Reasons for Not Legalizing Drugs

The fear [of legalization] stems largely from the assumption that more people would use drugs under a legal regime. This assumption may be false. There is no correlation between the severity of drug laws and the frequency of drug use: citizens living under harsh regimes (especially America, but also Britain) take more drugs, not less. Embarrassing drug warriors blame alleged cultural differences, but even in fairly similar countries, strict rules have little effect on the number of addicts: tough Sweden and more liberal Norway have exactly the same rates of addiction. [27] Of course, one can discuss the extent to which these effects are due to the drug itself and the extent to which these drugs are a direct consequence of their illegality. And no one should underestimate the possibility that stimulant use could spread much further and become much more widespread than it is now if restrictions on their use were relaxed. The importation of mildly stimulant khat is legal in the UK, and much of the Somali refugee community spends their entire lives chewing the leaves containing the stimulant, putting these refugees in far worse poverty than they would otherwise experience. The reason why the khat habit has not spread to the rest of the population is that it takes a whole day to chew disgusting bitter leaves to achieve the relatively mild pharmacological effect. The problem, however, is that once stimulant use becomes culturally acceptable and normal, it can easily become so widespread that it has devastating social effects. And the types of stimulants offered in Western cities – cocaine, crack, amphetamines – are much more attractive than khat. However, what is generally presented as a fairly simple process of lifting prohibitionist controls to reap these supposed benefits would actually mean addressing an extremely complex set of regulatory issues. As with most, if not all, goods supplied by individuals and public funds, the main regulatory issues concern the type of medicines legally available, the conditions under which they are supplied and the conditions under which they are consumed (see page 21).

If they do not harm others, the government has no right to restrict what consenting adults do in their personal lives. Every individual has the right to decide whether he or she wants to use drugs. Drug use is a “victimless crime” in which only the user takes a risk. Yes, a violent industry has emerged around drug trafficking, but it is a direct consequence of drug prohibition. It is immoral to tell people how to have fun or not. Many arguments seem to make legalization a convincing alternative to today`s prohibitionist policies. In addition to undermining black market incentives to produce and sell drugs, legalization could eliminate or at least significantly reduce the very problems that most concern the public: the crime, corruption and violence that accompany the functioning of illicit drug markets. It would also likely reduce the damage caused by the lack of quality controls for illicit drugs and slow the spread of infectious diseases due to needle parts and other unsanitary practices.

In addition, governments could abandon costly and largely futile efforts to suppress the supply of illicit drugs and imprison offenders by spending the money saved to educate people not to use drugs and to treat those who become addicted. The lack of government regulation and control over the lucrative illicit drug market has created a large number of unregulated drug traffickers who lure many children into the illicit drug trade. The U.S. government`s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2009 found that more than 800,000 teens aged 12 to 17 nationwide had sold illicit drugs in the 12 months prior to the survey. [143] The 2005 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nationally, 25.4% of students offered, sold, or received an illegal drug from someone on school grounds. The prevalence of offering, selling, or administering an illegal drug in schools ranged from 15.5% to 38.7% in state CDC surveys (median: 26.1%) to 20.3% to 40.0% in local surveys (median: 29.4%). [144] Opponents of more permissive regimes doubt that black market activities and related problems will disappear or even decline sharply. However, to answer this question, it is still necessary to know the specificities of the regulatory system, in particular the conditions of supply. When drugs are sold openly on a commercial basis and prices are close to production and distribution costs, the potential for illegal undercutting seems rather slim.