rational drug users

I recently read a nice paper, in which the authors make the point that if drugs are legalized, they might be made legal in a strategic way to help reluctant addicts to escape from compulsion while allowing more considerate drug users to still get high.

Their suggestion is that drugs should be legalized but unable to be purchased immediately. The idea is that the rational and in control drug user will plan ahead and so never penalized by this rule. The addict however, who bounces from craving to craving, would be protected by the fact that he could never satisfy a sudden craving. The authors put the point this way,

Another situation with similar characteristics is drug use. Scholars
recognize that “craving is a motivational state . . . equated with the subjective
desire for the effects of a drug.”123 Craving, like depression, not
only motivates certain behaviors, but it crowds out virtually all considerations
other than, in this case, drug taking. In a neurological study
of addiction, Frawley refers to a “process of . . . increasing the behavior
that facilitates drug or alcohol use and eliminating behavior that
interferes with or does not lead to drug or alcohol use. This leads to a
kind of ‘tunnel vision’ on the part of the addict.”124 This effect is most
dramatically evident in the behavior of cocaine addicts, who report
that “virtually all thoughts are focused on cocaine during binges;
nourishment, sleep, money, loved ones, responsibility, and survival
lose all significance.”125

An interesting feature of craving is that it drastically affects people’s
decisions about present actions, but has comparatively little effect
on decisions involving only future outcomes. Thus, an addict
might be willing to pay a tremendous amount to obtain a drug immediately,
but would not agree to pay such a large amount for the drug
in the future.126 This suggests a policy lever less drastic than banning
drugs and more asymmetrically paternalistic: dispense drugs legally
with a mandatory waiting period (much as a pharmacy takes time to
fill a prescription).127 This kind of forced waiting provides a way to
protect the future self from the craving current self. Since perfectly
rational users will plan ahead, the forced delay imposes little cost and
it may benefit drug users who are able to make comparatively rational
decisions for the future.

I’m not sure what I think about this point, but I guess the general idea is that the addict wouldn’t buy drugs in the middle of a craving because it would do nothing to end the craving. He would then face his purchase decision under more rational lights later after the craving has passed.



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