The Cornell Law School Federalist Society

Posts Tagged ‘steroids’

Crosspost: Paternalism on Steroids

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

From the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy blog:

Allow me to ask a ridiculous question: why does the federal government spend money prosecuting weight lifters who want to get more muscular, and, much to the bodybuilders’ chagrin, go bald and potentially develop breasts?

Anabolic steroids were added to the Controlled Substances Act in 1990 not because steroids were considered highly dangerous, but rather in part because Congress was angry at Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson’s alleged cheating at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Though it is unclear whether or not Johnson ever actually consumed steroids, and despite the fact that the AMA, DEA, the NIIDA, and FDA all advised against it, Congress listed anabolic steroids as a Schedule III controlled substance in 1990. The listing of anabolic steroids as a controlled substance has begun an era of steroid witch hunts where Congress spends inordinate amounts of time investigating alleged MLB steroid use and state and federal prosecutors across the country hunt down sellers of steroids.

Anabolic steroids pose many dangers to individual users, but they aren’t particularly devastating to society at large. Steroids can potentially, among other things, cause severe acne, accelerate hair loss, damage the liver, and can even develop breast tissue in males (gynecomastia). Some studies suggest steroids may be addictive. “Roid rage,” a term coined to describe allegedly uncontrollable bursts of violence caused by the users of anabolic steroids, does not appear to exist, though studies suggest that any increase in testosterone will (predictably) make behavior more aggressive. In short, steroids are dangerous, but the issues they create don’t really impact society much more than in an aesthetic sense.

This is not to imply that the use of steroids is valuable or commendable. In my opinion, few (if any) non-medical situations justify the use of anabolic steroids. Risky and relatively valueless products like cigarettes and alcohol continue to be legal and popular in the US despite their exorbitant externalized costs. Anabolic steroids pose an equal number of, if not fewer, harms to society than alcohol and tobacco do. Why does the federal government care so much about bodybuilders who want to get bigger and, in the process, potentially go bald and develop breasts?

Probably the main reason legislatures have rushed to prohibit steroids is that popular opinion has turned to think of them as the basis of cheating in sports. While there are legitimate reasons to worry about the monopolistic behavior of sports leagues, the MLB’s problems with steroid abuse are internal regulation problems best served by MLB rulemaking and enforcement, not by the “help” of Congress. The federal government is not tasked with being the policing arm of the MLB.

For these reasons, I think that the addition of steroids to the Controlled Substances Act was and continues to be without merit. Should America really maintain unjustified blanket prohibitions on drugs like anabolic steroids simply because sprinters and baseball players may have used them to gain unfair advantage in athletics? Should US courts really concern themselves with the foolish choices of recreational bodybuilders and those who cater to them? In my opinion, the answer to both questions is no.

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