Should Drug Legalization Be Legalized
One option would be the unconditional and unregulated legalization of all currently illegal drugs. This would allow children to go to a store for a candy bar and a bag of heroin. Obviously, this is a terrible idea. It is questionable whether and to what extent an unregulated legal drug market would be an improvement over what we currently have – an unregulated illicit market. On this issue, the available evidence is far from ideal, but none of this suggests that prohibition has a significant impact on drug use. States and countries that decriminalize or medicalize see little or no increase in drug use. And differences in law enforcement in time or location have little correlation with use. This evidence is not directly related to what would happen in the event of full legalization, as this could allow for more efficient publicity and large-scale production. But cirrhosis data from the repeal of alcohol prohibition in the U.S.
suggest only a modest increase in alcohol consumption. The problem with decriminalization, however, is that it leaves drug trafficking in the hands of criminals, which affects users, but not the trade itself. Drug trafficking is big business – the UN estimates it accounts for 1.5% of global GDP. While the risks associated with the use of prohibited substances are regularly discussed, the damage caused by illicit drug trafficking is enormous and often overlooked. While the alternative of legalization usually emerges when fear of drugs and public despair of existing policies are at their peak, it never seems to disappear from the media radar screen for long. Periodic incidents — such as the heroine-induced death of a wealthy young couple in New York City in 1995, or then-surgeon general Jocelyn Elders` remark in 1993 that legalization could be beneficial and should be investigated — guarantee this. The importance of many advocates of legalization at different times, such as William F. Buckley, Jr., Milton Friedman, and George Shultz, also helps. But every time the issue of legalization is raised, the same arguments for and against are dusted off and trampled on, so we don`t have a clearer understanding of what it might entail and what the implications might be. [See also: Government stumbles when it thinks this new war on drugs won`t backfire] Like decriminalization, legalization is unlikely to radically change consumption. The Netherlands actually legalized cannabis in 1974, but has annual rates of use equal to or lower than its neighbors (non-legalizers) and about half that of the United States. If drug use is deemed too high once it becomes legal and the black market has decreased, governments can reduce it by raising taxes.
However, what is generally presented as a fairly simple process of lifting prohibitionist controls to reap these supposed benefits would actually mean addressing an extremely complex set of regulatory issues. As with most, if not all, goods supplied by individuals and public funds, the main regulatory issues concern the type of medicines legally available, the conditions under which they are supplied and the conditions under which they are consumed (see page 21). Authorized sale: Vendors sell drugs for off-premises use, as is the case for alcohol and tobacco, the sale of which is restricted on the basis of age. Supervised use: Medications are provided and taken only under medical supervision. This is already used for some opioid maintenance programs, the most famous in Switzerland, where addicts are given heroin to inject locally. However, not everyone is convinced of the need to decriminalize recreational drugs. Some analysts point to several reasons why drugs should not be legalized, and the media has played an important role in shaping public discourse and indirectly in shaping policies against legalization. For example, the portrayal of the issue in the British media, particularly in the tabloids, has reinforced harmful and dehumanizing stereotypes that addicts are criminals. At present, the UK government is responding to the continued production of new illegal recreational drugs. For example, the Psychoactive Substances Act seeks to criminalize legal highs.
Those who support the bill argue that criminalization makes it harder for youth to access these drugs and could reduce the number of people who become addicted. Nearly two-thirds of conservative and moderate Democrats (63%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. An overwhelming majority of liberal democrats (84%) say the same. This is especially true for people over 75, with only three in ten saying marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational purposes. Higher proportions in all other age groups — including 53% of 65- to 74-year-olds — say the drug should be legal for medical and recreational purposes. We`ve come a long way since Reefer Madness. Over the past two decades, 16 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and 22 have legalized it for medical purposes. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington went even further and legalized recreational marijuana under state law.
Public attitudes toward marijuana have also changed; In a November 2013 Gallup poll, 58% of Americans supported marijuana legalization. But throwing nearly a century of prohibition overboard when the supposed benefits remain so uncertain and the potential costs are so high would require a Herculean leap of faith. Only an extremely serious and widespread deterioration of the current drug situation, at the national and international levels, is likely to produce the consensus – again national and international – that could lead to such a leap. Even then, the legislative challenge would be enormous. The debate over how to set conditions for controlling access to each of the dozen popular drugs could monopolize lawmakers in major industrialized countries for years. But if these “reforms” do not make all illicit drugs available at low prices to all willing buyers, there will be a large and destructive illicit market for these addictive substances. Indeed, by reducing the legal and other pressures that reject illicit drug use, these “reforms” will all increase illicit drug use, and with this increase will come the harm it causes. In addition, legal drugs, i.e.
alcohol and nicotine, offer poor models for legalization. Tax revenues from these drugs are dwarfed by their social and health care costs. The same goes for marijuana and any other illegal drug. A natural and understandable concern of people is that decriminalization will increase drug use and lead to crime, addiction and death. This fear does not seem to be borne out by the facts. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001. A 2010 academic study found a reduction in problem use (defined as injection drug use or regular use of opioids, cocaine and/or amphetamines) and drug-related harms such as deaths and new HIV infections – further evidence that few users are deterred by criminal sanctions. Drug prohibition violates civil liberties. The U.S.
Supreme Court has ruled that because drugs are such a horrible thing, it is acceptable to circumvent the Fourth Amendment (which deals with search and seizure) to make it easier to obtain convictions in drug cases. While legalization may result in savings on costly criminal costs and tax revenues, higher public health costs and lower economic productivity due to more addicted workers would offset the financial benefits of legalization. A majority of 62 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 29 favor legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, compared to 52 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds. About four in ten Republicans ages 50 to 64 (41 percent) and 65 to 74 (38 percent) say marijuana should be legal for both purposes, as should 18 percent of people ages 75 and older. None of this should deter further analysis of drug legalization. In particular, a rigorous assessment of a set of hypothetical regulatory regimes against a common set of variables would clarify their potential costs, benefits and trade-offs.