Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Pointlessness of Prohibition, part II: The Prohibitionist Pharisees

And He called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand; Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came His disciples, and said unto Him, Knowest Thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?... And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceedeth out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness, blasphemies....

Matthew 15:10-12, 16-19

For ten years, ex-convict Dave Lanphier was hopelessly addicted to methamphetamine. “Nothing seemed to matter but the drug ... it pretty much took hold of my life and that's what I lived for each day,” the Boise resident told the local NBC affiliate, KTVB. A large part of the problem is that meth is “cheap and easy to get,” he explained.

Lanphier's experience, KTVB invited viewers to believe, typifies the “crisis” of methamphetamine use that has seized the Treasure Valley, which extends roughly from Boise, Idaho to Ontario, Oregon.

“Methamphetamine crime is reaching epidemic levels in Idaho,” reported KTVB. “From Canyon County to Gem County, Meth is tied in some way to nearly every serious crime in Idaho.”

“When I say this community is in crisis,” commented Gem County Prosecutor Tim Fleming, “I really mean that by virtue of the numbers of cases of people that we're seeing of people that are charged with criminal offenses in dealing with Methamphetamine.”

And “experts” insist that meth “is the most addictive drug there is,” the report continues.

“Anything that can be done needs to be done, because it is a bad drug,” insisted Lanphier. “It's not like Marijuana were you can get stoned and never smoke again. Meth is addictive and once you get hooked on the drug you just throw your morals out the window.”

Lamphier, who is in jail once again for violating his parole, faces several felony counts that could result in another prison term. And as it happens, it was in prison that the 35-year-old Lamphier first used meth “and got hooked,” comments the KTVB report in an aside that should be the focus of the story.

Talk about burying the lead: The recidivist criminal and pitiful drug addict whose plight was used to make vivid the Treasure Valley's methamphetamine “crisis” -- the tortured soul who insists that “anything” the State could do to fight Meth is worthwhile -- first got addicted in prison.

What this means, in simple terms, is that the Treasure Valley could literally be turned into an open-air prison, and meth would still claim its bounty of addicts. Somehow, those who are determined to ingest the drug will find a way to do it. Trying to control what goes into the mouths of addicts and potential addicts simply won't work; their hearts need to be changed, and that task doesn't fall within the State's proper jurisdiction.

Full employment for armed, adolescent-minded State agents -- one of the many "benefits" of the Government's crack-down on meth.

The KTVB story is a splendid example of trickle-down totalitarian propaganda. It follows the same template used by countless other “news” stories, the definitive example being Newsweek's August 8, 2005 scare story “America's Most Dangerous Drug.”

Newsweek's scribes exhausted their thesauri in the effort to describe methamphetamine use as an autonomous, self-replicating malignancy: It is a “scourge,” a “plague,” a “menace,” an “epidemic.”

“More than 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, and 1.5 million are regular users, according to federal estimates,” recited Newsweek's editorial staff in an act of Statist stenography disguised as journalism. “Meth-making operations have been uncovered in all 50 states; Missouri tops the list, with more than 8,000 labs, equipment caches and toxic dumps seized between 2002 and 2004. Cops nationwide rank methamphetamine the No. 1 drug they battle today: in a survey of 500 law-enforcement agencies in 45 states released last month by the National Association of Counties, 58 percent said meth is their biggest drug problem, compared with only 19 percent for cocaine, 17 percent for pot and 3 percent for heroin. Meth addicts are pouring into prisons and recovery centers at an ever-increasing rate, and a new generation of `meth babies' is choking the foster-care system in many states. One measure of the drug's reach: Target, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid and other retailers have moved nonprescription cold pills behind the pharmacy counter, where meth cooks have a harder time getting at them.”

(Remember that last item – the one about retail stores hiding cold pills from potential addicts. We'll return to that anon.)

For those not patient enough to wade through their prose, Newsweek's staff provided nausea-inducing depictions of meth's effects – a close-up of an addict's hideously degenerated teeth, a portrait of a horribly burned victim of a meth lab explosion, a photo of a prematurely aged user.

As I noted above, the Newsweek story is the template from which hundreds or thousands of similar “stories” have been struck.

Slate's media critic Jack Shafer, performing fact-checking and quality-control functions that Newsweek's editors no longer bother with, points out that the story was an artless exercise in misdirection.

Why didn't the magazine try to find out “how many people [meth] has killed?” asks Shafer. “If meth is really the most dangerous drug, you'd think the magazine would have provided some sort of body count.” (Based on fatality rate and related social trauma, the nation's most dangerous drug is alcohol, which is perfectly legal.)

Shafer also calls B.S. on Newsweek's State-provided estimates of the meth-using population. The publication claims that 12 million have “tried” meth, and 1.5 million are “regular” users (juxtaposing those figures suggests, pace the above-quoted addict Dave Lanphier, that one use of meth is insufficient to leave the user hooked on the drug) without establishing “whether those numbers are up or down,” Shafer notes. “How can they claim an epidemic unless they've got the numbers?”

Well, it has to be an epidemic, y'see, because the State's law enforcement agencies have identified it as Enemy Number One in the War on Drugs. It matters not whether the statistics vindicate that designation; the State through its priesthood has revealed the truth to us, and our duty is to believe and obey. Blessed be the name of the State.

There are good reasons to suspect that methamphetamine use today is much less common than it was during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1958, notes Shafer, pharmaceutical companies “produced 3.5 billion legal tablets of various amphetamines in 1958, enough to supply every American with 20 standard doses ... a year. Those pills were potentially just as addictive and potentially just as deadly as the meth found on the street today. Less than a decade later, the annual production of pharmaceutical amphetamines had climbed to 8 billion tablets, and by 1971 it topped 12 billion. These quantities far exceeded the amount needed for the then-approved medical uses of amphetamines in treatment of narcolepsy, obesity, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and hyperkinetic children.”

Government-sponsored drug addiction: Beginning in WWII, pilots and other combat personnel have been encouraged to use amphetamines.

As a Kindergarten-age child considered hyperactive by my teachers, I came very close to being put on amphetamines; my parents didn't permit this to happen, and this ranks very high on the lengthy and growing list of reasons why I love and honor them without measure. But my own experience tends to validate, at least for me, Shafer's observation that doctors “over-prescribed these drugs” as late as the early 1970s. And perhaps the best-known and most prominent user/addict of legal amphetamines was John F. Kennedy.

Those whose doctors were reluctant to prescribe amphetamines resorted to a growing black market; this led to the 1965 Federal Drug Abuse Control Amendments. In keeping with Grigg's First Law of Federal Action (“Those problems Washington doesn't create, it exacerbates by imposing a `solution'”), this attempt at regulation created huge profit incentives for “kitchen chemists” who cooked their own meth. As government continued to constrict the legal amphetamine market, profits continued to soar for illicitly manufactured amphetamines.

In 1988, the Feds clamped down severe restrictions on the P2P precursor compound used to manufacture amphetamines. “Some chemists switched to ephedrine, which could be found in cold remedies,” Shafer recounts, “and when the government suppressed ephedrine, some moved on to pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed and other decongestants. Now the government limits even the sale of over-the-counter preparations containing pseudophedrine.”

And that, Dear Reader, is the reason why Claritin-D, Sudafed, and other non-prescription palliatives for cold, flu, and allergy suffers are covered by the so-called PATRIOT Act, and – as of last March – have been treated like controlled substances at your local retail store.

Under the “Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005” (take that, oh ye of little faith in the divine State!), which was grafted onto the PATRIOT monstrosity, “The sale of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine is limited to behind the counter,” explains the Food and Drug Administration (a federal agency that, like nearly all the others, has no Constitutional excuse to exist). “The amount of pseudoephedrine that an individual can purchase each month is limited and individuals are required to present photo identification to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine. In addition, stores are required to keep personal information about purchasers for at least two years.”

Where does that information end up?

While nobody can say for certain, here's a very good guess: Your pseudophedrine consumption habits are pooled with other personal data being collected by the State and used to assess your tendency toward terrorism and other anti-social behavior.

After all, as Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania puts it, the Meth epidemic “is a form of terrorism itself.” Which means, I suppose, that if we were able to buy and use Sudafed without federal supervision, the terrorists will win.

Many dangerous and destructive things – from trans-fats (which have been targeted by prohibitionists as well) to narcotics, both smoked and swallowed – can be taken in through the mouth. Those exercising wise stewardship over their bodies will avoid the worst of them, to the extent their knowledge allows, and be judicious and moderate in consuming healthy things, as well. This is in keeping with what the Apostle James called the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25; see also Galatians 5:1-18; Colossians 2:12-17).

This approach is immeasurably preferable to the suffocating – and murderous – paternalism practiced by prohbitionist Pharisees, ancient and contemporary.


dixiedog said...

I hear ya Will ;). I'm a Type I diabetic and have been for 16 years. Thankfully, Virginia doesn't require prescriptions for either insulin or syringes, which of course can be used to administer all kinds of chemicals and intoxicants. One just has to sign a log at the pharmacy for the syringes.

But, as you mentioned, that's probably logged somewhere to possibly provide a probable cause post hoc ergo propter hoc argument for a future takedown. Who knows?

One thing I want to make clear though concerning the "War on Drugs" or whatever folk want to call it. And that is that in my mind, it's just as evil and wrong for government to be mandating and encouraging any drug use as it is evil and wrong for it to be banning and discouraging it's use.

After all, whose to say that government couldn't also use the force vector it wields to mandate certain forms of drug use as well as making illegal other forms of drug use. Gee, as my cranium released its flatulence, I suddenly realized that's already happening with Ritalin, an amphetamine-like drug.

It's most annoying having to listen to the anti-"War on Drug" fanatics, who only have issues with government banning their favorite narcotic but are silent on the reverse side of that argument.

Captain Kirk said...

Will, DD,

The war on drugs is a fools errand in my book too. Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol are all failry potent and habit-forming psychoactive substances and are all legal...for the time being. The State knows that any effort to ban these substances would result in a problem bigger than all outdoors for the State. They tried it with alcohol and that backfired. They are trying it by slow measure with Nicotine, however the result will be the same as the prohibition on alcohol was, in my estimation.

The only reason the aforementioned substances haven't been banned is twofold. The first being that they are popular with the masses. The second being that they generate a fair amount of taxes/slop at the troughs of the various statehouses and at the Capitol in D.C.

As far as I am concerned, it is hypocritical to prohibit some substances and give others a free pass. It should be an all or nothing proposition. Unfortunately, the commoner has bought into the lie that the State is the cure-all for all of society's ills and as such the commoner has abrogated the most fundamental responsibilities regarding self-control and as such, has given Big Brother an excuse to step in and take control.

It just occurred to me that maybe the State's objection to decriminalizing most psychoactive, addictive substances is that the State realizes that they have less contol over the addict as compared to the average citizen. The recidivism rate among drug offenders is such because in spite of the State's best efforts to make the trafficking, posession and use of controlled substances as painful as possible, the users of said substances will hearken to the siren song of "The Rush" over the State's regulation and control most every time. Maybe it is because the State hates the competition.

Of course we can all sit here day after day and whine about this. The question I have is what can we do about it?