Mini debate 1 – Drug policy
Should Drugs Be Legalized?
Yes: Michael Toole
The legalization of illicit drugs is a controversial issue in American politics today. For years, our nation has waged an unsuccessful "war on drugs" that has cost taxpayers billions and has led to countless victims of violent crime as a result of drug related crime. Most of our policy makers simply say to increase funding for drug enforcement laws, rehabilitation, or interdiction, yet the problem still remains.
In our text, Controversies in American Public Policy, Ethan A.
Nadelmann attempts to make the case for drug legalzation. He gives
compelling reasons to think about drug legalization. "First, current drug policies have failed, are failing, and will continue to fail, in good part because they are fundamentally flawed"(Nadelmann 325). The policies are flawed because of what they try to accomplish. They simply punish the drug dealers that are caught. This hardly causes a dent in the major drug operations in our nation. Law enforcement may have a successful raid here and there, but for the most part, dealers remain adaptive and often relocate.
"Second, many drug control efforts are not only failing, but are also proving highly costly and counter productive; indeed, many of the drug related evils....are in fact caused by our drug prohibition
policies"(Nadelmann 325). To illustrate this fact, Nadelmann talks about both the human cost and the taxpayer cost of illicit drug prohibition. Often, many drugs are made up of a combination of ingredients, many of which can be very harmful. If illicit drugs were regulated by the government they would be tested by an agency such as the FDA for impurities that can be harmful to users. Often people who smoke marijuana are smoking a drug that has been sprayed with dangerous chemicals and people who use heroin are especially at risk due to extreme potency or dangerous combinations. As a part of the Cato Institute's policy analysis, James Ostrowski wrote an article on "Thinking About Drug Legalization". In the article he brings up
the human cost of drug prohibition. He opens his article by telling about how a young woman was killed by stray bullets from a fight over drugs. He states, "By now, there can be little doubt that most, if not all, "drug related murders" are the result of drug prohibition. The same type of violence came with the Eighteenth Amendment's ban of alcohol in 1920"(Ostrowski 1). He then goes on to speak about how the murder rate began to rise with prohibition in the 1920's and how it declined for 11 consecutive years afterward(Ostrowski 1). There is also the cost to the taxpayer. An estimate of yearly black market drug sales is $80 billion. "The total cost of drug related law enforcement--courts, police, prisons, on all levels of government--is about $10 billion each year"(Ostrowski 10). So basically, taxpayers pay $10 billion a year so that drug dealers can make $80 billion a year. That figure sounds kind of skewed to me and it does not appear that the drug market is losing steam anytime soon. Also, there is the negative impact that drug prohibition has on urban areas. A book I read
for Sociology 101 a couple of years ago portrayed ghettos filled with drugs and crime. Often children have no one to look up to for father figures so they begin to glorify the "success" of the dealers and fall into a life of crime as a result.
The third reason Nadelmann says we should consider legalization is that "...there is good reason to believe that repealing many of the drug laws would not lead, as many people fear, to a dramatic rise in drug abuse"(Nadelmann 325). In an article in the Economist magazine, it states, "And some argue that drug takers are also a special class: once addicted, they can no longer make rational choices about whether to continue to harm themselves. Yet only are dependent users a minority of all users; in addition, society has rejected this argument in the case of alcohol-and of nicotine (whose addictive power is greater than that of heroin"(Economist 2). This article attempts to showcase the point that most drug users are
not dependent or addicted to the substance they use as many alcoholics and smokers are. In our text Understanding Public Policy, by Thomas Dye, it states, "Cheap, available drugs may greatly increase the number of addicted persons, creating a society of "zombies" that would destroy the social fabric of the nation"(Dye 78). Nadelmann would sharply disagree with this comment. He states, "Only by reading between the lines can one discern the fact that the vast majority of Americans who have used illicit drugs have done so in moderation, that relatively few have suffered negative short term consequences, and that few are likely to suffer long term harm"(Nadelmann 341). He thinks that the government, in it's push to educate people about drug use have misinformed them about it in relation to use of alcohol and tobacco use. Most of the illicit drugs are, in fact, addictive. However,
like tobacco, they can be used for decades without showing much harm to the person(Nadelmann 341). The way in which drugs are used plays a big part in whether or not someone will abuse them. In addition, someone's social setting, upbringing, and culture will likely determine the extent to which they use or abuse illicit drugs.
Many policy makers still remain unconvinced that drug legalization can ever work. However, there are a few who have seen its benefits in relation to the cost it puts on human life, taxpayers, and the economy. Using cost benefit analysis, the drug war is simply just not worth it. We pay billions to arrest people, educate people, and attempt to get drugs off the streets but the market for illicit drugs continues to bring in large sums of money. Innocent lives are continuously ruined because of gang/drug related activity, especially in our nation's urban areas. John Stuart Mill states, "Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign"(Economist 1). Many people in America are increasingly accepting ideals like this. They are tired of the government intervening in their lives on a daily basis. Those who use drugs recreationally, causing no harm to others in society, must constantly live in fear of breaking the law when they are simply doing
something for their own enjoyment. Of course, there are the few out there who will abuse drugs and perhaps go off the deep end, but how many domestic abuse cases have came about as a result of drinking alcohol? How many tragic car accidents have occurred as a result of alcohol abuse? More than enough. So then why not prohibit the use of alcohol? Because it was attempted once and the results were disastrous. Crime spiked, gangs formed, police were corrupted, and many other social conflicts occurred. The legalization of illicit drugs will decrease crime. If drug dealers have drugs readily available then it will put them out of business. They will have to find a job a McDonald's or the local car wash but not as drug dealers, not unless they went to school and got their degree in pharmacy. In addition to the reduction in crime, legalization will make drugs safer to
take because they will be regulated by the government. Nadelmann discusses several benefits of legalization. These include: "...reduced government expenditures....new tax revenue from legal drug production and sales, public treasuries would enjoy a net benefit of at least ten billion dollars a year...quality of urban life would rise significantly. Homicide rates would drop. So would robbery and burglary rates...The police, prosecutors, and courts would focus their resources on combating the types of crimes that people cannot walk away from"(Nadelmann 339-340). Many of you were probably against legalization at first. Hopefully, this paper has persuaded you that
legalization can help more than it can hurt and hopefully make the quality of life for many people and society better as a result.
Dye, Thomas R. Understanding Public Policy, 11th ed. (Upper Saddle River,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2005). pp. 78
Hird, John A., Michael Reese, Matthew Shilvock. Controversies In American
Public Policy, 3rd ed. (Bentworth, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2004).
Nadelmann, Ethan A. "The Case for Legalization". Controversies In American
Public Policy, 3rd ed. (Bentworth, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2004).
Ostrowski, James. "Policy Analysis: Thinking About Drug Legalization".
"The Case For Legalization". The Economist.
No: Jeremy Creech
Should drugs be legalized? The simple answer to this remarkably hard question is no. The entire world is faced with the problem of drug abuse, and legalizing the problem does not make the problem go away. In 2002 over 670,000 people visited hospital emergency rooms from drug over-doses, as reported by the US Department of Justice (www.ojp.usdoj.gov). It is foolish to think legalizing drugs would resolve such an apparent problem.
The Controlled Substances Act, which is a part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, classifies all governmentally controlled substances based upon the substance's medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or dependence liability (www.usdoj.gov/dea). There are five classifications of illegal drugs. They are narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids. Substances in these lists that are made illegal, are done so because they pose a risk to society and/or the individual users.
Safety Risks- Illegal drugs are infamous for the health risks they pose. “Uppers”, such as cocaine, heroine, ecstasy, or meth, have a desired effect of euphoria or exhilaration, but can easily lead to nausea, constipation, headaches, breathing problems, eating problems, addiction, stroke, coma, and death. “Downers”, such as LSD, valium, and marijuana, have the desired effects of relaxed euphoria and altered states of perception, but can easily lead to respiratory problems, memory loss, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and death (www.drugpolicy.org). The personal health risks of using illegal drugs far out-weigh the possible benefits.
Current Drug Laws Are Not Working- The argument that current anti-drug laws have not been working is absurd. Since President Reagan’s proclaimed “war on drugs” in the 1980s, drug arrests have steadily increased. In 1970 322,300 adults and 93,300 juveniles were arrested for drug abuse violations. By 2003 those figures had increased to 1,476,800 adults and 201,400 juveniles (www.ojp.usdoj.gov). These figures clearly show the government’s attempt to remove drug users, dealers, and manufacturers off the streets. One way to see the resounding positive effects of the “war on drugs” is to study the nation’s youth. The web site www.monitoringthefuture.org does just that. They have noticed a steady decline in the number of youths (8th, 10th, and 12th graders) that are using drugs. The MTF survey showed a 6 percent decrease in illegal drug use by teenagers between 2003 and 2004, and there are 600,000 fewer teens using drugs than there were in 2001.
Societal Costs- Drugs do not just affect the user they affect everyone around them as well. In the US in 2000 alone over 160 billion dollars was spent by users on illegal drugs (www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov). Imagine if that money had been spent on something far more productive. That figure does not even take into consideration the costs for law enforcement, prosecution, incarceration, rehabilitation, or any other drug programs. Also, the desired effects of drugs, places the user in an altered state of mind. This state of mind usually is not a very productive one. If it could be accurately measured, it would be interesting to see just how much poorer work performances and/or work loss has been due to someone being under the influence of drugs.
Other benefits of not legalizing drugs- There are benefits to keeping drugs illegal. First, many people choose not to do drugs purely because they are illegal. If the government decides to remove the ban on drugs then many of these people might assume the drugs are safe. People would try it, just to try to, but drugs by nature are addictive, so you end up with a whole new group of junkies. Also, drug addiction is practically inevitable. People who are addicted to alcohol have AA classes, which have mediocre success rates. Drugs tend to be far more addictive with even lower success rates in support groups. Legalization would not make people any less addicted to the drugs. People will find a way to get high. Paint thinner, Xanax, max-alerts are all legal, but people still use them to get high. Would legalizing drugs be different? Instead of a few beers after work, it would be a few lines of coke or a hit of X.
One last argument against legalization is the one made by Wilson in our Hird text. On page 359, Wilson concludes his argument by stating, “No one know what our society would be like if we changed the law to make access to cocaine, heroin, and PCP easier.” He believes, as do I, that legalizing drugs would not eradicate the problem, but makes it worse. This nation has a hard enough time as it is battling illegal drugs. The worst thing we could do is to make it easier for druggies to get their fix. Would you want your tax dollars spent supporting someone who was on welfare because they were too stoned to work? I wouldn’t.
Hird, John A., Michael Reese, Matthew Shilvock.
Controversies In American Public Policy, 3rd ed.
Monitoring the Future. 28 January 2005. <www.monitoringthefuture.org>.
Office of National Drug Control Policy. 28 January 2005.
US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. 28 January 2005.
US Drug Enforcement Administration. 28 January 2005.
First and foremost, the “war on drugs” has not been the
failure some would argue. The war on
drugs has successfully removed over 1.5 million drug dealers, manufacturers,
and users from the streets a year, according to the Bureau of Justice
Statistics. Also, studies show a
decreasing prevalence of drug use in the nation’s youth, further supporting the
“war on drugs”. In our text, Hird
quotes a figure of $11 billion that we spend on law enforcement each year
(Hird, pg 354). Considering the size of
the typical yearly budget for the
The basic point is that drugs are currently an issue that the government would not be able to fiscally control if they were made legal. People who use illegal drugs illustrate a discontent for the law by their simple disobedience of it. Legalizing the problem would not make the problem go away, nor would it provide enough revenue to compensate for the legalization and the consequences that would follow. There is no argument that can prove one drink or one smoke to be as dangerous as one hit of coke, X, or heroine. Legalization is not the answer. The answer to solving the nations drug problem lies in our continued support for the “War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs is not exactly the definition of success in my book. The 1.5 million drug dealers and manufacturers put in jails are now in jails that taxpayers have to pay for. If illicit drugs were legalized they would simply be put out of business and taxpayers would receive the benefits of extra tax revenue from the states due to the sale of once illicit drugs. In addition the legalization of illicit drugs would led to reduced crime rates. People would not steal, kill, or set up in organized crime as much as they do now under drug prohibition. In the HIrd text it says that half of all organized crime, in 1986, was drug related. The number is probably even higher now. There is some evidence that drug use has declined, but this is not evidence enough to support the claim that the war on drugs is working. Our society has become incredibly health conscious over the past few years. People
exercise more, eat healthier, and therefore engage in activities that
promote a healthy lifestyle. The illegality of drugs is often what gets people started. If something is wrong people will have more of a tendency to push the envelope so to speak.
The government has basically skewed the War on Drugs in the minds of the people. Drugs are believed to be more addictive than both alcohol and tobacco. In the 1980's alcohol contributed to the deaths of 80,000 to 160,000. In addition 320,000 people die of tobacco use. The most danger from drug use comes in the way in which people use them.
Things that legalization is not: a capitulation to drug dealers, it is
actually a way to put them out of business, it is not an endorsement of drug use, but is a recognition of the rights of Americans to make free choices without being afraid of criminal consequences, it does not refute the phrase "Just Say No", it seeks to provide assistance and positive inducements, and it is not a call to eliminate the criminal justice system from drug regulation, it is a proposal for the redirection of its efforts (Hird 345).
Drug legalization is not a certainty but neither is a never ending battle to eliminate drugs for good. Legalization is not about caving in to the demands of the drug dealers. It is a risky policy to follow (Hird 345). However, something new should be tried because current policies cannot eliminate the crime that is associated with drug dealing and use. There is simply not enough resources at the disposal of state or federal government. Drug legalization will end the need for this endless "war" and in the process make available safer drugs, education on safer ways to use drugs, less criminal activity related to drugs such as burglary and homicide, and a better environment for a our nation's ghettos.