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The Drug War Drives Users to More Dangerous Synthetic Drugs

  • Marijuana

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In recent years, some ground has been gained in the battle for liberty on the Drug-War front, specifically at the state level, with many states adopting less oppressive laws regarding medical marijuana and some even legalizing recreational use. Possession has been decriminalized in some instances as well. Despite the progress in these areas, however, prohibition at the federal level is still going strong, even if enforcement is less than consistent.

It would be one thing if prohibition actually worked to achieve its stated goals, and could therefore be considered effective, albeit perhaps misguided, domestic policy. At least in this instance the debate would be centered on the moral question, of whether or not the state has the right to tell you how to live your life. Of course, the common-sense conclusion — that the Drug War is an immoral totalitarian program designed to dictate the intimate details of individuals’ personal lives — would still be the same.

But the fact of the matter is that the Drug War has been an abject failure on every count, especially in regards to whether it’s achieved its explicit goal of eradicating illicit drug use altogether.

The Rise of Synthetic Marijuana

In addition to the well documented cases of such failures, there’s a disturbing new trend that has been emerging over the last decade or so. This latest development emphasizes the complexity of a policy of prohibition, and the difficulty of enforcing it; namely, that drug dealers invent dangerous new street drugs faster than the authorities are able to ban them.

In New York City, Texas, Florida, Missouri, and elsewhere, the widespread use of a synthetic marijuana that goes by many names — the most common names being K2 or Spice – is quickly growing. This is evidenced by a recent jump in 911 calls, and visits to the ER and Poison Control Centers, with patients exhibiting a wide array of symptoms.

The chemicals in K2 were first developed between 1979 and 1995, and it’s been reported that the John W. Huffman research team at Clemson University has synthesized more than 450 different strands, and some speculate there are today upwards of 700 different strands, with new ones emerging all the time. Relatively few of these strands have thus far been banned by the feds.

K2 is sold as simply a chemical sprayed onto herbs, which many users have begun making themselves. It’s being sold on the street largely to homeless people because it’s so cheap, but also in gas stations, liquor stores, and tobacco shops under more than 500 different brand names. It’s marketed as incense or potpourri and marked “NOT INTENDED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION,” although obviously this is false. Given the haphazard nature of the production and distribution of K2, users are in the dark when it comes to which strand they’re ingesting and how potent it is (it’s estimated to be hundreds of times more potent than THC). It appears this is just the latest example of how the Drug War makes drugs less safe.

A Very Agile Marketplace

The jig being run by manufacturers and dealers appears to be that they appear to be manufacturing limited strands at a time, so that when the authorities finally catch on and enact their prohibitory legislation, the suppliers have another strand waiting in the wings to begin the process all over again. With 450 known strands (and of course there may be many, many more than just these), it could be a very long time before it’s outlawed entirely — and this still before the daunting task of stomping out the black market even commences.

Taken in addition with the appearance of other new street drugs such as bath salts, flakka, krokodil, and many others, we find yet again that prohibition does not work, and leads to many unintended and even more harmful consequences. This is a lesson one would think would have been learned during alcohol prohibition nearly 100 years ago.


Benjamin M. Wiegold

Benjamin M. Wiegold is a staunch libertarian and has been educating himself through The Mises Institute since 2011. He is also a self-taught musician and founding member of the Chicago band Pariah Folk. Check them out on facebook. 

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