Why Legalizing Drugs Is a Bad Idea

Not surprisingly, the broader international implications of drug legalization have also gone largely unnoticed. Here, too, there are still long questions that need to be answered. Given the longstanding role of the United States as the main sponsor of international drug control efforts, how would a decision to legalize drugs affect other countries? What will happen to the overall regime of multilateral conventions and bilateral agreements? Will each nation have to comply with a new set of rules? If not, what would happen? Would more permissive countries suddenly be flooded with drugs and addicts, or would drug traffickers focus on countries where stricter restrictions have kept profits higher? This is not an abstract issue. The Netherlands` liberal drug policy has attracted an influx of “drug tourists” from neighboring countries, as has the now-abandoned city of Zurich after the now-abandoned experiment that allowed an open drug market in the so-called “needle park.” And while it is conceivable that rich countries can mitigate the worst consequences of drug legalization through extensive public drug prevention and treatment programs, what about the poorest countries? In this context, there is a social stigma associated with drug use and addiction, which also hinders the optimal functioning and development of society. This stigma is not so clearly linked to the illegality of drugs. For example, coffee consumption is considered virtuous in our societies because it tends to increase the productivity of the addict and promote the values of society. In contrast, alcohol dependence is considered negative, even though alcohol consumption is legal. Sugar addiction, while completely legal, is not stigmatized per se, but obesity resulting from it is. Gambling addiction is generally perceived as worse than nicotine addiction and so on. The mechanisms of social stigma are complex and far from simple, but they are also linked to religious beliefs, cultural icons, food and lifestyle trends, and many other factors. The legalization of drugs cannot therefore be supported by philosophical principles. But if the pragmatic argument for legalization were strong enough, it could outweigh other objections.

On this argument, proponents of legalization rely on most of their arguments. Looking at this crisis, I slowly but surely realized that full legalization may not be the right answer to the war on drugs. Perhaps the U.S. simply cannot regulate these potentially lethal substances in a legal environment. Perhaps some form of prohibition – albeit less stringent than the one we have today – is the right way to go. Perhaps we should not be too strict with Mill`s principle: it is not certain that anyone has ever thought of a better one. But that`s exactly the point. Human affairs cannot be decided by invoking an infallible rule, expressive in a few words, the mere application of which can decide all cases, including the question of whether drugs should be freely accessible to the entire adult population. Philosophical fundamentalism is not preferable to the religious variant; And because the desiderata of human life is numerous and often in conflict with each other, mere philosophical inconsistency in policy – such as allowing alcohol consumption while banning cocaine – is not a sufficient argument against these policies. We all value freedom, and we all value order; Sometimes we sacrifice freedom for order and sometimes order for freedom. But once the ban is lifted, it is difficult to restore it, even if the newfound freedom turns out to be ill-conceived and socially catastrophic. Proponents of drug legalization believe that the cheap and widespread supply of high-quality drugs will eliminate the illicit drug market, regulate quality and price, and reduce enforcement costs, including arrest and incarceration.

They predict that governments will spend less money on enforcement, benefit from a new source of tax revenue, and that drug-related crime will decline as drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin become widely available, more or less like alcohol and tobacco. Let me be clear: I am talking about legalizing hard drugs, so none of that applies to the legalization of marijuana. While there are real concerns about marijuana addiction and people doing stupid things with weed, my view is that, based on the best scientific evidence, it`s such a relatively harmless drug that the government can afford to mess it up. Especially since the alternative is a prohibition regime that leads to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary arrests in the United States each year, encouraging violence as traffickers fight for territory or settle other cattle linked to drug trafficking. Opponents of more permissive regimes doubt that black market activities and related problems will disappear or even decline sharply. However, to answer this question, it is still necessary to know the specificities of the regulatory system, in particular the conditions of supply. When drugs are sold openly on a commercial basis and prices are close to production and distribution costs, the potential for illegal undercutting seems rather slim. In a more restrictive regime, such as state-controlled outlets or medical prescription systems, illicit sources of supply would be more likely to persist or expand to meet legally unmet demand. In short, the desire to control access to containment consumption must be weighed against emerging black market opportunities. Systems that risk a persistent black market require more questions – about how new black markets work over time, whether it is likely to be more benign than existing ones, and more generally whether the trade-off with other benefits is always worth it. There is also scope to increase public health efforts to combat drugs.

As a landmark 2016 Surgeon General report made clear, many places in America could benefit from basic access to drug treatment. And there are many experiences around the world to combat the opioid crisis, such as prescription heroin in Canada given to people who have not been able to kick opioid addiction through other forms of treatment.

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