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Essay/Term paper: Legalization of drugs

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Alcohol and Drugs

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Legalization of Drugs

Man, as a creature, is inherently bored. Since the dawn of time, it has been the
natural instinct of man to find alternative methods to enhance his being. The
many means by which man has turned to include sex, gambling, and the consumption
of substances beyond the requirements of nutrition. The consumption of
substances can be further broken down into legal and illegal substances. The
question then becomes, who are we to place labels on certain substances by
deeming them legal and prohibit others by creating penalties for their use?

The issue of prohibition is certainly not a new one to our nation. In 1919, the
18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of alcoholic
beverages. "Suddenly honest, responsible Americans who just wanted a drink, were
turned into criminals. Respectable bars became underground speak-easys, and
legitimate liquor manufacturers were replaced by criminal bootleggers." Gang
warfare, bribery, and criminal activity reached an all-time high. Standards on
illegal alcohol were much lower than those on the previously legal alcohol which
led to the blinding or death of many consumers. Finally in 1933, politicians
buckled and repealed the 18th Amendment. The Prohibition attempt of the early
20th century provides the perfect historical support for the decriminalization
of drugs.

"Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species
of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that
it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of
things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very
principles upon which our government was founded."

The rise in violent crime over the years has been a concern to most. A major
cause of this increase in crime is the illegal trafficking of drugs. As violent
crime continues to increase, we are unable to devote our financial resources and
time into preventing and prosecuting those who commit crimes such as murder,
rape, and assault. The reason we are unable to devote these resources where they
are needed is because we are foolishly spending them on a battle that we cannot
win-the "War on Drugs."

Prior to Ronald Reagan's "War on Drugs," America's crime rate had been declining.
Since the introduction of the new wave drug laws, violent crimes have increased
32% between 1976 and 1985. Eighty percent of all violent street crimes are now
drug related.

Most of the violent crime associated with drugs can be traced directly to the
drug dealers and not the users. "The 'war on drugs' drives up prices, which
attracts more people to the drug trade. When potential profit increases, drug
dealers resort to greater extremes, including violence." For example, the street
price of heroin has risen 5,000 times that of hospital costs. These artificial
prices lead to turf wars in which one dealer attempts to protect his sales from
another. These turf wars cause dealers to kill each other, law enforcement
officials, and often innocent bystanders. The rising cost of the drugs causes
desperate addicts to commit robberies in order to keep up with the inflating

If the importation, sale and use of drugs were legal, the open competition would
eliminate the profitability of drug dealing. Without the economic incentive to
commit violent crimes, the violence of drug dealing would be dramatically
reduced. In addition to the elimination of the economic incentive, the health
risk factor would help to reduce the role of the drug dealer. A potential
customer would probably choose to buy a market-tested product from a pharmacy as
opposed to buying a product of unknown dosage and quality from a corner dealer.

Without the lure of potential profits, the drug dealing profession would lose
its luster. A major problem is that children in lower-class areas see selling
drugs as the only way to make money. Minimum wage salaries can not compare to
the huge profits associated with dealing. Failing to acquire job skills at an
early age, they run the risk of never finding a real job and living off welfare
their entire lives. In a lower-class area, the drug dealers are seen as the
center of the community. They become role models for the children, replacing
their parents. Eliminating the drug dealer will force these young children into
the reality that education is the way out of the ghetto-not selling drugs.

Prohibition laws cannot be effectively enforced. In a free society, if people
want a product, they will be able to find a way to get it, whether or not it is
legal. "No matter how many Americans are arrested for drug use, no matter how
many pushers are put in jail, the War on Drugs cannot succeed. Look at any major
American prison with its human cages, iron gates, armed guards, and continual
surveillance. Drugs are still readily available in prison. If brutal repression
cannot keep drugs out of our prisons, then turning our entire country into a
prison will not keep drugs off our streets."

Decriminalization would not necessarily endorse drug use, but instead it would
at least accept the notion that government action in a free country cannot
prevent it. The economic law of supply and demand states that if a product is
demanded, someone is always willing to supply it for the right price. The
problem with criminalizing a product is that it drives down the supply which
increases price and, as mentioned earlier, leads to more violence.

"The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the
prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government
and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an
open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely
connected with this."

The next issue becomes one of safety. A major danger of drug use in today's
society is the potentially harmful effects. Such problems as the spread of
HIV/AIDS, overdoses, and physical withdrawal could be curbed if drugs were kept
under the watchful eye of law. Take for example the issue of HIV/AIDS. This
arises mainly from the circulation of dirty hypodermic needles. By legalizing
the sale of injection drugs, clean, unused hypodermic needles could be supplied.
This would greatly reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. In parts of the Netherlands
and France, safe houses are provided that give addicts a safe environment to
shoot up their drugs. While sounding absurd, it provides a clean, safe area for
the addict to use while kept under strict observation.

Another big problem associated with illegal drug use is the likelihood of an
overdose, whether intentional or not. While there is no way to prevent overdose
suicides, many overdoses can be attributed to the fact that some drugs are made
too strong. Should the government choose to legalize the sale of drugs, they can
then take it one step further and regulate these drugs. They can inspect the
dosages applied and can confirm the relative safety of drugs to be sold on the
open market. Similar to the manner in which the Food and Drug Administration
operates, an organization could be set up to monitor the quality of the drugs.
This would not only make certain drugs a lot safer, but it could also regulate
quantities in which they are sold. Drugs could only be sold in certain amounts
and would come with instructions as to how much it is safe to consume.

In 1988, over 48,000 Americans died from alcohol abuse, 400,000 from cigarette-
related illnesses and less than 3,000 from illegal drugs. Former Surgeon General
C. Everett Koop testified that tobacco is just as addictive as heroin and less
so than marijuana. Illegal drugs are by no means good or safe, but they cause
far less medical damage than either alcohol and nicotine-legal intoxicants. Over
40 million Americans now use drugs occasionally, but most do so responsibly and
in moderation. The small percentage who are addicts deserve our help, not our
judicial persecution.

Drug use cannot be prevented and the most rational solution would be to educate
the people about the risks, and encourage moderate use. Criminalization makes
this kind of rational behavior impossible. By legalizing drugs, education could
accompany the purchase of the drugs in the form of a Surgeon General's Warning
or an educational pamphlet.

The potential payoffs of the decriminalizing of drugs goes way beyond simple,
obvious results. Currently, addicts often refrain from seeking medical attention
due to the fear of possible legal complications. This most often occurs with
pregnant women, which subsequently effects their drug-addicted babies. The war
on drugs also costs the government a tremendous amount of money in the hiring of
police and all judicial players. The courts become backed up with ridiculous
cases. Without drug-related cases, our judicial system could run a lot more
efficiently and effectively. Drug hunting often leads to unnecessary death of
innocent police officers killed in the line of duty. This fear of death causes
police to often incite brutality or harass honest citizens.

There is no evidence to support the notion that legalization would cause an
increase in drug use. "In Europe, several countries have decriminalized drugs
and actually seen a significant drop in drug use." The "forbidden fruit" appeal
would be taken away. Part of the attraction of using drugs is the idea that the
action is illegal and goes against authority. Without the "rebel element," drugs
no longer have the attraction and lure that they previously did. For every
person encouraged by the removal of possible incarceration, one will be
discouraged by the legality of using drugs.

Take for example the decriminalization acts taken in Switzerland. In 1975, major
provisions were made to the Swiss Narcotics Law in which penalties for
trafficking were increased and penalties for consumption were drastically
reduced. According to Richard J. Bonnie, there was no correlation between the
laxative laws and increased use. The only drug that saw any kind of increased
use was marijuana, a basically harmless drug.

One must also consider the economic possibilities that accompany the
decriminalization of drugs. The nation's GNP (Gross National Product) only
counts legal transactions. If drugs were legalized, a significant effect could
be seen on the GNP helping to make our economy stronger in relation to other
countries. Profits could be taken out of the drug dealers hands and into the
hands of an honest entrepreneur. Companies could manufacture and market their
drug-related products and pharmacists could sell the products allowing both to
make a considerable profit. The advent of drug stores, similar to liquor stores,
would help the economy by introducing new businesses into the society. The
government could levy a high excise tax on the drugs and could thereby make a
considerable amount of money that they could put into education or something
more important.

The War on Drugs is also a strict violation of our rights as Americans. One of
the greatest things about this country is our ability to live our lives as we
see fit. The War on Drugs directly threatens this right. Under "zero tolerance"
laws, the government has seized thousands of cars, boats, and other vehicles.
These seizures take place without search warrants, probable cause, and due
process. This property is then sold at public auctions with the proceeds going
to hire more police and to buy more weapons.

The War on Drugs has become just that-a war. In December 1989, 20,000 U.S.
troops invaded Panama, capturing Manuel Noreiga, at a cost of 1,000 innocent
Panamanians killed. This action was in total disregard of international law and
policy. In July 1990, Newsweek ran an expose on a secret Pentagon plan to invade
South America in an attempt to destroy the drug trade. Such an action could have
led to the death of many innocent civilians, the economic destruction on South
America, an increase of taxes and an increase of inflation in the states.

Most of the major arguments applied against the decriminalization of drugs deal
with the notion that drugs are bad, dangerous, and harmful to society. It
becomes difficult to praise the use of such drugs as crack, heroin, and cocaine.
Instead, looking at it objectively, one can come to understand that without
legalization, the drug use will still exist. Decriminalizing drugs is just a
form of damage control that will hopefully lessen the negative externalities on
society. The aforementioned arguments, however, cannot even be applied to the
case for the decriminalization of marijuana and hemp products.

Marijuana does nor cause crime or aggressive behavior. In fact, the use of
marijuana makes an individual more passive and less likely to engage in any form
of violent behavior. Marijuana is not physically addictive and its psychological
dependence is less than that of most legal drugs in use now. It does not lead to
the use of harder drugs. In fact, most marijuana users use no other drugs except

"At least forty million Americans have tried marijuana at least once and at
least fifteen million Americans continue to use it on a regular basis. . .The
overwhelming percentage (perhaps ninety percent) of marijuana users use the drug
only for recreational purposes. . .It is well established that the moderate,
recreational use of marijuana-in the doses and frequencies with which it is
customarily used-presents no risk of physical or psychological harm to the user,
over either the short or the long term."

Putting aside the fact that marijuana is not a bad or even dangerous drug, one
must look at what marijuana and hemp can do for our society. When posed with the
question, "if you could have any choice, what would be the ideal way to stop or
reverse the greenhouse effect?" Steve Rawlings, the highest ranking officer in
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, responded, "Stop cutting down the trees and
stop using fossil fuels." The problem that Rawlings foresaw was the lack of a
viable substitute for wood, for paper, and for fossil fuels.

The solution? There is "such a plant that could substitute for all wood pulp,
paper, all fossil fuels, would make most of our fibers naturally, would make
everything from dynamite to plastic, grows in all 50 states, and that 1 acre of
it would replace 4.1 acres of trees, and that if you used about 6% of the land
to raise it as an energy crop-even on our marginal lands, this plant would
produce all 75 quadrillion billion BTU's needed to run America each year."

The problem? This plant is the hemp plant-the very plant that marijuana comes
from. Marijuana, and thusly, the hemp plant is illegal. The absurd fact is that
the plant that could possibly save the world from global warming cannot be grown
because of a harmless drug. The response given by Dr. Gary Evans of the U.S.
Dept of Agriculture and Science, the man in charge of stopping the global
warming trend, was, "if you really want to save the planet with hemp, then [hemp
activists] would find a way to grow it without the narcotic top-and then you
could use it." This ignorance by the U.S. government is not only frightening but

Marijuana also has many practical medical purposes. The Medical Plant Garden, a
part of the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is currently working
on a medicine that is made from the active ingredient in marijuana (THC)}. This
capsule, consisting of 95% THC could be used to replace Marinol, which combats
nausea and vomiting problems in cancer patients and fights the wasting sickness
suffered by most AIDS patients. Marijuana can also be used to alleviate symptoms
of certain diseases such as glaucoma, cancer, and AIDS. Only a small handful of
the people, though, have been prescribed the drug when thousands have applied.

DEA administrative law Judge Francis L. Young called marijuana "one of the
safest therapeutically active substances known to man." He recommended that
marijuana be made legally available for medical purposes. This would be a
considerable change in the drugs legal status. Young feels that the drug could
aid many patients suffering from nausea-inducing chemotherapy and muscle spasms
of multiple sclerosis. Young wrote in a 69 page ruling, "The evidence in this
record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving
the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under
medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA
to continue to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of
this substance in light of the evidence in this record."

Israeli scientists had recently found a skeleton of a fourth century woman who
they believed died in childbirth. Scientists found what they believe to be ashes
or the burned remains of a cannabis plant, suggesting that the ancient woman
used marijuana as a method of reducing labor pains.

N.O.R.M.L (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) is a fully
recognized organization that lobbies for the "removal of criminal penalties for
the individual who uses marijuana in private" as it is "consistent with
traditional American values of the right to privacy, personal choice, and
individual freedom." N.O.R.M.L.'s Board of Directors reads like a "Who's Who" in
the world of science. Such distinguished members include Dr. Kary Mullis, the
winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry; Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Harvard
Medical School Professor; Dr. Louis Lasagna, chairman of the National Academy of
Sciences committee and dean of the Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences at
Tufts University; Ann Druyan, secretary of the Federation of Scientists;
Druyan's husband, Carl Sagan, co-producer of the PBS series Cosmos; and many

Marijuana, in addition to not being a dangerous drug, has been documented to
have practical medical purposes and environmental purposes. The legalization of
marijuana-a drug that the criminalization of is so impossible to enforce-would
not only not harm society, but could actually benefit it.

The question then becomes, how should legalization be approached? In addition to
decriminalization, the government must understand that education is also of the
utmost importance. Rehabilitation and prevention awareness programs are very
important in preventing widespread drug use. One must understand that the drug
addict is not a criminal but a victim. Incarceration is not the solution. "The
limits of criminal sanctions must be recognized and not applied to private
social conduct that constitutes no direct harm to others."

Legalizing drugs would allow them to be available to those who would benefit
from their medical use. Research would also be encouraged as scientists could
search for new and practical uses of drugs. There are many wonderful uses of
drugs that have not yet been identified or perfected and with expanded research,
we could discover these new possibilities.

Of course, some restrictions would have to be set. Likely, an age restriction
would have to be adopted. Restricting the use of drugs to adults only, and
educating the youth of the potential dangers should help curb adolescent abuse.
Prohibiting acts such as driving a vehicle under the influence of a mind-
altering substance would likewise be necessary. Another necessity would be the
destruction of all those with prior criminal records due to the arrest or
conviction on drug-related charges. Of course, the right of the non-smoker would
have to be paramount. In a public facility, non-smoking areas would have to be
set up.

A system of drug regulation that would include the above provisions, public
health and agricultural regulations, and a form of taxation would discourage
abuse, protect public health and safety, reduce crime, and raise revenue.
"Regulation is the inevitable replacement of prohibition."


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