Making The Illegal Legal

“But happily ever after fails. And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales.”
­— Bruce Hornsby and Don Henley

Even though I grew up in a community run by organized crime, the lines between what was legal and what was illegal were very clear.

Drug pushing was illegal. Loan sharking was illegal. Bribing politicians was illegal.

People did all three,  but knew they could go to jail.

Things are different now.

My perception of drug pushers has always been of gun-toting street dealers and drug lords.

In other words, characters right out of Scarface and New Jack City.

Now the way to get “the really good stuff” is to go to a pain management clinic.

People spend a few minutes and lots of money to get a “physical.”

They skip insurance and pay the clinic with cash or a credit card.

The “medical staff” will then arrange for you to get you a large order of the highly addictive pain medicines prescribed by the clinic doc.  You can often get the prescription filled right at the clinic.

It’s a great deal for the addict — one-stop shopping and no chance of being arrested for possession.

It’s not illegal if it was prescribed by a doctor.

It’s also a great way to die at a young age.

Several years ago, I set up a structured settlement and a trust for a young woman who had been in an accident.

We tied up a large amount of money but I went along with giving her $10,000 to supposedly pay off her credit cards.

She took the $10,000 and bought methadone to party with her friends. She overdosed and died the same day I gave her the money.

28 years old.

It haunted me then and will haunt me forever.

It taught me never to give a client that much cash and it taught me to hate pain management clinics.

Clinics are perfectly legal.

In Kentucky, you don’t even have to be a doctor to own one. I suspect the legislature will fix that loophole, as it’s hard to believe that a business handing out narcotics can be owned by non-medical people.

I’m not a lawyer, but would love to own a law firm.

I’d like to own a plumbing contracting firm but not be a licensed plumber. I’d like to own a real estate firm but am not a licensed realtor.

None of those options are available to me. But owning a pain management clinic is.

A similar story can be said for another illegal activity turned legitimate: payday lending.

A few years ago, I coined the phrase, “Legalized loan sharking” since it’s impossible for me to see how payday lenders differ from the loan sharks of my youth.

Unlike pain management clinics, my state legislature, like many others, has not been inclined to do anything to stop the payday lenders.

Gary Rivlin’s book, Broke USA, is a wonderful account of how big money is made in the poverty industry.

On one hand, I become horrified when I see how much money the payday lenders give in contributions.

On the other hand, I like knowing who is getting what and where that money is coming from.

The rise of the “Super PAC” concept makes it harder to find that out.

The United States Supreme Court gave the political process to Wall Street by allowing corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions.

If we want to occupy anywhere, the Supreme Court is a good place to start.

A horrible five-to-four decision could completely take government away from individuals.

There was a time, not long ago, when corporate campaign contributing was a felony, with possible jail time.

The late New York Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, was convicted of a felony when Richard Nixon’s campaign shook him down for a corporate contribution in 1972.

Jimmy Breslin’s great book, How the Good Guys Finally Won:  Notes from an Impeachment Summer,  talked about how Nixon’s crew put the squeeze on Steinbrenner and others like him.

Imagine what the Watergate folks could do now?

With Super PACs allowing corporations to give unlimited amounts to fund campaigns, the big corporations control the political process, particularly at the presidential level.

The big growth opportunities in the economy come from taking something that everyone assumed was illegal and making it legal.

As a society, it would seem logical that we would want drug pushing, loan sharking and corporate influence peddling to stop.

At the very least, we could go back to making it against the law.

Don McNay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist for Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at