Every society has some controversial issues on its agenda but what is of paramount importance for one nation may be quite insignificant from the point of view of others. However, this is not the case with the universal problem of drug abuse, addiction, and related consequences that drugs have for individuals and societies in general. For the United States, the drug problem today has assumed the shape of the controversy about whether drug use should or should not be legalized. Let us overview arguments of proponents of both points of view, and try to find out whether significant benefits can indeed be obtained from the legalization of drugs, and if a common ground for both camps can be found.
Current state of affairs in war on drugs
The logic behind the ongoing war on drugs is based on the popular idea that drugs are too harmful to weaken control over them, that existing drug policies effectively reduce drug abuse, and that drug legalization will only worsen drug-related problems. This attitude is conservative, as it mostly supports the current state of affairs. As such, this stance gathers wide support from people who are equally conservative in their views, and in its less radical form, supportive of compassionate approach as an integral component of anti-drugs policies, may as well appeal to proponents of less harsh treatment of drug addicts. Still, one of the main reasons why the attitude based on the war on drugs has been blamed is that it is not flexible enough in its approach, as doubts about benefits of legalization or at least decriminalization could be partially construed as a simple fear of change, not to mention that the overly strict approach to drugs could be blamed to be unaware of the aspects of the human nature that compel people to use drugs.
Perspectives of extermination of overseas drugs supply
In this respect, one of the strongest arguments for the legalization of drugs stems from the inadmissibility of the continuation of the current state of affairs, when hundreds of thousands of people are arrested every year and kept behind bars for possession of illegal substances for personal usage, and not for sale. At the same time, realistically looking at things we indeed have to confess that even under such a harsh regime there has not occurred a significant reduction in drug use, and there seems to be no perspective for such reduction at all. Indeed, the real problem with drugs is that for many people they have a unique ability to satisfy one of the fundamental human aspirations that lie in the need to escape from the numerous unpleasant aspects of our reality, even though doing so in a perverse way that may finally only aggravate the problems that we are trying to get rid of. If we understand this then we have to concede that drugs, in one form or another, are to stay with us perhaps forever. In this light, the disputable successes that proponents of the maintenance of the criminal status of drugs use to allude to when they defend their position may be misleading. Indeed, even the effective measures of prosecution and compulsory rehabilitation of drug addicts just substitute one evil for another as they add to the unhappiness of people who depend on drugs by intensifying in them an atmosphere of psychological tension that may contribute to the drug-oriented behavior and addiction. Moreover, the illegal status of drugs is the single greatest boon for the criminal narco-mafia, which has become a proper symbol of evil to be fought with. Is it not ironic that the very situation when drugs are being prohibited enables the drug trafficking organizations to reap enormous profits by becoming virtually the sole source of some of the much-coveted drugs? In this situation, the narco-mafia is the single most interested party that would do everything to maintain the ongoing war on drugs and prevent their legalization.
To this line of argumentation, the proponents of the strategy of war on drugs would say that due to the international nature of contemporary drug trafficking it is necessary just to disrupt the chain of overseas drug production and proliferation. This measure, as it is thought, would greatly reduce the availability of most types of illegal substances in Western countries. Still, as the supporters of the legalization of drugs rightfully observe, attempts to prevent the overseas production of certain drugs have turned out to be futile in most cases, as illegal drug business centers can be relocated to different parts of the world. The programs to instigate the poor population of the countries of the Third World to cultivate legal crops are fundamentally ineffective because it is hard to rival the potential profits from drugs enabled by prohibition laws. But even if drug supplies from abroad could be ended, the drug consumption in the USA would hardly diminish because, firstly, alcohol and tobacco are the leading sources of drug-related problems, and, secondly, many illegal drugs are produced within the United States as well. Therefore, such domestic drugs, plus probably some new ones, would quickly take the place of foreign heroin and cocaine.
History lessons about anti-drugs policies
Considering the above-mentioned, proponents of the legalization of drugs claim that the current state of affairs regarding policies towards drugs abuse is based on a superficial understanding of the essence of the phenomenon they are aimed against, so they often lead to ineffective and even damaging consequences, and at the same time are extremely costly. Experiments with prohibition are well known in the United States, one has just to recollect the 18th Amendment that in 1919 outlawed the production and sale of alcoholic drinks. Needless to remind that criminal activity surged, and the health of now illegal drinkers was threatened by illegal alcohol of dubious quality. The 18th Amendment was abolished in 1933 to remain one the most convincing examples of the consequences of drug criminalization.
Suggestions for the improvement of situation
So, while drugs are a grave problem for society with many associated individual tragedies, the methods of the current war on drugs are said to have only worsened the situation. But what is offered to improve the situation? Most of the supporters of the legalization of drugs would recommend the shift to a policy that would encompass the recognition that drugs will inevitably persist in society, and will make its aim to find the best ways to minimize their harm. This policy will have to shed an obsession with reduction of drug use by prohibition that adds additional burden to drug addicts, but rather will have to concentrate on the reduction of crime and suffering that drug abuse can cause. The basis for such a policy should be found not in the ignorance and prejudice towards the problem of drug abuse, but in adherence to human rights, scientifically justified recommendations, and common sense. And for a successful implementation of such a policy, the legalization of drugs is needed, as was done in some other countries.
Nevertheless, while we can see that it is hard to deny that immediate benefits can be obtained from the legalization of drugs, some of those who voice their support of the current methods of war on drugs as their final argument advances the insightful and wise observation that despite even the most compelling evidence that may be accumulated in support of the legalization of drugs, in the foreseeable future politicians may simply not find enough courage to risk their reputation by even proposing the possibility of this radical step. In this situation, what is similar between both opposing camps is that they would equally benefit from cooperation that would bring their positions closer and which may result in evolutionary adaptation of existing policies instead of futile and time-wasting discussions about the necessary revolutionary changes. Besides, any changes implemented rapidly as a side effect may even have some negative consequences unforeseen by both groups of opponents.
Inciardi, James A., and McBride, Duane C. The Case Against Legalization. In.
Inciardi, James A. (Ed.). The Drug Legalization Debate. SAGE Publications, 2002, pp.45-79.
Nadelmann, Ethan A. The Case For Legalization. In Inciardi, James A. (Ed.). The Drug Legalization Debate. SAGE Publications, 2002, pp.17-44.