Legalize Drugs and Stop the War on People

By Geers, Thomas R. | Education, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Legalize Drugs and Stop the War on People

Geers, Thomas R., Education

Conventional wisdom tells us "drugs" are responsible for increasing crime and that therefore the "war on drugs" should be stepped up even more to reduce it. Tragically, however, the causation at work is just the opposite. Most "drug related" crime is not related to the USE of drugs; it is related to the dangerous underground economy created by the war on drugs. The war on drags itself exacerbates property crime, for example, because the war inflates drug prices. For example, the selling price of $100.00 worth of cocaine "on the street" has only a real commodity value of $1.00.

Richard Miller's The Case for Legalizing Drugs (1993) marshalls evidence showing the federal drug policy, past and present, has functioned largely as a means to brand marginalized ethnic groups as deviant. Drugs merited little criminalization until certain non-mainstream ethnic groups began to use them.

The consequences for America's central cities, which serve as the hub of a vast underground economy should not be underestimated. Tens of thousands of our children are caught in the violent network of gangs financed by the drug-trade and hundreds of thousands find their streets and neighborhoods torn apart by drug trade related crime.

A key assumption of the drug war is that arrests and imprisonment will reduce drug use and crime. The evidence, however, does not support this assumption. In fact, incarceration by the legal system actually seems to increase involvement with drugs. According to Drugs and Crime Facts (1991), "more than half of the State prisoners who ever used a major drug e.g. heroin, methadone, cocaine, PCP or LSD reported that they had not done so until after their first arrest. Nearly 60% of those who had used a major drug regularly said such use began after their first arrest."

Countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, England and Italy have controlled both drugs and crime, whereas in the United States harshly punitive programs have increased the supply of both. "Italian voters approved multifaceted referendum rejecting drug prohibition policies on April 18, 1993. Criminal penalties for possession of any narcotic or psychotropic substances were abolished. Regulation forcing doctors to notify health authorities of the identity of individuals who use prohibited substances were repealed. Officials concluded that the harsh penal approach (similar to the one currently in force in the U.S.) had only increased the number of addicts and drug users in prison" (Drug Policy Action, June/July 1993).

While Washington's drug war is failing to reduce drug use as one in eight Americans used drugs in 1994 ("Drag war on losing path" USA Today, February 8, 1995) it is, as its name implies, stimulating violence. Prohibition of drugs encourages drug-economy related homicides. Excluded from legitimate peaceful options for dispute resolutions, those involved in the drug-economy often resort to old fashioned barbarism to settle their disputes.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of drug prohibition is that it has helped spread rather than retard the use of drugs by young people. Somebody should have reviewed the lesson of Prohibition: suppression of taste defined as vice inexorably drives up profits and increases the supply to meet the demand. The massive black market attraction of profit, aggravated because of drug prohibition, tempts otherwise law-abiding citizens, including young people, to engage in the supply and demand of drugs.

America needs to treat drug use as primarily a health and social problem, rather than a crime. Legalization would not be a step in to the unknown. In fact, drugs were legal before 1914 and the United States had fewer addicts per capita and NONE of the crime problems it has today. The government should focus its enforcement efforts on protecting minors, while restricting only adult drug use that directly endangers others.

Resistance to Washington's current drug control policy rests with the mistaken view that incarcerating drug users and traffickers is the most effective way to curb substance abuse. …

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