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People who think all drugs should be legalized forget why they were made illegal in the first place.

In the US, the first attempt to regulate drugs was with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. This essentially attempted to prevent distribution of food with impurities (such as manure), and to attempt to eliminate the sale of ineffective drugs and poisonous drugs.

Before the Pure Food and Drug act, it was not uncommon to for unscrupulous vendors to sell drugs dissolved in wood alcohol, which can cause blindness and death. The purpose of the act was to try to insure the purity, effectiveness, safety, and strength of legal drugs. Drugs are suppose to have all of these things tested and regulated to pass the FDA.

But regulating the safety of medicinal drugs was not enough. As late as 1916, large companies such as Bayer were selling cough syrup containing cocaine. People would take it and become addicted and buy more. This evil commercial abuse had to be stopped.. Today, all drugs with addictive properties are regulated; this might mean they are prohibited; it might mean they are merely controlled. Morphine is a very valuable medical drug today, and is typically not addictive when given in medicinal dosages under a doctor's care. Even cocaine was used as a local anesthetic until doctors decided that its side effects were too irregular and other more effective drugs were found.

The reason drugs must be illegal is to prevent large companies from abusing the general public, either by selling impure substances, or by selling harmless seeming items with addictive side effects.

Of course, some argue that we've just gone too far, and that some drugs should be legalized as their effects are not that bad. Perhaps this is true, but even so, legalization needs to be slow so that true effects can be tested.

All I can say about the strictness of US drug law is that at least caffeine is legal here, unlike some other countries.

Mek: While the motovations behind illegalizing recreational drugs may be questionable, your examples of opium and cocaine do not fit this. Both of these drugs are highly addictive and well documented as such.

Opium is an impure form of morphine, and was illegalized because it is addictive, not because it is used by "unfavored minorities". It was illegalized in 1914 not because of the Chinese immigrants who were bringing it in, but because of the commercial drug companies that were selling it (and cocaine) as if it were candy, putting it in baby's cough syrup and things like that. Opium and cocaine are illegal because they are impure, unreliable, addictive, always dangerous, and have no accepted medical value, not because blacks or chinese or whatever use them. Opium is Schedule I regulated because it has no accepted medical use because it is impure and unsafe.

Contrast opium to morphine, which is schedule II regulated because while still addictive if abused, it is pure, safe in controlled dosages, and of very high medical value. Note that morhpine is NOT addictive in the right conditions, where valium is pretty much addictive at prescribed doses, and is also legally Schedule IV regulated.

An excellent example of the fine line walked here is OxyContin (a legal controlled substance, and opium derivative), which is very safe and effective for pain relief when used correctly, but can also be easily abused, as demonstrated by numerous deaths and drugstore robberies.

Another example is LSD, which is not addictive, but arguably still very dangerous. (LSD overdoses have led to suicides and violent behavior, not to mention unpredictable flashbacks for the rest of your life.)

Recreational drugs are not necessary to enjoy life. In most cases, addictive drugs contribute to the cycle of hit and steal, which is why buying is also illegal. The government has made these drugs illegal because addictive drugs ruin the lives of the users and trap them. Escaping a heroin or methadone addiction is very dangerous. Helping users of these drugs and repairing the damage they do to others is very costly to society. To say that these drugs do no damage to others and are good recreational drugs is rather ignorant.

As to saying, "Look -- this legal drug is addictive!!" Well, ya, what's your point? Why do you think it is a Schedule III drug? I didn't say all addictive drugs are illegal; I said they were regulated. The purpose of the regulation of these drugs is so that your doctor can warn you about the addictive nature of the drug, monitor your health, and look for the signs of addiction. Doctors who prescribe these drugs without doing this tend to get arrested and lose their medical license.

Some day, perhaps we will find a way to prevent or cure addiction, and then these will all be a lot less dangerous.

PS: Today, there was an article about a 17 year old that took a phencyclidine derivative before killing his father in a fit of hallucinogenic rage. He mentioned something in court about not realizing it was his father.

lordaych: Good analysis. Except the purpose of the regulatory agency is to keep the legal drugs pure and clean; choice of what and how much is controled is a separate mission. All addictive drugs are controlled, even alcohol, tobacco and nicotine -- why do you think there are age restrictions on them? Controlled substances are illegal in some contexts. Making them illegal doesn't solve any problem, it just makes it easier to punish those who use and distribute and frequently cause problems as a consequence of such. I can't say I agree with the inconsistancy with which the FDA (or congress) does its regulation, but that's not my point anyway. My point is that the FDA is necessary, and at least some part of what it does is good.

As to the free market being able to control the purity and effectiveness of drugs... the whole reason the FDA was created was because this statement had already been prooven false. Not only were there snake oil salesmen, but large "reputable" companies were selling dangerous addictive drugs to unsuspecting consumers.

Also, the "purity" of opium is indisputable. A large number of drugs can be extracted from opium, many with conflicting effects, and several of the pure ones (including morphine) give quite a nice (but addictive) high. The problems with alcohol and ecstacy you mention are exactly why the FDA was created--except that even untainted real ecstacy is deadly.

To say that "making drugs illegal solves the problem" is no more meaningful than saying that making them legal will solve the problem. The legality of the drug doesn't change how dangerous it is, as users will always find ways to abuse them, and abused drugs are dangerous, legal or not. Strongly addictive drugs should only be used under the supervision of a doctor. Any other use of them is dangerous to both the user and to society.

Also, you give the impression that broccoli is unregulated. This is also untrue. The FDA is quite concerned that your broccoli is untainted. I guess you missed the news reports about the salmonella tainted vegetables, although this usually comes from unwashed cut watermellon grown in manure (and similar), not from brocolli.

You also seem to think that drinking alcohol is unregulated and not free from posions. You couldn't be more wrong here! If a liquor company released a single shipment contaminated with wood alcohol, it'd be interesting to see how fast they would be shut down by the government.

As to the rapidly growing herb market, several of them were recently ordered off of the shelf by the FDA as they were causing liver damage, and manufacturers were forced to change labeling on several others when their claims of effectiveness were shown to have no merit.

Everything in life may have risks, but what we don't need is false claims of effacacy combined with poisionous or addictive side effects.

There is one point I must agree with -- tobacco is a problem. It predates the FDA, and it is being taken care of as we become more aware of its cost on our society. Soon, tobacco will also be illegal--and smoking already is in some states for all intents and purposes.