‘Drugs are bad and should therefore be banned’ is a statement that has influenced our society tremendously over the last decades. Prohibition of so called illegal drugs has become such a factor that we even have a name for it: The War on Drugs. This term originates from the conservative US President Richard Nixon who declared it in 1972. Today, most European countries have a ban on marijuana, cocaine, heroin and the like. The idea that these drugs should be banned are seldomly challenged, yet there are good reasons to do that, benefiting both users and non-users.
#1 Individual rights
What you put in your own body is ultimately up to you, since it is a result of your own decision and does not have an effect on others. People who use drugs are not violent offenders, they do not hurt anyone by doing so. In the end, everything you do that is not hurting anyone else is a matter of individual rights. The one thing you know you definitely own is your body, and what you want to do with that is a choice you have to make. The concept of self-ownership is brought up by people who favour the legalisation of marijuana, yet mostly only because they are users themselves (a critique often used against them by people who support prohibition). In the same way, people who drink would never support alcohol prohibition. By this standard, the question of what is allowed and what is not has been determined by the social acceptance of the respective action. I on the other hand would not ask myself whether or not I approve of something you do, but if it is affecting me. If it is not, who am I to tell you that you cannot do it?
#2 Addiction is an illness, not a crime
This argument is an addition to the first one, since many people would respond that ‘yes it may be your individual right, but you hurt yourself and I am only nice by preventing you from doing that’. Although not all drugs are bad (some may even be good for you, we will come to that point later on), we can agree that generally we should not advertise doing any. Many drugs that are illegal today can lead to addiction and to serious medical consequences, on many cases death. Luxembourg has recognised this (partially) with for example a methadone program for heroin-addicts. But wait, if the government helps you with a condition you technically were not legally able to get in the first place, is this not recognising that repression has not worked? As the person who reads this article, I am sure you would not start using heroin just because it is legal, and there is evidence to support this point. In July 2001, Portugal decriminalised the use of all drugs with very positive effects. The Portuguese considered addiction as an illness, and decreased new drug related HIV-infections by 17%, heroin overdoses by 50%, drug mortality rates, and the number of teenagers using drugs. (Source / esp. pages 11 and 12) The total number of drug users stayed pretty much the same.
#3 Put an end to the black market
The biggest advocates of prohibition obviously are criminals, since it is key to their business model. Just as the time of alcohol-prohibition in the United States between 1920 and 1933 was the starting shot for Al Capone, prohibition of drugs is an immense business model for dealers and organised crime. The Mexican Drug War is being fought since 2006 and according to Human Rights Watch, has cost more than 60.000 lives between 2006 and 2012, and has left 20.000 people missing (Source).
According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Mexican drug cartels take in between $19 and $29 billion annually from drug sales to the US (Source). Dealers make city streets less safe and in their competition to gain influence over certain areas, people are being killed. The money they make is often used to promote other crimes. Furthermore, people who are only users are being confronted with dealers, who might convince them to try other drugs or to join their business, this is especially dangerous for minors.
#4 Make police work more effective and cut government spending
In Luxembourg – according to the Ministry of Justice – 28% percent of men and 17% of women are incarcerated for drug related crimes, which may be either possession or dealing (Source), making them the largest group in prison population. In the 2013 annual police report, officials rated drug possession, usage and dealing as the most committed crime amongst a category they rated as ‘other crimes’.
(‘Stupéfiants’ is the French word for drugs)
In fact, when you compare this chart to the other charts in the presentation, you find out that there were 3.222 drug related crimes, so that only verbal agression/calumny and the like were rated higher (3.302). Not being policemen, yet judging from these numbers and media coverage we can only imagine the amount of work put into investigation, field and paperwork. There are no numbers for Luxembourg, yet the Cato Institute found that the USA would save $41.3 billion by ending the War on Drugs. Does it not make more sense to let policemen investigate real crimes and that drug addicts need a doctor, not handcuffs?
If we would legalise drugs we could discuss whether we want our police forces to put more effort into solving violent crimes, or if we could reduce it as a whole.
#5 Treat medical conditions and help scientific research
Just like morphine is a drug which can be addictive, other drugs that are illegal today could be used for medical reasons and scientific research. Cannabis for example can be used to treat different medical conditions, and is – in a study published in the American Journal of Palliative Care – even suspected to relieve ALS-patients. To legalise drugs for personal use is a political decision which can be discussed one way or the other, but it seems rather astonishing that the side supporting prohibition would hazard the consequence of people suffering or not being able to be cured.
#6 Create business opportunities and boost the economy
A legalisation of all drugs would give the private market the opportunity to sell products and generate profits. The quality of the drugs would be in better conditions (as much as the quality of alcohol improved after 1933 in the US, as it did not have to be produced illegally anymore), and the customer would make his own choices. Drugs containing better ingredients would get a good reputation by either word of mouth marketing or by private labelling companies. In fact, potent drugs would become less attractive on the marketplace due to the potency effect:
It is a possibility to create new jobs and generate income for the state who may invest some of this money into awareness campaigns if it so chooses.
I understand that the intention behind drug laws are good, drugs are dangerous and should be handled with caution. Yet it is also a concern when the legislation which supposedly has good intentions to begin with, turns out to harm people. Whether or not you agree that you have the right as an individual to take drugs would be another point of discussion, if the War on Drugs actually was successful. But it’s not. In fact, it has never been easier to buy drugs. (Source)
We have to ask ourselves: Are we defending the drug policies based on reasonable arguments, or out of fear and tradition? Are we defending law abiding citizens or the interests of drug cartels? Who could we help in our society if we stopped chasing people for smoking a plant? The concept of freedom and responsibility is made sound scary, yet it really should not.
There are two ways of settling an argument: One is force, the other one is persuasion. I now tried to persuade you, since I would not advocate force to get one’s point across. The only entity we allow to use force in that sense is government… Oh dear, there we go again.
This article is also available in French.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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