Friday, April 30, 2010

Legalize Drugs: The Facts

One of the largest and most intrusive parts of the US government is the war on drugs. Like the prohibition on alcohol before it, I believe it has done more harm than good. I advocate for the complete legalization for all drugs, but any step in that direction is satisfactory. I recognize that this is a radical suggestion, but it is something I firmly believe is in the best interest of my community, my country, and the entire human society. Let me also state that I have never and never intend on trying illegal drugs. My interest in this topic is purely academic. That said, here is a list of 20 reasons why I think all drugs should be legalized:

1) Addicts are patients, not criminals. They need help, not prison.

2) At it's most basic level, addiction is a choice. Admittedly the choice is difficult, but with community assistance I believe drug addiction will decrease. Take drug users out of the shadows and into a welcoming community.

3) Drug legalization has been successful in other countries, most notably Amsterdam. Portugal is well known for its successful drug decriminalization. Portugal did not become an international drug trade as had been feared and the number of drug overdoses actually decreased. In fact, lifetime use of many drugs is lower in Portugal than in most European nations.

4) Our drug war is having a detrimental effect on other countries, particularly those in Latin America. In Mexico this year there have been over 6,000 drug related murders and since America uses half of the world's cocaine we are at least partially responsible. The Mexican government has had to militarize its local police to help fight the power drug gangs.

5) American drug dealing youth are hurt economically and physically by the illegal drug trade.
Update: Decreasing the power of organized gangs will also increase high school graduation rates.

6) The current illegal drug farms are bad for the environment. One reason is because growers constantly fear legal action, so they often farm on hidden public land that isn't necessarily good for agriculture. Also, because it is likely they won't be farming the land in the future, they have no incentive to keep it productive.

7) It distracts police from doing other work. The United States spends an estimated $44.1 billion annually in enforcing drug laws.

8) Children can still be protected in the same way they are will cigarettes and alcohol. By making the market more open, youth will have to get their drugs from pharmacies, not street corner thugs. Because recognized businesses have more to lose, they are more likely to follow age limit laws.

9) Currently illegal drugs make up a large portion of the underground economy. It is currently the largest cash crop in California. Legalizing can bring in significant tax money to this bankrupting state. Though the number is unclear, the taxes will be in the billions of dollars. Those excess revenues can be used to subsidize drug treatment programs.

10) Drug king pins benefit most from the ban. Currently they are able to use violence to keep out competition and charge monopoly prices. If legalized, they cannot compete with legitimate businesses. Or even better, they go to work for them and get a real job.

11) More drugs do not necessarily mean more violence. 6 out of 10 people in state prison for a drug offense have no history of violence. The drug trade is more violent because it is illegal.In the underground market violence, not law, is how you protect your business.

12) Prisons and the money spent on them would decrease. The United States has 5% of the world's population and a quarter of the world's prison population. Drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners. That's over half a million people out of productive jobs and into taxpayer care. About 1/4 of the prison population is there for drug related crimes.

13) Stronger drugs laws actually encourage risk taking, making drugs stronger.

14) The war on drugs is also a war on race. Only about 12% of the America is black, 1/3 of prisoners are black. Although only 14% of illegal drug users are black, they represent half of those in prison for drug offenses.

15) As barriers to use come down, so will prices. And as prices decrease, use will go up. However, prices will not decrease as much as you might think. For example cocaine price will only decrease by 2 to 5 times.

16) American support for it is increasing and is higher than it has been in generations. Almost half of American support the legalization of marijuana.

17) Some law enforcement organizations and many economists support legalization.

18) These drugs are probably less addictive than you think. Over 95% of those who claimed to have used crack and meth are not regular users.

19) Illegal drugs fund terrorism. Afghanistan's Taliban benefits from the underground and unregulated drug market.

20) This war is not winnable. The global illegal drug is worth an estimated $400 billion, 8% of all international trade. Drug dealers come and go but the market will exist forever. You cannot stop the supply without stopping the demand. The profit incentive is stronger for criminals than for police. You cannot shut down the market without severely limiting personal liberty.

The core of this debate is whether the benefits outweigh the costs. I understand that most people don't want to live in a country where people are allowed to use whatever substance they desire. But I also think many people aren't satisfied with living in a country where people can't. The more popular a drug is (think marijuana) the more obvious the costs are and more I think we can benefit from legalization. If nothing else, hopefully I've made the trade offs more obvious. Stay tuned for the second installment, Legalize Drugs: The Story.


  1. Although I disagree with you, this is a very well-researched and well-argued post. Well done.

  2. Andrew2:39 PM

    I completely agree with you.
    One of my favorite articles on the subject if you haven't read it already.

  3. Thanks Justin, thanks Andrew.

  4. I'm almost convinced. Really great post Harrison!

  5. Great!

    PS: Don't do drugs.


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