Term Paper: Drug Legalization of Drugs

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Drug Legalization

Legalization of drugs

Legalization of Drugs of Abuse

The legalization of drugs of abuse has been an ongoing controversy in the United States for quite some time following the development of a widespread belief in the failure of the current prohibition regulations. It is not one that has found any significant resolution with strong arguments being made on both sides. There have been arguments made for the medicinal use of some drugs such as marijuana in the treatment of persons with severe and life threatening illnesses. Yet this is only part of the debate. While some proponents of prohibition claim that there will be a significant increase in drug use as the result of legalization, there are many reasons to doubt that a well-designed and implemented policy of controlled drug legalization would result such costly consequences. The logic of legalization depends in part upon two assumptions: that most illegal drugs are not as dangerous as is commonly believed; and that those types of drugs and methods of consumption that are most risky are unlikely to prove appealing to many people precisely because they are so obviously dangerous

Drug Legalization

Drug abuse has been a significant health and social problem in the United States throughout history. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has conducted research on the use patterns of drugs of abuse and found that in 1998 an estimated 13.6 Americans were utilizing illegal drugs, making up a total of 6.2% of the American population over the age of 12 (SAMSHA, 2009). Further it was identified that 4.2 million of the persons using drugs of abuse met the criteria for a diagnosis of dependency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that the use of drugs of abuse cost the United States approximately 246 billion dollars in 1992 (1998). This includes monies spent on incarceration, law enforcement, loss of productivity due to engagement in drug abuse, health care expenditures, and treatment programs.

The United States has taken the approach of prohibiting Americans from engagement in the use of drugs of abuse. This has been based on the underlying assumption that use of drugs can cause significant harm to drug users and society as a whole (Millhorn et al., 2009). Drug use is believed to lessen the productivity of the drug user, encourage participation in criminal behaviors, pose large financial drains on society, and impede the unwritten moral code that exists throughout the democratic system of government (Miron, 2001). Prohibition throughout time has been based on the concept of deterrence theory, the belief that the sanctions incurred for violation of a law would deter not only the sanctioned individual but also others from committing the crime in the future (MacCoun, 1993). The justice system is built on this belief that swift and severe punishments will thwart continued criminal behaviors. While punishment can serve as a deterrent in order for this to be successful the potential negative outcome must outweigh the gains experienced from the drug use itself.

Of concern is the reality that while prohibition exists to thwart the abuse of drugs that there still continues to be significant illegal supply and demand of drugs of abuse. Opponents of prohibition would argue that rather than stopping or reducing drug abuse that society has in essence created the black market (Miron, 2001). Currently prohibition has shown little success in thwarting the use and distribution of drugs of abuse. This is in particular due to its inability to outweigh the perceived benefits of drug use. Unlike possible sanctions that are not certain nor swift in many cases, the perceived gains from substance abuse are immediate and guaranteed. Further, reasons that non-users state for abstaining often has little to do with the fear of repercussions and more to do with a genuine disinterest in using the drugs themselves (MacCoun, 2003). What is clear is that prohibition by itself has not had the impact on drug abuse that it set out to and that in fact many opponents claim that in some instances it has caused more harm than good.

As a result of this recognition of the limitations of prohibition, the United States has waged a war on drugs that began in 1971 with President Nixon. During this period a treaty was established between the United States and Columbia in order to stop the production and trafficking of drugs out of Columbia and into other parts of the world. This campaign spotlighted drug abuse, sale, and distribution as a primarily low income urban issue which is in part directly related to the higher levels of criminal activity that already exists in these areas (Miron, 2001). However, despite efforts to increase monies for law enforcement strategies, increase criminal sanctions for the possession and sale of drugs, efforts geared at ceasing drug trafficking into the United States, as well as programs geared at treatment of addictive behaviors the "War on Drugs" has not been deemed a success.

Some opponents argue that this is related to prohibition's inability to directly impact the manufacturing, transportation, and delivery of drugs of abuse into the United States. Further it can also be correlated to the unintended consequences that prohibition has had on the economic and legal systems. Prohibition has directly impacted the cost of procuring drugs due to the additional steps that must be taken to manufacture, transport, and deliver these drugs as well as the costs associated with operating in secret therefore increasing the overall net cost of the drug (Miron, 2001).

Many would argue that many of the negative effects of drug abuse can be equally correlated to the laws prohibiting their use as to the direct effect of the drugs themselves.

Studies have found that increasing penalties for the use of drugs of abuse have not had any significant impact on the prevalence of drug abuse in the United States (MacCoun, 2003). There have been trends that suggested that consumers of drugs of abuse often react directly in sync with current penalties and sanctions. When the penalty for sales increases consumers begin to make fewer purchases but purchase and maintain larger quantities of the drug. Whereas when penalties for possession increase then consumers will make more frequent smaller drug transactions. This evidence is significant as the discussion about legalization and decriminalization unfolds.

The legalization of drugs began to gain widespread interest in the late 1980s as the ineffectiveness of the current prohibition strategies became apparent. While many politicians were against having the discussion about legalization the idea was appealing to professionals who were frustrated with the lack of progress and the continued growth of drug use and what was believed to be the resulting criminal activity and social problems (Millhorn et al., 2009).

The legalization of drugs of abuse has been an ongoing controversy in the United States for since that time following the development of the widespread belief in the failure of the current prohibition regulations. It is not one that has found any significant resolution with strong arguments being made on both sides. There have been arguments made for the medicinal use of some drugs such as marijuana in the treatment of persons with severe and life threatening illnesses. Yet this is only part of the debate. While some proponents of prohibition claim that there will be a significant increase in drug use as the result of legalization, there are many reasons to doubt that a well-designed and implemented policy of controlled drug legalization would result such costly consequences (Millhorn et al., 2009). The logic of legalization depends in part upon two assumptions: that most illegal drugs are not as dangerous as is commonly believed; and that those types of drugs and methods of consumption that are most risky are unlikely to prove appealing to many people precisely because they are so obviously dangerous (MacCoun, 2003).

The major alternatives to these current policies include the decriminalization or the legalization for the possession and sale of drugs of abuse. While many arguments are framed as if these two issues are the same, there are different and unique implications for each.

Decriminalization of the possession of drugs of abuse would allow for this to remain illegal while reducing or eliminating penalties for personal possession. On the other hand, legalization would make the possession and sale of drugs legal but would allow for, and many would argue, require regulatory oversight (MacCoun, 1993). Decriminalization of drugs of abuse is a much less radical pathway than legalization in many aspects. First, it only requires subtle changes in the law and its enforcement. While these options seem simple, there are many levels of legalization from removing sanctions on all illegal drugs, allowing specific drugs, and the imposement of regulations to prevent abuse once the decision to legalize has been arrived at similar to what has been done with tobacco and alcohol products (MacCoun, 1993).

The issue of legalization of drugs of abuse has supporters from both sides making strong arguments on the basis of economic,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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