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The Drug Legalization Debate



The purpose of this manual is twofold: first, to analyze the arguments employed by proponents of drug legalization or decriminalization;1 and second, to provide arguments necessary to defeat these positions.


This manual is divided into chapters, each chapter addressing a different argument used by the "legalizers." For example, Chapter One addresses the argument that legalizing drugs would reduce the addiction rate; Chapter Two addresses the impact that legalizing drugs would have on the crime rate. Furthermore, each chapter is divided into two parts. The first part, termed the "Discussion" section, briefly states the legalizers' arguments and then provides an in-depth analysis of how to defeat them.

The second part of each chapter is termed the "Summary Sheet" section. The Summary Sheet section is designed for people who for whatever reason do not have time to read the Discussion section - for example, those people who actually are involved in a debate at that moment. The Summary Sheet section is divided into two columns, the first titled "If They Say," and the second called "Then You Say." The Summary Sheet section basically iterates the factual highlights of the Discussion section in a format that is easy to "just pick up and use." In both the Discussion and the Summary Sheet sections, relevant facts will be footnoted or otherwise cited. This is so that if anyone asks you where you got your information, you will be able to tell them immediately.

Appendix One suggests a structured format for an actual public debate. Following these rules will prevent the debate from disintegrating into a shouting match and a forum for "speeches" from the audience.

Finally, an extensive bibliography is provided for your convenience should you choose to pursue additional reading.

1 For purposes of this manual, "legalization" means a policy whereby selling and using drugs is legal. "Decriminalization" means a policy whereby penalties for breaking the drug laws are lessened and/or the drug laws are restricted in scope. See Ralph A. Weisheit and Katherine Johnson, "'Exploring the Dimensions of Support for Decriminalization of Drugs," Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 1992. That is, if heroin were legalized, it would be legal to sell or use it. If heroin were decriminalized, it technically would be illegal to use it, but (for instance) the penalty for its use would be a $10 fine. Another example of decriminalization would be allowing the use of heroin as a common pain killer in hospitals.

Introductory Pointers

Before getting to the substance of the legalization debate itself, here are three suggestions for use when debating the legalizers.

1. Right to expect benefits. As with any policy, you have a right to demand that the legalizers prove that the benefits of their proposal outweigh its costs.

2. Right to specificity. As with any policy, you have a right to demand that the legalizers provide a specific proposal which to debate. One cannot talk about policy in the abstract. For example, let's say that you were debating whether the federal government should cut spending - you have to have some idea of what is to be cut, how much is to be cut, when it is going to be cut, etc. With regard to the legalization debate, you should ask your opponent these questions at the beginning of the debate:

  • What drugs are we talking about?
  • Are they advocating legalization or decriminalization?
  • Are there limitations on who can use these drugs - what about children, pregnant women, prison inmates, police, members of the military, people who drive buses or fly planes, etc.?
  • Are there limitations on the quantity or potency of drugs that the individual can use? Would an unlimited supply of drugs be made available to the habitual users or drug addicts?
  • Who will create, market, and sell the drugs?
  • How much will the drugs cost? Will the drugs be taxed, and if so, at what rate?
  • Will drug addiction be able to be used as a defense in civil or criminal trials?

Make sure that your opponent answers these questions early! After all, it is only fair that you know what you are debating before you begin the debate.

3. Right to sources of information. You have a right to ask the legalizers the source of their data. By the same token, they have the right to ask the same of you (and that's why this manual is complete with footnotes).

Bearing these pointers in mind, we begin with an analysis of legalization and addiction rates.

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