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The Drug Legalization Debate

Myths and Misconceptions of Drug Legalization - US Dept. of Justice

Chapter Nine: Legal Issues Surrounding the Legalization of Drugs


I. Their Argument

This chapter deals not with an argument of the legalizers per se, but instead their implicit belief

that legalizing drugs would not have a profound effect on other facets of law and public policy.

II. Our Argument

Basically, we have three concerns here.

First, can drug use be used as a defense in criminal or civil proceedings? That is, can a person

accused of a hit-and-run accident escape liability by noting to the court that he was on cocaine at the time?

Second, what will be done with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? As its name suggests, the FDA is responsible for testing the safety of food and drugs in the United States. For example, the FDA banned the use of Red Dye #2 a number of years ago because it caused cancer (this is why there were no red M+M's in most of the 1980's - it was not until the candy producer came up with a noncarcenogenic dye that they started making them again in the late 1980's). Similarly, the FDA banned the use of the substance known as Laetrile when it determined that this supposed drug had absolutely no pharmacological effects. But if we allow the legal sale of drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and PCP - that unquestionably are dangerous - how can we justify allowing the FDA to exercise quality control over any other type of drugs? To allow the sale and use of cocaine while still granting the FDA power to regulate, say, food additives such as saccharine is like banning slingshots but allowing people to carry automatic assault rifles. So if we legalize the sale and use of clearly dangerous drugs, it seems that to be logically consistent we would have to close down the FDA and let everyone have access to every type of drug. And given legalized drugs it also seems hypocritical to have any type of quality control on food additives or food products more generally.

A third and final concern is the legal liability of the companies that would manufacture and sell the newly legalized cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and PCP. This is a very important argument, and in order to fully understand its magnitude we must mention what are known as "Dram Shop" laws. If not in name, we are all familiar with what a Dram Shop law is - it is a law that says that if bartenders continue to serve alcohol to people that they know are already drunk, and that drunk person later goes out and commits a crime such as drunk driving, then the bartender or the bar can be held responsible. So the question remains: would producers and sellers of legalized drugs be responsible for the actions of the people who ingest them? If the producers and sellers would not be liable, we have a serious ethical problem inasmuch as they could destroy peoples' lives with impunity in the name of profit and not be held morally accountable. But if the producers and sellers would be liable -- that is, a Dram Shop type of law would apply to them --we would probably have very few companies willing to market and sell drugs. Put differently, if a given drug company knew that it could be hit with a ten million dollar lawsuit when one of its clients goes and kills someone (or damages property, etc.), is that company likely to stay in business? Not likely. The company likely would decide that the costs of doing business outweigh the potential benefits and thus would close down shop. For proof of this point ask yourself the following: How many companies are there in the U.S. today that manufacture and sell asbestos insulation? Answer: probably none.

In short, there are many legal and political issues that would have to be dealt with if we legalized

drugs, and nowhere in the legalizers' literature have they come up with adequate answers to these problems.

Chapter Nine Summary Sheet: Legal Issues Surrounding the Legalization of Drugs

They say...

We can legalize drugs without any legal difficulties.

Then you say...

If we legalize drugs, will drug use be able to be used as a defense in criminal and civil trials?

If we legalize drugs, would not we logically have to close down the Food and Drug Administration and dispense with all laws regulating the safety and quality of drugs, food additives and food products?

If we legalize drugs, would manufacturers and sellers be liable for the actions of the people whom they sell drugs to? If not, isn't there an ethical problem here? If so, can we realistically expect anyone to enter the drug business?

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