The Case for Legalization
“Traffic” the movie depicted a young middle class girl’s descent into heroin addiction. This is just the kind of fear that has politicians hesitant to legalize drugs. That a few puffs on a joint leads to hard drugs and then heroin. And that legalization will lead to an epidemic of addiction.
That fear may be misplaced. More people may take drugs once legalized. But there is no certainty. Harsh drug laws have not been deterrents to drug abuse. The US and Britain have some of the largest populations of drug users despite their stringent laws. The addiction rate in Norway’s liberal society is the same as in Sweden’s, despite the latters strict drug laws.
Drug use may even fall on the removing of the thrill of doing something illegal. Once legalized drug pushers will no longer be able to push. Nobody knows for sure. Any honest proponent of legalization has to assume that drug-taking as a whole will rise, however.
It is hard to argue that consumption of a product made safer, cheaper and more available would fall. Because of their addictive nature, more people would become dependent.
Most drugs induce only a psychological craving. This affects one in five users. Heroin, like smoking, has both physical and psychological effects making addiction easier. One in three will get hooked. Even psychological cravings can be debilitating. Gamblers and drinkers cause misery for themselves and their families. And drugs can kill.
Not just hard drugs, but ones people consider less dangerous too. The same goes for alcohol and aspirin of course, but many people question whether we should add to the list of substances that are already legal and available in the market.
One argument for bases itself on principle. It was first made two centuries ago by John Stuart Mill, a British liberal. Mill argued that an individual is free of the state to do as they please, even harm themselves, if they do not harm society in any way.
Democratic governments have for the most part adopted this view. You are at liberty to take dangerous decisions for yourself, such as climb mountains, bungee jump or smoke and drink liquor.
Mill argued that some social groups, especially children, needed extra protection. And some argue that drug takers are also a special case. They can no longer take rational choices about whether to continue harming themselves. But dependent users are a minority of all users. In the case of alcohol and nicotine society rejects this argument. Nicotine’s addictive power is stronger than that of heroin.
The practical argument for legalization stems from the harm done by banning drugs. The brunt of which is borne by citizen of poor countries or poor citizens of rich countries. The illegal drugs trade has fostered mafia crime on a global scale.
According to UN estimates, it is a $320 million dollar industry. It adulterates drugs, making them more dangerous, and encourages the spread of HIV through dirty needles. And for those that succumb to the worst addictions they are outside the law with only their pushers to treat them.
It also makes criminals out of otherwise law abiding citizens. And it is the poor who are most at risk of involvement in the trade. In the US alone, there are 1.5 million arrests a year on drug related offences, of which half a million lead to convictions. Barack Obama could easily have served time in prison for his youthful experiments with marijuana.
Though drug users include the white population in the US, most of those arrested and convicted are either black, Hispanic or of other ethnicities. This is cultivating a generation of non-white people bred in the violent environment of prisons.
The worst hit are emerging third world countries, such as Mexico, that struggle against organized crime syndicates that govern the illegal drug trade. Policemen and soldiers die every day attempting to thwart the activities of the drugs cartels. Though the bulk of drugs are bound for the US, American officials refer to Mexico as a ‘narco state’.
In emerging and third world countries, drugs money corrupts politicians and destabilize the political system. Drug cartels have financed regimes in Afghanistan and Myanmar. Drugs producing also encourages local consumption adding to the spread of HIV/AIDS.