Decriminalize drugs

One the many controversies in our country today, regards the prohibition of illegal narcotics. Deemed unhealthy, hazardous, and even fatal by the authorities that be; the U.S. government has declared to wage a “war on drugs.” It has been roughly fifteen years since this initiative has begun, and each year the government shuffles more money into the unjust cause of drug prohibition. Even after all of this, the problem of drugs that the government sees still exists. The prohibition of drugs is a constitutional anomaly. There are many aspects and sides to look at the issue from, but the glaring inefficiency current laws exude is that any human should have the right to ingest anything he or she desires. The antagonist on the other end believes that by doing so chaos would result because of the ingestion of said substances. This purely speculation, and we have seen in the history of man that this has never occurred nor is there reason to believe it will happen this time.

Many proponents of the current drug laws claim that legalization and/or decriminalization would in turn increase the number of drug users. If a drug is legalized/decriminalized, the price will fall and the quantity of demand will rise. The evidence from prohibition suggests we can expect two broad patterns of response if legalization occurs. First, there will be a small rise in consumption, which will take place to some extent across the spectrum of consumers. People who had never used drugs may choose to use them. Secondly, there will be a change in the nature of the drugs used and in the way in which they will be used. Specifically, there will be a move toward less intensive drug forms and less abusive patterns of use. When drugs are illegal, more damaging drugs drive out less damaging ones. In jurisdictions that liberalize their drug laws, this process will reverse itself. The evidence on this from Prohibition is unequivocal: as soon as repeal occurred, the consumption of hard liquor dropped by more than two-thirds. In addition, there was a massive shift from higher potency liquor toward the lower-proof varieties of liquor.

The vast majority of all people, addicts and alcoholics included, do not consume drugs as a means of destroying their lives. Nor do they consume them intending to become addicted to them. Abuse and addiction are the adverse consequences that sometimes occur when drugs are consumed at habitual or routine levels. They are the survival-threatening features of the behavior in question, not the functional or pleasurable features that fundamentally motivate the behavior. The most important factor for the spread of crack and heroin is that when opiates and cocaine are illegal, low potency versions of these drugs become extensively expensive. Thus, consumers are induced to switch to more intensive and more harmful drug forms and delivery systems. Absent the incentives created by current policy, consumers will revert to the modes of consumption that are less damaging.

The rise of illegal drug use that began in the 1960s was accompanied by the growing opinion that drug use should be legalized. This feeling remained strong though the middle of the 1970s when the existing research on drugs such as marijuana and cocaine did not clearly point to health hazards. Those who favored legalization thought that certain drugs could be used responsibly by most people who would otherwise be law-abiding or even model citizens. In other words, they believed most drug use to be a victimless crime.

Some of the arguments for legalizing the sale and possession of drugs have been made on purely economic grounds. Staggeringly large sums of money are being generated through the illegal drug trade. All of this money escapes direct taxation. If an excise tax, like those placed on alcohol and cigarettes, billions of dollars would become available for public projects. The U.S. department of Health and Human Services’ agency SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, estimates that there are almost fifteen billion Americans who had used illicit drugs at least thirty days prior to the survey. If legalized, a standard pack of marijuana would probably contain roughly an ounce or so of marijuana. If it were sold at $60 a pack with a $30 tax and if we guesstimate that it only costs $10 a pack to manufacture and distribute, and if each one of the estimated illicit drug users bought one per month. That would equal $5.23 billion dollars in tax revenue and 3.5 billion for the corporations that market them. These are only rough figures using imaginary numbers but we can still see that this is a huge market with a withstanding economic impact. The government regulation of drugs would also require setting the standards of potency and purity for the drugs they sold. At present, drugs sold on the street vary widely in their composition. Many people who think they are buying cocaine actually get some lookalike substance, such as amphetamine instead. Cocaine is also cut, diluted, by adding other substances, sometimes even more toxic than cocaine. Marijuana sold on the streets is likely to include dirt, herbicides, and variety of fungi. All of these problems could be avoided if drugs were taken out of the hands of criminal suppliers and government regulations maintain the integrity of the drug business.

The U.S. federal government spent nearly $18 billion in its effort to fight drugs in 1999 and up to $16 billion in 1998. This money, combined with billions more at the state and local levels, was allocated for a wide range of programs, including education and prevention, drug treatment, the arrest and conviction of drug dealers and users, and the interdiction of drugs at the nations borders. This massive anti-drug campaign has not come anywhere close to accomplishing its goal and at this rate we as a nation will run out of money long before it does ever come close. The real tragedy of this situation are those who suffer, and those are the ones incarcerated. From the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1997 3 out of 4 state and 4 out of 5 federal prisoners may be characterized as an alcohol or drug involved offender. The percentage of those in prison for drug offenses was 54.8% in 2002. Prisons are overcrowding and it seems less money is being put into them. Prison sentences are being handed out everyday and the average length of those put in for drugs has doubled from 1986 to 1999. The rehabilitation of these “criminals” is almost nonexistent. The culture inside of prison hardly reinforces the recovery of the inmates, instead it breeds a criminal culture from which it s hard to escape.

In conclusion, the government’s war on drugs has not been successful to date, and shows no sign of victory in the future. I think it that is about time we reconsider what values we hold high and take a second look at the damage that already has been done by the war on drugs. What it comes down to is personal freedom and the constitutional anomaly that destroys it.