Unhealthful News 95 – Freedom and respect for drug users, so long as only criminals profit

A quick interesting contrast:  The International Harm Reduction Association, in my six years of being familiar with it, has been so positive about protecting the freedoms of drug users, sex workers, and the like that it kind of made me say “wow, really?” a few times.  Yet headlining today’s conference newsletter (which reports on yesterday’s events – kind of like a live blog but without the pesky need to use the non-functional wifi here) was a talk that was straight-out prohibitionism.  It was about how free trade agreements in the Pacific region would facilitate the import of (safe, legal) mass produced alcoholic beverages, which would interfere with governments’ attempts to bludgeon their citizens into drinking less, in defiance of the will of the people.

The theme of the anti-alcohol presentation at IHRA was basically the standard anti-business attack, that big evil corporations who efficiently produce and distribute a product (alcohol in this case) will somehow hurt people because… well, just because they are big and evil.  Rather more related to actual harm reduction was the comment from a delegate from Afghanistan who mentioned that due to bans on alcohol in that country, people are dying from low-quality (poisonous) home brew that gets consumed because people really want alcohol but lack a legal market for good stuff.  A good harm-reducing solution to that, of course, would be to let high-quality large companies into the market.

Meanwhile, in the often prohibitionist New York Times, there is an op-ed that called for ending U.S. laws that currently restrict (and a new proposal that would make it worse) competition in the alcohol distribution market.  These industry-protection laws result in absurd profits for a few wholesaler distributors by letting them dramatically inflate the prices paid by consumers because they are protected from competition (e.g., by prohibiting wineries from shipping directly to customers).  This gross interference with America’s vaunted free market is a remnant of Prohibition and related prohibitionist efforts, as you might guess, but persists because it is making someone rich at the expense of the rest of us, and they are willing to pay a lot of bribes to keep it that way.

What is funny, though, is trying to imagine the IHRA presenter’s head exploding trying to figure out how to think about the bad U.S. laws.  “Should I laud the laws because they drive up the price of alcoholic beverages, thereby making it less pleasant for users?  Or should I hate it because it profits big alcohol companies?”  Life sure must be tough when you have simplistic prejudices that end up clashing with each other.

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