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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An argument in favor of marijuana legalization

A draft (your comments and suggestions are appreciated)

Drug Legalization Might Be the Answer
American drug control policy—the drug war— has been mired in failure for decades.
By any measure of policy evaluation, the drug war is a failure. First, it fails to meet its stated goals of reducing drug use and availability of drugs, sufficiently disrupting supplies so that prices increase and purity declines, and providing treatment to drug abusers.
In fact, drug use is not demonstrably lower under prohibition and is actually generally higher since the founding of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)—the primary federal agency of accountability in the drug war; this includes marijuana. Drugs are no less available and are in fact widely available (especially marijuana). Prices of drugs are not up and are in fact generally down (including marijuana). Purity of drugs is not down and in fact is generally up (including marijuana).
And the vast majority of people who need drug treatment do not get it. This is largely because spending on treatment has lagged far behind dollars spent on law enforcement, interdiction, and international spending.
Second, the costs of our nation’s drug control policy outweigh its meager benefits. There are of course the obvious financial costs; the official drug control budget is $15.5 billion, but this excludes tens of billions of dollars spent every year on efforts by police, courts, and correctional facilities supporting federal drug policy.
Consider these data. About 15% of all arrests and more than 30% of convictions in state courts are for drug offenses; more than 30% of sentences imposed by federal courts are for drug offenses; and drug offenders now make up 20% of all state prison inmates and an astounding 55% of federal prison inmates.
With no drug war, every bit of these resources allocated to criminal justice could be directed at more serious threats to our nation, things like violent crime and terrorism. This is simply a matter of priorities, so states might choose to improve education instead.
Other costs imposed by drug policy include what ONDCP calls “crimes associated with drug using lifestyle.” This is when drug using citizens come into contact with criminals operating in the black market, a fact of life under prohibition.
The drug war also empowers violent and even terrorist organizations; these groups are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico just in the past few years.
Then there is racial bias, a shameful legacy of US drug control policy. Prisons are literally being built “on the backs of blacks.”
Finally, illness and deaths associated with drugs have consistently risen for the past three decades. Prohibition simply makes drug use less safe.
An alternative is legalization, whereby the criminal penalty for drug offenses is eliminated and drugs are legally available for adults. Under this approach, drugs can be regulated, assuring safer use.
There is no better drug to start with than marijuana, a relatively safe drug anyway.
Marijuana kills less than five people a year in the US according to the federal government, compared with about 80,000 for alcohol and 440,000 for tobacco. Further, the vast majority of people who use marijuana never have any serious health problems or move on to any other harder substance.
No one really knows what would happen under legalization. It would be an experiment. Yet, careful studies of the US and abroad make predictions reasonably certain.
Marijuana might become more available and used more, but strict regulation could greatly diminish this. And educational campaigns could discourage use by young people similar to tobacco.
And even if use went up, people would still be safer using marijuana than alcohol or tobacco.
We would simultaneously save billions of dollars and could even raise money though tax revenue, funds that are sorely needed, especially now.


  1. As this article states, and we all know, the so called 'war on drugs' is a total and absolute failure. However, there are other alternatives to consider before jumping the gun and trying to immediately legalize marijuana. Take The Netherlands for example, marijuana is still technically illegal throughout the entire country; However, law enforcement has turned a 'blind eye,'tolerating and regulating the sale and use of the 'drug.' And what would you know? After the turn of the century, lifetime prevalence of marijuana use in people over the age of 12 is MUCH less in The Netherlands (about 17%) as compared to in America (almost 37%). Furthermore...The Netherlands hard drug use, incarceration rate, AND homicide rate are all lower by a significant margin. Coincidence? We will never know until we finally decide to try something new...

  2. Great reaction. Hopefully my finalized op-ed will generate some discussion.

  3. To me it comes down to something has to be done. It seems as though things are constantly getting worse in the war on drugs, but for some reason law makers are just content to let it keep going in this direction it is heading. Instead of sinking so much funding into drug prevention we could use these funds to prevent drug abuse much like they have done in Portugal. Portugal had been struggling with overdoses and AIDs problems for many years when they decided to decriminalize not just marijuana, but all drugs. There theory was that if they stopped focusing on putting people in prison for drugs they would focus on treating them and helping them if they could. The drug user has to go in front of a three person panel for them to decide if they should undergo treatment, get a small fine, or no sanction, but the focus is still on treatment for the user. This method has been working, as both drug related deaths and aids infections have declined greatly since decriminalization 5 years ago. Now I am not advocating that we legalize speed or meth, but legalization of marijuana is not that big of a step considering how wide spread use is already. And if we switch from trying to prevent use of marijuana, to helping those who have problems with it, or other drugs, then perhaps we can do more than just locking up drug addicts and hoping they get clean in prison.

  4. I was looking at the website and the stats that they have on their are amazing. I had heard about a lot of them, but I feel like this website does a good job of putting everything together cohesively.
    Prison populations are soaring because of the number of drug-related cases. Inmates are going in for less serious charges, and serving longer terms.
    Courts are being backlogged because of the sheer volume of cases related to drug offenses.
    Homicide can be attributed to drugs, not only in the sense of over doses(marijuana being the exception) but also because of the sketchy situations people out themselves into when they are trying to buy illegal drugs. We would not be walking into a dark alley, where we are about to meet a stranger who is going to sell us drugs, and who probably has a gun, if the distribution of marijuana was not illegal.
    Like sno_boarder4343 said, we do not need to legalize everything, but marijuana is everywhere and just think of all the resources and revenue we could use for other troubled areas if we did not have to use it on the drug war.

  5. That is a great web site. I also like "Drug War Rant" and "The Anti-Drug War" (lots of good data there)