Term Paper: Legalization of Drugs of Abuse: Pros &amp Cons

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¶ … Legalization of Drugs of Abuse

The topic of drug legalization is one of heatedly contested debate. Both sides of the debate have reasoning that has them firmly entrenched in their beliefs. This paper will review both the pros and cons of legalizing drugs of abuse.

Pros of Illicit Drug Legalization:

Proponents of drug legalization most often begin their debate with the statement that America's drug laws, as they currently stand, are ineffective. Programs such as "Just Say No" and "Zero Tolerance" have been unsuccessful (Linn, Yager & Leake). America, although fighting tenaciously, is losing the War on Drugs, and in fact, current drug policies have actually made the problem worse. A drug free America is simply unrealistic (Eldredge & McCollum). For this reason, they surmise that changes need to be made, and the legalization of the drugs being fought against currently, is one such advocated change, accentuated with the premise that in a truly free society, the government should not be able to regulate what drugs a person can or cannot take (Levinson; Messerli).

As mentioned, proponents for drug legalization feel that drug laws have not significantly reduced the demand for drugs, but have only served to make the drug problem worse. Thanks to current drug laws, a black market has developed, which has led to an increase in violence and property crimes. To add insult to injury, the drug war and its increased pressure on smugglers, has encouraged the development of more concentrated drugs that have less bulk and thus a reduced chance of discovery. A few years ago, heroin was between 7 and 15% pure; today some samples have been found that are 90% pure. This increased potency has increased its popularity. This experience is similar to what was experienced during Prohibition, with less potent alcoholic beverages like wine and beer declining in consumption but highly potent distilled spirits quickly becoming the beverage of choice (Eldredge & McCollum).

The black market for drugs has also sent prices soaring. Because of this, many users recruit their friends to also become users, so they can sell drugs to them, in an effort to defray some of their own costs. And, the money is good and easy for those who have little other employable skills. "In fact, 70% of those who deal drugs also are users. This results in the drug market's version of a Mary Kay network. Think for a moment about the size and motivation of the resulting drug-sales force which would immediately be immobilized by legalization" (Eldredge & McCollum). In addition, because of the high cost of drugs, people who are addicted often turn to crime in order to support their habit. Legalization would reduce the prices of drugs and, as such, there would be less need for secondary crimes to raise money (Messerli; Schuster).

In addition, the illegal status of drugs has encouraged corruption among law enforcement and politicians. This corruption extends throughout the judicial and political systems. Police, judges, prison guards, border guards, customs inspectors and a variety of others entrusted to serve and protect the public are vulnerable to corruption due to the illegal nature of drugs (Schuster). Bribery is experienced in a variety of ways. Police protect against arrest, judges can be bribed or perjured testimony purchased. Drugs are even readily available within the prison system itself. The corruption effects spill beyond America's borders into countries like Mexico and Colombia. In these countries drug money is used for bribery, kidnapping and murder (Levinson; Eldredge & McCollum).

Although opponents of drug legalization often cite their concern regarding an increase in drug use following legalization, proponents state that this is misleading and unsubstantiated.

Within any group there are a certain number prone to abuse of mind-altering substances. This propensity for abuse has everything to do with the individual's personal value system and psychological stability and absolutely nothing to do with the legal status of drugs. Legalizing currently illegal drugs will neither increase nor decrease the number of people inclined toward, or indulging in, addictive behavior (Eldredge & McCollum).

According to advocates, legalizing drugs would only slightly impact the current levels of drug use, in the country (Schuster). They surmise that drug users already use the drugs they want, for a price. However, legalization would mean that instead of spending money on law enforcement to fight the War on Drugs, law enforcement's focus could shift on other, more important, areas of crime, and drug smuggling would become a thing of the past. Taxing legalized drugs would have the added benefit of providing additional money to the government (Levinson; Messerli).

The benefits to current drug users would be significant, if drugs were made legal. Citizens, who otherwise are law-abiding members of society, would no longer be subject to draconian drug law enforcement. These users would also no longer have to worry about receiving contaminated substances, or passing on a drug-use related illness, such as AIDS or hepatitis.

These benefits are further supported with the fact that experiments in drug legalization, in other countries, have been successful (Levinson).

Another common defense for legalization of illicit drugs is it's ability to facilitate harm reduction. With legalization, the money is taken away from the criminals and instead can be invested in harm reduction programs.

The premise of this line of thinking lies in that although the world would be a better place without illicit drugs, they do exist, therefore, they must be dealt with in a way that advances national interest.

By making harm reduction the fulcrum of America's drug policy, the nation can address the suffering of those who are truly addicts (Eldredge & McCollum).

If the government were to operate state-operated retail outlets and sell legalized drugs for approximately half of the present prices, it is estimated that the nation could produce conservative profits of $21 billion per year, that could be used for harm reduction.

This money would go towards treatment on demand programs, an anti-drug education program, and a significant budget "to find pharmacological solutions to drug addiction and dependence" (Eldredge & McCollum). As Eldredge and McCollum note, this would change the focus of America's drug program from fear, coercion and incarceration to a much more positive education, treatment and research.

According to advocates, drug dealing and drug use are victimless crimes. For this reason, currently, police must either personally observe the crime or participate in an undercover sting, in order to make an arrest.

This is a doubly labor intensive process. And, due to the more than 1 million citizens each year that are imprisoned due to drug-related crimes, many states have been placed under court order to stop prison overcrowding (Eldredge & McCollum).

Schuster reiterates the fact that criminal organizations are the ones that currently benefit from the illegal status of drugs. By legalizing drugs, drug dealers, including terrorists, would lose most, if not all, of their business. With the absence of significant competition, pricing is high and profits are lucrative. By legalizing drugs it would open up drug sales to the forces of capitalism and free trade, increasing the competition and removing power from drug cartels, which, in some instances, include terrorists (Messerli).

One of the more interesting supports for the legalization of drugs is the corrosive effect the drug war is having on the confidence African-Americans have in their government. Sixty percent of African-Americans surveyed in New York City, in 1990, believe, either fully or partially, that the government deliberately makes certain drugs are easily available in poor, Black neighborhoods, as a way of harming Black people (Eldredge & McCollum).

There is significant concern about the safety and quality of street drugs circulating. It is not uncommon for drug users to become sick or even die because of poorly prepared products. Without a regulating body to ensure quality, it becomes common that quality is a secondary concern. By legalizing drugs, the FDA could regulate the industry, overseeing production and regulating sales. Legalizing would also offer a means of recourse should an inferior product be sold (Messerli).

Cons of Illicit Drug Legalization:

Although proponents of drug legalization have arguments with merit, opponents also have well positioned arguments. One of the most common arguments against drug legalization is the concern for teenagers, the largest at-risk group for taking drugs, and the very real possibility that drug legalization would lead to increased drug use and the associated crime that follows with drug use, as drug use is almost always a factor in criminal behavior. Between the years of 1992 and 1998, teen drug use doubled. Approximately half of all 17-year-olds indicated that they could buy marijuana within an hour. In addition, marijuana has been proven to have a gateway effect on teens (Messerli). Twelve to seventeen-year-olds who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine, than those who don't (Abrams).

In Washington D.C., 96% of all youth that are arrested test positive for marijuana (Eldredge & McCollum).

It said that of 182,000 teens and children who entered treatment in 1996 for substance… [END OF PREVIEW]

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