The debate over drugs and drug legalization is an increasingly important political issue as we proceed into the twenty-first century. It is important that we proceed into this era with a keen sense of direction on this issue. Whether we increase our current laws or we proceed in the direction legalization. It is obvious that some reformation of our current policy is needed. But, the drug legalization debate is not a issue that should only concern our political officials and law makers. It should concern all of us, since all of us are affected by the laws governing the trade and use of drugs. In this paper I will address the drug legalization debate from the view of the anti-legalist and the view of the legalist. I will also address the historical issues and arguments that lead to the prohibition on drugs and the subsequent “War on Drugs”.
Before we look ahead to the debate over legalization, we should first look back at what took place to bring about the current drug prohibition. The drug hysteria first started around the turn of the century, by Orville Marshall who documented San Franciscos opium dens. In his report he documented the people who frequented these “dens of sin”. He found, that a significant number of the patrons were criminals of varying degree and classified the rest as the “undesirables of society”. What he proposed was for federal intervention in an attempt to lower crime and rid society of the “scourge” that drugs represented.
The report lead to the Harrison Act of 1914, which restricted the use of opiates and cocaine to medicinal uses only. The Harrison Acts language is relatively vague leading to varied interpretations and throughout the years has become the “cornerstone” of the American drug prohibition. Leading to the formation of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), in 1974.
It has also allowed for further restrictions on the use of drugs for both personal and medicinal use. In recent times it has also served as a spring board for much of the recent legislature regarding mandatory minimums and the expansion of asset forfeiture laws. Which allows drug enforcement agencys to confiscate any and all property that is suspected to be related to the transportation or distribution of drugs.
In most arguments regarding the legalization of drugs they are quick to point out that the drug prohibition is doomed to the failure of the Eighteenth Amendment (alcohol prohibition). Anti-legalist point out that this is not the case. That much like the prohibition on alcohol, in 1919, it is unrealistic for us to think that we can totally prevent the use or sale of drugs. But, much like the prohibition on alcohol our goal is to limit the consumption of drugs and thereupon lessen its effects on society. According to Mark(1) Moore, “Alcohol consumption declined dramatically during Prohibition30 to 50 percent Cirrhosis death rates for men were 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 and 10.7 in 1929. Admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis declined from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1919 to 4.7 in 1928.”
Further more, “it is not to say that society was wrong to repeal Prohibition. A democratic society may decide that recreational drinking is worth the price in traffic fatalities and other consequences. But the common claim that laws backed by morally motivated political movements cannot reduce drug use is wrong.”
If the prohibition on alcohol really decreased alcohol use by “30 to 50 percent,” in such a short time (14 years). The obvious question is, by how much has drug use been curtailed in the last 80 years of the prohibition on drugs? And, if it is a significant decrees wouldnt it be the most beneficial policy to keep on the road that we are currently on. If not increase the current penalties for drug violations.
I should also add that after the repeal of prohibition alcohol use tripled and one year later had settled at a higher rate of use than before prohibition. Though we do not have any reliable information on the number of addicts before drug prohibition. There has been speculation that the misuse of drugs was at or above current levels of drug use. Raising the question, can we afford the costs that may come with the legalization of drugs “increased use, more addicts, increase in deaths related to drugs, and the lose of worker productivity.”
If we are to stay on the road we are currently on with the continuation of the illegality of drugs. Where are we to go from here, increase the already harsh penalties for drugs users and suppliers? Further increasing the already large prison population in the country. Or due we attack this problem from the supply side and inevitably isnt this also a losing battle. We currently are only stopping “15 to 20 percent ” of the supply of drugs into this country. And, with the enormous profits to be made trafficking drugs there will probably never be a shortage of suppliers willing to take a chance at instant wealth.
I will now approach this discussion from a decidedly legalist argument. The argument that indeed alcohol prohibition did fail and the prohibition on drugs is not only doomed to fail but has already failed. Not only has it failed but it has created more of a social cost than if there were no “war on drugs.”
To understand why the prohibition on drugs has failed we must first understand why any and all forms of prohibitions are doomed to fail.
Prohibitions are doomed to fail for one reason money! As long as there is someone out there that demands a product and is willing to pay any price for that product. There will always be somebody out there to supply the product, for the right price of course. And therein lays the problem, because it doesnt matter if its legal or illegal its money and someone is going to make it, so why not me (inner-city youth)?
Especially in the inner city were children perceive their life choices to be very limited. Who wouldnt jump at the chance to make a couple of thousand dollars supplying drugs to the addicts that are all around. Why would you degrade your self by working for $5.40 at MickyDs. When you could stand on a corner and sell drugs for a couple of hundred dollars a hour. So you risk going to jail, jail for most inner-city youths is better than the alternative of living in a rat infected project house were one meal a day is standard.
The profitability of selling drugs lends itself to the often violent confrontations. Turf battles that often lead to stabbing and death and account for higher mortality rates of inner-city youths. Those involved with the drug trade are not the only ones effected by the death and tragedy of the violence. Once beautiful neighborhoods are turn into desolate battle grounds and turn the once peaceful residence into innocent victims of gang land violence.
But, as we attempt to crack down on the violence and drug trafficking. We find that our justice and prison systems are ill equipped to hand the influx of “arrests that are routinely made (40,000 drug dealers and users over a two year period in Washington DC alone) and since those arrests barely skim the top of the pond, arguing that stricter enforcement is the answer begs a larger question: Who is going to pay the billions of dollars required to build the prisons, hire the judges, train the police menfor the load already on hand, let alone the huge one yet to come if we ever get serious about arresting dealers and users?(2)”
Another of the many problems with prohibition is it propensity to lend itself to corruption. As was the case of the alcohol prohibition of the late twenties and thirties. One of the biggest problems of apprehending the big time smugglers is their ability to buy protection from the police by paying off the police. Who would often turn a blind eye to the dealings of the king pen and would often concentrate on his rivals and the small time dealers and users. But payoffs often do not stop at the police but have a way of finding there way up to the top, people like judges and prosecutors. And, in recent times the profits made from drugs have gone to buy “banks, legitimate business, and even entire governments. (i.e. Colombia, Mexico) “
Which should make you stop and think is the “war on drugs” worth the added crime and violence. Is it worth all the innocent victims. People who become prisoners in their own homes for fear of living the house at night. People who sleep on the floor for fear the may get hit by an errant bullet. Is it worth the degradation of are legal system and the corruption of are police force. Is it worth all the corruption in other foreign governments due to our insatiable demand for drugs. Is it worth throwing more money at a problem that seems to be getting worse, not better. And most of all is it worth lose of are liberties. Liberties that have been taken away for the sake of drug control.
Because what the government is saying is that the American people are not responsible enough to make their own decisions about drugs. Much like with the prohibition on alcohol what the government was saying with that law was that Americans are not capable of drinking responsibly. With anything, you are going to have those people who take things to extremes but are we to take away everybodys cars because a few people are not responsible behind the wheel.
It all comes down to liberty because if we give an inch theyll want a mile and before you can say, “give me liberty or give me death”, theyll have run you down with their tank.
TANGENTLyou dont have to read(A little extreme but look at what liberties we have already given up because of this “war on drugs” , the banks are now to snitch on us if we move $2000, the tele-com bill of 1995 which was later found to be unconstitutional, which would have give the police the right to bug you phone even if they suspected you of drugs, not even reasonable cause, unreasonable car searches I realize your not a kid but I realize why those Inner-city youths are complaining about being pulled over, I tried to exercise my right not to have my car search, mind you I had nothing to hide, and the police officer detained me while he called for a k-9 unit mind you he told me he was righting me up for an impeding traffic ticket I ended up not getting. And I was in Dearborn Heights at 2pm just another routine stop A. whats next repealing the 2nd amendment. I REMIND YOU THAT THE SECOND AMENDMENT IS THERE TO PROTECT US FROM THE GOVERNMENT, TAKING OF ARE LIBERTYS. THIS IS WHY WE FOUGHT IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR, LIBERTY AND a little 5% tax on tea, BUT SEEMINGLY NOBODY TALKS OF REVOLUTION OF THE 50% IN TAXES WE PAY AFTER FED, STATE, GAS, SALES. Sorry just had to vent dont hold it against me when I run for political office. Im not quite that extreme)
Though we may pay a high social cost by legalizing drugs it can be no higher than the social cost felt by the ever increasing “War on Drugs.” Why dont we take that 40 billion dollars and put it to a good use like better education for inner-city youths(all) and drug intervention programs.
1) Arnold S. Trebach and James A. Inciaradi. 1993
Legalize It?: Debating American Drug Policy
Washington DC: The American University Press
2) Rod L. Evens and Irwin M. Berent. 1992
Drug Legaization: for and Against.
Peru, IL: Open Court Publishing Company
3) Paul B. Stares. 1996.
Annual Editions, Article 9