It’s an argument that many don’t want to hear. Understandably so, especially in light of ‘The War On Drugs’ launched by conservative politicians like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Drugs, of course, can ruin lives.
However, legalising drugs isn’t an effort to promote drug use, at least not from my position.
Legalising drugs is effectively cutting through the legal problems that have crippled society, removing all biases against addictions and addressing the issue with rationality.
‘Drugs Cause Crime’
The link between crime and drugs is well established – a 10% increase in the price of heroin ‘producded an increase of 3.1% total property crimes in poor non-white neighborhoods’ (1). The reasons for why this happens aren’t as widely known.
With law enforcements restricting the supply of drugs, the price of drugs rises. This will push addicts to spend vast amounts of money to feed their habits, turning to crime to finance it. And with all this power going to drug dealers, the streets have become a battleground for competing dealers, who can gain thousands of drug dollars from control over particular block.
If drugs were legal, the prison population would decrease dramatically, saving billions. Almost 50% (92,000 prisoners) of sentenced federal prisoners on September 30, 2015 (the most recent date for which federal offense data are available) were serving time for drug offenses (2).
Police forces would be wasting less time fighting drug activity, and be redirected towards capturing rapists, murderers and pedophiles (Criminals who are frequently getting lenient sentences – one pedophile was only given a four and a half years for sexually abusing two 13 year old girls (3) , though statistics show that 77.9% of sex offenders end up back in prison within two years of release (4) ).
Organised crime profits heavily off drugs – and they stand to lose billions in drug profits from legalisation. In the days when alcohol was prohibited in the USA, the undeworld became big business. After it was re-legalised, reputable manufacturers took over, as the high profits went out of the alcohol trade. (1)
‘Legalisation means more people would do drugs’
Recent research shows that nearly half of all 15-16 year olds have used an illegal drug, and one and a half million people use ecstasy every weekend. In 1970, there were 9000 convcitions for drug offences, with 15% of young people using illegal drugs. By 1995, this statistic had risen to 94,000 convictions and 45% of young people using illegal drugs. Prohibition simply doesn’t work (5).
Drug use should be a social issue, not a criminal justic issue.
⦁ A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76 billion into the U.S. economy (6).
⦁ Of the estimated 250 million drug users worldwide, the U.N. estimates that less than 10% can be classified as problem drug users (6).
⦁ The cost of trying and incarcerating users, traffickers and those who commit crime to pay for drugs, costs the tax-payers of America roughly $10 billion (1).
⦁ Injection drug use is one of the causes of HIV in the United States and is responsible for approximately 10% of HIV cases annually (7).
What Should Be Done?
⦁ End the criminalisation of individuals who use drugs, but don’t harm others
⦁ Ensure a variety of treatments for drug dependence are avaliable, including heroine-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada (8).
⦁ Move away from the stigmatisation of drug users, to open a dialogue
Will legalisation resolve every single issue with drugs? Of course not.
But governments have to be willing to try different options. Prohibitionist policies don’t work – countries with such policies have high rates of HIV among injecting users, and Hepatitis C is on the rise in the UK (5).
Portugal in 1999, had a population where 1% were addicted to heroin, and had the highest drug-related AIDS death rate in the European Union (9). But after 2001, the country decriminalised all drugs. Though there was an initial increase in drug use, this was soon followed by a steep decline, as shown in the tables below.
‘If someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty. A vast majority of the time, there is no penalty.’ (9)
“I prefer moderate hope and some likelihood of success to the dream of perfection and the promise of failure” (10)