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Reasons to Legalize Drugs

Updated on April 22, 2016
Thomas Swan profile image

Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He enjoys exploring the interplay between politics and culture.

Drug dealers profit from the suffering of others.
Drug dealers profit from the suffering of others. | Source

Why Should Drugs Be Legalized?

Before you lift your eyebrows and mime a puffing action, let me start by saying I've never taken illegal drugs and will never choose to. However, I believe having a right to choose is a better situation than outlawing the choices of a drug-dependent minority.

We live in cultures where you're free to cut off your own legs, eat until you're too big to move, get into a ring with people who want to punch your lights out, have sexual encounters with strangers without seeing their medical records, become stunt actors, smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, and subject yourself to physical and mental torture. To choose to do something unhealthy is to make a bad choice, and we should all be free to make bad choices.

So why are some drugs illegal while others aren't? Surely all chemicals that can have an adverse effect on the human body deserve the same degree of regulation. Whether we're talking about cocaine or gasoline, most substances will cause harm if they're injected or ingested.

Who Are The Real Criminals?

Drug users certainly aren't criminals. Their only fault was to choose to do something unhealthy. As with alcohol, the only situation in which they should be criminalized is when they irresponsibly harm another person while under the influence.

The real criminals are the businessmen (and women) who seek to get people addicted to drugs in return for profit. Such dealers are promoting unhealthy choices, not informing their customers, and relying on the addictive properties of some drugs to charge prices that encourage criminality. Any `war on drugs' should focus on eradicating drug dealers, but how can this be achieved? Enforcement has been failing for decades, much like it did for alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Another strategy is needed.

Economist Milton Friedman Provides An Alternative

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Hit Drug Dealers Where It Hurts

The best way to destroy a business is not to force it underground, but to undercut and out-compete it. If a government took it upon themselves to mass-purchase or confiscate drugs from suppliers in South America and Asia, and sell them at non-profit prices to existing drug users, then the dealers would disappear overnight because they could never compete without making a loss on every trade. It follows that if the government controlled the drugs trade, they could also do something about it.

Concerns have been raised about this simple solution to the drugs problem. Some people believe drug use would increase, but consider the following question: If drugs were made legal, would you be stupid enough to take them? And if you are stupid enough to take them, does their illegal status prevent you from doing so? Regardless, there are other concerns, so it's worth elaborating on the reasons for legalization further.

Drugs policy should consider many factors, including health, crime, and expenditure.
Drugs policy should consider many factors, including health, crime, and expenditure. | Source

Eight Reasons to Legalize Drugs

  1. Selling drugs through legal, non-profit, mass-purchasing, government agencies would reduce the price of drugs and force dealers out of business.
  2. Much of the crime committed by drug users would be eliminated due to a reduction in the price of drugs. Users would no longer need to steal to fuel their addiction.
  3. All the crime associated with the drug dealing enterprise would be eliminated with the absence of dealers.
  4. As with alcohol, laws for driving or doing particular jobs under the influence could be brought in to ensure the public is protected.
  5. There are tests to determine drug use, and these could be used to register users at government clinics. Here, they can be offered help with their addiction, and their drug-purchasing can be monitored to reduce the risk of overdose. Counselling and rehabilitation centers can be situated nearby to give the best incentive to receive help. However, it's not the responsibility of the government to police self-harm. To do so undermines our autonomous rights.
  6. Framing addiction as an illness would remove the romantic, trendy image of drugs, thus removing some of its appeal. For example, some drugs like Vicodin and Morphine are highly addictive but, because they're associated with illnesses, there's very little problem with the youth of today taking them. By treating addiction as an illness rather than a crime we should see perceptions of drug use change drastically.
  7. The amount of money a government pays for purchasing drugs would equal the price at which they're sold (non-profit). However, the cost of the war on drugs would be eliminated, saving billions every year that goes into policing, customs, and prison services. Approximately one trillion dollars has been wasted on the war on drugs since 1971.
  8. A possible option would be to refuse access to drugs for people who're not currently addicted to them. These people could still try to acquire them from a private dealer or another government customer. However, once addicted, the new user will seek out the low prices offered by the government, thus providing no basis for illegal dealers to exist. The absence of drug dealers, together with a government that provides only for existing users, could see the number of addicts decline significantly over time.

Why Do Governments Want Drugs to Remain Illegal?

Contrary to expectations, many police and health professionals share these reasons for wanting legalization. According to Julian Critchley, an ex-Director of the British government’s anti-drugs office, the overwhelming majority of professionals in the field approve of legalization.

So, why are the experts being ignored? Some might say governments are pandering to a populace who still want drugs to be illegal but don’t understand why. Others may suspect governments of actually wanting drug cartels to stay in business. Indeed, the CIA has a history of working with them.

Opium is produced from poppies in Afghanistan.
Opium is produced from poppies in Afghanistan. | Source

For example, Afghanistan has historically produced about 90% of the world’s opium. However, the Taliban government of Afghanistan outlawed poppy growth and opium production in the year leading up to 9/11. The result was a 95% drop in the opium coming out of Afghanistan, with the remaining 5% coming out of Northern Alliance areas; a group opposed to the Taliban.

America invaded within months; blaming the Taliban for harboring terrorists in the post 9/11 environment. The U.S. became allied with the opium-producing Northern Alliance and eliminated the Taliban. They installed the Northern Alliance as a large part of the new government, and the opium trade recovered to typical levels. Despite U.S. promises and halfhearted efforts, the Afghan poppy harvest continues to rise, reaching record levels. If the Taliban managed to decimate the poppy crop in one year, how can a better-equipped American military fail so emphatically over more than a decade? Are the Taliban that much better at enforcement?

Suspicion can and should be raised; especially as support for legalizing drugs is strong among health and enforcement professionals whose expertise and ethical standing is on much surer footing.

© 2012 Thomas Swan

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    • Michael Tully profile image

      Michael Tully 4 years ago

      Very good points, Thomas. A lesson in American history applies well here. During the Prohibition period (approx. 1919-1933), when the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was prohibited by law, the organized criminal element flourished. When Prohibition was repealed, they had to find another product: drugs.

      It's a fact of life. If people want to drink, they'll drink, legally or otherwise. The same is true of drug use. The solution is the same: decriminalize it, regulate it, and tax it.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting. Well done, sir.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
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      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks Michael. I feel this topic needs to be publicized as much as possible because there seems to be a discrepancy between the opinions of the experts and the opinions of the general population. When arguments like the ones I've presented are made clear to the general population, they often change their views (unless they're particularly closed-minded).

      You are of course right that prohibition didn't work. It took control of people's unhealthy habits away from the government and gave it to the criminals, who could exploit them for all they were worth. With drugs, this exploitation of vulnerable people is one of the greatest evils in the world today.

      It certainly is a fact of life, and the more addictive a substance is, the more likely addicts will be to ignore the law, and the more likely criminals will be to exploit them. We'd be better off banning hamburgers than drugs.

      Obama seems to have turned away from legalization as a solution. I fear he's sold out and I find it hard to support him now.

    • arcangel777 profile image

      Gary Biron 2 years ago from Bellingham Washington

      Very educational Thomas. I have worked in the Department of Corrections and Law Enforcement for over twenty years. As a Corrections Officer, Supervisor, Manager, and Substance Abuse Counselor for Inmates to be paroled , I've experienced the failure of our state and federal criminal justice / court systems to effectively address the use, abuse, and dependency on legal and illegal drugs.

      I have become aware of how law enforcement agencies and court systems across the USA differ in dealing with illegal drug use and abuse. We are definitely not a country together on the issues regarding criminal law, social programming,incarceration, corrections , and in general, treatment of people exhibiting addictions to drugs , alcohol, and other substances carrying a criminal sentence. This lack of unity becomes a chink in this countries armor/war on drugs.

      Something to consider:

      Many people whom become caught up in any of the Justice systems across this country are people whom as children experience some form of mental illness. Many parents do not provide proper treatment and many parents are in denial. For these children ..Addiction in many cases start at a very early age and is referred to as "self medicating". As adults , many don't realize they require mental health treatment and care. And with it , they have a chance at living a normal and productive life.

      There are millions of these people in this country whom are sitting in prisons. Each one cost the taxpayer 50-100,000 a year. For what good prisons do for these people we could spend these millions on health care for the mentally ill etc.

      In this country our states and federal government has always taken the traditional approach to offenders ; Lock'em Up. This simplistic approach to the problem we discuss here is the only manner in which the states and federal government agree on and do well. This approach to crime and punishment is as old as the nation. This system is completely incapable of coping with modern social ills.

      Legalizing various drugs of medical value is the first step to improving many conditions in our society. Along with this first step should be an across the board agreed on mental health approach to addiction, and substance abuse.

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      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      I do not agree with your concept, but many do. The argument in the U.S. is if you legalize drugs, you save money on trying to stop the use of drugs. Any savings would go into paying for the bureaucracy needed to regulate the legalization of drugs.

      Then the questions arise:

      What drugs are we going to legalize?

      Can we develop testing devices to determine the amount of drug in a person's system, as we do with alcohol and then at what point is this person prohibited from driving, having a gun, or working in high-risk industries?

      Legalizing marijuana is one thing. Legalizing many other drugs is something else.

      Can companies refuse to hire someone who is a meth user?

      Finally, if we legalize drugs, does that mean they have to come from a drug manufacturer and sold over the counte? Will a prescription be needed? What is the cost of treating an increased number of overdoses going to be and if the items are legalized, what is going to prevent the "black market" from come up with something new or drugs with a greater kick.

      I am not following you around today. You just caught my interest on a couple of things.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
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      Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Thank you for your informative comment arcangel777. I suppose differences in whether we choose to incarcerate or counsel addicts depends a lot on whether someone is conservative (lock up) or liberal (help). Both camps are loud, dogmatic, and in plentiful supply in America. I think it's easier to convince liberals. Some Conservatives might be swayed more by economic, crime-reduction, and `failure of prohibition' arguments rather than asking them to develop a sense of compassion. Most want guns to be legal too, so appealing to their sense of libertarianism might be a good place to start.

      I agree it starts early, perhaps even at the moment of conception, as there are probably studies showing genetic consistencies in proneness to addiction. Mental illness usually has a large genetic component too. By legalizing drugs, we can frame addiction more as an illness rather than a crime, helping everyone (including the addict) to recognize that help is needed. And, if the drug trade were controlled, help would be so much more accessible.

      Along with your first steps, education could be improved in schools. It should focus more on the causes and effects of addiction rather than instilling such ideas as "drugs are bad" and "drugs are illegal" with very little explanation and justification to go with it.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
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      Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for commenting Larry. I would hope it could be done with minimal bureaucracy and huge savings. It would simply no longer be an offense to harm yourself by ingesting chemicals, much like it's not an offense to drink yourself to death by imbibing alcohol or gasoline or any of the other things that can be bought legally. There would be a similar level of regulation than there is for alcohol.

      What drugs to legalize? All of them. Self-harm isn't the government's responsibility to police. Their only responsibility is to make help/counselling/rehabilitation available to as many addicts as possible. Addiction is an illness that requires treatment.

      Can we develop testing devices for the road? I'd think so. If there's profit to be made from selling millions of portable drug-tests to the police, I'd expect something to be churned out in no time. Studies could be run to assess cognitive abilities among users after ingesting various levels of a drug. Limits could be recommended based on the results.

      Can companies refuse to hire a drug-user? Only if it affects their ability to do the job. Otherwise, absolutely not. Addiction is a mental illness, so it would be equivalent to discriminating against someone who has OCD or bi-polar disorder, for example.

      Will drugs be sold over the counter? Yes, at clinics that are set up to provide them. No prescription needed, just ID to confirm age. Initially, they'd register at the clinic and a record would be opened to monitor their usage. Much like a doctor's surgery, I suppose.

      What will the cost of ODs be? Hopefully there won't be many ODs. Clinics would be able to ensure that excessive amounts of a drug aren't purchased in a single visit. They'd be able to monitor an addict's usage.

      Would a black market create new drugs? If they do, they'd be immediately bought up from the suppliers (or seized) and sold for non-profit prices in the clinics. The black market would instantly die.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      Thank you for your comments. Regarding which drugs, and you said all of them.

      Does all just refer to what is now illegal? For instance, morphine is not a legal drug if a doctor prescribes it. I once received a dose through an IV tube after some near-death surgery. It hits you quick. Does that fall into the "all of them" category?

      Then what about all the other drugs in the average pharmacy, such as antibiotics, birth control pills, Viagra and such, blood pressure meds, etc., is that part of "all of them." I do not think you really want to include them. You appear too intelligent to think people should start making their own diagnosis, believing a pain in the left arm is from lifting too much and not a possible sign of a heart attack. Users know how to make meth using decongestants. Synthetic marijuana, which is really dangerous stuff, is sold as bath salts.

      I think a black-market would develop. I do not think, you can get an unlimited supply of drugs through any legal means we might enact, as well as the desired strength. Thus theblack market would develop to meet that demand. I have to take 10 pills a day, under the direction of two doctors, who consult with each other.

      As we grow older, problems start developing that we did not imagine when we were 40. I had my first surgery at 49 for a perforated colon. I have had five major surgeries since then. have never finished a bottle of pain pills upon going home. Some people would use them all in one day for a high. We build fences to protect our homes and families. We need to do other things to help assure their safety.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
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      Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand

      I consider morphine legal if it's used in hospitals and prescribed by doctors. There are two routes that could be taken:

      1. Move heroin, cocaine, marijuana and all illegal drugs to the same level as morphine, so that they're only prescribed to existing users or people who have a particular medical condition that would be helped by taking it. (#8 in the article).

      2. Legalize everything for over 18's and let everyone make their own choices.

      I couldn't say which is better. Both have pros and cons. I don't think self-medicating would be a big problem. You'd have to ask if you, I, or anyone you know is really that stupid? If I had an unusual pain in my left arm, I'd go to the doctor. I think most would. For minor pains, coughs, and colds I already self-medicate, but I'm not going to stop going to the doctor for things I can't diagnose myself.

      For public heath concerns, such as overuse of anti-biotics leading to resistant bugs, you'd have to keep that prescription only. I guess that exemplifies what I'm asking for: prioritizing public health. So, don't let criminals control the drugs trade. Their only motivation is to get more people addicted. That threatens public health.

      I'm pretty certain government agencies could acquire enough drugs to meet the needs of users. They know exactly where it's grown, and they're cosy enough with the governments of Colombia and Afghanistan. They can get their cocaine and heroin there, buy it in bulk, and sell for no profit to users. I imagine the US government could strike a pretty hard bargain at the point of a gun. I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep over drug suppliers being threatened.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      Thomas,

      We have disagreed on a lot of this, but this may be at the top. The interaction of drugs has to be weighed carefully, or serious harm may occur.

      If you are keeping your legalization plan limited to marijuana, heroin, and the like and leaving the prescribing of other medications to doctors, we are closer in agreement.

      Of course that begs the question, who is going to support these people who go from the occasional "high" to total addiction. They will not be able to work. They will develop other illnesses as their immune system is compromise and finally, will strung-out parents start giving drugs to their crying babies, who are suffering from an earache, an unexplained fever, and other ills.

      Migraine headaches, allergies, glaucoma, Aids, fractures, late-life depression, diabetes, and countless other ailments require professional attention, and should not be treated by a drug that makes you "feel good."

      Finally, since addiction is a problem with many drugs are a problem, how much money is the U.S. going to spend to pay for the increasing demand and attending to the long-term side effects.

      My son suffered a brain injury in a car accident (not his fault or the driver of the car he was in). His meds have to be administered by a doctor and come from pharmacy. If you want to spend money, let's find a cure for those diseases for which there is no medication. I watch my mother die over a period of about 18 months from ALS.

      Marijuana will probably become legal at some point. Amphetamines (uppers) can destroy a person. It is easy to overdose on sleeping pills or pain pills for arthritis. Maybe your family has been blessed with good health and never had to face a serious illness. I do not know. I buy by non-narcotic cough syrup when I have a cough and cold. My pharmacist, runs it throgh a computer to see if there is any adverse interaction with the other medicines I have to take.

      When I have a sinus infection, I need a doctor to determine the best antibiotic I can take at that time. As you probably know, the body can develop an immunity to the antibiotics if taken too often. You want to talk about the stuff we use to classify as "dope," that is fine. However, I do not want my tax dollars used to create addictions and then have to pay for their long-term care because they cannot work. Most casual users will move on up to something with a little more kick and a higher rate of addiction.

      I do not want to argue with you. However, for a person of your obvious intellect, I do not think you are looking at the long-term impact not only on the drug users, their families and society.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
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      Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Well Larry, I hadn't thought as much about other medications before your comments. I can certainly agree on anti-biotics remaining prescription only, and I could probably agree on many others. We're going too far into the details here. The point I'd like to make is: the benefits of legalizing drugs are significant enough to find a way to make it work. So I'll leave it to others to sort out the details.

      I do think you're inventing problems that simply wouldn't happen though. I don't know why parents would suddenly start poisoning their children. Some parents already give their children sips of alcohol, sadly. It wouldn't be a new problem, but I don't see it getting worse. I don't know why people would suddenly go from occasional highs to full on addiction either. I don't know why people would suddenly start risking their lives by self-medicating instead of going to their doctors, or taking heroin to counter headaches. You're also assuming there will be increasing demand. That isn't certain. And I've already explained it will be non-profit, not a charity. The government would not spend more than it makes.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      Nothing is certain. I am an old news reporter and saw a lot of families destroyed while one member drained the checking or savings account, borrowed from friends, etc. If you ever had migraine headache that lasted for a week or more, you might do anything. Addiction is easy. I take a sleeping pill every night--prescribed. If I have to get off of them, I am going to have some restless nights. I have been an insombiac since I was 10 or 11. Did not start taking anything until I was in my 50s.Some people cannot handle that. As far as your government plan goes, some people would purchase and give to, for instance, the illegal immigrants from Mexico. Then once addicted, they would start charging double what they paid. The illegal immigrants would have no recourse but to work for no wages, since they are already underpaid. High school kids would find their parents stash of drugs and either use it or start reselling it. Do we really want people driving the highways after taking heroin? You could enact a law to prohibit reselling. However, it would be a meaningless law that would prevent the reselling for a tremendous profit.

      Thomas, I do not always agree with you, but I do not think you have thought this out. There would be people buying it, accumulating a larger supply and then begin reselling it to teenagers, illegal aliens, and persons taking other medications and not knowing what the interaction would be with their blood pressure, arthritis or other medications. An increase in you heorin use, the shorter the euphoric feeling will last. You stated, "I don't know why people would suddenly go from occasional highs to full-on addiction either." No one starts out to be addicted because "I can handle it." Everyone cannot handle it. Children will get it. Quantities will be accumulated and resold, and the impact on the U.S. health care system would be inundated with a group of addicts whom you are not anticipating. There are other narcotic pain pills, and a family of uppers that can have equally adverse impacts. If you make it easy to get more people will try it. Besides heroine, there is cocaine, LSD, meth, the date rape drugs and all sorts of thing they need to be regulated and in some cases eliminated. Your plan would never pass the U.S. Congress and if it did any President would veto it. Your theory may have merit in an ideal world. As a plan of action, in our world today, it would be a disaster.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Reselling wouldn't happen since purchases would be monitored to prevent overdose. They wouldn't be able to buy more than one person can handle, and blood tests could be used to ensure they're really an addict and not pretending to be one. Why would an addict sell their only supply? Do you catch heroin recoverers selling their methadone? I've already explained most of this though.

      "Do we really want people driving the highways after taking heroin?" - People already drive the highways taking heroin. Are you saying there would be more? Decriminalization of drugs in Portugal saw no increase in usage rates. The simple conclusion is, people who aren't taking drugs don't suddenly decide to get addicted when the law changes. You wouldn't, I wouldn't, most/all people wouldn't.

      Again, why would children get it any more than they currently do? Users already put their children at risk and already drive on the roads when they're high. Except now, they'd have access to much more help, they won't have to spend all their money on drugs (now they can spend it on their kids), and they won't be committing crimes to fund their habits.

      I don't accept this idea that a significant number of people are fools who would suddenly decide to become heroin addicts because the law has changed.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      Where did we agree that only addicts would be buying the heroin if we legalize all drugs?

      We disagree on your last paragraph. There are a significant number of people who are fools. If they were not, they never would had taken that first hit.

      We are not going to agree on this. I will accept the decriminalization of marijuana, but still hold people accountable for driving under the influence.

      I do not want my country of sell heroin. That will create another bureaucratic maze that will be abused.

      My adopted son's birth mother was a drug abuser. He is paying the price for it.

      I hope your children are never exposed to such drugs. You will not be happy about it.

      Obviously, we are not going to change our opinions, thus, we might as well conclude it. Your idea is not going to happen in the U.S. Your plan would just open a portal for corruption and abuse.

      On that note, I am ready to end this debate. Neither one of us are going to change the U.S. policy. Your background is scholarly. I was a news reporter and wrote about a lot of drug overdoses. I have relatives that have abused drugs and suffered consequences. I want my car fix, I go to a mechanic. If I need some medication, I go to the doctor and know when to use certain over the counter drugs.

      As far as I am concern, our debate has reached a conclusion. We do not need to continue it. I wish the best for you and your family.

      Larry

    • arcangel777 profile image

      Gary Biron 2 years ago from Bellingham Washington

      Larry, I understand your concerns, and frustration. I understand your desire to protect your family , others and the nation.However, we all cannot just quit on this debate. Also , we cannot simply become one sided or protectionist. We must remember ..., there are hundreds of thousands of families that still need our help in understanding drug abuse, Addiction, and the myriad problems it creates for all. Knowledge is power and we must find common ground, come together as a nation, and keep searching for the answers...

      Respectfully.....

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      I do not disagree with you. If you are taking the statement that "our debate has reached a conclusion..." I was not referring to the broader issue of drug abuse and misuse. I was only referring to Hub written my Mr. Swan. We often have opposing views, (we do agree sometimes.) My position is firm. I oppose legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. When it is proved that it has medical use and can be administered in a controlled manner. Then I will be in support. Mr. Swan and I had made our points and we were beginning to repeat ourselves. He comes from an academic backgrounds and is certainly very intelligent. As a former newspaper reporter and the parent of a son, who has been to several funerals of his friends who have over dosed on drugs, with marijuana, always being the first drug they tried, I have a different view. Continuation of that Hub was not going to accomplish anything else we needed to come to an interim conclusion of agreeing we do not agree.

      I have written many words here on the Hub and other places about drug abuse. It happened to members of my family (parents) and to many othes who have lost their families, good jobs and their own self-respect because of drug abuse. I do not want to do anything to encourage the use of so call recreational drugs. Marijuana is a drug and drugs are not intended for recreation.

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      Jeanette Harris 2 years ago from 11996 Valley Falls Loop Spring Hill Florida, 34609

      Thanks you just showed me another point of view.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      The Legislature of my state has passed a bill through one chamber to make marijuana legal for medical use. Actually, the law has been on, the books for 24 years. The new law, would require that marijuana be grown at one spot approved by the state. Secondly, it will be reduced to a form that will not make it suitable for making joints. Finally, it will require a doctor's prescription and will have to be purchased at a licensed pharmacy. The key word is medical. The next issue will be whether health insurance will cover the cost.

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