Take No Prisoners

Judgment-Impairing Drugs

This post continues the series on solving the drug problem, which begins here. The most recent segment differentiated between drug uses that affect surrounding people, such as smoking tobacco, and ones that do not, such as popping morphine pills. We found that drugs that affect surrounding people should be banned in public places and in the residences of parents (to protect their kids), but that businesses should be allowed to cater to such drug uses. Technologies such as ventilators, air locks and air filter masks can be employed to protect the staff and non-user patrons such that only adults who had chosen to accept the risks of the drug use in question would be exposed.

This piece categorizes drugs on a different basis: those that impair judgment vs. those that do not. As mentioned earlier, A drug “is any substance that alters normal bodily function.” This includes caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, opiates, amphetamines, etc. Some drugs, specifically stimulants such as caffeine and speed, improve mental functioning. Others, i.e., depressants like alcohol and hallucinogens like mescaline and PCP, impair judgment.

Judgment-impairing drugs require special treatment in our drug policy.

Drugs and Driving

Driving while under the influence of a drug that impairs cognitive function should be banned because it increases the risk of transportation for everyone else. The same straightforward analysis applies to boats, planes, ATVs, construction equipment, forklifts, etc. Unfortunately, implementing such policies leads to a boondoggle. Suppose scientists determine that the maximum blood-alcohol level that will not impede cognitive function is 80 milligrams in an average person (hypothetically). The straightforward thing to do, then, is ban driving with a blood-alcohol level over 80 milligrams. Two problems with this are evident. First, how are you supposed to know your blood-alcohol level? Second, if 80 milligrams is the maximum non-effective level for the average person, than approximately half the population has a maximum non-effective level of less than 80 milligrams, assuming a normal distribution; in other words, the limit is too strict for some people and not strict enough for others. Thus, most people simply make a decision whether or not to drive based on how they feel. The problem should be obvious: if the drug impairs judgment, the judgements of the intoxicated cannot be trusted.

Therefore, with some exceptions (discussed below), the legal limit of any drug (for driving) should be set just above the trace level that might be achieved from benign activities, such as eating a meal with wine sauce or a poppyseed muffin. I know libertarians will think this is crazy, but as I said in the first post, individual freedom is not the central idea of my framework: the responsibility not to harm others is just as important as the rights of the individual.

Effect of Business

Let’s say we have a business, like a bar, except let’s call it a get-a-fix, where people can go to buy and use drugs (including alcohol and tobacco). Let us further suppose that the staff of this establishment are trained to evaluate a user’s degree of intoxication, in much the same way as police. And further suppose that the staff are not permitted to partake in any intoxicating substances while working. When a patron decides to leave, a staff member can evaluate the individual’s intoxication level. Given that the staff are trained and not intoxicated themselves, they should be able to make an accurate decision. Of course, the get-a-fix will be responsible if someone who is intoxicated is allowed to drive and gets into an accident where intoxication is determined to be a factor.

Someone might claim that s/he is going to walk home, or take the bus, or whatever, and then go get behind the wheel, or do some other stupid thing, or pass out in a ditch somewhere and freeze to death (happens in Canada and Russia to be sure). These consequences are all part of the drug problem. To address them, society can take this model one step further and require these establishments to ensure patrons get home in one piece, by either seeing them into cabs or operating a shuttle service. Taken alone, this may seem unfair to the business, but within the entire framework I am discussing, it is a quid pro quo for otherwise enhanced profit margins.


Suppose someone is convicted of driving while intoxicated. What punishment should be inflicted? Jail time is too harsh for cases where no one was hurt. The common punishment is to take the offender’s license. This is fine when you live in a city with adequate public transit, but for people who live in rural areas or cities with bad or non-existent public transit, taking someone’s license interferes with his or her human rights, such as the right to work. The other possibility is to take away the offender’s drug privileges. Let me make this explicit. You do not have a right to get high. You do not have a right to smoke, drink, snort, inject, pop pills or otherwise partake in drugs. These are privileges and if you misuse them, they can be taken away. Thus, if an individual cannot behave within the bounds of the law while heavily intoxicated, it is up to the individual not to become heavily intoxicated. If the individual demonstrates an inability to do this, the state should be compelled to take action to protect everyone else. More specifically, the state should revoke that individual’s drug use privileges.

I suspect this will be controversial, so allow me to elaborate. If you get high as a kite in your shed, don’t bother anyone else and pose no danger to anyone but yourself, that’s fine. But if you get high as a kite, lose control and then start a fight, you can’t argue that it isn’t your fault because you were intoxicated. It is your responsibility not to get so intoxicated that you become dangerous. If you can’t do that, the state must do it for you to protect those around you.

It must here be recognized that the individual has no real way of knowing his or her limits until going beyond them at least once. You don’t know if you’ll be a mean drunk or a happy drunk if you’ve never been drunk. Thus, a first-time offender with a minor infraction might get only a warning, where multiple offenses would result in suspension of drug use privileges for periods commensurate with the severity of the offense.

Again the reader may wonder how this can be enforced. The mechanism for enforcement will become clear after next week’s piece on dealing with addiction and the following piece on preserving freedom of choice.