One of the things prohibitionists often like to point to is that currently legal prescription drugs are subject to lots of abuse (they’ll usually call it an “epidemic”). In their minds this is somehow supposed to be some kind of argument against legalizing currently illegal drugs.
For example, Kevin Sabet tweets:
Ironic that major Rx Abuse conference in FL now as pundits debate the legalization of even more drugs.
Well no, Kevin. Rx abuse isn’t about legal drugs.
Assume that someone would like to use some Vicodin recreationally. It’s a prescription drug, but no doctor in the country can prescribe it for recreational use, or they will likely be sent to prison for a whole lot of years. And no person can possess it for recreational purposes without also being sent to prison if caught.
I hate to break it to Kevin, but that’s not an example of legalization, nor does it serve as any kind of guide to what might happen with actual legalization of drugs. It, in fact, preserves every aspect of prohibition, except for certain medical situations which, even then, might be second-guessed by non-medically-competent DEA agents. This means that all recreational use of prescription drugs must be handled through illegal diversion, with all the big money and corruption that the black market naturally entails.
Show me a drug where a doctor is legally allowed to write a prescription for recreational use, and then you’ll have a useful analogy.
In a similar vein, Zach Beauchamp, in Drug Warrior Non Sequiturs, does a nice job taking down Walter Russell Mead for making the same incorrect assumption.
Beauchamp properly points out that Portugal’s decriminalization is a better guide to understanding the effects of legalization than so-called “legal” prescription drugs.
Naturally, Keith Humphreys completely misses the point (intentionally or otherwise):
Zack Beauchamp makes an extremely common analytic error in a post on drug policy. In an effort to refute Water Russell Meadâ€™s argument that we can learn something about drug legalization from the legal opioid pain medication industry, Beauchamp responds by citing data from Portugal.
I am not going to get into the substance of their debate here. I am writing only to point out that Portugal hasnâ€™t legalized drugs, it has decriminalized them.
This is rich. Keith lambastes Beauchamp for a semantic perception, which Keith falsely calls an “analytic error.” And yet… note that Keith, in the same paragraph, refers to the “legal opioid pain medical industry,” ignoring the fact that such a limited form of “legal” is certainly not “legalization.”
Even better… Beauchamp never actually says that Portugal’s system is legalization.