The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Carbondale Bath Salts Ban

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I just want to post a short item on the bath salts ban the city council passed Tuesday. Council members Jack, Adams, and Wissmann are correct on this issue. Drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, has been a blistering failure. We have more crime, more violence, and likely more drug use than we would have if we hadn’t wandered down the prohibition path.

Furthermore, drug prohibition has resulted in a policy of mass incarceration of African Americans and, in some states, their disfranchisement. Drug prohibition may or may not be intended to be racist, but it is racist in its effects.

Sometimes people argue for drug legalization, but I think that’s the wrong way to frame the discussion. Caffeine is a legal drug. Anyone of any age can buy and consume caffeine. No special license is required to sell caffeine at retail; any store licensed to do business can sell Coca Cola. No one suggests that even the most benign of the currently prohibited drugs be legal in the way that caffeine is legal.

Instead, we should be talking about replacing prohibition with regulation. When you buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark, you know that it contains 45% alcohol by volume, and you can adjust your consumption accordingly. And not just anyone can buy that bottle. You have to be 21 years old. Further, a special license is required to sell alcohol. It is a regulated drug.

When a cocaine user buys a bag of white powder, he or she has no way of knowing how much of that powder is cocaine and how much is some other substance. The consumer doesn’t even know what those other substances might be and whether they are harmful. Anyone of any age who has enough money and can find a dealer can buy that bag of white powder. Anyone who is willing to violate the law can sell it. The law may refer to drugs as controlled substances, but in reality we exert very little control over them.

Prohibition does not protect the consumers of currently illegal drugs, and it does not protect society at large. It’s time to replace prohibition with regulation. In passing the bath salts ban, Carbondale took a step in the wrong direction.

I want to be clear. I’m not endorsing drug use. In general, people are better off if they choose not to use recreational drugs. I’m only arguing that it is not appropriate for society to attempt to make that decision for people and to use the coercive power of the law to enforce that choice.

For the record, council members Lance Jack, Jane Adams, and Chris Wissmann voted against the ban. Council members Don Monty, Lee Fronabarger, and Corene McDaniel voted for the ban. Mayor Joel Fritzler broke the tie and voted for the measure.

Comments are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

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