Dr. Perry Kendall, chief provincial medical health officer for B.C., has caused a bit of controversy by saying that MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy, can be safe, provided that it’s in a pure form. This is a medically accurate statement, but now he has touched off a debate about that drug, and whether or not it should be legalized. While he has stated that he doesn’t want to get into a legalization debate, and was merely giving an answer to a hypothetical question about what would happen if the drug was legalized, he makes one consider whether or not legalizing the drug might actually be a good idea.
I say this as someone who does not partake in the drug in question, but instead as someone who knows that right now the drug is dangerous. People have died from taking pills they believed were MDMA, so if the pure form has been proven safe, what is going on? The answer is simple, the drug people get on the street is not the pure form of the drug. There is something in there that is dangerous, and when one takes one of these pills, they don’t know what exactly they’re taking. It could be pure MDMA, but it could also be something that could kill them, and they only find out depending on where they wake up the next morning, if they wake up at all. It’s very dangerous, but it’s dangerous because of where it comes from.
By its nature, a black market doesn’t have any regulation. As a result, many people who sell MDMA tend to include other things in there to make their operating costs cheaper and extend their profits. This leads to a drug which is not pure, and all manner of things can be in there in an attempt to extend the batch and get a greater return on investment. The illegal drug trade is perhaps the best indication of what happens in an industry that is completely unregulated, there are no safety protocols, no health inspections, no guarantees that the products contain what it says on the box. As a result, you get cases where people die from drugs which in their pure form would be largely harmless.
Should the drug actually be legal then? If it’s safe, then it stands to reason that a tightly monitored sale of the drug would be safer than keeping it on the streets as it is right now. While our society is very reluctant to allow for more drugs to be on the market, one has to consider the public safety implications in this case. If there’s no way to catch the manufacturers responsible for the dangerous supply, then one has to consider different ways to drive them out of the market. In theory, a legal supply would make it difficult for the black market sellers to function, as they would find it more difficult to sell their tainted supply.
There are also the sociological implications of having another readily available drug on the market, and that goes far beyond whether something can be proven safe in a lab. While people can get the drug right now, it’s difficult to predict what exactly would happen with commonly available MDMA, and what consequences might arise. It might see a decrease in usage, as Kendall predicts, or it might go up as people are convinced it’s harmless and decide to have a go. That’s not easy to predict, but there needs to be some way to get the tainted batches off the street. Legalization is a controversial notion, but we need to find a way to stop these deaths from happening.