Legalize It?
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  • Mrs. Davis

    Legalization doesn’t stop deaths or abuse, nor negate the necessity of prosecuting dealers.

    It does stop murders, smuggling, and bribery of government officials. Abuse and suicides may go up. There’s a big difference between murders and suicides. With which scenario is society better off?

    black market sales of addictive drugs to minors would skyrocket

    Do you really think there is a minor anywhere in America who wants drugs and cannot get them? The prisons can’t keep drugs out so I doubt there are many places they are not now available where they would be available after legalization.

    evidence continues to mount that legalization will not solve America’s drug problems.

    Aside from presenting no evidence, you have demolished several straw men in this post. For example, legalization is not designed to solve America’s drug problem. The War on Drugs certainly hasn’t. That is a job for families, churches and schools. What legalization is designed to do is restore respect for law, restore freedom, get the government out of our private lives and reduce violence.

    You sound like Bill Bennett or Rick Santorum.

  • Anthony

    Legalization, regulation, human inclination, etc. are areas of pervasive viewpoints vis-a-vis drug access to be sure. Nevertheless, country needs honest and serious discussion on drug access (prescription and otherwise) and market thereto – “prescriptions don’t curb destructive behavior.”

  • Imagine the increased social costs as mothers and fathers wreck their lives with this stuff.

    So we would remove legal penalties for using dangerous substances, while providing a taxpayer-funded safety net for those who render themselves unemployable and unfit to parent.

    I have a pretty strong libertarian streak, and in a perfect world where individual liberty is respected, there should be no drug laws. However, as a realist, I tell my fellow liberty-lovers that we cannot implement libertarian laws unless we are prepared to live with the libertarian consequences.

    It sounds counter-intuitive, but to make this work, there would have to be no government-provided services for those who blew the top of their heads off on this stuff.

  • David

    Any sensible legalization advocate wouldn’t predict lower use, but possibly lower abuse, regulated potency and the like.

    America doesn’t have a “drug problem,” it has many drug problems. Legalization is a means of addressing one particularly gruesome set, while possibly developing resources to deal with all the other ones that will inevitably raise their heads.

  • David W

    Fully agree, Silverfiddle. I don’t think that we are culturally able to accept masses of people dying in the streets, or are financially able to expand the Blue Social Model to provide care for the increasing rank of addicts. ‘Drug prohibition’ is far from perfect, but may be the best of a set of bad alternatives.

  • L Nettles

    Imagine a world where there was no profit from selling drugs and the burdens falling on users rather than the innocent.

  • Andrew Allison

    For shame Professor. The argument is not that legalization would reduce use, but that use cannot be controlled! It is stupid to waste money on a “war on drugs” that quite possibly has greater cost to society (incarceration for victimless crimes, criminality, etc.)

  • Mrs. Davis

    I don’t think that we are culturally able to accept masses of people dying in the streets

    But we do. Look at the number of drug deaths from turf wars, ODs and impurities today. Nobody cares except the moms. And look at the number of black males sent to prison for felonies that would never have been committed if drugs were legalized. When these guys get out of jail, they are unemployable. They aren’t going to head a black family because they can’t get a job. Estimates are that 1/3 of black males will spend time in prison at some point in their lives. To what end? And what happens to them for the rest of their lives?

    And no one is talking about the civil war going on south of the border where an emergent democracy is under assault by drug warlords. What will the effect be if they win, by force or bribery?

    or are financially able to expand the Blue Social Model to provide care for the increasing rank of addicts.

    The Blue Social Model is dying regardless of the legalization of drugs. Hopefully it will be replaced by something that increases personal responsibility for decisions individuals make instead of socializing the costs of stupid decisions.

    We are presented by nothing but bad alternatives. But we should not kid ourselves about the costs of each alternative.

  • Eurydice

    @Mrs. Davis – the “straw men” you’re talking about are the arguments made by proponents of legalization. Legaliztion may not have been designed to solve all of America’s drug problems (whatever that means), but it’s supposed to solve many of them, or so the proponents say.

    There are already more suicides and drug addicts than there are murderers, so I don’t know what to say about the argument that it’s better to have even more of them. I suppose it depends on which vice society is more willing to support. And I don’t see how turning a legal burden into a public health burden lessens the government’s intrusion into people’s private lives – exhibit A being Obamacare. What society decides it doesn’t want just turns into another kind of law against it.

  • A

    Legalizing and regulating marijuana alone would would be an immense fiscal palliative if done right.

  • How is it that a man as bright as you can get things so horribly backwards?

    Yes, there’s great abuse of the drugs sold at Walgreens. Point? Drugs are going to be abused. Making them illegal doesn’t stop that. Making them legal won’t stop that.

    The question is, if we make them legal, what happens to the current drug trade? Well, there will no longer be teenagers routinely killing each other (and whoever happens to be standing near by) over who gets to sell the overpriced illegal drugs, because, the size and value of the market won’t be there to justify the violence.

    How many fewer black teenage males would end up in jail, or dead, because of the end of the drug trade? How many fewer Mexican and Columbian police, judges, and politicians will be corrupted, or murdered, once the drug trade is no longer so awash with cash?

    You don’t have to like drug legalization. But could you at least honestly face the arguments?

  • A free society depends upon its citizens maintaining self-control to stay a free society … self-control that is inevitably compromised by the recreational consumption of perception-altering and/or addictive chemicals, even after the buzz is gone.

    Legalization sends the message that such compromise is benign … when it is anything but.

    Yes, alcohol can be abused in this way … but it has other uses that do not involve a loss of self-control, and avoiding loss of self-control while using it is possible for most people.

    OTOH, despite all the hype by the pro-legalization crowd … BTW, Dr. Mead has just pwned you and your arguments here, by bringing up the abuse of LEGAL medications … there is only one use, outside of the control of a physician, for these drugs … to INTENTIONALLY alter one’s perceptions, just for fun.

    That is just flat-out irresponsible in a free society. Time to grow up people.

  • Brett

    Legally prescribed drugs are now regulated the way many legalization advocates think illegal drugs should be.

    No they’re not. Most legalization advocates don’t think that you should be able to get Meth and Cocaine on a doctor’s prescription, but there are other ways to legalize them.

    The more radical step of completely legalizing drugs like heroin and cocaine, making them available to adults on a purely commercial basis like alcohol, would have to include a similar plan for prescription painkillers. All this would result in fewer prosecutions (though not zero prosecutions as black market sales of addictive drugs to minors would skyrocket, much to the rage, anguish and fury of parents across the country), but many more deaths from overdose.

    We’d just treat them like alcohol – you punish the bad consequences and choices, not merely the act of consumption.

    Besides, there are other case examples. Portugal has had several legalized “hard drugs” for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t caused a gigantic mega-spike in drug consumption in their country.


    It does stop murders, smuggling, and bribery of government officials. Abuse and suicides may go up. There’s a big difference between murders and suicides. With which scenario is society better off?

    Exactly. I’ll take the ills of legalization, if it destroys most of the gigantic, dysfunctional political-economic complex that has grown up around the international drug trade.

    Yes, alcohol can be abused in this way … but it has other uses that do not involve a loss of self-control, and avoiding loss of self-control while using it is possible for most people.

    The same goes for most drugs, even some of the hard ones. They don’t all turn into burned-out “junkies” who can’t even feed themselves.

    There’s nothing special about alcohol that makes it more “fit” for legalization than marijuana, or cocaine. It just gets a pass because of the disaster that was Prohibition, and became it’s so ubiquitous among the politically connected.

  • FEM

    For all the talk about the failure of the blue social model, it seems that the thinking in this article has fallen for the siren call of that model, which allows for falling back into what it is the comfortable and unimaginative response of inertia to change .

  • John Balog

    So just to be clear, you think ending Prohibition did more harm than continuing it would have? Or does that not fit the strawman you’re trying to construct? You should be ashamed of this hackery sir; you’re better than this.

  • Jim.

    How soon people forget that “smuggling” meant trade in highly taxed and highly regulated goods through most of history.

    Legalization with regulation and taxation won’t make much difference. Legalization without regulation will remove tools from law enforcement necessary to prevent the shredding of our social fabric, and encourage a lot of people to make bad decisions they otherwise wouldn’t.

  • Brian

    I find it amazing that Portugal has been brought up only once so far. They did almost exactly what this post was discussing: decriminalizing all drugs. The results? HIV infection rates dropped among drug users, treatment went up, abuse went down, drug-related deaths went down, costs to society from the effects of drugs went down (prosecution, deaths, etc.) While drug use overall went up (slightly), it dropped among both adolescents and “problem” users. It hasn’t been an unmigitated success (there’s a lot of factors here, and cause and effect is sometimes hard to assign) but it has been widely regarded as a massive improvement over past efforts.

    Its also really important to note that, while we often clump all of these drugs together, they’re all extremely different, requiring very different responses. The debate about legalizing weed vs. legalizing, say, ecstacy, vs. legalizing heroin is all going to be very different

  • dr kill

    Oh dear, is it sweeps week again already?

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “The flourishing black market in prescription painkillers and the thousands of deaths associated with their use demonstrate that drug use will not be magically fixed by regulating currently illegal drugs.”

    This is just a straw man; you are putting out there so you can knock it down. Nobody thinks drug abuse is going to magically stop, just that it should be responsibly treated like Tobacco or Alcohol, and not like Doctor corrupting prescription so called legal drugs. The simple fact that you acknowledge there is a black market in legal drugs means you know they aren’t really legal. You count the deaths from taking the drugs, but you fail to count the deaths from the illegal drug trade, or the expense of doubling our prison populations with drug offenders, and not in just court costs, police costs, and prison costs, but in the ruined lives of those just looking to make money. You ignore the good that could be done like rehab programs with the lost taxes while also ignoring the corruption of the Doctor Drug Pushers of the so called legal drugs.
    I am truly disappointed in the evasive and deceptive way you approach this critical and deadly problem. The War on Drugs is an utter failure, and it’s time to try something else, like treating people like adults that can make their own decisions, [dratted] nannies.

  • Brett

    @John Balog

    So just to be clear, you think ending Prohibition did more harm than continuing it would have?

    No, I think continuing Prohibition would have done vastly more harm than eliminating it. It was a complete disaster, and easily one of the biggest “Great Causes” of that era gone awry. It created entire new sectors of organized crime.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    Marijuana legalization may not cure all the societal problems, but it will sure a heck put a damper in the government’s non-stop encroachment and stomping on of our God-given rights.

    I am sick to death of a government that dictates what I can and cannot do in every single aspect of my life.

  • theo d

    Mr. Mead is doing a very good job as a Defender of the Status Quo for the prison industry, drug-warrior pensions, needless criminalization of the underclass, and the obvious fact available to any objective historian that in the Drug War drugs have won. Drugs have gotten cheaper and stronger since the War’s inception. Time to be smarter. Mr. Mead wants us to become dumber and his commentary is mere propaganda in the service of stupidity. The public is ahead of the political class represented by this sycophant.

  • It’s clear that you have not studied this issue extensively. There are a number of fundamental misconceptions here about the principles of legalization and contrasts with prohibition.

    First, legalization is not about decreasing use; it is about decreasing the harms associated with use. From a public health standpoint, it’s preferable to have people buying tested drugs from regulated providers than untested drugs from armed criminals. Even if use goes up – way up – if people aren’t dying, and addiction rates don’t soar, that’s good. After alcohol prohibition ended, use went up, but it was due to lots of casual users. Addict users were already using before, during, and after prohibition, so the harms associated with alcohol use did not increase on a problematic scale.

    Second, legalizing heroine and cocaine are not about maximizing revenue. Marijuana might be to some extent. The point is drugs are different. Heroin and cocaine are more dangerous than alcohol, and alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. It follows that we want policies that emphasize maximizing revenue with some of those drugs, and policies that emphasize minimizing harms with others.

    Regarding the abuse of prescription drugs, people use them for two reasons: they falsely think they are less dangerous since they’re “legal,” and rightly think they’re less likely to get in trouble with them since law enforcement focuses on illegal drugs (example, I’ve never met an oxycontin sniffing dog). There’s also a stigmatization difference that makes pills preferable to upper-class drug users. There is no solution here – there are drug addicts, and there always will be no matter how we criminalize/regulate these drugs. The question is how can we minimize deaths. One way to do that is make other products (marijuana?) available and steer people toward them instead of more dangerous drugs. By criminalizing marijuana, we’re steering people toward more dangerous drugs that are less criminalized, like prescription opiates.

    I could go on, but the most important point to rebut is your last one – that legalization will not “solve our drug problems.” Nothing will. The question is which policies can best minimize the harms of our drug problem. It has become increasingly clear that prohibition, with it’s focus on using the criminal justice system to deter and interdict has not “solved” our drug problem, but has created a host of its own problems (mass incarceration, erosion of civil liberties, disrespect for the rule of law, etc…). Legalization would allow us to take the billions we now spend on enforcement and use it on treatment and honest education. Such a strategy has dramatically reduced tobacco consumption, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t apply it to other drugs.

  • “I don’t think that we are culturally able to accept masses of people dying in the streets.”

    Unless they’re in Mexico. 50,000 of them.

  • P Gustafson

    Legalization doesn’t stop deaths or abuse, nor negate the necessity of prosecuting dealers.
    Anyone who makes that argument shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’ve never read a proponent of legalization who contends that legalizing illicit drugs will lead to a paradise. What we’re weighing is two bad options. The question is which option is less bad, and I would contend that there are better ones than the current one.

  • Walter Sobchak

    You cannot have self government, unless you can govern your selves.

    If you think that we are worse off if we do not have the Nanny State taking care of us, then you cannot possibly believe in democratic government. You cannot have it both ways. You must choose.

    BTW, drugs were not invented in the 20th Century, but Prohibition was. Which is less compatible with democracy.

  • Walter Sobchak

    I need to add that nothing creates moral panic among the puritans and blue noses better than the bad habits of the proletariat.

    A straight line can be drawn from the current panic over prescription drugs back to Hogarth’s Gin Lane. We should reflect on prohibition’s utter lack of success over the three century interval.

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