cost over 1 trillion dollars. With huge crime surrounding drug deals and drug use not having significantly decreased despite the high drug related incarceration rate, this was a tremendous waste of resources. In the present, if you buy drugs but don’t receive what you want, pretty much the only thing you can do is accept what you got, or turn to violence – as many do. If drug use is legalized, then you’d be able to turn to the law rather than to guns.
Banning drugs and raising the costs of using them to a high enough extent would decrease the quantity demanded for the drugs. But how much higher would that cost have to be given the millions of people who use drugs despite all the laws they are breaking? It doesn’t really look like the benefits of fewer people using drugs outweighs the cost to achieve this goal.
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