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Societal Benefits of Legalizing the Use of Drugs

I have always been told to fight the fight that I can win. I was taught to pray for the strength to change the things I can and for the strength to live with the things I cannot. As I look at the United States today, I see America fighting a fight it cannot win and not attempting to gain the strength needed to live with the things it cannot change. In 1981, America declared war on drugs. Since then, billions of dollars have been spent in an unsuccessful attempt to banish drugs from its borders. Illegal drugs are more available now than they have ever been. Common sense would make one believe that if you are continually eaten by the sharks in the moat while trying to get into the castle, then perhaps one should look for an alternative route into the castle or make friends with the sharks.

I do not deny that the use of illegal drugs has an adverse effect on the user nor do I condone the use of them, but many of the wide range of negative results thought to be occurring from drug use can in all actuality be attributed to the current legal treatment of drugs brought on by prohibition. John Lawn, former director of the US Drug Enforcement Administration upon addressing a Senate Committee investigating drug legalization said, “drugs are not bad because they are illegal, they are illegal because they are bad”. If this is a sound argument, then the question is why aren’t cigarettes and alcohol that are medically proven to be harmful, illegal? The answer of course is because prohibition doesn’t work. America is not learning from her mistakes. On January 16, 1920 prohibition of alcohol was put into effect. Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, nothing could have been more detrimental to control the use of alcohol. The chief beneficiary of prohibition was not that of the welfare of the American people, rather it was organized crime.

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Organized crime was producing and distributing the black market alcohol and because of the low volume and high demand, they made a fortune off of it. Because the alcohol business was so lucrative, there was fierce competition between the various crime families that led to bribery of public officials, smuggling, dangerous and often lethal altering of the alcohol, and of course murder. In 1933 the 21st Amendment was passed repealing prohibition. The timing was truly unfortunate in that the United States was now in the Great Depression and the only people with enough money to bolster American businesses were the mobster and the crime families. They were able to buy into so many companies that many of them are still there today. America is now facing many of the same problems she had during the 1920s. The idea now is to eradicate illegal drugs instead of alcohol from the United States. The theory behind prohibition is two-fold.

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The first is the hope that making drugs illegal, might reduce the demand if some consumers exhibit respect for the law. However, this idea does not work too well because many people tend to disregard laws that are weakly enforced. This is evident in the knowledge that more than 1 million arrests are recorded each year for possession of drugs, and there are more than 20 million drug users. Thus, the number of arrests divided by the number of drug purchases, suggests a very low probability of being arrested for purchase or possession. Moreover, many of the arrests for possession occur because the arrestee violated some other law such as theft or speeding. The second idea is to deter use by actually punishing the purchase or possession, by enforcing strict penalties, fines, and/or prison time. As Boaz states in his essay, from 1981 to 1990 the prison population went from 344,283 to 755,425 with an ever-increasing number of prisoners in jail for nonviolent drug law violations. That idea is apparently not working the way it should be.

If prohibition worked, it would be a great tool to use to better our society. Unfortunately, prohibition does not work and has instead turned the high demand for illegal drugs into a very lucrative business for those willing to take the risks. The profit made by the drug smugglers, the drug traffickers, and the drug producers greatly outweighs the risk of getting caught or even the punishment when caught. I do not think the people that are caught in possession or even incarcerated for use or the selling of illegal drugs have been released or pardoned because they “promise not to do it again”. The profit is too high and greed is too powerful. If all drugs were legalized, then the American drug companies that make huge profits on allergy medicine would now be making grand profits on recreational drugs. If someone is going to be making fortunes off the drugs whether they are legalized or not, then it should at least be the American businessman instead of the South American drug dealers, runners, and manufacturers.

The first problem with the prohibition of illegal drugs is the desire it creates for something that is forbidden. At home, any time I tell my two years old “no, don’t touch that or no, that will hurt you” she is automatically inspired to devise a plan of action to get a hold of the illicit item as soon as I leave the room. From the beginning, when Adam was drawn to the forbidden fruit, we learn that it is just human nature, to want what we cannot or should not have to some. The desire for something prohibited varies in all of us, but the desire is not the real problem. The problem lies in controlling the degree to which we will allow ourselves to be controlled by our desires. For Adam it was an apple, for my daughter it is all things shiny and sharp, and unfortunately for some young people, it is their first taste of freedom when they are given opportunities to make their own decisions and that can alone be quite intoxicating. Even though what they seek is different, it is all the same for my daughter, teenagers, and young adults.

They cannot comprehend the long-term or dangerous effects scissors or drinking or drug-taking may have on them. By making drugs legal, it would help to eliminate those who are drawn to them by the elusiveness, the sexiness, or the risk. Next is the problem of demand. Judge James P. Gray is speaking out in favor of legalizing drugs said, “making drugs illegal amounts to an attempt to repeal the law of supply and demand, an impossible task. The prohibition raises the price of the goods, and with so much money to be made, peasants abroad grow poppy or coca because it is the most profitable crop; dealers risk their lives to sell drugs for huge profits, and prisons are built to house more criminals”. There are those who think that more prisons are an acceptable outcome to the drug problem. These are the people who benefit from the big-dollar business of state and federal contracts to build the prisons, maintain them and provide for prisoner upkeep. In turn, there is an increased amount of money needed from the taxpayers.

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Judge Gray also recounted what an accountant told him after having heard his speech and penciled out the figures he gave on prison expansion. The accountant revealed that “if the rate of imprisonment of the past twenty years were to continue, by the year 2020 literally everyone in California would be either in prison or running one”. Because of the increase in demand and the risk of the supply, the cost of illegal drugs makes for a lucrative business among those who would risk it. Therefore, the competition among drug dealers often condenses to a dangerous and often lethal competition. Prohibition increases violent crime because those involved do not have the standard nonviolent methods of resolving contract disputes. Drug dealers and drug buyers do not have the option of revealing their disputes before judges and mediators and therefore must be settled on their own, with their own forms of justice. Quite often the method of resolution involves violent crimes.

Since illegal drugs are in such high demand, users need additional income to purchase drugs at their ever-escalating prices. Users must often obtain additional income and this tends to invite an assorted variety of crimes that are considered income-generating crimes. These crimes include prostitution and quite often theft. A very dangerous outcome of illegal drugs is the possibility of receiving faulty products. It is not unheard of to cut cocaine with a variety of other substances from powdered sugar to rat poison. If ingested, the powdered sugar may do nothing more than make you feel like a doughnut for a little while, but the rat poison, as well as any number of available alternatives, could be deadly. Without a doubt, the main problem with drugs being illegal is the cost factor. Every person in this country over the age of eighteen should be paying taxes.

According to Jeffrey A. Miron in an article published in the Social Research, the “expenditure across all levels of government for enforcement of drug prohibition is currently at least $20 billion per year and plausible in excess of $30 billion. This estimate includes only those expenditures directly attributed to drug policy, not auxiliary expenditures related to prohibition-induced crimes”. There is no question as to where that money comes from, the American peoples’ taxes. I am tired of throwing my money into the wind. As a taxpayer, that is essentially what I am doing every time we fill up another prison. I want my hard-earned dollars to benefit someone other than a crime family. If drugs were legal then the United States can spend my money on drug education programs and rehabilitation centers to help those who want it.

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The negative effects of illegal drug prohibition are quite numerous. If drugs were to be legalized, what would be better or different? The dollar amount referred to by Mr. Miron would show a decrease. I do not say the number of dollars spent would be completely diminished because there would still be a need for drug enforcement. There would not be a need to continue to finance and build new prisons. Alcohol, cigarettes, and most guns are legal, but there is an entire branch of law enforcement called the ATF that attempts to regulate Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The government would be able to lower the amount of taxes needed and they would reap the benefits of being able to tax all the businesses manufacturing and selling the drugs. There would be money from import taxes coming from other countries. Not to mention the improved diplomatic and trade relations between the United States and countries previously avoided because of their negative contribution to the war on drugs.

The prohibitionists believe that if recreational drugs suddenly became legal there would be a vast increase in the population of drug users and therefore, the cost of coping with a staggering number of addicts would easily exceed the monies supposedly saved by the taxpayers. I think if people want to use drugs, they are using them now and will continue to do so whether they are legal or not. Smoking, skydiving, and using oven cleaner are all legal but that does not mean I am going to use them or condone the use of them. I have been educated on the dangers of their usage and choose not to participate. In recent years America has witnessed a decline in the number of tobacco and drug users. It is not due to the fact that people are just tired of doing it, it is because Americans are choosing to be educated and are interested more than ever in the long-term effects it has on the body and on the planet. When prohibitionists say the number of drug users would skyrocket should drug be legalized, I say you are not giving Americans enough credit. America is not going to win this war on drugs. The moat will always have sharks in it. What we gain from legalizing drugs is a way to turn society’s burden into a profitable coexistence. It will build a bridge across the moat.

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Societal Benefits of Legalizing the Use of Drugs. (2021, Mar 25). Retrieved August 11, 2022, from