Monday, July 18, 2011

The Buzz From Kronic

"under drug prohibition, deaths from overdose, from adulterations, from adulterated substances have gone up." Milton Friedman, America's Drug Forum interview (1991)

Now as much as I hate to use a brand name to encompass a category of something, Kronic is the most prominent of legal recreational drugs in New Zealand. It is the market leader in synthetic cannabinoids, where the drug is consumed in much the same way as cannabis, and its effects are designed to emulate cannabis too. A media storm and public outcry have emerged over the products (just Kronic to the uninformed) in the last few weeks.

So far, the attention has been on points of sale (notably convenience stores), underage purchase (notably convenience stores), possession in schools (also underage purchase), prevalence of use (notably with school kids), restricted substances in the product (contaminated product) and health concerns from use (notably with school kids). The overview shows a clear pattern, anyone can tell this kind of attention will call for a ban on the product. The government is now set to change the law next year.

Define 'harmful'
The problem with calls to ban something is that I must always ask first, so what is actually bad about it? Laws against murder, rape and theft have obvious answers to this question; while the argument against recreational drugs has always been weak. Popular opinion usually dictates that drugs are harmful due to the health effects of the user and the behaviour of the user under the influence, where emotive stories of drink/drug drivers causing crashes and drunk/drugged people becoming violent. Many of these cases, are not due to drugs, but usually to alcohol, and often have other factors ignored where substance is involved. Nonetheless, these are negative effects that can occur, a popular example is Antonie Ronnie Dixonwho killed and injured people with weapons that included a samurai sword on methamphetamine

Kronic and other brands of legal drugs are not methamphetamine. They are not nearly as powerful or as harmful. The 'dread factor' associated with drugs is indiscriminate, often pairing low-level drugs with tragic and destructive events. Especially when compared to alcohol, the negative effects associated with legal drug use are very minor, and has almost none of the social problems associated with illegal drug activity (such as organized crime and tainting drugs). Though our knowledge of health effects is still developing, its chemistry and use makes the effects comparable to those of cannabis; which is not something we would consider 'healthy' but also isn't terribly poisonous. The harm factor of legal drugs is hardly worth a ban, and is already designed to be Restricted 18 years. Subjecting the product to health warnings in the same way as tobacco would be welcomed, even by the industry. 

Suddenly we have an epidemic? 
Like any media storm over nothing special, the hype and the attention seems to come out of nowhere. Legal drugs have been around for ages, Kronic brand has been on sale for years. Drugs themselves predate the human race and drug use began at the same moment the human race did. Drug use of some sort is prevalent just about everywhere, it is not new problem nor a growing problem. A media storm is a self-perpetuating weather phenomena, as media attention brings more attention, then more scrutiny, which 'uncovers' (usually exaggerates) more bad news and so on; a vicious cycle that almost appears a media crusade against the products. The uninformed public plays into this, buying the newspapers and watching the TV, conforming to the same ideas. I find it ironic that the " armchair experts who buy into media hysteria" from Ponsonby, Remuera and Wellington Central would be the worst drug addicts in the country if they understood the significance of caffeine and the patterns of their latt√© lifestyles.

Toke for Toke
Many intelligentsia have accepted the facts on drugs and the harm caused by their prohibition (which usually outweighs the harm caused by the substance itself) and see a place in the law for these substances. While many with libertarian traits would call for presently illegal drugs to be legalized in New Zealand, at this stage in time it would seem practical to keep Kronic and other legal drugs within the law as a viable substitute. At present, would-be users of cannabis instead use legal drugs to avoid the harm caused by the illegal option, such as penalties for possession and associating with criminal organizations to obtain the drug. The legal drug industry currently competes with the drug and gang crime syndicates, forcing Matt Bowden to take many precautions for his own safety. Every switcher from cannabis to legal alternatives is less business for criminals, less risk of being victim to criminal activity, less risk of being penalized for drug possession.

One of the concerns from parents about legal drugs is the 'gateway drug' theory, whereby uses of 'lower level' drugs such as cannabis or cannabis alternatives, then proceed to harder and stronger drugs to get a better reaction; much the same way people having a night out will start with pre drinks (quiet drinks) and end up doing shots by the end of the night. Although appearing logical to 'nip it in the bud,' many users disagree with the theory. The logic may apply to illegal drugs, as they have the glamour image granted from being outlawed, it is easy to switch from cannabis to another illegal drug if they're both substances you shouldn't have anyway. In for a penny, in for a pound. The 'hit' or 'rush' sought from cannabis is not always entirely from the chemical, the 'rebel factor' (same as smoking) makes the drug desirable too, rendering the legal variants without the status. I personally know of people that are proud of their use of harder drugs, like a one-upmanship it is the illicit nature that appeals, not so much the chemical.

Drug Dealing
After some investigation, my capitalist senses picked up on some bits of info regarding the business side of things. Matt Bowden of Lightyears Ahead Ltd admitted that there is a potential for millions of dollars to be made in some product ideas his company is researching, for just his business. The legal drug industry is worth tens of millions of dollars, highly lucrative for those involved in supply. Dr Keith Bedford of the ESR said that New Zealand's legal drug industry "lead[s] the world in willingness to try out new things and be innovative in this area" and that we have the "leading edge of recreational substances." We obviously have nurtured a successful industry with current policy, where we export millions of dollars of product overseas (although Australia has just come off the market due to prohibition). The tax take in GST would be running into the millions by now too, and if the product is taxed the same as other smoking products (tobacco), the government could be making substantially more. 

The negative economics of health treatment would probably fall under the same category as tobacco smoking. High doses of legal drugs are often the same as high doses of caffeine, having little effect on the healthcare system, but would be covered anyway by the taxes it does and could raise. It's user pays - someone that smokes cigarettes for years will pay thousands in tax, which will later fund their healthcare if they even live long enough to receive it.

Parent Reaction
"for all I know, what my son is doing now will kill him by the time he's 40 (if not sooner). It's very hard to try to teach him not to do it considering our government says it's perfectly legal."
This was a comment made on the New Zealand Herald website by a member of the public that I could not help myself quoting. 
"For all those people who don't want there children to use drugs - society is not a dumping ground for you to leave your children to be raised."
"I don't need other people to tell me what I can and cannot do that affects myself only, just because they need something to blame for how screwed up their kids are."
Neither were those, made by other readers.

Parents will always look for an issue in society to blame for their own kids' mistakes. Either they won't admit to being useless parents, or often not accepting that their 'mistakes' are often quite common experiments and experiences for their age group. Most teenagers have drank alcohol, smoked, had sex and tried drugs before 18; doesn't mean they all end up either in prison or dead. All adults were teenagers once, the same rules apply, even 2000 years ago elders complained about teen drinking! The explanation is always on some superior-sounding theory that young people have 'developing brains' and lack of maturity. True, but anyone older that yourself can always say the same thing! A 40 year old will probably be more mature than a 30 year old. Focus on knowledge, educate people to make their own choices, maturity and development comes from intelligence and experience.

If you don't know, then don't care!
My stance is always on harm minimization, not prohibition. All libertarians will tell you prohibition doesn't work; and we always cite the prohibition of alcohol in the United States only worsening the problem, then refer to the UN who have admitted the 'War On Drugs' has failed and also only worsened the problem, calling on legalization. 

The issue is not legalization or anything, it's simply keeping the status quo for what is currently legal. Why fix something that ain't broke'? The calls for action and calls for change are unjustified where there is no change to justify them. I personally have used these products, and began to almost a year ago; I can assure you this is nothing new.There is no alarming trend, no sudden increase and no emerging problem; only realization of what's been in front of our nose the whole time. 

Calls to ban the product are a knee-jerk reaction, which always comes from the ignorant, fearful and uninformed. An outright ban is only coming from people who fear the product, out of a severe lack of knowledge surrounding it, experts such as Dr Bedford support the products that is "better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Extreme action will cause extreme reaction, people openly flout drug laws as it is. Further crackdowns will make the issue worse, as drug users will have no respect for authority if authority won't let them have any kind of drug.

We have to stop wasting our time on this issue; methamphetamine, alcohol and other drugs are causing more damage. Legal drugs are not the scourge of society, and their legal status is the best thing preventing them from becoming just that. 

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