By Nick DAngelo
Last week, Instructor Jonathan Parent offered a promising picture of a world of reduced crime because of legalized drugs in his piece titled, “Why is the legalization of drugs still a controversial issue?” His argument that the legalization of all drugs will completely end the drug trade is overly optimistic and painfully naïve.
But because Instructor Parent, through his own admission, is simply unable to see the other side of the argument, or even the flaws in his own, I will present them for him.
Quite simply, while legalizing drugs is the easiest solution, it’s not the best. Legalizing drugs will not cause usage to diminish, but rather only increase it, leading to higher healthcare costs. More importantly, the legalization of all drugs will not end the drug trade.
Instructor Parent incorrectly stated, “In the first place, [making drugs illegal] doesn’t work. Much like alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century, there will always be a demand and therefore a supply.”
In fact, while there was a black market for the product, alcohol consumption did decrease—a lot: Prohibition resulted in startling reductions in alcohol consumption (over 50 percent), need for treatment for cirrhosis of the liver (63 percent), admissions to mental health clinics for alcohol psychosis (60 percent), and arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct (50 percent). It’s fine to say that you disagree with the principles of prohibition, but don’t just blatantly ignore the fact that it achieved its goal.
Further more, as a society, we cannot afford to legalize drugs, financially or morally. As John Hawkins aptly noted in Human Events: “While it’s true that we may not ever win the war against drugs—i.e. never entirely eradicate the use of illegal drugs—we’re not ever going to win the war against murder, robbery and rape either. But our moral code rejects each of them, so none—including drugs—can be legalized if we still adhere to that code.”
If drugs were to be legalized, usage would certainly increase.
In the Netherlands, once marijuana was legalized, drug use increased from 15 percemt to 44 percent.
This, coupled with the effects of drugs, could provide economic consequences, nullifying Instructor Parent’s claim that legalization would be an economic stimulate.
Increased usage would lead to increased abuse, and increased health costs—especially under a universal healthcare system that Instructor Parent would no doubt support. This is seen best by the intoxicant that is already legal and already taxed: alcohol.
Bloomberg Business Week reports, “The U.S. collects about $8 billion yearly in taxes from alcohol. The problem is, the total cost to the U.S. in 2008 due to alcohol-related problems was $185 billion, and the government pays about 38 percent of that cost (approximately $72 billion), all due to consequences of alcohol consumption.” It’s easy to see that it’s an ineffective tax system when our government is forced to spend $9 (on alcohol related health problems) for every dollar taken in from taxation.
Addressing Instructor Parent’s final point, legalization will not “be an instant solution to the problem of fighting the cartels abroad.” The notion is simply erroneous and lacks a fundamental understanding of the intricate events involved.
According to Foreign Policy last June, “The cartels are becoming less like traffickers and more like mafias…As they have grown in size and ambition, like so many big multinational corporations, they have diversified. The cartels are now active in all types of illicit markets, not just drugs.”
Antonio Mazzitelli, head of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime office in Mexico City, adds, “Mexico is experiencing a change with the emergence of criminal organizations that, rather than being product-oriented—drug trafficking—are territorial based.”
The increase in violence that Instructor Parent notes is not due to the drug trade. Rather, it is the result of these organizations shifting to a focus on protection rackets and territorial control. Legalizing drugs will hardly have an effect on the violence.
So what can we do? We can start by mending a broken system. It must be understood that, as a nation, we can do better. The current system is not the best we can implement, but making a 180-degree shift in policy, as Instructor Parent insists, will not make our society stronger.
Instead, we must work to fix and adjust the system, starting with the Rockefeller Drug Laws right here in New York. Enacted in 1973 by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the laws were originally meant to target major dealers. Forty years later, however, they are the biggest part of the problem in our state.
The laws force judges into a legal straightjacket, unable to rule on a case-by-case basis. This means that no matter how minor the offense, defendants must receive harsh sentences. Currently, 22 percent of our prison population is made up of these non-violent, often first time, drug offenders.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws also restrict the ability of judges to divert people using drugs into treatment, which has proven to be far more effective and cheaper than prison at reducing drug use and abuse.
If we want to seriously address the drug problem, we should start here. Let’s make sure drug use is not tolerated, but that those who make mistakes can be helped.
Now that readers have seen that, contrary to Instructor Parent’s belief, both sides of the issue exist, one can choose for one’s self. I have accepted instructor Parent’s challenge, but it wasn’t a difficult one. Rather, we should all challenge ourselves to leave our world better than the state in which we found it.
It is often tempting to choose the easiest alternative as the best, but if we truly want to make a difference for the better, we must wisely and cautiously adjust policy and shift course.