There’s a bit of an argument raging in the comments of this post over at Goldstein’s place. On one side are the drug warriors, most of whom think that the soft drugs like marijuana and halucinogens should be legalized but hard drugs should (I’m inferring and generalizing here) be criminalized even further. On the other are those that argue that drug prohibition doesn’t work for any drug, and that the good effects of legalization will outweigh the bad. I’m with the latter group.
I think everyone who’s worth arguing with agrees that legalization will have some good effects. Illegal drug use causes many problems in society and many (most?) of those problems are directly due to the drugs illegality. These problems include money flowing into organized crime, money flowing into terrorist organizations, violence caused by turf wars, violence caused by addicts who can’t afford their habits, drug labs that are hazardous waste sites, and drugs of such poor quality that they’re poisonous and kill addicts who otherwise wouldn’t have overdosed.
All that would go away with legalization. Once legitimate businesses started making and selling drugs the price would fall so far the black market would no longer have the profit margins that attract criminals. Addicts would find their drugs to be much more affordable, and many would be able to get them without stealing. Poor quality would become subject to legal remedies, with bad companies driven bankrupt by lawsuits or bad publicity.
The only negative effect of legalization would be a theorized increase in drug use and the number of addicts. But would that happen? Based on our national experience with Prohibition I think it’s obvious that it wouldn’t.
Consumption of alcohol actually rose steadily after an initial drop. Annual per capita consumption had been declining since 1910, reached an all-time low during the depression of 1921, and then began to increase in 1922. Consumption would probably have surpassed pre-Prohibition levels even if Prohibition had not been repealed in 1933. Illicit production and distribution continued to expand throughout Prohibition despite ever-increasing resources devoted to enforcement. That pattern of consumption… is to be expected after an entire industry is banned: new entrepreneurs in the underground economy improve techniques and expand output, while consumers begin to realize the folly of the ban.
That’s from a CATO Insitute paper, so dismiss it as the rantings of lefty freedom junkies if you must. I, for one, think that the many benefits of legalization would far outweigh the single cost of creating a few more addicts.
The pro-drug war crowd seems to rely so much on emotion, anecdote, and personal experience because the historical, economic, and statistical facts don’t support their argument. So I’ll argue on their terms and ask a personal question. If meth was legal, cheap, and widely available tomorrow, would you try it? I, and most people I know, wouldn’t.
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