The misguided reliance on banning

One of the things we need to do in this country is fight the long-established notion in the general public (and most especially in the lawmakers) that an effective way to deal with something we don’t like is to use the government to ban it.

The fact is that banning as an effective solution for anything is far from a universal truth, yet many people are convinced that it is, so they don’t even bother sit down and say: “We don’t like this. What are the ways of dealing with this, and which are actually likely to be effective?” Instead, they say: “We don’t like this. Ban it.”

Lawmakers, of course, do this all the time (sometimes even just for the political “glory” of banning something). They’ll even try to ban wearing your pants a certain way.

We find this, of course, in our efforts to reform drug policy. There are a lot of people out there who want us to convince them that drugs are harmless before they are willing to accept not banning them — which is why we so often get bogged down in irrelevant discussions over some minor aspect of marijuana’s effects.

The truth, of course, is that even if the drug is harmful, banning is the wrong way to deal with it.

As some LEAP speakers I’ve heard have said to people: “If the drug is as harmful as you think it is, then why would you possibly want it to be unregulated and distributed by criminals?”

A study in the American Journal of Public Health noted that a national survey found 43% of Americans thought cigarettes should be banned.

That’s pretty stunning. 43%

Here, with cigarettes, we have the most extraordinary success story in changing people’s views and habits regarding a particular drug without it being illegal.

It really is astonishing what has happened in the past 20 years. Smoking rates have gone down dramatically. Lung cancer rates have gone down. I take a look around the university where I work, and where I used to see large crowds of students smoking outside our common area any time of day, now it’s one or two.

And this all happened through education and social acceptance. Sure, there were some over-reaches in the “banning” style now and then (we had some misguided efforts by the university to eliminate outdoor ashtrays that just ended up in more cigarette butts on the ground), but for the most part, change happened without banning.

With this legal drug, life-saving changes were happening in society. At the same time, with the illegal drug heroin, we were seeing death tolls mount from tainted drugs.

There are limited times when a ban can be effective. For example, the FDA may ban an additive used in the processing of food products because it is toxic. This is likely to cause the processing companies to find a different way to prepare the food, and unlikely to cause the consumers to seek out the additive on the black market merely because their lunchmeat has been prepared with a different preservative.

But the use of bans has to be approached on a case by case basis, not merely because we dislike something. As we’ve seen so graphically in the drug war, it isn’t just a matter of whether bans are effective or not. Bans can follow the entire scale from effective to destructive.

As Evert (who sent me the link on cigarette bans) says:

In other words, 43% of the population thinks cigarettes should no longer be taxed nor sold with health warnings. 43% of the population would prefer that cigarettes were sold by people who don’t check ID, who don’t turn child customers away and who reinvest drug money in other criminal enterprises. 43% of the population want to clog the courts and jails with non-violent smokers and people involved in voluntary drug deals. 43% of the population would prefer that cigarettes became a more lucrative source of income for corrupt cops, bureaucrats and organised crime.

If 43% of population thinks this, 43% of the population is certifiably insane.

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