American Drug Laws: Do They Help or Hurt?
I believe the drug laws are in serious need of reform. We tend to forget that alcohol is a drug and that at one time it was prohibited without success. Also, I believe that a civil body of government rather than a criminal one should regulate drug use. It is a social problem, not a criminal one. As a largely victimless crime they should not have their civil rights taken away just because they like to take drugs which we have arbitrarily made illegal.
Drugs are very expensive because they are illegal. Their procurement and use fuel crime and violence, which could be largely eliminated if organized crime did not have a monopoly and the free enterprise system could control the market. Potency regulated by licensed drug companies would prevent unusually pure substances from causing accidental overdose. There is an epidemic of unnecessary deaths from this cause. This problem is exacerbated by the fear users and bystanders have of seeking a highly effective antidote for drug poisoning that is universally available at hospitals. The U.S. drug laws violate our right to privacy, cost millions in tax revenue, overloads the criminal justice system, and are ineffective as a deterrent to drug use and trafficking.
Laws that govern drug use are patently arbitrary and have their bases in racial prejudice and the comfort index of old male legislators. The first opium regulatory laws were enacted in San Francisco in response to Asian immigrants entertaining married white women in opium dens (Hamowy).
The American and European tolerance for tobacco and alcohol use while fearing “counter-culture” marijuana, cocaine, and heroin is a strong prejudice based on ignorance of the comparative human misery caused by the inevitable misuse of mind-altering substances. Alcohol and tobacco cause more illness and death each year than all the illicit drugs combined. Legislative attempts to curb alcohol and tobacco use by children makes some of these very vulnerable people desire their use, but the age-restrictive and the accompanying time-of-purchase limits on widely abused drugs are the best that society has devised. Our knowledge of education techniques to encourage abstinence or moderate use of drugs is extremely inadequate.
Laws for prevention of illegal drug use are wildly unsuccessful and have resulted in making drug-related criminals the majority of incarcerated offenders in U.S. prisons. The result of illegalizing use, and not necessarily abuse at all, is a 100% increase in drug criminals in the last ten years (Hamowy) for use of substances which have no more, and probably less, intrinsic potential for abuse.
Even if drug laws could be justified morally, they could never be enforced. Since the demand for drugs will never be eradicated, a network for supplying them to consumers will always be in place. Short of adopting a system of immediate capital punishment, like the one used in Singapore, it is impossible to keep buyers and sellers apart. The money to be made from drug trafficking is so huge that there will always be those willing to risk the consequences. The desire of the addict for the substance is so great that it will never be quelled by any amount of legislation.
Since drug use is potentially a “victimless” crime we can assume that the drug laws were created to protect the user from himself. Instead, we punish the “victim” with incarceration and without effective rehabilitation.
If drug offenders were treated by a social or medical governing body, property crimes and crimes of violence would decrease enormously; and the benefit to society would be incalculable. Because of a close resemblance of all of the key components in recreational drugs people use to cerebral endorphins, satiation is always temporary and there is no inhibiting mechanism to prevent misuse of even toxic amounts. Millions of dollars now wasted on the “Drug War” could be redirected into programs to fight poverty, hunger, medical research, and countless other social programs which would be more valuable to society.
If we learned anything from Prohibition it is that people in a free society will not be controlled, nor should they be. Instead, let us reform the laws to separate drugs by their risk to society.
Hamowy, Ronald. Dealing with Drugs: Consequences of
Government Control. Pacific Research Institute
for Public Policy: San Francisco. 1987.