Pubdate: Wed, 02 Apr 2014
Source: Daily Herald, The (Provo, UT)
Section: Science and Society
Copyright: 2014 The Daily Herald
Author Duane Jeffery, Community Columnist
Note: Duane Jeffery is an emeritus professor of biology at Brigham Young


Let it be clear at the outset: I am definitely not an advocate for
recreational psychoactive drugs! But I've never been enamored with
staying uninformed on the issue either. So with that caveat, and with
two countries now experimenting a little with legalization of such
drugs, let's summarize a bit.

It should be well-known that the states of Colorado and Washington
have recently legalized certain broad uses of recreational marijuana
and are still working out the fine details of how to control the use
thereof. Uruguay has thrown the doors wide open for marijuana. And New
Zealand has now formalized legislation for all new psychoactive drugs,
while still banning the ones that have heretofore been internationally

First consideration: Why such legalization? A primary reason is that
the effort to control such drugs has proven incredibly expensive and
only marginally effective at best. It is variously estimated that the
U.S. has spent over a trillion dollars in this effort and has
incarcerated scores (likely hundreds) of thousands of persons for
extensive periods at great expense.

The efforts to understand the real effects of many of these drugs is
complicated by the fact that there is no quality control - researchers
have little way of knowing precisely what the users were really using.
In the early days of LSD, for instance, researchers bought "LSD,"
assertedly of considerable purity, from a dozen or more "reputable"
street dealers, and found LSD in less than half the samples. Reliable
research is thus deeply compromised. And then there is the clamor of
those who find such drugs pleasurable, "harmless," and

So, think some governments, why not neutralize the criminal trade,
produce the substances under well-regulated control, ensure quality
and credible research, tax the drugs and raise much-needed money - and
save the enforcement expense? The four governments above are trying it
- - but all recognize that it's not that simple. For starters, users
frequently mix drugs - imbibing alcohol along with the drugs being
apparently the most common such complication. So "research" is a
problematic rationale. Money and decriminalization seem to be the
larger issues.

The March 8 issue of the magazine New Scientist extensively reviews
the New Zealand experiment. New synthetic drugs are constantly coming
onto the market (undercover!) and are legal until formally banned. In
the late 1990s BZP (benzylpiperazine) showed up. By 2008 sufficient
negative reports had accumulated to ban it. Mephedrone quickly
followed. That too was shortly banned, but there is no shortage of
others to fill the void. European authorities identified 24 new
synthetics in 2009, 41 more in 2010, and 73 more in 2012. (New
Scientist charts numbers in six different categories.) The trend is
pretty clear. So New Zealand still bans current illegals, but will
permit new ones that meet certain standards of "demonstrated safety."
Such drugs are then cleared to conduct a massive experiment on the
population and see what effect this may have on society. Needless to
say, other nations are watching this bold/desperate experiment with
interest. And in the meantime, there is no guarantee that many other
drugs are not also slipping in through the legal coverages.

How safe do the accepted drugs have to be? A concept of "low risk" is
being pursued: harm to individuals, harm to society, risk of
addiction. But compared to what? One proposed standard is "half as
harmful as alcohol." Given the above complications, it is easy to see
how surveillance is going to be very difficult and may eventually even
rival enforcing laws for illegality in terms of cost.

Personally, I have always thought I needed every brain cell I had to
even minimally compete - why stress them any more than what happens by
unavoidable fatigue?

Duane Jeffery is an emeritus professor of biology at Brigham Young
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D