Global Drug Legalization

The Global Drug Commission Report, published this month, opens with the line “The global war on drugs has failed.” To the contrary, and unsurprisingly, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy has expressed confidence in the Obama administration’s anti-drug strategy. My opponent was sure to highlight the office's resolve in her article from last week. What she forgot to mention were the recently leaked diplomatic cables on the drug situation in Mexico. Apparently, in private, our government officials also echo concerns that their war on drugs may face critical failures. 

Many opponents of drug legalization misguidedly inflate the issue of drug consumption. As the aforementioned report and cables help illustrate, the real drug problem is the broader humanitarian and economic crisis that stems from the failed war on drugs. Globally legalizing drugs would effectively end this crisis. Furthermore, banning the advertisement of drugs and reallocating government funds towards addiction treatment and drug education would curb legalization’s negative consequences. Many people are against the war on drugs, and would rather see the money spent on it diverted to drug addiction intervention services and other essential addiction treatment programs.

With broad strokes, allow me to provide insight on some economic woes that are the direct result of drug prohibition. Every year, $40 billion of American taxpayer money, alone, goes to funding the war on drugs. In South America, many farmers whose livelihoods depend on their coca crops are forced into extreme poverty by our coca eradication policies. Additionally, the drug black-market, a $320 billion industry, thrives because of drug prohibition. That’s $320 billion in the hands of murderous criminals as opposed to more humane, law-abiding citizens. 

Next, let me outline some humanitarian issues the unsuccessful drug war creates. In nations where drug prohibition is enforced, addicts have a disincentive to seek out treatment because they fear being regarded as criminals instead of patients. More specifically, in the U.S., overly aggressive drug offense prosecution imprisons half a million people a year. This high rate of incarceration overcrowds prisons and creates cruel and unusual conditions for our nation’s prisoners. 

Worst of all is the humanitarian crisis caused by illegal drug dealers and cartels. Devastation caused by drug black-markets has literally swallowed up entire nations. The struggle with brutal drug cartels in just Mexico from December 2006 to the end of 2010 has lead to an estimated 40,000 deaths.

All these problems, and many others, will disappear if drugs are legalized. My opponent argues that drug legalization would not destroy the drug black market. In her previous article she claims that, like cigarettes, drugs would continue to be illegally trafficked in spite of legalization. 

She is wrong. 

Cigarettes are illegally trafficked due to disproportionate tax rates between states. With a low, relatively uniform tax rate for drugs across the globe, legalization would be to the illegal drug trade what kryptonite is to Superman. 

Of course, legalization means cheaper drugs and cheaper drugs mean increased drug consumption. But, try not to get carried away; drug legalization isn't a jeans sale at Old Navy. A social stigma surrounding drug use is already heavily ingrained in many societies across the globe. I highly doubt that upon legalization waves of people would flock to markets to buy sacks of heroin.

Even so, I do not believe that governments should completely withdraw from their anti-drug campaigns if drugs become legalized. In order to limit the damage that increased consumption would cause, governments must completely ban any institution from attempting to market drugs. Drug advertising needs to be illegal. Governments are obliged to reallocate the massive funds, used to regulate drug use and trafficking, to helping addicts overcome addiction. Finally, they must, with rerouted funds and in collaboration with private firms, undertake hyper-aggressive drug education campaigns aimed at discouraging drug use.

Our drug war has not simply failed; it has created a grave crisis. For logistical and humanitarian purposes, we must now end this crisis. Drug legalization is our only viable option.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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Michael Youhana

Writer interested in US foreign policy whose articles have been featured in various outlets including The Nation and The Jerusalem Report magazines, and, of course, on PolicyMic

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