Have a Toke and a Smile
by Daniel M. Ryan
by Daniel M. Ryan
Imagining time travel is often useful as a thought-tool, to expose the effects of the "common sense of ignorance and prejudice." Imagine, à la the Back To The Future trilogy, you went back to 1955 to discuss the consequences of legalizing gambling with ordinary, astute citizens of that time. If you asked what strategy the gaming industry would use to seek after profits, you would probably get an answer like this:
"Easy; they'd build upon what the illicit gambling houses do now. Maximize the house's take, and lure people in by wild promises of effortless wealth. Hire muscle men to serve the drinks and run the tables, which'll impel anyone who would otherwise skip out on a debt into paying up. Wear the wealth you scoop up as the owner of the place and pretend to be a patron, so as to mislead the customers into thinking that they'll be ‘sure winners' too. Set up a clearinghouse of vice inside the casino, so as to take back any winnings that the lucky might receive. That's how any kind of legalized gambling outfit would clean up."
This response sounds so sensible, it would probably become the mainstream forecast in the entire room. If you responded by disclosing what the gaming industry is really like nowadays — promoting family-friendly vacations for the bricks-and-mortar gaming spots, and competing through keeping the house's take low [2—10%] for the [Internet] casinos with no vacation spot attached to them — you would probably be met with scoffs of disbelief. "Can you believe this guy/gal? The next thing we'll hear is that the Soviet Union will magically disappear by 2005!"
After finding out what Cassandra herself had to put up with, you then go back to 1925, only this time, you decide to wrest a bit of fun out of the opinion-finding trip by concocting a fast one, about what the alcohol industry "will" be like if Prohibition were repealed. Instead of disturbing people with the truth, you unveil this spiel, once you've gotten the ear of a group willing to speculate about alcohol being legalized:
"If Prohibition should end, the alcohol companies will have to build upon the bathtub gin by getting rid of the impurities in it; they would lack the impunity enjoyed by organized crime. But, organized crime has paved the way towards a future rationalization of any such industry. It seems evident that the alcohol industry of the future will sell near to 200-proof alcohol, which you can add to any drink you like. It's the more efficient way of doing it, as 0.6 ounces of the pure stuff will equal what a mug of beer used to do. People will buy a bottle and dispense it themselves, much like the way you buy gasoline at the rail-head nowadays. Beer and even whisky will be obsolete."
Now you have the crowd on your side — as of now. Your tall tale is treated as hard-headed sense. Until you get to this point:
"It's a lot like the cocaine industry would be like if cocaine is legalized, except the cocaine industry will be more prone to the efficiency strategy because there's no taste barrier with respect to that powder whereas with alcohol — Yes, ma'am?" You stop, and let a dowager, who has something to say, speak up:
"I am sorry to interrupt your story, but that is not the way cocaine would be marketed if it should become legal — again. I remember when it was; the most salable way in which it was sold was the drink Coca-Cola, as it then was. They put in enough to give you a nice crank-up, but not enough to make you addled, as the substance in pure form would undoubtedly do. There is no way that cocaine would be sold, in the open marketplace, in the way that you have described. Free enterprise simply does not work the way you imagine it does."
Where's The Volume?
A survey of any industry devoted to entertainment or leisure, which a legalized drug industry would probably be pegged as, reveals a certain paradox: the kinds of entertainment that are revered as "extreme" don't generate that much sales volume, let alone profits. Look around in any kind of entertainment or leisure industry: the big dollars are pulled in by companies that offer moderate experiences. Yes, this includes alcohol too. It's almost a certainty that you've heard of "Kentucky firewater," or some other triple-proof alcoholic drink, but it's probable that you've never drunk any.
The same rule of thumb would apply to marijuana, cocaine, LSD, narcotics, and stimulants. The "hard core" segment of the market, where the pure stuff "rules," would undoubtedly be a dwarf when compared with the market for milder variants. People are quite capable of guessing what the consequences of a serious "bender," for any mind-altering substance, will be. The hard-core "druggie" is as much a walking deterrent as the hard-core "alkie" is.
"Have a toke and a smile." Hidden subtext: This product is mild enough to induce you to relax, without scrambling your brain in the process.
Sure Thing? I Don't Think So
Because I was in the hospital for a seriously broken arm, I can attest to the effect that morphine has on me. While waiting for myself to be operated upon, I was able, for part of my stay there, to dispense morphine into my bloodstream whenever I wanted it. Since I was in some pain, I used it freely.
Until I experienced the psychological effect. Under its influence, I felt sulky, and I didn't want to be bothered. Since I normally feel obliged to be sociable, this reaction bothered me.
Since I was wounded, in a hospital bed, I could cover that sulkiness up by pretending that I was too tired to talk, or to listen. Had I taken morphine at a party, though, I wouldn't have had that excuse; instead, I would have had to "drag my hump" though it. This reaction of mine to morphine implies, for me, that I wouldn't be any kind of regular customer for any legalized narcotic. In fact, the reminder of my own bad experience would make even socializing with a morphine user somewhat of a turn-off for me. This reaction of mine would reduce the demand for narcotics, except among people who would peg me as a "square" for acting that way.
This same limitation applies to any kind of mind-altering drug. The person who experiences a panic attack after smoking a marijuana cigarette is going to be a walking "anti-advertisement" for the substance. The person who is unhinged by a "hit" of LSD is going to be the same thing. So would the person deranged by a hit of cocaine. Any one of those people is going to contribute to demand reduction for any such substance. The potentiality for such is going to provide a real incentive, for any company that manufactures and sells a mind-altering substance, to cut down on the "high." Doing so cuts down the risk of adverse reactions, at least according to common sense.
This dilution strategy is most likely to occur for LSD, because of the effect of a full "trip." Not very many people can withdraw from the world for a 12-or-so hour stretch. The present age is more centered on intellectual capital, so more people nowadays than in the 1960s will be deterred by the risk of having their brain derailed by even one single "trip." On the other hand, a dose below approximately 100 mcg of the stuff does not induce a "trip," but instead makes the imbiber giggly, in a manner similar to Ecstasy. Given current lifestyles, it seems almost a certainty that a 200-mcg dose of LSD would be a slow mover, while a 50-mcg dose would be the mainstay of the market.
Ode To Joey Camel
Any company that moves into the selling of legalized mind-altering substances will be fully subject to the law. That body of law very much includes case law.
The cigarette companies — purveyors of legal products — have, whether rightly or wrongly, faced and lost huge class-action lawsuits, as a result of the long-term deleterious consequences of the use of their product. With the decisions against the tobacco companies serving as precedents, sufferers of any long-term deleterious effect resulting from the regular use of a mind-altering substance will have the right to launch a serious lawsuit. With case law with respect to recreational substances being what it is, any company that would step into the breach vacated by organized crime will have to watch its products very carefully. Given this legal hazard, it would not be surprising to see, say, a morphine or heroin manufacturer plow some of its profits into the discovery of pharmaceuticals that would make it easier to kick the habit. Companies selling other kinds of mind-altering drugs would be pursuing a similar course, out of fear of liability or boycott losses. They wouldn't be hamstrung by denial, as the cigarette companies were and perhaps still are.
Such precautionary measures wouldn't stop there, either. All it would take would be the reasonable fear of, say, an LSD user being blinded by the light, from staring into the sun for too long, to impel LSD purveyors to offer, say, dark glasses with welder-visor lenses with a dose of the drug as a package deal. Or, at the very least, to add a warning label, if a consumer-protection agency hasn't already forced it to do so.
It should never be forgotten that legalization of mind-altering drugs will not only bring the protection of the law to the sellers and manufacturers of them, but also to the consumers of them. This fact alone makes the dark forecasts of a "society of drug addicts," much beloved by Drug Warriors, something akin to a collection of scare stories, not serious predictions.
January 31, 2007
Daniel M. Ryan [send him mail] is a Canadian whose reach has long exceeded his grasp. He's currently wearing out his thumb with pen and paper.
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