What Motley Crue Can Teach Us About Drug Legalization
Motley Crue rocked the 1980s. They played hard and partied harder. Their lifestyle was a toxic mixture of drugs, alcohol, fast cars, and fast women. Their reputation for drug abuse remains legendary — rivaling Ozzy Osbourne, the Grateful Dead, and even the Rolling Stones.
Anyone supporting drug legalization must reconcile their position with the existence of these coked-up hallucinating tattooed hooligans on motorcycles. Most citizens fear legalization would lead to the rapid decline of Western Civilization: the youth would jump at drugs; dope would be in every home and every vein; morality would fly out the window, and life as we know it would collapse all around us.
With these "esteemed" gentlemen as examples, only the deranged could support drug legalization. That is, until one examines the specifics more closely.
Sure enough, the Crue's drug rampage led to countless arrests, innumerable divorces, overdoses, brawls, and even deaths. The arrests were for the usual drunken idiocy, public intoxication, fights, and vandalism.
A few band members were charged with more heinous crimes: lead singer, Vince Neil was accused of vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol and an all-night cocaine binge. My bet is that the accident had more to do with the Jack Daniels than the blow.
Lead Guitarist Nikki Sixx spiraled so far down that he died from an overdose — only to be revived by an adrenaline shot to the heart. Hours after arriving to the hospital, Mr. Sixx checked himself out, hitchhiked to his house, and once again shot heroin into his arm.
Drummer Tommy Lee had a string of divorces and faced jail time for hitting his wife Pamela Anderson. His out-of-control antics left a trail of minor offenses and petty misdemeanors.
Almost three decades gone by, 80 million albums sold, and a couple of crashed Ferraris later, Motley Crue is still alive today — sober and rocking. The common wisdom would have had us predict the opposite: in the case of rock stars, budgets enabling gargantuan drug dependencies should lead to bigger problems not blissful recovery.
Something in this scenario differs from the regular drug mythology.
But consider the fact that Motley Crue's story is hardly unique. Almost every major rock band notorious for drug addiction eventually cleaned up. This list includes countless names: Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Guns n' Roses, and many more. Those rockers who abuse drugs for more than two decades are the exception, not the rule.
Expensive treatment centers can hardly be the single factor assisting recovery. Breaking drug dependence comes from willpower. All men are endowed with similar amounts. Every benefit that money can bestow comes with an equal vice. With enough money to pay for a high-end treatment center, a rock star will surely have enough money to continue their debilitating lifestyle upon exiting.
The entirety of Motley Crue's career follows drug-legalization theory quite well. Here, we have a set of gentlemen who have no monetary constraints to their drug use. These rockers could afford mountains of cocaine, fields of dope, and vats of LSD to their hearts' desires. The relative monetary cost of drugs is next to nothing for them.
The crimes committed by the Crue were exactly the theory's expectations. There was an increase in minor nonviolent misdemeanors, domestic disturbances, bar fights with fellow drunkards, and intoxicated driving. There were no muggings, break-ins, or gang shootings caused by the inability of the drug addicted to meet their financial ends.
The low drug prices would seem to increase addiction, not lead to postfame sobriety. Something below the surface must be associated with this phenomenon. De facto legal immunity is elemental to their recovery success. Rock stars can afford legal protection to the extent unavailable to most citizens. They live as if drugs were legal. Arrests are an inconvenience, at most.
Vince Neil's lawyers managed to defend the singer so well as to reduce his vehicular manslaughter sentence to 18 days in prison. Tommy Lee served a short sentence segregated from the other prison population for domestic violence.
Their lawyers had the ability to get them off on real crimes and could guarantee protection in drug cases. In comparison, the average Joe has innumerable drug laws to worry about. Most long-time drug users have the proverbial "rap sheet a mile long."
Our hellhole prisons turn users into harsher criminals. The psychological effects of imprisonment, prison violence, and prison rape warp the minds of users going through the system. Prisons transform a bad habit into horrid degradation, completely ruining lives.
Without the permanent scars of the penal system, rock stars have a full life ahead of them after addiction. A more common felon's life is forever twisted; his job opportunities halved by his conviction. Drugs seem an understandable way to deal with this desperation and mental anguish from being locked up for years. Time to build human capital and experience has permanently been stolen by the state.
Addiction spirals lives out of control. It leads to worsening relationships, depression, and family problems. Look to alcohol as an example. Illegal substances begin the fall, but drug laws make the offenders unable ever to lift themselves back out of the gutter. The system disables those with less willpower and vision to find a way out.
Many drug-legalization critics claim that use would skyrocket after legalization. After all, supply and demand suggests drastically lower prices will lead to extravagant levels of new users. These critics do not fully account all costs associated with drugs. Legalization would only remove monetary and legal problems. Every other nonmonetary problem would still exist.
Take a look at Motley Crue again. Despite achieving affordability and legal immunity, the band still decided to stop pursuing this dead-end lifestyle. Drugs cause an assortment of interpersonal issues from health problems to broken friendships and wrecked families. Even if drugs were free, the personal cost of doing drugs would always be high. Even without legal consequences or the high prices, drug use of Motley Crue's caliber would still be rare and an extreme case.
An important aspect differentiating rock-star usage and common-consumer usage would be, under legalization as it is now, the significance of vocation: a rock star plays a two-hour show every few days, maybe accompanied with a press interview here or there. In between, the bands travel with little responsibility or concern. This breeds an environment prone for drug use. As the old saying goes, "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Even when performing, sobriety is not always a prerequisite. In fact, the show might be a little better depending on the level of intoxication.
There's nothing specific about rock n' roll that leads to drugs. If accountants worked for only two hours every few days at the same pay, one could guarantee a drastic jump in their drug and alcohol abuse. Most of us have 9-to-5 jobs and can't afford to do drugs because of our responsibilities. How many readers have the time to smoke crystal meth this weekend and stay awake for 36 hours? Close to none (except for college students). It is not an accident that college students, with plenty of time on their hands, have a reputation for heavy drinking and drug use. Students don't mysteriously mature from age 22 to 23 and stop drinking. They get jobs, which increases their time cost of drugs and alcohol and leads to lower usage.
Other groups associated with high rates of drug abuse have a similar profile: lots of time and few responsibilities. The poor collectively consume large amounts of drugs, especially in the service industry. Doing drugs didn't necessarily make them poor. The impoverished have far lower nonmonetary costs for using drugs. What are a welfare recipient's opportunity costs for doing drugs? Ask the same question about having 36 hours to smoke crystal meth this weekend. Welfare recipients have plenty of time to smoke any drugs that they please. The cost of smoking meth is lower for an impoverished welfare recipient than it is for a Wall Street hedge-fund manager. As Bob Dylan once sang, "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."
Low-paying jobs have similar low costs for drug usage. If a waiter loses a job, he can grab another in a few days. Resumes are often unnecessary, as are drug tests. Past employers are seldom contacted. If a waiter does drugs on the job, starts showing up late to work , starts slacking, another job is just around the corner.
For an accountant, losing a job could result in months of unemployment. There is lower turnover in the industry; resumes will be closely examined; former employers will be contacted. Our unfortunate drug-using accountant would be lucky to ever find a job approaching his former stature. His years of college and experience can burn up in flames quickly.
The costs are extremely high for drug use. Legal or not these costs remain the same.
With legalization, prices will be so low as to allow beggars to get their fix just like the homeless do now with $6 bottles of vodka. This will discourage the impoverished from stealing, robbing, or killing for drugs. But the price should have little effect on the consumption decisions of the majority of the population.
Admittedly, some drug use may skyrocket, particularly marijuana. Pot is already the most-used illegal drug out there. Smoking weed has the lowest time cost of all the drugs. In fact, the time cost is lower than alcohol. An individual can smoke a joint and be sober in an hour. I've yet to see the drunk who can do the same. Further, one cannot binge for days on marijuana as is possible with crack cocaine and other substances with low durations.
The effects of marijuana use are uncertain — perhaps even greatly positive if people stop drinking alcohol in preference to pot.
Without the legal system ruining the lives of nonviolent drug users, there will be a light at the end of the dark tunnel known as drug addiction. Not all problems will disappear. Drugs will continue to wreck lives, just as alcohol dependency has been doing for centuries. But one day, hopefully, drug addiction will be treated by doctors, friends, family, and church — not prison bars and an aggressive police state. Drug addicts will be allowed to peacefully readjust to society, becoming productive members without the scars of the penal system. They will have a chance to recover and to rock on, just like Motley Crue.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.