All drugs should be legal.
There. I said it.
*There is an audible gasp from the back of the audience. Someone is screaming, “What about the children!” and general panic ensues amongst the populace. *
The fear surrounding drug use is warranted but also a little misguided. We are indoctrinated from the time we are children that drugs do nothing but cause pain and heartbreak. From the D.A.R.E. program, to our Saturday morning cartoon superheroes telling us not to do them, drugs are put in a negative light right from the start. There is some validity to the argument of steering children away from drugs because they can in fact cause harm and heartbreak. But, what about just educating children on the pros and cons? Not making drugs such a taboo thing may alleviate some of the urge to try them in the first place.
The major problem I encounter with others when I bring up the subject of full legalization, is that people seem to think if drugs were legal, everyone would be doing them. People fear that if you could go to the store tomorrow and buy heroin, then there would be people all over passed out in the street. But the reality is that those who want to do them, are already getting high. It is getting even easier as technology improves and drugs, such as marijuana, are becoming legalized in different areas of the country.
Scientists and policymakers have often agreed, that this fight is a losing battle. So, why are we fighting it?
Nixon started the war in the early 70’s, setting in motion a hardnosed agenda with disastrous results. Often, these policies that were designed to stop drug use did nothing but criminalize low level offenders and do nothing to stop the larger issue. As the years have progressed, the issue has gotten worse with arrests tripling since 1980 and spending reaching the billions and trillions of dollars. Instead of educating and rehabilitating, we are using fear and prosecution as a deterrent. This has shown to be exponentially worse in communities of color, which seem to face disproportionate sentences and punishments for drug offenses.
Not to mention that as of late, the opioid crisis has shifted from an inconvenient issue to an absolute epidemic. Americans as a population account for about 5% of the global population while consuming close to 80% of the opioids in the world. And this comes at a time where enforcement is at its highest. Many will argue that the opioid crisis has stemmed from pharmaceutical companies and doctors shoving pain killers in our face. While partly true, it cannot be the whole reason as there are many other forms of addiction with no physical dependencies (i.e. gambling addiction).
So how would legalizing drugs counteract any of this?
First of all, if we took even a quarter of what we spend fighting drugs and spent it on programs to help rehabilitate, I think you would see a vast decrease in opioid deaths. There are several countries who have done this successfully and should be a model to us moving forward. Switzerland is one of these countries, and it was considered controversial when they first announced it in the mid-90’s. Basically, the law stated that you could legally use heroin as long as you used it at a designated area, with it being medically administered by a professional. Meanwhile, they would work with addicts to find them jobs, housing, and a stable life. After starting this program, opioid deaths decreased 64% over the past 2 decades. This dramatic decrease leads me to believe that we are approaching the issue from the wrong side.
Second, doesn’t anyone else find it wildly hypocritical that the government tells you that you cannot use cocaine but are completely fine with you smoking cigarettes or drinking whiskey? Or the fact that the government allows your kid to go to the doctor with an injury and be prescribed narcotics (albeit less these days than in years past). It seems grossly negligent to me that certain things remain illegal while obvious, more dangerous things remain completely fine to purchase legally.
My plan would be simple. The first step would be to stop the flow of illegal drugs coming from across our borders by producing and administering our own. This would stop a major issue with the drug trade, which is the cartels. If there was no market for their product, then the cartels would cease to exist as we know them today. Up until this point, Americans alone have spent well over 100 billion dollars on illicit drugs in the past decade, with a majority of it going to the cartels. This only makes them stronger and their violence more deadly.
Also, by legalizing illicit drugs, the rates of overdose from foreign substances being laced in would drop dramatically. Think about it, when you buy a craft beer, are you worried that there will be something else in it? The answer is usually no since the industry is regulated.
Aside from the public health, the taxation benefit would be immense. Like I said before, over 100 billion dollars in the past decade that went untaxed. Not to mention, we wouldn’t be spending billions to wage war on drugs, so the combination of the two would lead to a pretty big surplus of income that wasn’t there before.
I realize that this is a pretty simplistic viewpoint on drug legalization and that there are many other facets to look at, but the conversation should at least be considered. There are many positives that could be gained in doing so, including making sure that the people who deal with addiction are handled effectively. We could teach about the dangers of drugs in school but also the benefits that they can bring. Show how drugs can be used for more than just partying. How they can be used to heal, to comfort, and to provide relief.
Bring drugs back in to the light so that the problems and solutions are easier to see.