By: Johann Hari
Gray points out that you can watch this dynamic any weekend if you go to the stands of any university football game. Students prefer beer, but most college stadiums don’t allow or sell any alcohol. It’s a zone of prohibition. So what do the students do? They smuggle in hard liquor in flasks.
The technical term for this — coined by the advocate for drug reform Richard Cowan — is “the iron law of prohibition.” As crackdowns on a drug become more harsh, the milder forms of that drug disappear — and the most extreme strains become most widely available.
So GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was right when she said during the CNN Republican debate that “the marijuana that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago.” Today’s pot is significantly richer in THC, much like hard spirits have a higher alcohol content than beer.
But using that fact as an argument against legalization misrepresents what is going on. Most cannabis smokers don’t want to get totally baked on super skunk, any more than most social drinkers want to get smashed on Smirnoff. But the milder stuff isn’t available because the market is prohibited.
The iron law is playing out to devastating effect with opiates. People who become addicted to OxyContin or Percocet want to continue using those drugs. Doctors, however, are required by law to stop prescribing these opiates if they suspect the patient is feeding an addiction, not treating physical pain. Yet when an addict tries to find his drug on the illegal market, Oxy or Percs are almost impossible to get. What is widely available, and cheaper, is a much stronger and completely outlawed opiate: heroin…