In 2009 Professor David Nutt, the senior drug adviser for the British government, was fired by the British government for suggesting that the U.K.’s drug policy was unscientific and inconsistent. Professor Nutt delivered a lecture where he pointed out that alcohol, the drug with the most negatives effect for the user and society is legal, while drugs with much less negative impact on users and society like ecstasy, LSD, and cannabis, are illegal. Looking at the data it is hard to argue that concern for the health of drug users or the effects drug use has on society was guiding British drug policy.
Unfortunately, the inconsistencies in the British drug policy are tragically common throughout the world, with most countries implementing drug polices that are guided not by economic or medical data or concern for citizen’s safety or liberties. In the U.S., the horrific consequences of the failed drug war, its human cost, and its obvious failures should motivate legislators to adopt a policy of drug legalization that will reduce human suffering while increasing freedom, responsibility, and peace.
What is perhaps one of the most tragic consequences of the war on drugs (there are many to choose from) is that it makes some people who engage in the normal human impulse to change their mental state into criminals.
Hardly anyone thinks that it should be illegal for someone over the age of 21 (a little high, if you ask me) to have a glass of wine in the evening, a beer at a barbecue, or a cocktail at a bar. However, someone who decides to use marijuana risks a criminal record. If anyone wants to argue that the drug war is worth pursuing on the grounds that drugs are dangerous must, if they wish to remain intellectually honest, advocate for the prohibition of alcohol. We all know how well that worked out.
Of course marijuana is not the only illegal drug. Possession of heroin, meth, cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy is currently illegal. It is true that many of these drugs in excess have negative consequences. However, while these drugs can be dangerous their harm has been exaggerated in the past, as have their rates of addiction. My colleague Jacob Sullum has written a book that discusses how many of the popularly believed myths about drug use are far from reality.
It is important to note how many of the negative consequences of these hard drugs are due to prohibition. In a black market purity and origin are unknown and the risk of disease is increased. Users who are poisoned or cheated by dealers have no recourse unless they decide to engage in violence, the only really effective enforcement mechanism in black markets. Something similar happened during the years of alcohol prohibition, when toxic moonshine was made illegally.
The drug war is devastating communities across the world and shows no sign of achieving its goal. Legalization of drugs is the most sensible and humane drug policy, and is not hard to argue for once it is pointed out that the drug warriors are advancing intellectually and morally inconsistent as well as scientifically unsound arguments.