Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know

By Jonathan P. Caulkins; Angela Hawken et al. | Go to book overview

8
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND
CONS OF LEGALIZATION
GENERALLY?

What does it mean to legalize a drug?

Legalization is the opposite of prohibition. It avoids the costs of prohibition—loss of liberty, criminal enterprise, and the need for enforcement—at the risk of increased drug abuse.

Legalization means treating a drug (not necessarily all drugs) more or less the way we treat other commodities: production, distribution, retail sale, possession, and use would all be legal for all or most people (e.g., for adults but not for minors).

That’s a gain for those who want to use that drug and can do so without losing control of their drug taking or intoxicated behavior: they gain the liberty of doing as they choose and whatever benefits flow from their drug use, and in most cases get access to cheaper and safer products of known quality. It’s also a gain to all those who suffer from the illicit markets and from drug law enforcement.

However, compared to prohibition, legalization is likely to increase the number of people who wind up abusing or becoming dependent on the newly legalized drug.

To legalize a drug, then—as the U.S. federal government did with alcohol in 1933 and a state or nation may do with marijuana sometime in the near future—is to choose the problems associated with increased levels of excessive

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