Picture yourself walking to a local pharmacy to purchase MDMA, cocaine, heroin, LSD, marijuana, amphetamines, or any of the other common illegal substances stated under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act. If these substances were made available under pharmaceutical supervision, would this really improve public health?
Bruce Haden, an award-winning Vancouver-based architect, argued at a TED conference March 18 that we should decriminalize hard drugs in favour of a different system of regulation.
Haden claims that “a strategy guided by public health practices that makes substances carefully available, but does not promote the use, is one that’s proven to reduce use, abuse, addiction and the terrible social consequences of prohibition.” Haden’s argument rests on the assumption that individuals will obtain and use drugs regardless of the law.
While I agree that people will continue to use drugs regardless, I disagree that we should make these substances readily available. I believe that if drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, or other ‘hard’ substances are made available, risks to public health will dramatically increase.
Now, I understand that a moderate dose of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, amphetamine, or any other popular illegal drugs, if taken in a safe environment, is far from life-threatening. Some of these so-called ‘hard’ drugs are even prescribed by physicians to patients who have medical illnesses. For example, MDMA is sometimes prescribed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and procaine, a derivative of cocaine, is commonly used in dentistry.
Under controlled conditions, these drugs aren’t the evil, addictive, deadly substances they’re made out to be. However, if used improperly, these drugs pose serious risks.
To legalize these drugs may increase risks for those who wouldn’t have used them if they were illegal.
It’s logical to assume that hard drugs would have more potential to be abused, overdosed on, or cause fatality if legalized. While a majority of users probably wouldn’t experience these consequences, making these drugs more widely accessible may increase risks for certain individuals who would never have used them while they were illegal.
In addition, if hard drugs were made publicly available, there could be a rise in poly-drug use. While moderate alcohol intake isn’t life-threatening, if one uses cocaine alongside alcohol, it forms a new drug in the liver called cocaethylene. Cocaethylene results in higher euphoria and higher cardiovascular toxicity than cocaine alone. Users may unintentionally put themselves at risk if unaware of the harmful consequences of certain drug interactions.
Using these substances can also greatly impair one’s ability to function properly while carrying out everyday tasks. For example, driving under the influence of any of these drugs could result in fatality. While I’m almost certain Bruce Haden would argue that it should remain illegal to ‘drug and drive,’ if hard drugs were made legal otherwise, this illegality would do little to deter users from driving or operating complex machinery under the influence.
There is certainly a lot to consider in discussions on decriminalizing hard substances, and I’m fully aware of the problems that result from throwing drug users behind bars. However, I disagree with Haden’s idealized policy to make drugs publicly available, as I feel the risks most certainly outweigh the benefits.