Molly is the the hottest drug among young people. If you’ve spent any time at all in New York politics, you know that the most dangerous place in the world is not in Afghanistan, Yemen or Somalia. It is the area between New York Senator Chuck Schumer and a TV camera. Once again, the good senator has made a grandstand play. This time, it involves the drug Molly, a form of MDMA (Ecstacy to most of us), following two deaths by overdose at this month’s Electric Zoo music festival on Randall’s Island. He wants the government to follow the same path that has proved totally ineffective in dealing with meth. It might make for good press, but it’s lousy policy.
Here’s the simple fact about drug use prohibition doesn’t work. Any attempt to impede supply is nonsense because demand will ensure that there is sufficient profit for those who break the rules on making and distributing any drug. You have to cut off demand, and that can’t be done by making drug (ab)use a legal issue.
The prohibitionist argument is a rather sound one logically. Basically, if you use this substance, you will go to jail for the good of society as well as yourself. But drugs by their very nature confound logic. First off, the user believes he will never get caught. Second, drugs alter your mental processes that’s the whole point of using them. When you’re drunk, doped or high, you don’t think the same way as when you’re straight. And once a drug (even alcohol or nicotine the legal ones) gets its hooks into you, irrational decisions are part of the deal.
Schumer has noted that the people who are making Molly get around the current prohibition on MDMA by tweaking the formula so that the chemical produced is not identical to the banned substance maybe an extra hydrogen atom here or a sulphate there.
His solution, therefore, is to make acquisition of the ingredients, the precursors, more difficult. The thinking is straightforward: if you can’t get the ingredients, you can’t mix up a batch. And if the world were that simple, he’d have a case. But it isn’t.
We’ve already been down this road a couple of times. First off, the nation tried prohibiting alcohol, and for its pains got organized crime the likes of which it had never seen. But as Boardwalk Empire demonstrates, drinking in America continued.
However, a more apt parallel lies in the nation’s treatment of methamphetamine, which those of you who are fans of Breaking Bad understand. Meth is actually a lot older than Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston’s story would have you believe. It was common in London’s early punk days. Joe Strummer of The Clash said back in 1977 that punks used meth because it was cheaper than alcohol, but eventually, the up wasn’t worth the down. And recent research suggests that Hitler got a shot of the stuff every morning from Dr. Theodor Morell.
When the meth wave struck middle America, part of the solution was to make pseudoephedrine harder for allergy sufferers to buy. It moved back behind the pharmacy counter, and the quantities you can purchase were radically reduced. Why? Because you can use it to cook meth. Has that stopped all the Walter Whites out there from cranking out the drug? No, and the DEA’s own figures show that it had no statistically significant effect on meth production.
But here we are trying to stop Molly production by denying the ingredients, whatever the hell they are, to the general public.
If we’re really serious about coping with the human tendency to alter the central nervous system by ingesting various chemicals, we need to do a couple of things differently. First, jail doesn’t work. Second, addressing supply doesn’t work. Third, some people can handle drugs and some can’t alcoholics are different from occasional drinkers. This difference is probably genetic, or at the very least, a function of early use more alcoholics started drinking at 15 than at 30. Fourth, the people who should be giving us specialist advice and enlightenment are medical professionals, not elected officials.
I’ve buried a few friends who couldn’t cope with drugs, or life. I’ve seen other lives destroyed by everything from coke to heroin to Jack Daniel’s. Schumer’s idea of banning the ingredients you need to make Molly is about as stupid as banning potatoes because you can use them to make vodka.
But I predict he’ll get a few interviews and some nice articles out of it. And five years from now, he can make the same speeches because the problem will still be there.