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Why Are Drugs Illegal in the United States

Updated on April 5, 2012

Authors Quote

"Drug use and alcohol use should be fought with education, with treatment, and at home with our children. Send a person to prison for five years and you may take them off the street but they will more than likely return to the drug or to a similar life style after their stint in prison. Going to prison is not a fix, it is just a way to take that person off the street. If a person is going to use drugs they will find a way to get them."

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Drug Wars Happen Because of Our Laws

In Mexican drug cartel wars many thousands have died, some Americans, and many innocent Mexican citizens.
In Mexican drug cartel wars many thousands have died, some Americans, and many innocent Mexican citizens.

Why Are Drugs Illegal?

Okay first off, I'm not an advocate for addiction. I hate addiction personally and I believe it is wrong to put a substance above all other things in life. But there are people out there that suffer from addictions just like others suffer from chronic illness. It may be both physical and mental, inherited and environmental but the fact remains that drugs and alcohol are here and that in all classes, all walks of life from the poorest person to the richest these dependencies have a hold in society. As sad as that is what we choose to put in our bodies be it a cheeseburger from a fast food place or a needle in the vein addiction is and will always be part of the human experience.

Why Drugs Are Illegal:

So with that said would it surprise you to know that drugs here in the United States were once all legal? Yes everything from heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, to marijuana were all legal. (NO WAY!) you say? Yes way, the laws that are in place today came to light in the last hundred years. So why are certain drugs or what the government and law enforcement call street drugs illegal here in the U.S.? What happened to make all the drugs people go to prison for today illegal?

Certain drugs it seems made the list because of their intoxicating effects. But most of all it lends itself to the first illicit drug law ever put into effect... the Harrison Act of 1914. What was the Harrison Act?

A Big Mistake

Well this HUGE mistake was proposed by Francis Burton Harrison a Representative of New York. It was a Taxation Law Ch. 1, 38 Stat, 785 that states "An act to provide for the registration of, with collector of the IRS, to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense sell or distribute, or give away opium and coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, preparations, a for all other purposes."

So the law was then interpreted to mean that doctors and medical professionals could prescribe narcotic drugs for normal medical treatments but not for the treatment of addiction or addictive behaviors. Even with this law in place companies, and medical doctors could still sell and use illicit drugs and give or sell them to people. This began the first battle with the war on drugs as doctors and companies had to keep special logs for the distribution and sale of narcotics to people. Street dealers were their enemy and law enforcement soon got involved. So the real reason is that if there was no record of the sale and no way to track money spent on the drug itself or its manufacture or its distribution as a gift then there was no way to tax the person or persons selling, using, or making the drug. Because the drug were being used recreation-ally and not for medical use it was increasingly difficult for the government and IRS to track what a person was using and how much they were spending on the drug. So the goal was to privatize illicit drug sales and tax the drugs being sold. But as always the government has to get its hand involved in all aspects of peoples lives.

Since that time all drugs that cannot be regulated as recreational (like tobacco and alcohol) are labeled street drugs and carry heavy penalties like fines and prison terms. Instead of offering the public education of the destruction of lives because of addiction to narcotics and then giving people treatment for those that are already addicted to substances the government incarcerates millions of individuals every year for drug related crimes. (Ah so that is where your tax money goes) Many anti-Drug bills have been past since drugs have been made illegal for recreational use. The history of anti drug acts placed and enforced by the government is a mixed affair and often a misguided and ignorant affair as well. Marijuana was made illegal because of poor communities and its connection to unwanted poorer Hispanic cultures and black ghetto usage in the early 1900s, this decreased usage until the 60s counter culture came into effect. Even President Carters administration fought to decriminalize marijuana usage. Cocaine became illegal because of the taxation act by Harrison in 1914 but its usage saw a huge influx in the disco 70's and the affluent 80's until crack became popular in poorer communities and the drug was viewed as a ghetto black drug. Amphetamines were used in WW2 as a way to combat depression and give soldiers a pick me up in battle to keep them awake to fight. The black market of amphetamines came about for use in trucking and in sports and this lead to the criminalization of amphetamines. The point is that all drugs were once legal.

Illegal drug use is rampant in all areas of the world and drugs will always find a way through back dealings with crooked crime enforcement officers through bribery, extortion and many other means of distribution. Organized crime makes billions a year off the distribution of narcotics. Those same narcotics that could be sold like alcohol and tobacco in safe delivery systems either by limiting the intoxicating effects or limiting distribution to the public by law. Yes there would be an increase in use but that is mostly because we would have those people addicted to drugs back on the streets and out of prison.

There is a flaw in the logic of the current state of law. Drug use and alcohol use should be fought with education, with treatment, and at home with our children. Send a person to prison for five years and you may take them off the street but they will more than likely return to the drug or to a similar life style after their stint in prison. Going to prison is not a fix, it is just a way to take that person off the street. If a person is going to use drugs they will find a way to get them. Take that person off the street and you take them out of the drug life for a little while.

Crime because of drugs is an epidemic. When was the last time you heard of someone being shot for a pack of cigarettes or a can of beer? You do see that with even marijuana! Why? Because it is illegal. There is no justice for the person ripped off for their product if it is illegal. Everyone goes to jail. So they resort to street justice and someone is beaten, shot, rapped, or killed for their drugs. Instead of offering treatment we through them in prison. It is a cycle not easily broken.

I am not saying we should legalize all drugs so that we are nothing but a society of crack heads, pot heads, alcoholics, and heroin junkies. What I am saying is that our approach to drug use and addiction in the U.S. should be from a treatment standpoint and not one of a criminal standpoint. The United States is falling behind the rest of the world because of our ignorance to very obvious problems and in the way we choose to deal with those problems. From our economical problems to our addictions the people of the United States should demand change of these policies and enact reform of laws and in the way we handle the problem at large. It is time to change these ideals and laws so that we can move on into the future.


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Technically drugs are not illegal Big Pharma is the biggest pusher and probably killed more people then the illegal drugs. States could tax it but look at the mark up pizer. Then we have the court system and the prison industry. Then we have a population of excons who can never get a decent job or ever vote, not to mention the discrimination. Its funny how one problem becomes an industry. Still drugs are a problem because addicts are lousy workers, parents and such. Then there is the problem of crime. I guess we have to find balance and somehow allow people to make mistakes to join the human race again. The insane cost of medicine has forced a lot of people to find their treatment elsewhere. That is probably the least reported reason for drugs. If marijuana solves a lot of those issues why would I waste my time seeing a doctor who never listens until they take you for everything you got.

    • Cow Flipper profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Jankowski 

      7 years ago from Southern Oregon

      spiritglove, thank you for your common sense approach.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      In Portugal, drugs have been legalized, and there is no appreciable rise in drug use. Education works, let it.

    • Cow Flipper profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Jankowski 

      8 years ago from Southern Oregon

      Aren't you proud to me an American? :)

    • profile image

      Careful Eye 

      8 years ago

      "billions of tax dollars each year because of drug convictions?"

      The war on drugs may cost us money in tax, but they are also making billions for their bonuses each year; not to mention the fact that they are losing the war on drugs. They arrest consumers over dealers so they can maximise the amount of prisoners in private prisons to earn a wage from.

      "You can get drugs from a pharmacy but you don't see the cops arresting your pharmacist do you?"

      The only reason pharmacists are not arrested is because they are earning money for the government and investment bankers through taxation, addiction and later health care being required.

      Our system is so money orientated that it could never be morally correct. It is so set on maximising profits and revenue they will fund wars and whole countries. They will kill innocent citezens and over throw governments, such as Gaddafi or Bin Laden to secure 'precious resources' such as oil.

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 

      8 years ago from LA


    • Cow Flipper profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Jankowski 

      8 years ago from Southern Oregon

      Kathryn, (just for the record) I agree with how you feel. The front of the war on drugs happens in every home each night families are together. Your best way to combat it is to talk about it with your kids and not use yourself. That is how each person can win the battle against addiction. :)

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 

      8 years ago from LA

      I understand, but how do we set up moral values (to protect the youth and create an environment conducive for health and common decency for THEM,) except through the law? That is really the question. "Thou shalt not abuse thy brain and therefore thy mind through destructive substance abuse..." That should be the 11th commandment! We need to develop a respect for our bodies as a temples created by God... if not God, then an excellent evolutionary journey. Drug, alcohol and child abuse really needs to cease. Happiness comes from within. I know this cannot be enforced, but at least I can write about it. Thank you for addressing the problem.

    • Cow Flipper profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Jankowski 

      8 years ago from Southern Oregon


      I commend your viewpoint, I also wish that we lived in a world where people did not use drugs for recreation but the fact remains that we don't. Drugs and sex have been part of the human condition from the very beginning of humanities ability to reason. Just having a desire to want that to change will never make it so. People will find a way to use drugs, legal or not.

      Why should we house millions of people in our prisons which costs us billions of tax dollars each year because of drug convictions? Drug use is a public health issue and should not be a legal issue unless it comes down to distribution and that is why we have pharmacies. You can get drugs from a pharmacy but you don't see the cops arresting your pharmacist do you?

      My point is that in an ideal world you would be right, people would not use drugs or alcohol, wars would go away, and people would live in relative happiness. But that is not the world as it is or as it will ever be. Sorry Kathryn but that is just a fact and as for now the system is broken because drugs are illegal. :)

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 

      8 years ago from LA

      Perhaps when all children are given what they need, during the sensitive periods when their psyches are being formed, (the first six years of life,) then we will have a society which naturally does not WANT to destroy the very thing which creates true happiness within: The creative, learning and naturally joyful mind/ brain! Maybe then we will not be SUFFERING to the point of altering our minds. We will be naturally joyful with the urge to protect our minds and brains instead of destroying them. I just really wanted to blast through this current reality. Can't we all just love ourselves enough to abstain from anything which creates self-induced mental retardation?

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 

      8 years ago from LA

      Furthermore, its food that should be illegal. Especially fruits and vegetables. Let them drink alcohol. That's the kind of world I want for my descendants! Perhaps by the time I have grandchildren they will have the wonderful opportunity of free choice of a large variety of mind altering substances. Beer in every baby bottle I say! Cheers, junior!

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 

      8 years ago from LA

      I am all for addiction. Lets make all drugs legal and in this way insure that our children will find themselves in a land of drugs and the entire population getting high. What will be the point of staying sober for God.s sake?

    • slcockerham profile image


      8 years ago from Tallahassee, Florida

      Good article, not only are drugs made illegal for government to be able to tax, quite often so that their political cronies can profit from the black market as in the guns for the Nicaraugans and cocaine back to the US to fianance more guns. I agree wholeheartedly that decriminalization and treatment is better for personal use, they have turned prisons into a major indusry.

    • Cow Flipper profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Jankowski 

      10 years ago from Southern Oregon

      jrsearam you are so right. Our personal choices are just that personal. I think that what we choose to do with ourselves and what we ingest (within reason... I wouldn't want my kid huffing AC coolant) is a personal choice. I do not believe people should do it but I also believe it is not my choice to make them do what I believe is right. Short of murder, rape, and kidnapping these choices are theirs to make. Now if they hurt their children and wives or husbands by making those choices then the addict needs help or must give up their rights to parenting etc... Thanks for your input.

    • jrsearam profile image


      10 years ago from San Juan, PR

      I agree with your contention that legalization is the best solution for pretty much all the reasons you explain. I would go further. In my opinion, which is born of my firm belief in personal autonomy, all drugs should be legalized. No one should have the right to categorically tell anyone else what they can or can't put into their bodies (at least not in the Land of the FREE). While I can imagine the terrible consequences that would follow legalization I cannot conceive of them as being any worse than those we have experienced due to prohibition. We would just be trading demons but at least we would be less hypocritical. Thanks for the stimulating hub. Blessings, JR

    • Seakay profile image


      10 years ago from Florida

      Good one! So, can I go to Jupiter with you?! LOL LOVE IT!

    • nextstopjupiter profile image


      10 years ago from here, there and everywhere

      Interesting hub! I would like to add that there are medical benefits of marijuana and cannabis.


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