By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA — It only takes a small amount of moral outrage to invite the worst of government-enforced bans and prohibitions.
During the roaring 1920s, that moral outrage was voiced by the Ohio-based Anti-Saloon League, arguably the most successful single issue lobbying group in American history, which focused its ire on the sale and consumption of alcohol because it represented the “worst of all temptations.”
After the decade of the “noble experiment,” much of the same displeasure and angst was transferred to the cannabis plant, denounced in 1937 House Ways and Means Committee hearings as an “evil” substance that required “further legislation in order to protect people from its insidious influence and effects,” according to the transcript.
In this day and age, bans relating to drug possession directly affect more than half of all people incarcerated in the United States, the largest population of such in the world.
Though there aren’t yet any plans to draw up another 18th Amendment in this century, various groups across the country are advocating using the same method of prohibition for a new target: bath salts.
However docile the name may sound, bath salts are found nowhere near the bath and actually contain forms of the compound Mephedrone, a stimulant drug sharing side effects with the euphoric drug Ecstasy.
In Florida, the drug has been blamed for erratic and violent behavior in the most recent cases of 21-year-old Brandon De Leon and Rudy Eugene, both of North Miami Beach, sparking repeated references to “zombie takeovers.”
Eugene, 31, is better known as the “Miami Causeway Cannibal,” who was shot dead by Miami police after being witnessed biting and gnawing on the face of 65-year-old Ronald Poppo, a homeless man sleeping under the highway.
While no evidence of bath salts or similar substances has surfaced in the Miami cannibal case, De Leon, who is accused of biting several police officers after being taken into custody for disorderly conduct on June 2, reportedly had such substances in his body, according to police.
In May 2011, similar events inspired the passage of a statewide ban on the bath salts, adding the chemical composition to the already lengthy list of controlled substances in the Sunshine State.
While the ban has been in effect for some time, accessibility has in no way been affected, as evidenced by the many media reports in the past few weeks alone.
This prompted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to offer a warning on the eve of spring break this year, warning vacationers to stay away from bath salts because they remained “dangerous” and posed “significant” risks to users and those around users.
Conversely, Max Pemberton, a London doctor writing in the London Telegraph in 2010, described his euphoric experience with bath salts while his government floated a similar ban around the same time.
He recalled giggling and laughing uncontrollably, overcome by an “incomprehensible, overwhelming desire to dance.”
“I’d love to be able to tell you that I had a hideous time when I took mephedrone but the truth is, I didn’t. It was a lovely feeling and I can completely understand why people would use it,” he wrote.
With more reactionary legislation being called for in the state of Florida, lawmakers should heed caution before they introduce any new ban to curb the “worst of all temptations.”
Similar sentiments brought on the wretched prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, incentivizing millions of ordinarily lawful Americans to skirt the laws and resort to violence for their fix of liquor, wine or beer, evidenced by the crime wave of crimes bosses like Al Capone in Chicago.
In the present era, state and federal prisons already are at full capacity with individuals who have transgressed nonviolent drug laws, ballooning prison budgets and sparking more violence in America’s poorest cities.
If governments are intent on banning these particular substances because of a handful of media reports, what is the next target?
Robert Arthur is an author and former public defender who has written extensively on bath salts since they first appeared in the public consciousness.
“If authorities cared about public health, a more rational approach would be to ban it for minors and then study these chemicals objectively before adding adult users to the prison population,” wrote Arthur.
Arthur cited his experience as a public defender, explaining that insane violence is a daily occurrence in American homes, but it doesn’t receive immense focus until it can be “linked to the ‘scary’ drug of the moment.”
“Violent people with severe mental health issues should avoid the excessive use of any drug, particularly alcohol — the drug most linked to violence,” Arthur said.
Using the force of the government to impose a ban on these substances will only produce the same results we have seen too many times before: more use, more abuse, more violence and, regrettably, more zombies.