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Bathing in Irresponsibility


To borrow from Neville Chamberlain, there is peace in our time here in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Corbett on June 23 signed into law a bill that bans bath salts, thereby saving us from self-responsibility.

The Keystone state is now the 21st state in the country to have a law prohibiting the possession or sale of these products that have been legally sold in head shops and tobacco and convenience stores for about $10.

The bath salts in question are synthetic drugs, and reports make these things sound like the second coming of LSD, or maybe they’re just reflecting the same fear-mongering, authoritarian attitude over drug use as was prevalent from the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan eras to the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras.

“If left unchecked, synthetic drugs could have developed into the most dangerous drug crisis since methamphetamine labs found their way into our state,” the governor reportedly said when signing the measure.

These particular bath salts “can cause delusional, violent behavior,” the report said. That sounds a lot like the bogus, bad-trip propaganda stories about acid.

Delivering or intending to deliver the salts carries a five-year prison term and a $15,000 fine. Possession brings a one-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. As if our prisons aren’t already overcrowded or court system clogged.

What the bill really does is prolong an already failed drug policy, a policy of militarized police waging a war on reason and liberty. It’s another war without end — as is the war on terror — one that can never be won.

All of us in the libertarian community understand the reasons for ending prohibition — the practical, financial, and philosophical reasons. Yet, there’s something even we might overlook at times. There is something within the human condition that calls out for some sort of intoxicant. Some researchers say we’re hardwired that way.

Archeologists have evidence of beer, wine, and even liquor use in ancient Egypt and other early civilizations. Even the Bible makes reference to the use of alcohol, warning of abuse. Hemp has also been used for millennia, for fiber, medicine, and enjoyment. Yet, much to the chagrin of prohibitionists nowhere does the Bible say put down thy joint and toketh not.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that these synthetic drugs are as dangerous as we’re being told. The questions that beg to be asked are why do they exist and why do people want to use them. The answer is simple: since the harmless or, at least, the least harmful drugs are illegal, some people create stronger ones that they can get by the law.

During the first era of prohibition, the era of Al Capone and the war on booze, people made bathtub gin. That stuff supposedly caused all sorts of havoc, even death, on those who drank it — all because beer and wine were illegal.

Jump ahead a few decades and we get drug prohibition. What comes of that? Coca leaves are prohibited first, so people start using cocaine. Powdered cocaine is then prohibited and law enforcement learns how to more readily find and confiscate the drug. Crack is then developed and it becomes the bathtub gin of the second era of prohibition. Now it’s bath salts.

The timing of the law is interesting if not outright ironic. It comes right after an international report, The Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said that the current approach to drug use, an approach of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration is absolutely wrong.

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed,” is the opening paragraph of the report.

Its first recommendation: “End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.”

In other words, decriminalize, if not legalize (re-legalize, really) drugs and stop lying about them.

The report goes on to say that the different governments should be free to experiment in how they regulate drugs to “undermine organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”

In short, the report recognizes that prohibition causes crime, not the drugs being prohibited and that a worldwide law doesn’t work.

The human race will always look for a way to get intoxicated, to induce a sense of everything from simple well-being to euphoria, be it by getting drunk or stoned, but education, honest education anyway, will do a lot better job of instilling a sense of responsibility than does legislated prohibition.

Governments, though, would rather us be obedient instead of responsible.

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    Rich Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.