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April 20, 2004

American drug prohibition

Via Glenn Reynolds comes a link to Charles Whitebread's history of drug control and prohibition in the US.
One quibble, in that the Professor continually refers to morphine as the main drug of addiciton in 19 th century America. I regard that as slightly unlikely, although I can't currently prove it. As the given source is patent medicines, I would think it more likely that it was laudanum, a solution of opium in alcohol which was the base of such medicines. Certainly, this was the most common form in the UK at the time.
Indeed, laudanum was available in the UK quite late, my Mother recalling having it post WW II. And it's still a great medecine against diarrhea and dysentry and the like...recall Thomas De Quincy in " Memoirs of an Opium Eater " ? " Never take opium my son, it gives you constipation ".
On the more substantive point, the Professor is talking about how the Feds, over the course of time, brought some control to the sale of such drugs, and thereby reduced the addiction rate. One can, if one wishes, read this as a journey from a bad situation, one of widespread opiate use, to a good one, with the current illegality, and thus underground use.
One can also take a more libertarian view, as I do. The biggest argument against the general legalisation of narcotics is the " But what will happen when it's sold on street corners ? ". To which the answer is " It used to be ".
No drug wars, no overdoses as drugs were pure and consistent in dosage, no hundreds of billions spent on interdiction, no " War on Drugs ", no RICO, no property confiscations on suspicion rather than conviction, no trampling on constitutional rights and no diseases spread by infected syringes. And did society fall apart ? Was it a time of regression ?
I would note that the average dosage of narcotics in mid 19 th century Britain was 127 doses per head per year. That's man, woman and child. One can have all sorts of arguments about the Victorians and colonialism but it is worth noting that the basis for modern society, the huge explosion of wealth of the industrial revolution and the Empire were all built by those who we would today consider hopeless drug addicts.

April 20, 2004 in Drugs | Permalink


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