HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Legalize All Drugs
Pubdate: Sun, 24 Nov 2013
Source: Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)
Copyright: 2013 The Brown Daily Herald
Author: Andrew Powers


In April, possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized 
in Rhode Island. Some might wonder what motivated the state 
government to loosen restrictions on a substance that causes such 
apparent mental impairment. How could this possibly benefit the state?

At the start of any given weekend on College Hill, many students 
prepare to drink, smoke, roll, trip and partake in other illegal 
drug-related activities. A Herald poll conducted last semester found 
that during the previous year, 85 percent of students had consumed 
alcohol, 49 percent had used marijuana, 9 percent had used ecstasy - 
also known as MDMA - and at least 7 percent had used some psychedelic 
agent ("Poll: White, older students more likely to use substances," 
Apr. 17). Many would say that, for the most part, the University 
turns a blind eye to this debauchery - a policy generally supported 
by the student body.

But why does an institution of higher learning seemingly undermine - 
or, at best, minimally support - the efforts of the exorbitant drug 
war being waged by the U.S. federal government? Brown is known for 
its almost obnoxious commitment to social justice, and I believe that 
the end of drug prohibition would better society in ways so tangible 
that they would trump all other considerations. There is no need to 
justify drug legalization on the basis of some supposedly inalienable 
rights. Rights are those entities that are more significant than the 
consequences precipitated by actions that would violate them.

For example, we would allow a talented cancer researcher to quit his 
job and take up professional gambling because his right to 
self-determination takes precedence over the utility he could have 
for society. But as I said before, we need not resort to any 
consideration of rights, as the consequences of drug legalization 
engender massive societal benefits.

So what are legalization's benefits? It seems counterintuitive that 
allowing the use of mind-altering substances that decrease one's 
ability to think rationally could have benefits for society. And it 
may be true that for the average individual, the overall cost of 
using drugs outweighs the utility. Few would deny the overt 
detriments of abuse and dependence.

But most drugs rarely make the user a more dangerous member of 
society - particularly when there is no driving involved. It is not 
the drug users but the drug war that makes our society more dangerous.

As was shown by the inelasticity of the demand of alcoholics and 
recreational drinkers during Prohibition, artificially reducing the 
supply of drugs makes dealing a highly profitable criminal 
enterprise. Intense competition between dealers, combined with a lack 
of government enforcement of property rights, is the perfect 
incentive for the rampant violent crime necessary to succeed in a 
"might makes right" market. In the 1920s, the United States saw the 
rise of gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran, along with a bloom 
of criminal activity that lasted until the end of Prohibition in 1933.

It's difficult to keep drugs out of maximum-security prisons. It's 
virtually impossible to keep them off the streets. And the extremely 
marginal success of efforts to prohibit drug use is wholly eclipsed 
by unavoidable increases in crime, as seen during Prohibition.

During my senior year of high school, I volunteered at a small local 
hospital and worked alongside a black man in his mid-20s. He came 
from a bad neighborhood, and I was always morbidly fascinated by his 
depiction of his environment and the role drug crimes played in it. 
He once showed me a local news video of a man's throat being slit in 
a rundown bar. I saw him calmly sitting in the background, sipping 
his drink. He told me he was upset that they stopped the music when 
the ambulance came. Just the circle of life, right?

The profits of drug crime afford the perpetrators social status, 
making them role models that younger members of their communities 
aspire to emulate. I can only imagine the seductive contrast of 
success by drug dealing in the depressing morass that is west 
Philadelphia. This anecdotal evidence does not prove my point, but it 
serves as a modern-day illustration of the type of alluring drug 
culture fostered by the drug war.

So what would happen if we were to legalize drug use today? Like the 
end of alcohol prohibition in the United States, the 
decriminalization of drug use in other countries has led to 
undeniable benefits. In the five years since Portugal decriminalized 
drugs, drug-related deaths and transmission of HIV have decreased by 
over 25 and 75 percent, respectively. Estimates place the annual cost 
of the drug war in America at anywhere from $50 to 150 billion. Given 
the fiscal state of the nation, this seems as strong a motivation as 
any to do away with this inefficacious policy.

I understand the desire to regulate drugs, but similar to the 
motivation to regulate guns, the end goal is simply unrealistic. Our 
choice is not between a world with drugs and a world without drugs. 
Our choice is between a world with drugs and a world with drugs, 
violent drug crime, more drug-related deaths and the massive economic 
costs of an ineffective drug war.
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