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A cornerstone of the legalization proponents' position is the claim that making illegal drugs legal would not cause more of these substances to be consumed, nor would addiction increase. They claim that many people can use drugs in moderation and that many would choose not to use drugs, just as many forego alcohol and tobacco now.
Every major study of drug policy agreed that there is no evidence that drug use would increase with more sensible policies. In fact, they found that drug use would probably decrease with more sensible policies.
They also found that, even if drug use did increase, decriminalization would still be a better approach simply because of all the harm caused by the current policy. See the list of the Biggest Studies of Drug Policy, also on these web pages.
Participants in the AntiLegalization Forum felt strongly that when drugs are more widely available--as they certainly would be if they were legalized--rates of use and addiction would increase.
Legalizing drugs sends a message that drug use (like tobacco and alcohol) is acceptable, and encourages drug use among people who currently do not use drugs.
When the social taboos about premarital sex were removed, the nation's illegitimate birthrate soared. And we are paying dearly for it.
All of the arguments here depend upon what you mean by "legalized".
No, it does not send any such message, and our society's campaigns against tobacco are perhaps the best example. And of course, the real question is: How many millions of people do we have to put in prison to show the right amount of disapproval?
This is a "TV-talk-show" argument, which blithely ignores the fact that the illegitimate birth rate is due to problems much more complex than the taboo on premarital sex.
Does this mean that, as a solution, the DEA is proposing that we throw people in prison for premarital sex? There are lots of ways to discourage something without throwing people in prison.
Look to our history. For years, the United States legally refined morphine from opium, and hailed it as a miracle drug. Many soldiers on both sides of the Civil War who were given morphine for their wounds became addicted to it. Are we ready for more morphine addicts? Crack addicts? Heroin addicts?
Morphine was first refined when many battle wounds were treated with simple amputation without anesthesia and a doctor was considered a good surgeon if he could do the amputation quickly to minimize the pain. In the medical context of that type of "surgery" and the fact that there were no antibiotics to control infections, morphine was a real miracle drug because it relieved a great deal of suffering.
The figures differ on the number of Civil War veterans who became addicts, partly because of the difficulty in defining what an addict is. There was widespread use of these drugs simply because there were no regulations at all during this period and they were included in many common patent medicines, including remedies for baby colic. There is no evidence that the Civil War veterans who became addicts were any more of a problem to society than a modern tobacco addict. The 1905 Pure Food and Drug Act was the first law to require manufacturers to state the contents of their mixtures on the label. This was clearly a good law because it helped consumers make an informed decision. Drug use declined steadily between the time the law was passed and 1914, when the Harrison Narcotics Act was passed. See any of the major studies listed elsewhere in this book for a more complete history of the subject.
Early in the 20th Century, drugs were plentiful, cheap, and legal in the United States. Some could even be bought from the Sears Catalogue.
This is true.
But Americans realized that these legalized drugs were harmful to individuals and society, and drug laws were written.
This is not true. The reasons were more complex than this and were largely based on racism and ignorance. No evidence was presented to Congress to show that prohibition was either necessary or desirable. No evidence was even presented to show that these drugs were even medically harmful. In the case of cocaine and the opiates, it is doubtful if Congress realized it was passing what would be regarded as a general prohibition on these drugs because it was phrased as a tax act. In the case of marijuana (hemp) it is clear that most members of Congress did not realize that they were passing a law to prohibit the most common crop in America. These laws were a hoax from the very begining.
CocaCola took the coca out of its popular soft drink and substituted caffeine.
This is true. The original name of Coca-Cola was "French Wine of Coca -- Invigorating Tonic". It is also true that there was a campaign to outlaw caffeine for the same reasons that cocaine was outlawed. That campaign died when it was realized that caffeine was contained in too many common foods, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate.
Legalization proponents would have them put it back, and make opium as available as chewing gum.
This is a flat-out lie and a cheap, deliberate attempt to distort the arguments. It shows that the DEA has set up "legalization" as a straw man, defined in their own extreme terms. We do not agree with this extreme policy, or the DEA's extreme definition of "legalization".
More recently Alaska decriminalized the personal use of small amounts of marijuana in the home. The experiment did not turn out the way legalization proponents had predicted. Although the legal age for using marijuana was 19, adolescents as young as 12 years old were using the drug. Alaskans eventually came to the realization that decriminalization did not work, and voted to overturn the law.
Twelve-year-olds using marijuana (hemp) is nothing new. I observed pre-teens using marijuana (hemp) more than twenty-five years ago, and it appeared to me that it was fairly common among children of that age. Decriminalization in any area has never been shown to have any real effect on the use patterns of marijuana.
The law was overturned because of a massive campaign headed by then-Drug-Czar William Bennett as one of the cornerstones of his campaigns against the evils of drugs. Bennett, at the time, was a tobacco addict.
The experts believe that legalization of drugs would decrease the perception of risk currently associated with drug use.
Let's assume that the DEA experts are right. How many millions of people do we have to put in prison to create the proper perception of risk?
The group strongly endorsed the notion that the Government should help protect people from substances and activities that are harmful to themselves the community and society at large.
So why aren't we throwing people in prison for alcohol or tobacco?
Some facts which help to confirm the observations of the forum participants may be used in debates:
· Dr. Herbert Kleber, prominent psychiatrist from Yale University, former Demand Reduction Deputy Director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy and currently with the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, states in a 1994 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clinical data support the premise that drug use would increase with legalization.
Dr. Kleber does not define what he means by "legalization." There are any number of different policies which could be defined as "legalization," each of which could have widely varying effects. Therefore, all the rest of his statements on the subject are essentially meaningless. Even if he did define what he means by "legalization", it is not the only option we have for drug policy.
He says: "There are over 50 million nicotine addicts, 18 million alcoholics or problem drinkers, and fewer than 2 million cocaine addicts in the United States. Cocaine is a much more addictive drug than alcohol. If cocaine were legally available, as alcohol and nicotine are now, the number of cocaine abusers would probably rise to a point somewhere between the number of users of the other two agents, perhaps 20 to 25 million...the number of compulsive users might be nine times higher...than the current number. When drugs have been widely available--as... cocaine was at the turn of the century--both use and addiction have risen "
See the table below for the latest ratings on the relative addictive qualities of drugs.
Dr. Kleber does not suggest that the most productive approach to the 50 million nicotine addicts, or the 18 million alcoholics, is to put alcohol or tobacco users in prison. Why not?
Drug use was widespread at the turn of the century. This statement ignores the fact that drug use and addiction fell steadily after manufacturers were required to list the ingredients in their products.
· England's experience with widely available heroin shows that use and addiction increase. Great Britain allowed doctors to prescribe heroin to addicts. There was an explosion of heroin use and by the mid-1980s known addiction rates were increasing by about 30% a year. According to the Lancet, the wellrespected medical journal (Lancet, January 9, 1982), 2,657 heroin addicts were registered in 1970 compared with 5,107 in 1980.
By the mid-1980's Great Britain was fully into the American style drug war so it is apparent that, if there is any connection between the drug war and addiction, the drug war must have made the problem worse.
It is also worthwhile to note that the figures show that the number of heroin addicts doubled in ten years, but the numbers were still trivial in comparison to the number of addicts in any comparable segment of the United States.
This was a program in which heroin users needed a doctor's authorization to get their drug. What would happen if anyone wanting to try heroin could simply buy it at the government store?
The vast majority of them would throw up after using it and find they really didn't like the effects.
· Alaska tried the legalization experiment and abandoned it. Legalization was given a lengthy try closer to home when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that the state could not interfere with a person's possession of marijuana in his home for personal use. Enforcement was permitted only when the quantity possessed exceeded four ounces--this in a state that, because of the long, sunny days of its brief growing season, produces extra potent marijuana.
Alaska's ruling applied to personal possession of hemp (marijuana) and use within the confines of one's own home. This is a far cry from the "legalization" the DEA talks about elsewhere. The court decided that the right of privacy protected the citizen's rights within their own home.
All states are capable of producing extra potent marijuana. Alaska is nothing special in this regard.
The court's ruling was interpreted by many Alaskans as a signal to light up, and so they did, especially the young ones, even though the ruling was limited to persons 19 and over. According to a 1988 University of Alaska study, the state's 12 to 17yearolds used marijuana at more than twice the national average for their age group.
It is ludicrous to state that an Alaskan Supreme Court decision would be interpreted by anyone as a "signal to light up." It is highly doubtful if teenagers govern their behavior based on Supreme Court decisions. Anyone who wants to use a drug is going to do so regardless of what the Supreme Court may have said about it.
"The frequency with which marijuana was used within the current sample," the report on the study said, "suggests that it is not an experimental event for many students, but that it seems to have become well incorporated into the lifestyle of many adolescents."
And the DEA suggests that the best way to improve these students lives is to hunt them down and put them in jail to cure them of their lifestyle.
Although they historically cling to their personal liberties, Alaska residents voted in 1990 to recriminalize possession of marijuana, demonstrating their belief that increased use was too high a price to pay for increased personal liberties.
A referendum was passed in 1990 by Alaska voters which attempted to overturn the Alaska Supreme Court decision. The referendum was the result of an intensive, well-funded campaign by then-Drug Czar William Bennett and other drug wars to remove a major embarrassment to their cause -- the fact that Alaska had protected private use of marijuana and Alaskan society had not fallen apart as a result. The courts later threw out the vote because the issue had been decided on a matter of basic constitutional protections of privacy, which cannot be voted away under Alaskan law.
· Will the public support an aggressive marketing approach? While "government drugs" could conceivably be priced low enough, perhaps by having taxpayers subsidize them to discourage a black market, the combination of low price and ready availability would bring more consumption, more addiction. We would have won the battle and lost the war. If they see this as the probable outcome, the American people can hardly be expected to endorse a "sell at all costs" policy.
Why should there be an aggressive marketing approach?
· Robert L. DuPont, M.D., former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, considered the impact legalization would have on use and addiction rates in a paper published in 1994.
"Would legalization increase the number of drug users and the social harm produced by the use of drugs?" Dr. DuPont asked. "The answer to those two questions is simply, 'Yes, it would."'
The answer to this question is simply: What "legalization" are you talking about? Until you define what you mean by "legalization" you can't define what the likely effect on the number of drug users and social harm.
The current global experience with alcohol and tobacco reveals the downside of legalization clearly, Dr. DuPont said.
This is certainly true, keeping in mind the fact these drugs are only legal under certain conditions. Despite this, Dr. DuPont is not suggesting that we outlaw alcohol and tobacco as the most appropriate response. Why not?
"Legalization of any drugs leads to large increases in the use of the legalized drugs," he said. "Because most of the social costs of drugs are not the costs of prohibition but the costs created by the drug use itself (a point proved beyond dispute by the dismal global experience with alcohol and tobacco), legalization raises the net social costs of drug use.
Even if we assumed this to be true, every major study of drug policy has said that the cost of the current policy far outweighs the other potential costs.
"Legalization is an old, siren call which promises to reduce the high costs of
drug use, but which abundant evidence shows would inevitably raise the costs society pays
for drug use, not reduce them. We do not need new experiments to make
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Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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