Drug and substance abuse is one of the scourges, alongside prostitution and gang violence among other criminal activities, which society faces and has been negatively affected by, as loved ones become addicted and acquire other chronic diseases and among other harmful consequences. Street drugs which include Ecstasy, Heroin, marijuana, Crack-cocaine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, LSD, PCP, Opium, 2C-P, MDMA, Methadone, Amphetamines, Krokodil-desomorphine, Butane hash oil, Molly-refined MDMA and Suboxone are especially seen as highly harmful to society. Considering the numerous published short term as well as long term effects of various street drugs, the possibility for numerous and varied negative effects on individuals and society increases, with Gardner (234) linking street drugs to violent crime. Specifically, he links gang violence and its myriad effects such as fatherless families to the proliferation and sale of street drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin and seemingly supports (citing Miron) street drugs legalization as the best solution (Gardner 234). Street drugs legalization is a highly controversial issue involving complex sub issues with both proponents and opponents providing logical arguments but which, I believe, should not be done as legalization would have more harm than benefits to society as will be argued in this research paper.
Legalization of Street Drugs: Benefits and Costs
Compared to the present states of criminalization of street drugs, legalization of street drugs would cause more harm including physical and psychological harm, especially since more people will start or increase their abuse of drugs. This is affirmed by one of the most vocal proponents of the legalization of street drugs debate in an interview in the SPIEGEL International, the Harvard University professor Jeffrey Miron, who agrees that even he would try all the street drugs on offer if they were to be legalized (Würger par.6, 55). Moreover, those who desire to use or abuse these drugs but are deterred by law enforcement or those who get minimal doses would, after legalization, be able to get more doses and take drugs more openly, resulting in increases of use and abuse of street drugs. The effects of drugs are well documented by researchers with Ecstasy and cannabis (Marijuana) linked to anxiety, confusion, cardiovascular related diseases, tiredness, sudden death, liver and psychologic toxicity, paranoia and psychosis, insomnia and hyperpyrexia, among many others (Campbell and Rosner 1853-4, Johns 116-7). These effects predispose individuals to engage in negative behavior and activities including theft and violence among other criminal activities and even contribute to car and workplace injuries and deaths (Newcomb 475), which means that legalization is not beneficial to society.
Considering that legalization of street drugs would lead to more use by individuals, the harmful effects detailed above would be amplified to a societal and national level especially since the negative consequences disrupt other people’s lives in society especially their loved ones. This societal harm is worsened by the economic costs that would be associated with the increased use and abuse of drugs through legalization of street drugs ranging from treatment of the affected individuals whether from direct or indirect effects to reduced job productivity. Inciardi and Saum (74-5) present a vital and conflicting question about what exactly legalization would mean, but acknowledge that legalization for all street drugs is met by public outrage because a drug like crack is regarded, even by staunch supporters as ‘very dangerous’. The authors provide three major explanations of violence including the ‘psychopharmacological’, the ‘economically compulsive’ and the ‘systemic’ where the first two indicate predisposition for violence due to effects experienced by street drug users and support for their drug use habits (Inciardi and Saum 75-6). Legalizing street drugs therefore would mean more violence, death and increased economic costs especially those required to support their treatment including rehabilitation and overall healthcare costs, among other losses such as increased injuries and less job productivity due to drug influences.
However, the proponents for the legalization of street drugs like Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron, as interviewed by Würger (par.10), aver that the effects of drugs (specifically cocaine) are exaggerated greatly and that addiction is not the problem in the legalization debate. On the same vein, controlling the drug trade through legalization is seen as having a great potential to reduce the spread of diseases like HIV among others acquired through sharing of needles among other unsanitary manners. Furthermore, it is a person’s right to use whatever he or she wishes and wrong for the government to infringe against the freedom of free will of people by banning substances that will affect only them, they argue. Relatedly, Stares (18) avers that street drug legalization debate advocates are of the opinion that legalization would drastically reduce black market incentives for production and sale of street drugs which would also decrease instances of associated crime, violence and corruption. This is amidst provision of other arguments indicating that the benefits of legalizing street drugs far outweigh the costs of the current policy of prohibition which includes the deaths of many people, directly or directly involved in drug production, sale or use, as reported of the Mexican and Denmark drug wars (Moeller and Hesse 206). Fall of drug prices due to legalization, decline in incarceration rates, criminal justice challenges especially prison overcrowding and violent crime as well as the power and associated drug-related gang violence of organized crime are shown as positives of legalization (Inciardi and Saum 72).
The argument that the effects of drugs are exaggerated is refuted by many studies including those of Campbell and Rosner (1853-4) and Johns (116-7), which highlight the potential and the actual harmful side effects of street drugs on people. The suffering of families due to addicted family members, among other negative effects, is also realistically indicative of the negative consequences of drugs and its wrong and insensitive of professor Miron, as cited by Würger (par.10), that poor people are negatively affected by drugs because of their ‘lousy lives’. Considering that youth are considered as the future generation and the most affected by drugs, legalization would mean that society accepts street drug use which, like prohibition of alcohol and tobacco for under-age teenagers, would mean more affected teenagers and loss of massive potential in varied contributions by this future generation. In this case, legalization would not be beneficial as supported by Stares (18) while the oft-cited reduction of black market and organized crime would be negated by the demand for drugs by teenagers which these two will seek to supply. Furthermore, organized crime will increase operations in other criminal activities such as prostitution, kidnapping, extortion, loan sharking and gambling as well as child pornography among others, especially since many people involved in organized crime may find it hard to acquire jobs in a legalized drug trade. This means that legalization would not indeed end the criminal activities tied to drugs while the freedom argument is void because the effects of drug use will negatively affect others.
Public outrage due to the effects that street drugs have on families, as representatives of society and entire governments, among other numerous factors, can be said to inform why street drugs are prohibited at present. The legalization of street drugs is seen by some stakeholders as an answer to varied and numerous challenges such as organized crime and the associated increase in mortality through reduction and standardization of drug prices and scrapping of laws and regulations governing street drug use. However, these measures would not be successful as they would engender a rise in other criminal activities while increasing the number of street drug use and the associated negative consequences including the rise of overall economic costs tied to drug use. Despite my argument being on the side of non-legalization of street drugs, it is evident that the prohibition-associated policies have been failing for a long time, which implies that they should be revised and legalization has some potential. The revision should be based on a deeper understanding and analysis of issues and evidence involved in legalization of street drugs debate which, Stares (18) asserts, should not be given superficial or simplistic consideration.
- Campbell, Garland A. and Mitchell H. Rosner. “The agony of ecstasy: MDMA (3,4-
methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and the kidney.” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 3(2008): 1852-1860.
- Gardner, Dan. “The Missing Piece to the Gang Violence Debate.” Essay Writing for Canadian Students with Readings. Seventh Edition. Roger Davis, Laura K. Davis, Kay L. Stewart and Chris J. Bullock. Toronto: Pearson, 2013. 234-236. Print.
- Inciardi, James A., and Christine A. Saum. “Legalization Madness.” Public Interest 123 (1996): 72-82. Business Source Complete. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
- Johns, Andrew. “Psychiatric Effects of Cannabis.” British Journal of Psychology 178 (2001): 116-211. BjPsych. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
- Moeller, Kim and Morten Hesse. “Drug market Disruption and Systemic Violence: Cannabis Markets in Copenhagen. European Journal of Criminology 10.2(2013): 206-221.
- Newcomb, Michael D. “Substance Abuse and Control in the United States: Ethical and Legal Issues.” Social Science and Medicine 35.4(1992): 471-479.
- Stares, Paul B. “Drug Legalization.” Brookings Review 14.2 (1996): 18. Business Source Complete. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
- Würger, Takis. “Harvard Economist: Legalizing Drugs Suits Ideal of American Freedom.” SPIEGEL Online International. March 01, 2013. Web. November 25, 2013.