Are the drugs known as bath salts dangerous enough to justify infringing on personal liberties? Thursday’s editorial thinks so:
The “bath salts” issue seems simple enough. Those taking varieties of the innocuously named designer drug, still legal in the Myrtle Beach area, are subject to hallucinations, delusions, aggression, hypersexuality and extreme paranoia. In short, it’s a snort of utter madness.
Users are a danger not only to themselves, but also to those around them, not least the brave health care workers who see users in emergency rooms and ambulances. If there’s a mitigating factor, a useful side effect or positive reason for the drug, it has yet to be found. The drug deserves to be banned, destroyed and preserved, if at all, only in the recesses of a government laboratory basement somewhere.
But while the drug has been discussed across the nation and state for months and years, local leaders have been hesistant to take action or, perhaps more likely, simply unaware of the issue until recently. Luckily for Myrtle Beach and Horry County, federal action will soon make local considerations moot. A Drug Enforcement Agency ban had been scheduled to take effect earlier this month. That action was delayed, but a DEA spokesman said Wednesday the ban is still expected to take effect any day now.
Plenty of other cities and counties in our state opted not to wait for a federal change. The drug – and often synthetic marijuana as well, which continues to be sold on the Grand Strand – has already been banned or is under consideration for a ban in Georgetown, Johnsonville, Hemingway, Florence, Marion, Columbia, Hartsville, Coward, Jefferson, McBee, Mullins, Nichols, Pamplico, Patrick, Timmonsville and Blenheim. The same is true in the counties of Richland, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Union, Fairfield, Dorchester, Berkeley and Orangeburg.
In Myrtle Beach, the city has “certainly contemplated” a ban of bath salts, said spokesman Mark Kruea, but the city’s now confident that any local action will be overtaken by the federal agency, making any action it takes unnecessary.
Horry County Administrator John Weaver and county leaders, however, rather than simply never getting around to a ban, have actively decided against one.
“The county attorney and I,” said Weaver, “both believe that local legislation making criminal an otherwise legal product is beyond the purview of County Council’s authority.”
That view raises an obvious question: Plenty of other counties and municipalities have already moved ahead with bans. Why would Horry County not be allowed to follow suit? What reason could possibly exist for not acting? One comes to mind, although its validity in this case is hard to justify.
South Carolina, and particularly our own Independent Republic of Horry, has long had a strong respect and value for personal liberties. While we may not agree with all of our neighbors’ choices, we generally respect their right to do what they want to themselves on their own property. For a glimpse of this mindset in action, look no further than the debate over local smoking bans.
Civil liberty advocates have found it hard to accept that governments would attempt to dictate whether or not a business owner can smoke on his own property. Would they extend that argument to protect those using bath salts? After all, both tobacco and bath salts can be harmful to users and to those around them. Why fight for the use of one and not the other? Follow that road a little further and bans of any sort come into question. What about cocaine or meth or heroin? What makes it worth denying people the freedom to use those drugs?
In a perfect world, we could ban nothing. But that utopian ideal will succeed only when we all come equipped with the right amount of self-restraint. Absent that fantasy, restrictions on our free will are a necessary component of our society. As we walk the tightrope of civilization, rules provide the tension that keep us aloft. Without rules, the rope would lack the tension to hold our weight, society would lose its balance, and we would tumble into anarchy. Conversely, creating too many rules will stretch the rope until it snaps, leaving us grasping air.
It’s in determining which rules to enact and that’s when our leaders show their worth. Local leaders are right to be cautious in curtailing personal liberties, but in the case of bath salts, the public danger easily outweighs that concern. If federal action weren’t right around the corner, immediate local action would be in order. The debate is likely over in respect to bath salts, but it will undoubtedly rear its head again when the next public danger comes along, and waiting for the federal government will not always work.