Saturday, 25 July 2015

Prohibition's horrible tradeoffs

You grow pot in an illegal market; your toddler daughter eats a lot of it. If you take her to the emergency room, you'll likely be arrested. If you don't, very bad things could happen.

I applaud Shain Iperen for finally making the right choice.

But we should condemn prohibitionist approaches for making that a hard decision.
A drug expert has called on Northlanders to keep all drugs out of children's reach after an 11-month-old girl became seriously ill from eating cannabis her drug-dealing father left in the kitchen.

The father, Shain Iperen, was a drug dealer who only sought medical help for the girl 24 hours after she ate the dope, but initially denied any exposure by the child to drugs when questioned by doctors.

The 27-year-old only admitted what happened to her after toxicology results at Whangarei Hospital showed an extremely high level - at the upper most limit - of screening undertaken for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the active ingredient in cannabis) present in her urine.

The toddler was semi-comatose, unresponsive to voice, and only responsive to stimuli by movement of her limbs when brought to the hospital on February 27.

Iperen pleaded guilty in Whangarei District Court to two charges of dealing with cannabis oil, one of ill-treatment of a child, and a representative charge of manufacturing cannabis oil.
In how many US states must marijuana be legalised before New Zealand finally figures out that the UN convention is a bit less binding that it's thought?


  1. Just to be clear, do you think the same argument applies to legal constraints on the possession of heroin and handguns? Just as likely to harm a child if left around in a kitchen; at least as important for the parents to get help immediately and explain to doctors exactly what happened.

  2. Among prohibition's costs are the kind of deterrence effect I listed. For some things currently prohibited, that cost will be minor in the grand scheme. For others, it will be marginal in the "could flip things one side or the other." For still others that should be legalised anyway, like marijuana, it's a nice reminder of the costs of prohibition that typically get ignored.

  3. I'm very happy with including the deterrence effects among the costs of prohibition which ought to be weighed against the benefits. As you say, this particular cost will have more effect on that balance in some cases than in others. It doesn't make the case on its own though.
    Speaking of costs and benefits - You blogged a while ago about the "micromort" as a better way of communicating and measuring health and safety risks, compared to the value of a statistical life which gets people all emotional and righteous. I got to wondering whether anybody has tried to develop and to put a value on the "microlib" - a unit of freedom? (Not under that nomenclature, for a start - I Googled it). We are often told that a small reduction in freedom is a price worth paying for greater security, but I wonder whether it would be possible to test that assertion through quantification?