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Don't Forget Effects of Drug Laws

July 1, 2006
by root
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Carlton Erickson missed the obvious point of the anecdote with which he opened his commentary about caffeine addiction in the March/April 2006 issue. The reason no one holds up convenience stores at gunpoint to feed a caffeine habit is the same reason no one robs tobacco merchants to feed an addiction to tobacco, a substance widely recognized to produce a hard-to-break physical and psychological dependence. Because caffeine and tobacco are not legally prohibited, both are readily available at a price most users can afford without difficulty. You don't need to rob anyone to support a habit when you can walk into any convenience store and get your morning dose for a buck.

It trivializes the very serious problem of addiction to conflate the effects of drugs with the sometimes-pernicious effects of laws intended to control them. Instead, we should be willing to consider honestly whether prohibition regimes magnify, rather than reduce, the harms of any given drug. This is particularly true of marijuana, for which the evidence of physical dependence is arguably far weaker than for caffeine, with some experts arguing that a withdrawal syndrome remains unproven. (See Smith NT. A review of the published literature into cannabis withdrawal symptoms in human users. Addiction 2002;97:621-32.) Bruce Mirken, Director of Communications, Marijuana Policy Project