News flash: prescription drugs have not been legalized

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 Mead’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 hasn’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.

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19 Responses to News flash: prescription drugs have not been legalized

  1. Benjamin says:

    Oy… Why on Earth would anyone follow Sabet on Twitter? The man has no policy proposals to make whatsoever!

    • allan says:

      i’m constantly stunned by what and who people pay attn to… but hey, if Pat Robertson can come out, anything IS possible… Kev may one day wean hisself off the drug war teat.

      Poor Kev, so smart and yet sooo dumb.

      When the topic of the war on legal meds arises my mind always goes straight to Richard Paey and how he was treated compared to Ruse Limbaugh. And of course our friend Rox from the DS chatroom. Some folks here will remember Rox, a doctor duped by her “boyfriend” (undercover cop)… she wandered into the chatroom one night looking for support and help. She was a weekend regular for awhile… until she went to prison.

      God I hate this f’ing drug war.

  2. Goblet says:

    didn’t limbaugh say that illegal drug users should be taken out and shot or something like that, yet when he used drugs illegally he should not be subject to his own “prescribed” punishment? Perhaps he should have led by example….

    • Cliff says:

      Rush also called them, long haired, dope smoking, good time, plastic banana, maggot infested hippies. Excellent way to encourage reasonable and rational discussions regarding illegal drug use. I wonder how those words taste now, Mr. Limbaugh, you hypocritical illegal oxycontin eating bastard.

      Oh yeah, he ran and hid at rehab, but I guarantee you that his rehab made him all better….right.

      • Duncan20903 says:


        Some of the most vile fag bashers one can encounter in this day and age are gay. There’s no hatred as pure as self hatred.

        Perhaps it will gratify you as much as it does I to know that Mr. Limbaugh suffers with his way of getting high. No matter his public facade, his life is a Potemkin Village. He’s perhaps the best contemporaneous example that money can’t buy personal happiness. It truly sucks to be him.

  3. Windy says:

    OT (and a reposting because I think no one actually saw my other comment on this subject, they’d all moved on to more recent blog posts):

    Yes, finally! I’ve been saying for a long time that the Constitution clearly lays out that the the fed gov is subservient to the States and the People, the 9th and 10th Amendments reinforce the body of the Constitution’s position on that. About damn time the SCOTUS made it clear to the States (which have become so afraid to stand up to the fed gov), the fed gov (which has acted like a bully to the States and the People), and to the all too ignorant (thanks to our form of schooling) and ill-informed (thanks to the lapdog mainstream media) populace. The States must now realize this applies to EVERYTHING, not just the States’ medical marijuana laws.

    U.S. Supreme Court: State Medical Marijuana Laws Not Preempted by Federal Law | The Daily Chronic
    “It’s now settled that state law enforcement officers cannot arrest medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine simply because they prefer the contrary federal law,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy organization that represented the defendant Felix Kha in a case that the City of Garden Grove appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Perhaps, in the future local government will think twice about expending significant time and resources to defy a law that is overwhelmingly supported by the people of our state.”

    • darkcycle says:

      I posted a link to this one too. It’s the KHA case, and the news is from December. I got slapped good for linking this, how come you got five “likes”?

  4. TrebleBass says:

    Something we do know about prescription drugs is that there are no cartel wars being fought for them and that pharmaceuticals have quality control. At the retail end of the spectrum there is a black market practically identical to what there is for other drugs, and people do kill each other over the retail of those drugs. People don’t kill each other over the retail of weed in Holland, but i bet they do over the large scale production (which is illegal in Holland). People do kill each other over the retail of weed in the US. So on the one hand, there is pretty good evidence that as long as the sale of a drug is legal (and at the level in which it is legal) people don’t kill each other over it. Where it is illegal, they do. On the consumption side, the legality of consumption (or decriminalization of drugs) does not increase the use of that drug. In fact, in the case of weed in Holland, since there is legal retail, we even know that legal and open retail doesn’t increase the use of drugs. The only major factor missing is the price drop that would come from legalization of sale all the way from large scale manufacture down to retail. I suppose that can make a difference in the amount of use by some people, but i doubt it would make any significant difference in the amount of people using.

    • TrebleBass says:

      And i forgot to add, we could probably find smart regulations for recreational prescription drug use that would reduce harm if it was legal.

  5. Dan Riffle says:

    Here’s the comment I left on Keith’s site:

    First of all, Zack never said Portugal has “legalized” drugs. Second, I’m not sure I understand the point here. Yes, there is a distinction between legalization and decriminalization, but certainly data from areas that have decriminalized drugs is at least relevant to discussions on the merits of legalization. When you and Kevin Sabet argue that use rates are low because the criminalization of drugs has a deterrent effect and artificially inflates price, implicit in that claim is that the removal of criminal penalties will lead to less fear of arrest and perhaps a price drop, and therefore increased use. If there’s data suggesting that decriminalization does not actually lead to a problematic increase in use (or problematic users) that’s relevant. It certainly not an “analytic error.”

    And just so we’re clear, reducing use should not be the focus. Reducing the harms associated with use should be the focus. The “legalization” that reform advocates envision for marijuana involves a licensed retailer selling marijuana that has been tested for potency and contaminants and properly labeled, with both the retailer and the supplier adhering to laws and regulations regarding methods of production, time of sale, advertising, eligible purchasers, etc… A situation in which someone obtains “legal” prescription drugs under a false pretense (i.e. claimed medical need, when intended use is recreational) or when that person (who is not a doctor) sells his/her entire or excess supply of prescribed opiates to a recreational user in an unregulated and uncontrolled market is not analogous. In other words, Walter Russel Mead has made a common analytic error.

    • primus says:

      Which nullifies his argument. What else ya got?

    • allan says:

      another point about legalization often overlooked is the “e” word – employment. Just going from memory but in Oregon regional beers are big biz, employing thousands of people. People that pay taxes and spend that money in their communities at other businesses… and no, Ninkasi and Steelhead have not engaged in violent turf wars. My guess is that with legalization cannabiznesses would be equal to or greater than the beer biz here.

      Employment IS a big deal and the drug war has certainly screwed up the employment (and employability) of far too many of us.

      • Matthew Meyer says:

        Sierra Nevada, my hometown brewery, would not exist if not for a 1978 law change allowing homebrew. From that alteration in the law sprang a vibrant industry. Could happen again…

  6. Francis says:

    Ironic that major Rx Abuse conference in FL now as pundits debate the legalization of even more drugs.

    Sorry, Kev, I guess I’m not seeing the irony. If they were holding a major conference on alcoholism instead, would that also be “ironic”? And note his reference to “even more drugs.” Unpack that statement and you’ll find the two flawed (and contradictory) premises that underlie so many prohib arguments: “all drugs are identical, yet infinitely additive.” Or as applied here, “we can’t legalize cannabis because people are overdosing on prescription opiates.” The reality is that some (according to George Will) tiny minority of humans will abuse drugs, whether they are legal, illegal, or somewhere in between (prescription). The question is what do we do about that reality? Do we use violence and harm-promotion (as Kev favors) or treatment, education, and harm-reduction?

  7. Rita says:

    The war on drugs is not about reducing drug use. It’s about creating a steady stream of new crimes and new criminals against which we must be protected at the expense of even more of our precious freedoms. The motives of the drug warriors, while far from honorable, are at least clear. What I don’t understand is why any other human being (with the possible exception of my parents or husband) thinks he or she has any right or obligation to dictate what drugs I use.

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  9. stoney says:

    anybody got some pot?

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