There’s growing sentiment that legalizing drugs (specifically marijuana) will solve some of our nation’s problems. The consensus among people who feel this way is that the “war on drugs”, which costs about $30 billion a year between federal and state-level expenditures, is unwinnable. And there’s some merit to the argument since it’s very difficult to prevent people from using and abusing chemicals for their own pleasure, particularly in the privacy of their own homes. This was proven during Prohibition in our own country and there have been similar experiences in other countries. However, I am not convinced that complete legalization is the right choice.
Let me start by stating
the most obvious fact: marijuana is completely legal in exactly zero countries
Completely legalizing a
drug has significant drawbacks. For
example, opium was completely legal in
And for all the crowing
about what a failure Prohibition was in
Legalization might have
substantial financial benefits – eliminating the expense of waging an official
drug war using federal agencies, eliminating cartel-related crimes, etc - but
it would also open a market to the entire population that heretofore had been
confined by laws and stigma to a very small percentage. Once the stigma abates, usage will increase
and dramatically so, just as it did with alcohol here, just as it did with
When all is said and done, the real cost of prohibition is in the number of people in jail it produces. The expense of arresting, trying, and incarcerating drug users and distributors is by far the largest cost of the current policy, but one that can be solved with other means than complete legalization.
The biggest problem
with the current marijuana law is how the drug is classified. It’s been placed on Schedule 1 of the
Controlled Substances Act, which means that a) it has a high potential for
abuse, b) it has no accepted medicinal purpose and c) there is no accepted safe
way to use it even under medical supervision.
Marijuana clearly has some medical uses so for that reason it should be
removed from the same classification as heroin, PCP, LSD, psilocybin and
crystal meth. Possession of Schedule 1
drugs carries mandatory jail time, as does
distribution. Take marijuana off that
list so that possession carries only a small fine, with distribution garnering
a larger one. The reason marijuana
generates so much black market money is compensation for the cost of being
caught. But if the cost becomes nominal,
who is going to kill someone over that?
This removes all financial incentive for increased criminality. Selling marijuana would no longer be
lucrative and the violence that is occurring in
Although it doesn’t go as far as the legalization advocates would like, it does address many of their concerns and removes a significant burden on our government, specifically law-enforcement, and our economy.
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