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|The Drug Legalization Debate|
Myths and Misconceptions of Drug Legalization: US Dept. of Justice
Chapter Eleven: "Anything Is Better Than What We Are Doing Now" Hopelessness, Drug Control and Potential Solutions
I. Their Argument
The final argument of the legalizers is one of hopelessness - the status quo obviously is not working because we are spending lots of money on the problem, and it is not yet solved. Therefore, any policy is preferable to the present one.
II. Our Argument
Such cynicism is understandable - drugs are a pervasive problem in our culture. But legalization is not the answer, and in order to prove this we should look at two points: first, that the problem is getting better, and second, that many other viable solutions besides legalization exist.
1. The Problem is Getting Better
A mere purview of the facts proves that our problems with drugs are not as bad as they used to be. For example, in 1979 the percentage of 12 to 17-yr. olds who said they had used any illicit drug in the past month was 17.6%. In 1992, it was down to 6.1%. Similarly, the percentages for ages 18-25 yrs. dropped from 37. 1 % to 13.0%. 155 Cocaine use is also down. In 1982 the percentage of 18-25 yr. olds reporting past month use of cocaine was 6.8 %. In 1992 the figure had dropped to 1.8%.156 Unfortunately, the 1993 data show a bottoming out and reversal of this trend, which has been linked to a softening attitude about the dangers of drug use.157
Not only is drug use down, but public opinion has crystallized into a "no drug tolerance" position. One Gallup poll reported that over 80% of Americans said legalizing drugs was a bad idea.158 A large majority said they feared legalization would lead to increases in addiction, drug overdoses, drug-related crime and drug use in schools. 159 Furthermore, a study conducted in 1990 showed
that 89% of the population would be willing to pay higher taxes to support the War on Drugs. 160 And as discussed above, children and adolescents have become less tolerant of drug use. As a letter to the New York Times on May 7, 1988, written by a class of 14 and 15 yr. olds explained, "America is in a 'moral rut' and ... drug abuse is one of the main causes."161
Thus, not only is drug use declining, but public opinion grows increasingly hostile to any such behavior. No wonder so few people favor legalization these days.
2. Alternative Solutions
These facts are not to suggest, however, that we should become complacent in our efforts. Drug use continues to be a severe social problem, and we should always be on the lookout for innovative policies. Here are just a few ideas.
First, we should continue our reliance on strong legal sanctions to deter drug use. That is, keeping drugs illegal does decrease their use. As one commentator noted, 70% of high school students in New Jersey and 60% of those in California said that fear of getting in trouble with the law was a
primary reason not to use drugs.162 Not only do legal sanctions keep people from trying drugs in
the first instance, but they also help to get people off them later. A study conducted by Douglas
Anglin of UCLA noted that the potential success rate of treatment programs depends largely on how long the patient remains with the program. The longer you stay, the better your chances of
recovery. And Anglin also found that people who enter treatment under legal compulsion (i.e., a court order) stay in the program longer.163
Thus, legal sanctions eventually correlate to treatment success rate.
Second, we should continue to decrease social tolerance for drug use at all levels of society and at all levels of drug use. As former DEA Administrator Jack Lawn said, "Here's what it means in shirt sleeve English. [The] public is telling the drug user, 'What you're doing is not just your business. It's criminal and it's unacceptable. Get help and get treatment if you need it, or face the consequences. We don't want to be hard-hearted, but this problem exists only because you and people like you keep it alive. The rest of us don't want to put up with it anymore'". 164
Third, we should use education to encourage people not to use drugs. Educating the youth is one of society's most important responsibilities, and nowhere is the need for education greater than to teach children about the dangers of drug use.165 Such policies are working with regard to smoking, for as Kurt Schmoke admits, "[t]he number of people smoking continues to fall because of a concerted public education campaign about the health effects of smoking.""
Fourth, we should encourage private enterprise to adopt workplace rules restricting drug use. By implementing policies such as drug testing, businesses can greatly reduce drug use while at the same time increasing their productivity. For example, Hoffman Construction of Portland, Oregon, implemented drug policies and decreased workers' compensation claims by 17%. Indeed, by year three, Hoffman had reduced its workers' compensation costs by almost 90%.167 Perhaps the government could use tax credits to encourage businesses to promote drug policies.
Fifth, it is possible that the growing health-consciousness in the United States today (favoring more exercise, less cholesterol, less alcohol and smoking, etc.) will go a long way in and of itself to decrease drug use.168
Finally, we may be able to turn to science for help. Some scholars are proposing the use of biotechnology to eradicate drug crops while at the same time planting more socially useful plants (wheat, soybeans, corn, etc.). 169
In the final analysis of the legalization debate we must remember that drug abuse is a long-term
problem: it took China over fifty years to kick its opium addiction.170 And granted, drug use still
takes far too large a toll on the United States. But when we consider the decreasing tolerance for, and use of, drugs in our country, as well as the numerous alternatives we are pursuing and have yet to pursue, it seems clear that legalization of drugs is not the answer.
155 "Preliminary Estimates from the 1992 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse," U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, June 1993.
157 "Monitoring the Future Study - 1993," University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Jan 27, 1994. (Also known as the High School Senior Survey)
158 David Zucchino, "A Push to Make Drugs Illegal," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 5, 1992.
160 Ralph A. Weisheit and Katherine Johnson, "Exploring the Dimensions of Support for Decriminalizing Drugs," Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 1992.
161 Robert Peterson, "Stop Legalization of Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, July 1988.
163 James Q. Wilson, "Against the Legalization of Drugs," Commentary, February 1990.
164 Jack Lawn, "Time to Focus on the User", Drug Enforcement Administration, 1990.
165 "National Drug Control Strategy: Reclaiming Our Communities from Drugs and
Violence," The White House, February 1994.
166 Kurt L. Schmoke, "Decriminalizing Drugs: It Just Might Work-And Nothing Else Does,"
The Washington Post, May 15, 1988.
167 "Position Paper in Opposition to the Legalization of Drugs," Regional Drug Initiative Task Force Position Paper, September 1990.
168 "A Ralph A. Weisheit and Kathrine Johnson, 'Exploring the Dimensions of Support for Decriminalizing Drugs," Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 1992.
169 Gabriel G. Nahas, "A Battle Won, a Stalemated War and A New Strategy," Position Paper.
170 Gabriel G. Nahas, "The Decline of Drugged Nations," Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1988.
Chapter Eleven Summary Sheet: "Anything Is Better Than What We Are Doing Now", Hopelessness, Drug Control, and Potential Solutions
If they say...
Any policy is better than the status quo.
Then you say...
Drug use has been declining: in 1979 the percentage of 12 to 17-yr. olds who said they had used any illicit drug in the past month was 17.6%. In 1992, it was down to 6.1%. Similarly, for ages 1825 yrs. use dropped from 37. 1 % to 13.0%. In 1982 the percentage of 18-25 yr. olds reporting past month use of cocaine was 6.8%. In 1992 the figure had dropped to 1.8%. [Preliminary Estimates from the 1992 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 1993].
Public tolerance for drug use is declining. One Gallup poll reported that over 80% of Americans said legalizing drugs was a bad idea- A large majority said they feared legalization would lead to increases in addiction, drug overdoses, drug-related crime and drug use in schools. [David Zucchino, "A Push to Make Drugs Illegal," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 5, 1992]. In fact, 89% of the public would be willing to pay higher taxes to support the War on Drugs. [Ralph A. Weisheit and Kathrine Johnson, "Exploring the Dimensions of Support for Decriminalizing Drugs," Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 1992].
Other solutions besides legalization exist:
We should continue to employ legal sanctions against drug users for two reasons. First, studies of high school students suggest that between 60% and 70% cite not wanting to get in trouble with the law as a reason not to use drugs in the first place. [Robert E. Peterson, "Stop Legalization of Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, July 1988]. Second, the use of legal sanction is a good means of keeping addicts in treatment programs for longer periods of time, thus increasing the probability of successful treatment [James Q. Wilson, "Against the Legalization of Drugs," Commentary, February 1990].
We should continue to decrease social tolerance for any and all drug use at any and all levels of society.
We should promote drug awareness education as a means o deterring use, as is presently being done successfully with regard to tobacco use.
We should use tax incentives to encourage businesses to adopt drug policies such as those of a Portland, Oregon business that decreased its workers' compensation claims 90% in three years. ["Position Paper In Opposition To The Legalization of Drugs," Regional Drug Initiative Task Force, September 1990.]
The general health-consciousness sweeping the country may go a long way to decreasing casual drug use. [Ralph A. Weisheit and Kathrine Johnson, "Exploring the Dimensions of Support for Decriminalizing Drugs," Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 1992].
We should research ways in which biotechnology could be used to eradicate drug crops and replace them with socially useful growth such as wheat or corn. [Gabriel Nahas, "A Battle Won, A Stalemated War, and A New Strategy," Position Paper].
We should remember that drug use is a long-term problem that
will take a long time to solve: it took China 50 years to kick
its opium addiction. [Gabriel Nahas, "The Decline of Drugged
Nations," Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1988].
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Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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