Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jun 2010
Source: New Times (San Luis Obispo, CA)
Copyright: 2010 New Times
Author: Norm Jackson
Note: Norm Jackson is a retired Cal Poly English professor and former 
board member of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug 
Dependence of San Luis Obispo County. When he was 11 years old, his 
sister was killed by an impaired driver who was under the influence 
of drugs and alcohol.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


How Could Society Benefit by Allowing Another Addictive Recreational Drug?

The arguments for legalizing pot generally look like this:

Taking the drug off the black market will allow us to regulate and 
control it. This will eliminate the criminal element. We could tax it 
and use the money to educate against its use.

With so many people using the drug now we might as well legalize it. 
We could save millions of dollars in police work.

Using a drug is a personal matter. Society should not be involved in 
the choice.

The same arguments were aggressively voiced in the 1930s to get 
another addictive drug legalized: alcohol. The similarities with pot 
make it worthwhile for comparison and extrapolation purposes. How 
well did these arguments hold up after we legalized alcohol? We 
discovered that by legalizing alcohol, it received cultural approval 
and its use soared. We find it everywhere; at movies, church 
functions, etc. Because it is legal, it has become the nation's 
number one drug problem. Nonetheless, we see its advertisements 
wherever we go, as though it is a harmless drug. If people did not 
drink alcohol, there would be a 74 percent decrease in liver 
cirrhosis, 80 percent fewer esophageal cancers, and drops in a host 
of other lethal diseases (see research at Such statistics 
grew as the drug's use became more prominent.

That it kills and maims seven million people every year and has 
hooked 20 million "alcohol dependent" users, goes unnoticed as 
cleverly misleading advertising floods the air waves daily, 
convincing old and young alike that the ad's brand of alcoholic 
beverage will bring its users healthy, attractive bodies, popularity, 
happiness, sexual allure, and youthful energy. Once pot is legalized, 
such ads would effectively obscure pot's darker side.

The pivotal point in this debate is the dangers of the substance. 
Using alcohol as an example, we now know it costs more to police a 
legal drug than it does to police an illegal drug. No matter how you 
measure, in dollars, health, job loss, hospital stays, family 
breakups, arrests, or incarcerations, accidents at work or on the 
highways, the addictive legal drug alcohol is far and away more 
expensive to police to regulate, and to clean up after, than an illegal drug.

To think another addictive drug will be used benignly without 
consequence to society is witless. Pot has been responsible for many 
highway deaths already. According to Dr. Marc Galanter of New York 
University Medical Center, a recent government report shows more than 
600,000 high-school seniors drove under the influence of marijuana, a 
drug that messes with reaction time, attention, and overall ability 
to handle complex tasks. The Tribune in April 2009 reported about a 
murderer who said he was high on marijuana and Robitussin when he 
committed the crime. Legalizing pot will lead to more deaths and 
burdens for society.

The notion that if enough people break a law, the law should be 
abolished is asinine. Murder continues to happen, but we will not 
abolish laws against murder. Most people do obey laws. This was well 
demonstrated during prohibition when the death rate for liver 
cirrhosis dropped dramatically and then returned when alcohol was 
made legal again.

If pot is legalized, we can expect a ground swell of use and 
consequences. The problem with the "It's my free choice" argument is 
two-fold. First, the drug user's behavior inevitably destabilizes 
society. It costs non-users higher insurance rates, costs public 
funds to staff social services to help addicts get sober, and many 
non-users lose their lives in auto or work-related accidents caused 
by users. Second, users inevitably need assistance. The one thing 
they insist on is having free choice whether to use the drug or 
not--ironically, when they become drug dependent, they lose their 
freedom of choice; they obey the drug's demands. They even risk 
incarceration and lengthy jail time getting money they don't have, to 
continue using.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom