Because We Haven’t Banned Enough Products Yet
Some legislators in Jefferson City are trying to ban a drug called K2. The Post-Dispatch‘s Political Fix blog explains the situation:
Legislators say the spread of K2, a “herbal incense” more commonly referred to as a synthetic marijuana, is an epidemic.
Missouri state Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains sponsored a bill that would add K2 to Missouri’s list of illegal drugs. That bill was heard before the House Public Safety committee Tuesday.
“There are so many people, including adults, saying its legal so we think it’s safe, and that is not the case,” Franz said.
West Plains Police Department Detective Shawn Rhoades said in West Plains, students as young as middle school have been experimenting with the drugs. Last month, a West Plains high school student was hospitalized after smoking K2.
The dried herbs come in 3-gram packages of various flavors, and are available online and in several stores in the St. Louis area for about $30 – less than the cost of a tank of gas.
“We don’t know much about this, but it’s going to end up killing somebody,” Franz said.
There are so many flaws in the reasoning behind this bill that it would take a lengthy essay to unravel them all — and the commenters on the post have made a great start — but here are some of the more rudimentary ones.
Judging by the fact that I have never even heard of K2, I doubt its use is all that widespread — but, even if it were widespread, it could not be considered an epidemic. Epidemics are diseases that are extremely communicable and infect others even when they take steps to avoid infection. K2 is a drug that people have to consume (voluntarily, unless someone forces them to do so, or they are tricked) in order to feel its effects.
Furthermore, it is a very foolish person indeed who believes that any product that is not illegal is therefore safe. Just to stay in the realm of drugs, drinking a fifth of whiskey and smoking three packs of cigarettes a day is hardly safe, but it is perfectly legal. A free society is supposed to allow people to take such risks, provided they do not harm anyone else in the process.
Next comes the appeal that we must ban K2 to protect the children, because some middle school students have used it and one high school student was hospitalized after using it (note that the story didn’t say the student was hospitalized because of K2; that’s a possibility, but the article does not confirm the scenario). Well, I got drunk for the first time in middle school, and high school students are hospitalized all the time for drinking. Does that mean we should completely ban alcohol?
The paragraph about the cost of K2 is essentially meaningless. Three grams costs $30, it tells us, but that’s completely useless information without knowing the active dose. If three grams is what it takes to get high, I sincerely doubt K2 will ever catch on in any major way.
Finally, the legislator who introduced the bill is convinced it will kill somebody if it is not banned, but given the fact that he just admitted he knows little about the drug, I’m guessing that his certainty is based on exactly zero toxicological evidence. I don’t know specifically how K2 differs from marijuana, but unless it is dramatically more dangerous than its organic cousin, it is — for all intents and purposes — impossible to overdose on the drug.
Later in the article, a different legislator claims, “This has no legitimate use in society that we’re aware of.” Well, that depends on your definition of “legitimate”. If people are buying it and coming back for more, they must be enjoying it. Is enjoyment not a legitimate use? If not, I wonder whether the General Assembly should next take up the issue of banning carnivals. After all, the Scat routinely makes people sick, and it’s only a matter of time before one of the carts flies off the Zipper.
Finally, there is a presumption on the part of supporters of a ban that the legislation will be effective. Perhaps they should reflect on the history of marijuana prohibition. Marijuana is far more popular today than it was when it was originally banned in 1937. That trend may not repeat itself if K2 is banned, because people might simply opt to smoke the already widely available original as opposed to the newly developed synthetic, but no ban will keep people from altering their consciousness.
Back in high school, I was a policy debater, and in policy debate, the affirmative team advancing a policy proposal had the burden of proof to show that the policy was necessary. Each plan had to meet five so-called “stock issues” to prove it was good policy. Foremost among those were “solvency,” “harms,” and “significance” — meaning that the plan had to solve a significant problem that had major harms. If this proposal to ban K2 were advanced in a high school policy debate, it would lose without the negative team having to say a word because those advancing it have not shown that there is a significant problem or harm associated with the status quo, nor that the policy would actually achieve its intended goal. It’s a pity that the ban proposal will inevitably receive more consideration (and likely pass) in the General Assembly than it would from a high school debate judge.