An Extensional Approach to Drug Legalization

By Levinson, Martin H. | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

An Extensional Approach to Drug Legalization


Levinson, Martin H., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


MANY WHO HAW STUDIED American drug policy believe our nation's drug laws have been ineffective and that changes should be made. For example, we could shift the current stress on law enforcement to more prevention and treatment, allow judges greater sentencing flexibility for drug crimes, provide arrestees with more opportunities for treatment in lieu of incarceration, and fund more research on the medical benefits of marijuana. I agree with these suggestions and believe implementing them might have positive effects.

But others, such as conservative writer and journalist William F. Buckley Jr., Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, and former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, argue that a more radical approach is needed. They contend that America's drug laws have been grossly inadequate in reducing the drug problem and have in many ways made the problem worse. They maintain that in a free society, the government should not regulate what kind of drugs people can and cannot take. They want drugs made legal and here are some more of their arguments.

ARGUMENTS FOR LEGALIZING DRUGS

* Drug laws have resulted in a black market that has led to an increase in violence and property crimes.

* Keeping drugs illegal has encouraged corruption among politicians and law enforcement officials.

* Laws passed to curb drugs have not significantly reduced the demand for them.

* Legalizing drugs would minimally impact current levels of drug use because users now buy the drugs they want for a price.

* Legalization would mean that money spent on drug law enforcement could be reallocated to fight "real" crime.

* Taxing legalized drugs would provide additional money to the government.

* If drugs were made legal, otherwise law-abiding citizens who use them would not be subject to draconian drug law enforcement.

* Drug smuggling would not be a problem if drugs were legal.

* Under legalization, users would not have to worry about receiving adulterated substances or passing on illnesses related to drug use (such as AIDS or hepatitis).

* Foreign experiments with legalization have been successful.

While these contentions may have some merit, abolishing a well-entrenched, decades-old policy of drug prohibitions without more intense scrutiny and analysis seems irresponsible. It could be calamitous for teenagers, the largest at-risk group for taking drugs, who will experience a massive growth in numbers in the next few years. (In 2010 it is estimated there will be 35 million teens in America. The baby boomers topped out at 33 million.) (1)

To further explore legalization, we could examine specific questions as if we were actually developing a legalization proposal (e.g., How would the sale, manufacturing, and distribution of drugs be regulated? What provisions would there be to deal with America's violation of international drug control treaties? Would age limits be set on drug buying?). Doing this might reveal some hidden complexities connected with drug legalization and perhaps increase our appreciation of the difficulties involved in constructing a viable legalization plan.

To devise specific legalization inquiries, I will use in this article the general semantics technique of forming "extensional" questions--these are questions whose answers can be, at least partially, measured or tested rather than simply argued about. Scientists use extensional questions in formulating experiments. Such questions add rigor to discussions by forcing us to seek more precise answers.

To create extensional questions, a variety of extensional strategies can be employed. These include the use of quantifying language (how much, how many, to what degree, at what point); the use of qualifying phrases (under these circumstances, as far as it is known); and the use of standard journalistic interrogatories (who, what, when, where, and how). …

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