Home > criminal justice, economics, law > Why Legalization is a Rational, Humane, and Fiscally Responsible Approach to Drug Policy

Why Legalization is a Rational, Humane, and Fiscally Responsible Approach to Drug Policy

For the last forty plus years the government’s waged a war on drugs resulting in catastrophic consequences.  The effects of drug prohibition are extremely far reaching and permeate many aspects of society.  The war on drugs erodes civil liberties, creates black markets, drug cartels, militarized police units, and imposes huge costs to taxpayers in terms of enforcement, prosecution, and imprisonment.  Any way you look at it, the policy of drug prohibition is an utter failure – it’s time we legalize drugs.

Like alcohol prohibition, the war on drugs facilitates black markets and the organized crime cartels responsible for much of the violence occurring on the Mexican border and in poor minority communities.  These groups lack legal channels to adjudicate disputes – leading to violence as the natural mode of conflict resolution.  Legalizing and regulating drugs like any other consumer good will eliminate violence between rival factions (allowing disputes to be resolved through the courts rather than by violence) and protect consumers and producers alike from the uncertainties of operating in a black market.

Furthermore, various unintended consequences of the drug war disproportionately affect minorities and those in poor communities.  While all races use drugs at similar levels, minorities are arrested and imprisoned for drug crimes at a significantly unbalanced rate.  In addition, prohibition automatically classifies drug users as criminals – although most engage in nothing more than nonviolent, consensual transactions.  The law automatically creates a class of criminals, enabling the prison industrial complex and skyrocketing incarceration rates.  Already boasting the world’s highest per capita imprisonment rate, Uniform Crime Report data shows just fewer than 2 million arrests occurred in the U.S. due to drug prohibition since 2007.

Another alarming trend is the increased militarization of the police.  Typically, SWAT teams diffuse situations with an extremely high probability of violence such as hostage crises.  However, heavily armed SWAT teams currently perform no-knock raids on homes of alleged drug offenders – often in the middle of the night and failing to identify themselves, resulting in unnecessarily violent, deadly outcomes in situations with an otherwise low propensity for violence.  Countless raids are even carried out on wrong homes and people, tragically catching police officers and innocent civilians in fatal crossfire.

Threats of prosecution and imprisonment also carry unseen corollaries in the sphere of public health.  Legalization eliminates the stigma and criminal penalties currently preventing users from seeking treatment.  Stripping away fears of prison or social castigation increases the incidence of addicts pursuing treatment remedies.  In addition, non-using civilians are more likely to report incidents of overdose and addiction if there are no repercussions.  In fact, countries eliminating criminal penalties altogether for drug use (such as Portugal) realized significant drops in drug mortality and disease rates, as instances of users seeking treatment rise.

Moreover, the enforcement of drug prohibition consumes considerable monetary resources.  Billions of dollars are spent annually on police, courts, and prisons –while the government fails to reap the substantial tax revenues legalization and regulation would provide.  Studies estimate legalization will fill government coffers with an additional $88 billion per year when factoring in savings on enforcement and revenue realized from taxation.

Like it or not, drug use is a part of American culture.  If the draconian prohibition policies of the past forty years failed to curb demand and eradicate use, then it will never be eliminated.  So long as that demand exists, someone will surface to fill the supply side of the equation.  Rather than continue proven failed policies, it’s time for a change.  We can no longer eschew the detestable consequences the drug war inflicts on our fellow citizens and communities.  It’s time to institute a drug policy of full legalization – one that is rational, humane, and fiscally responsible.


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