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e Free Market and Prohibition

One reason drugs are treated differently is because they are considered to be “addictive.” Some critics contend the entire concept is artificial, though common experience suggests that there is a physical and psychological dimension that makes some decisions seem less voluntary. Nevertheless, even intense physical and psychological attraction does not eliminate the ability to choose.3 Moreover, different people appear to be more or less susceptible to the attraction of variously destructive behaviors, such as alcohol and tobacco use, as well as gambling and sex. That some people abuse instead of just use is a dubious justification for a universal government ban. Indeed, despite the fearsome reputations acquired by some illicit drugs, the addiction rate of different substances appears to be relatively constant, between 10 and 15 percent (Sweet and Harris, 1998: 448). The US government’s own data indicate that the vast majority of drug users consume intermittently, even rarely (see, e.g., Eldredge, 1998: 3). Patricia Erickson of the Addiction Research Foundation and Bruce Anderson of Simon Fraser University concluded in one assessment of the literature regarding cocaine use: “the evidence reviewed here indicates that the likelihood that cocaine users will become addicted has been greatly overstated.” In fact, “most human cocaine users never use it immoderately” (Erickson and Alexander, 1998: 283; see also Erickson and Weber, 1998: 291-305). A study of cocaine users found that most consumed only “infrequently” (Erickson and Weber, 1998: 291; see also Mugford, 1991: 41). A survey of US soldiers who used heroin in Vietnam found that later they were no more likely than other soldiers to be heroin addicts (Winick, 1993: 151; Zinberg, 1987: 264-67). American society would not be economically productive if the tens of millions of people who have used drugs all were “addicted.