Essay:Why Drugs Should be Legal

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Drugs first started to be criminalized in America in the late 1800s when racist Americans saw Chinese workers on the trans-continental railroad smoking opium in dens after a long day’s work. The Americans were not used to this practice, and they viewed it as foreign and bad. In another example, Mexicans who used hemp and cannabis were discriminated against by Americans who did not like them, and so aspects of their culture were criminalized to force conformity. Only drugs seen as ‘American’, such as alcohol and tobacco, were kept legal after the wave of anti-drug sentiment swept America. Even then, alcohol was unsuccessfully banned during the 1920s.

Before we talk about drug legalization, we must first reexamine the purpose of criminalizing the use of a substance. We can argue about this all century, but a few things will remain the same, borne out by statistics. First, there will always be a demand for mind-altering substances, and along with it an almost endless supply. Whether that supply is Jack Daniels and Marlboro or the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels, the spice must flow. Also, gang killings and robberies increase when a drug is banned, since black markets open up for banned items.

So why ban drugs? One reason commonly offered by the anti-drug crowd is drugs kill people and ruin lives. This is a gross exaggeration and ignores the real statistics of drug use. Most drug users are moderate users; meaning they are not addicted and can live normal lives, hold jobs, and raise children. These are fathers who enjoy a glass of wine at dinner, workers who occasionally pop a Xanax after working overtime, and people who relax with friends and smoke a joint on the weekends. This is not harmful to anyone else, and should not be a criminal act. There are people who are addicted to alcohol, smoking, and harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. These people need treatment and rehabilitation, not a jail cell.

The people who make this argument are also quite hypocritical. They fail to mention that alcohol and tobacco kill more than illegal drugs: alcohol poisoning kills 2,200 people per year in America[1], and 480,000 people die from cigarettes per year[2]. Why not ban these substances? At least be ideologically consistent. Most public policy advocates who argue against drugs will refuse to support alcohol and cigarette bans largely because they have been bought off by these industries' lobbies. Cigarettes kill 6 million people per year worldwide, but amphetamine overdose kills only 4,000 people per year worldwide.[3] No one dies from cannabis overdose, ever. By their own logic, these anti-druf crusaders should be advocating for legalization of cannabis and amphetamines, yet they do not.

Another reason commonly offered for drug prohibition is drugs discourage people from working, leading to a society where no one wants to work. This is a variation of the “welfare makes people lazy and dependent” argument, which has been debunked many times before. Even if this argument were true (which by the way, it isn't), that's doesn't mean drugs should be criminalized. People won't work at all if they're in a jail cell, where they are fed 2 meals a day from taxpayer money. At least with them in the public sphere, they might be of some use. This is of course, all assuming that most people who use drugs tend to be lazy in the first place. Not true. Most people user drugs to catch a break and relax (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, pills), or even to work better (amphetamines, cocaine). Suffice it to say that again, the solution is not to ban the substance, but to rehabilitate the user if they are dependent on the drug. Crackheads need to be put in clinics, not cages.

So why ban drugs? There's no good reason. Rather, we should legalize, tax, and regulate drugs in a way that hard drugs aren't laced with battery acid and dangerous chemicals. Taking drugs out of the basement and into the pharmaceutical laboratory is one way to ensure methamphetamines and opium aren't dangerous to the user. Information should be provided to the public about overdose risk and proper use on the packaging.

Drugs that by themselves, without their delivery mechanism, pose no death risk to the user, should be completely legalized. Cannabis, psychedelics, and certain amphetamine pills should be sold over the counter like alcohol is at stores.