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On bath salts and the free market

I read in Sunday's paper about the Watertown father who threatened store employees and smashed apart a head shop after his 24-year-old son bought some of the synthetic (but legal) drugs known as "bath salts" and wound up in the hospital.

The story really makes the dad sound like a hero. Let's look at the facts.

- Man, 24, walks into store and buys legal product
- Man consumes product
- Man winds up in hospital
- Man's father calls store, threatening to fucking kill employees
- Man's father walks into store, threatens employee who may or may not have carried out the initial transaction with a baseball bat
- Man's father destroys store displays and other legal products
- Man's father calls the police on himself and waits around to be arrested

Well, at least he did the last thing properly.

Look, say what you're going to say about bath salts as a new drug of choice for a lot of people, and say what you want about the synthetic drugs being legal in many communities, and in most communities until very recently.

The fact is that these substances have been legal and people and stores have been paying taxes on their purchase.

Here's another fact: People have been using substances to escape their drab, wretched lives for millennia.

A third fact: We still use them. Some of them (like alcohol and tobacco) are legal and taxed. Some of them (like heroin and cocaine) are not. Some of them are misappropriations of legal substances (for example, I burn incense once in a while so my bedroom doesn't smell like dog; other people wrap it in paper and smoke it for a high).

Love it or hate it, we're a free market economy. People are going to sell whatever the free market is willing to buy, whether that stuff is legal or illegal.

Let's take the same situation and make it a different product, also legal, also known to be dangerous if misused.

- Man, 24 years old and severely overweight, walks into McDonald's and orders 3 Big Mac sandwiches, a large soda and some French fries
- Man consumes the food in one sitting at the restaurant, refilling his soda cup twice
- Man goes to hospital with chest pains, has heart attack
- Man's father calls McDonald's, threatening employees, "You saw my son is obese and you sold him all that salty food? I'm gonna fucking kill you."
- Man walks into McDonald's with a baseball bat, smashing up the restaurant and threatening employees.

For some reason, that's just not a stretch to me. Our free market economy values easy access to quickly available foodstuffs. Most people shouldn't be taking advantage of that access, and that access can be dangerous if misused. Same with the synthetic drugs.

Forget for a moment that the dad was protecting a grown man who, at 24 is very much responsible for his own actions, not a 12-year-old or even a still-growing-into-his-skin 20-year-old. The dad's not a hero. He's a violent guy who threatened people taking home a small paycheck who were working at a legal retail business that pays things like property taxes (even if through rent), sales tax and payroll tax – a business he defaced, destroying merchandise and displays.

He's not a hero, he's a danger to people around him.

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4 Comments

  • Posted 01/08/2012 at 09:10 | Permalink

    i am a little confused. Are you defending the sale of this product? Or trying to show that the father is not a hero? I agree that the hero is not a hero and a danger to others but I dont know how anyone can defend the sale of these harmful products regardless of if we live in a free market or not. I am just confused on the point
    Benjamin recently posted..Inspiration

  • Posted 01/08/2012 at 10:20 | Permalink

    Man not a hero and he will be prosecuted–but probably get less of a sentence than if he had busted up a McDonald’s.

    Not feeling this argument Josh. I do not worship at the altar of the free market. Also–people bingeing on Mickey D’s aren’t then going out and eating other people’s faces!

    Businesses are given great latitude in our society–and sometimes that leads to questionable outcomes (see Wall St. scandals.)

    While I am not advocating the vigilante justice the father engaged in, I’m not averse to tighter regulations of businesses by government–and people certainly have the right to express their disgust and revulsion at the behavior of businesses.

    This can lead to organized actions/protests even if the goal is the closure of the business.
    Phil recently posted..Syracuse U. and the Atlantic Coast Conference

  • Posted 01/08/2012 at 11:26 | Permalink

    Am I condoning selling, or availability? Selling, yes, availability, no.

    I think if you take free markets strictly, all regulation has to be done on the consumption side. For example, it’s perfectly legal for businesses to sell alcohol, but there are various regulations in place to determine whose lives the consumer is allowed to ruin (their own and/or their families’ through addiction, but not people who might be hit by a vehicle you’re driving if you’ve consumed too much alcohol).

    It’s not legal, however, to sell (or even possess) cocaine, even though someone could just use it in their own home by themselves and not hurt anybody else.

    If the market wants something, I think it should be legal to sell it. The crime is either going to be committed at the manufacturing level (such as in human trafficking) or the consumption level (such as driving while ability impaired or eating someone’s face while on bath salts).

    That’s not to say I’m telling people it’s a good idea to sell or buy (or consume) bath salts. It’s to say that you can’t support the free market except in select cases. If someone wants to buy something and it’s available to sell, that transaction should be allowed. It’s the creation of the product in the first place or the use of the product at the end of the line that should be the crime.

  • Posted 01/08/2012 at 11:38 | Permalink

    Interesting take Josh. Certainly the father is wrong here for taking vigilante action against a lawful business. Beyond legalities though, I would say the business is also very much in the wrong for selling a substance they know to be immediately physically harmful to the user and also potentially physically harmful to members of the surrounding community via violent acts of the user. The fact that something is legal does not make it moral and obviously vice-versa. Is that the point of this post? McDonald’s and cigarettes are certainly both harmful to their users, but it’s over a significantly longer term that the effects of bath salts. The analogy and your hypothetical scenario are just a little too abstract to equate with the real and present danger that bath salts present to communities.

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