Any time I am required to bring a list of hotly debated topics to my mind, the argument over drug legalization is one of the things I think of. Typically, liberals and Libertarians are for legalization, while conservatives have historically been against it. As a conservative, most people expect me to support the anti-legalization side of the argument.
Yet, I think my conservative, anti-government overreach stance makes me even MORE for drug legalization.
To begin, it is important to take a look at the results of any form of government regulation and prohibition. A wonderful example of this is the prohibition against alcohol enacted in the United States in 1920 via the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This prohibition was a drastic failure, and was repealed in 1933 through the ratification of the 21st Amendment. Crime rates went up, and people went through back door or home created methods of obtaining alcohol.
Certain drugs haven’t always been illegal for crying out loud, Coca Cola was made with cocaine for an extended period of time. Yet, starting around 1910, anti-drug legislation and agencies were created and enacted until Nixon declared an all out ‘War on Drugs’ in 1971. Since that point, more and more legislation, policies, and departments have been established to criminalize drugs and enforce the criminalization.
Yet, here we are in 2016, and these strategies clearly aren’t working. The numbers have slightly changed in the past two years, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2014, 10.2 percent of the population aged 12 or over used illegal drugs each month. Without even giving consideration to the users we don’t know about or have no way of tracking, a tenth of the population uses some form of illegal substance each month.
Criminality is really effective, huh?
Not only are people still obtaining illegal drugs, bypassing all our laws, regulations, and (ineffective) agencies and programs, but drug illegalization is increasing crime. Every year, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) makes over 30,000 arrests relating to the sale or distribution of illegal narcotics. (Even though high, this number cannot compare to the average of 1,552,432 arrests a year simply for drug abuse violations.)
Illegal drugs also have a steady connection to violent crime. A report created by the Bureau of Justice Statistics read,
“Trafficking in illicit drugs tends to be associated with the commission of violent crimes. Reasons for the relationship of drug trafficking to violence include:
competition for drug markets and customers
disputes and ripoffs among individuals involved in the illegal drug market
individuals who participate in drug trafficking are prone to use violence
locations where street drug markets proliferate tend to be disadvantaged economically and socially; legal and social controls against violence in such areas tend to be
The report went on to discuss the connections between drug trafficking and homicide. A study done by the BJS done in 1988 (there has been a slight decrease in homicides since that point) reported that in the 75 most populous counties of the country, 18 percent of defendants and 16 percent of victims in homicide cases had some connection to the drug trafficking industry. Each had was involved in at least one of the following scenarios: drug manufacture, dispute over drugs, theft of drugs or drug money, a drug scam, a bad drug deal, punishment for drug theft, or illegal use of drugs.
The relation between the criminal justice system and drugs is also one of the best examples of institutional racism we have. Of the 208,000 people sentenced for illegal drug convictions in the United States during 2013, 187,600 of them were some form of minority. That means that a little over 90 percent of those convicted for drug crimes were minorities. Statistically, that doesn’t add up, but when you look at areas targeted for drug busts, and things such as the crack versus powder cocaine laws, the completely unbalanced conviction numbers start to make sense. If anything in the criminal justice system needs to be changed to help combat racism, it is certainly our drug laws.
As statistics and research have demonstrated, the War on Drugs in our country is failing miserably. Drugs are still being heavily used, crime rates are rising, we’ve created a point of racism, and the government continues to use this fight as another avenue in which to increase its own size and regulate everything it can touch.
Not only are these things terrible, but we’re also missing out on an amazing economic route: drug trafficking in Mexico is worth $50 billion a year, and it has been estimated that their economy would shrink by over 63 percent if they were to lose that industry. If the United States government has ineffectively spent over $800 billion on the drug war between 1981 and 2008, legalizing drugs would not only be an economy booster, but it would cut government spending in huge ways.
The one major drawback to drug legalization is the concern over public health. However, legalizing drugs not only allows for better control of substances and safer routes of use, but also for better community based programs to help those who are addicted, increased training for medical and emergency professionals, and better public education. After all, it is hard to get help for those who are doing something illegal, be trained on how to help those who are doing something
illegal, and educate the public on the risks of doing something that they are assumed to not be doing anyway because it is illegal. It will bring things out into the open and allow individuals and communities to handle it well, similar to the way Sweden’s new prostitution laws have improved anti-trafficking and human rights efforts.
There will be bumps in the road, and there will certainly be concerns needing to be discussed, but any effort made to decriminalize drug use in this country will be worth it. The cons of illegality far outweigh the pros, and do nothing but increase the size of government in ineffective efforts. If we want to see criminal justice reform, community based action, and less crime, this is the route we as a country must take.