Prevention & Support

Legalizing Drugs as Abuse Prevention?

By Officer Kirk Buchanan, Los Angeles Police Department

Drug Legalization Pros and Cons

Drugs are evil, aren't they? Answers to this question will vary, depending once again upon regional proximity. The concept of evil is a socially constructed phenomenon that somehow separates the holier than thou from the downtrodden. If drugs are evil, it's easy to see where they fit into society's list of things to control, outlaw, and demonize as well. In recent years the use of "illegal" drugs remains at the center of a seemingly perpetual and heated debate. Although the distribution and consumption of many different drugs are against the law, people still continue to use and abuse them. Drug abuse is obviously a serious problem, one that may never see a realistic and across-the-board solution. Becoming educated about drugs and how they affect those who use them is extremely important, and doing so without bias may be the key to finding a palpable remedy. Legalizing drugs may actually reduce the amount of drug abuse in the modern world; however, the opposite effect may occur as well. The following literature will discuss why certain drugs are illegal, as well as the pros and cons of legalization in terms of reducing the amount of abuse in today's society.


Criminal acts have been taking place for millennia; two different types of criminality are derived and labeled from Latin lexicography: mala in se, and mala prohibita. The first terminology, mala in se, translates into the English language as "wrong or evil in and of itself," as to where mala prohibita means, "wrong because it is prohibited." For example, murder is classified as mala in se, whereas prostitution falls into the mala prohibita category. Whether or not these alleged crimes are morally reprehensible or a socially constructed menace; they're both illegal. Many schools of thought consider the use of drugs as a mala prohibita offense, which is one of the main bases for argumentation in terms of legalization. Human behavior plays a significant psychological role in all of this; by publicly banning the usage or sale of a controlled substance, a rise in curiosity can often result in black market economics and hidden addiction. By desensitizing that same entity, the likelihood of widespread addiction can be recognized, monitored, managed, and mitigated.

Lawmakers, legislators, and critics alike view the legalization of drugs from different perspectives. Much of this is based on the structure of the political system itself, as well as traditional values and moral compasses. By demonizing the use of illicit drugs and implementing the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program into the public school curriculum, the powers-that-be, in hyperbolic fashion, depict mind-altering substances as the roots of evil and devastation. Passing this information through the public learning sector, according to the law, saves lives via the preventive maintenance process. Authorities also argue that illicit drug use leads to other crime commission, including violent behavior in general, robbery, rape, and murder. Again, human behavior and tendencies factor in heavily with this approach; school kids and teenagers are susceptible to believing what they see and hear, thus influencing attitudes without allowing further investigation.

The Fearsome Foursome

Marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin top the list of the most commonly used illegal drugs. Even though marijuana has been proven to contain no addictive properties, it remains in the class of heavy hitters as a schedule 1 narcotic. Proponents for the legalization of cannabis argue that this categorization is misleading, and that the public needs to be reeducated in terms of how marijuana has been propagandized as a gateway drug and a harbinger of impending doom. Fifteen states, as well as the District of Colombia, have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, while some other states have decriminalized pot altogether, now treating possession as a minor infraction. Another compare and contrast element that seems to hold water is the consumption of alcohol, which is legal most anywhere. During the prohibition era, alcohol became part of the informal economy until the 18th Amendment was repealed in the early 1930s via the 21rd Amendment. Since that time, alcohol related illnesses and deaths have totaled in the millions, yet there is no compelling statistical data revealing marijuana related illnesses or fatalities. The Federal Government does not recognize these statutes and can intervene at any time. Like alcohol, legalizing marijuana may be guided under the same regulations in the future.

Methamphetamine is a schedule II drug, and is only legal when prescribed by a licensed physician. Meth is highly addictive, even under prescriptive doses. There is no such thing as recreational use for this drug; one of its addictive properties, pseudo-ephedrine, can cause a myriad of physical and emotional problems, such as extreme weight loss and malnutrition. Prolonged usage can inhibit the natural secretion of dopamine, also called "the endorphin rush," an essential brain chemistry element that helps with consistent mood stability. Methamphetamine will more than likely remain illegal without a prescription, but should it be legalized?

Those in favor of legalizing methamphetamine stand on two principles: freedom and consequence. The freedom issue begs the question of the right to personal autonomy. A person is his or her own property and, under the freedoms granted, should be able to practice that liberty to do what is desired. On the consequential side, using this drug can result in financial ruin and alienation, yet this tenet of personal choice should be inclusive to self destruction. Another consequence to legalization, on the whole, boils down to the almighty dollar. Billions of dollars have been spent fighting the war on drugs, and with little or no progress. Legalizing meth would cut down the cost of this wonderful war and stimulate the economy as well. And lastly, the growth and privatization of prison systems in America gives rise to what this issue is really all about.

Cocaine has been a highly topical issue for decades. American law enforcement agencies, mainly the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), attempted to eradicate the "problem" entirely by sending agents into Colombia and neighboring nations where the coca plant is indigenous. The drug was known as "the rich man's high" during the 60's and 70s, yet during the 80s the price dropped by about 50%, making it affordable to many different socioeconomic classes. The Reagan Administration fiercely fought against what was believed to be the downfall of western civilization; possession of even the smallest amounts resulted in numerous felony arrests. Because of cocaine's addictive properties, it remains illegal in the United States. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and district court judges are in concurrence that the drug has no place in American society, and those who are caught with it will spend some time behind bars.

Even though the war on drugs seems to be an epic failure, the United States Government keeps spending oodles of money on it, perhaps expecting different results than in previous years. Those who want to legalize cocaine agree: prohibition doesn't work, the absolute truth needs to be told about cocaine, and that regulating and taxing the drug can help to avoid future financial crises by generating needed revenue. Inner-city crime will be reduced dramatically by implementing a regulated market that involves cost reduction. And perhaps an even more beneficial element would be that individual taxpayers could save even more money by not having to unwillingly contribute funds into a system of nonviolent offenders.

Legalizing pure heroin may be one of the last drugs to be decriminalized, legalized, and sold over the counter. In The United States, heroin is public enemy number one, mainly because of all the activities that are associated with the drug, such as sharing needles and contracting hepatitis as well as HIV/AIDS. Criminal activity is also known to take place, not only through syndicated operations, but for end users or addicts who often resort to lying, cheating, and stealing to get another fix. Heroin, like cocaine and amphetamine, contains addictive properties. Without a doubt, heroin is the heaviest of the drugs and is one of the most painful habits to kick.

On the contrary, heroin is already legal in different watered down forms. The drug is derived from opium, and opium is the main ingredient in many prescription pain killers, such as hydrocodone (vicodin), oxycodone (oxycontin, oxycotton), and codeine. It is also used and administered in hospitals for severe pain, such as Demerol or morphine injections. It is also important to note that a number of European nations provide a safe environment for addicts to use heroin if they so choose. Like all of the aforementioned drugs, the push to legalize heroin is in its infancy stage, and the quest will continue.

Of all the attempted remedies to contain drug abuse in America, one thing surely hasn't been put to the test; legalization. Massive amounts of time and money can be saved, and if legalization decreases drug abuse by as little as 5%, it's 5% better than the current situation. Treatment facilities will still be there and ready to assist those who fall into the illusive trap of addiction; it only stands to reason that a different approach may achieve different results.

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