Is It Worth Legalizing Drugs or Not

The War on Drugs is a campaign that focuses on drug prohibition and military aid in order to reduce the illegal drug trade in the United States (‘War on Drugs’ 2017), and to discourage the use and distribution of opiates such as hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, etc., as well as psychoactive drugs like cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine, and MDMA (‘Prescription Opioids’ 2018). This “War on Drugs” has led some to propose the legalization and decriminalization of drugs, which would eliminate criminal penalties associated with their use, possession, and distribution.

Still, the idea of drug legalization is just that. An idea without a clear vision of how a system of decriminalization would be implemented, and without much consideration beyond potential economic benefits from decreased taxation and the growth of the American workforce from people that had previously been imprisoned due to drug-related crimes. The concept of drug legalization does not acknowledge the detrimental effects that accompany an increased accessibility to drugs that are currently considered controlled substances, or the consequences of those effects.

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The increased availability of drugs leads to decreased prices, which means that more people will be able to consume those drugs. When people are able to consume drugs at a cheap price, there is little to stop them from developing addictions. When it comes to opioids, dependence and addiction can happen quickly. Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, which reduces pain and increases feelings of pleasure, which can leave the user with the desire for more after its effects wear off (‘How Opioid Addiction Occurs’ 2018).

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This is at the heart of the opioid epidemic, which began sometime in the 1990s when painkillers were being over-prescribed (“Opioid Overdose Crisis” 2018). That has led, over time, to a public health crisis affecting millions of Americans and their families. With that in mind, the repercussions of full-on drug legalization are unimaginable. Drug addiction tends to follow when drugs are accessible, and when addiction occurs, the consequences can be seen in all aspects of a person’s life, publicly, and privately. Addiction is expensive.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a United States federal government research institute, estimates that the cost of rehabilitation for methadone is around $4,700 USD per patient (“Is Drug Addiction Worth Its Cost?” 2018). That isn’t accounting for all the money that patient used on drugs in the past in order to feed their addiction. Addiction doesn’t just have personal costs, though. Oftentimes, the price of addiction is seen in the actions of that addict. Supporters of drug legalization believe that legalizing drugs would signify a decrease in drug-related crimes. Of course, that’s obvious. If you make assault legal, there would be a decrease in violent crimes. But in addition to that, that people that were previously incarcerated for those crimes (such as drug use, possession, distribution, or manufacturing) would participate in the workforce and lead to an improvement of the United States economy. As might be expected, there is some logic to this argument. About 46.0% of inmates are imprisoned due to drug-related offenses. That is s a lot of people that would be able to work and contribute to the economy.

That is, under the assumption that they could be productive. Not a lot of information is available on workplace productivity after the legalization of opium in Iran or the legalization of drug use in places like the Netherlands, but it seems that problems in a society directly affect people in the workplace. There is evidence that the development of depression and substance abuse often happen at the same time (“Substance Abuse and Depression” 2018), it is unclear whether or not depression precedes drug use, or whether drug use causes depression, but the use of drugs only creates effects which worsen the depression, such as the breakdown of relationships with family and friends due to changes in behavior (increased aggression, hostility), divorce, and stress. In the case of inmates, these problems are only amplified. Data from 1994, when rates of depression in the United States were much lower, show that the annual cost of each depressed employee was $600 dollars, and that 72% of those costs were related to the employee being absent from work or not being productive at work (Conti DJ, Burton 1994).

The improvements to the economy that may or may not come from released inmates can easily be offset by problems that come from national legalization, such as for accidents and deaths caused by those under the influence of drugs, accidental deaths through overdoses, damage to public and private property, costs of treatment for addicts, costs of increased government support that cannot be afforded because most people that support drug legalization also believe that those drugs shouldn’t be taxed, or that taxation should be kept as close to zero as possible in order to prevent people from stealing, robbing, or entering lives of prostitution to be able to afford them, and to be able to compete with drug distributors that already exist to combat the illegal drug trade (Jacobs, 1990). If people can’t afford drugs they can obtain legally, they’ll likely continue to participate in the illegal drug trade. If they can afford them legally, it only serves to intensify the health crisis in the United States that is already out of control, without offering a feasible system to ensure that all of those people are cared for. When drugs are accessible, and when drug use increases, the futures of children are at risk. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a report in 2017 focused on children that live with parents who abuse drugs and alcohol.

The authors of this report, Rachel N. Lipari, Ph.D., and Struther L. Van Horn, M.A., describe issues that are often present in the children of substance abusers. When compared to children with parents that did not abuse substances, they were found to be more likely to have a lower socioeconomic status in adulthood, and have a harder time in academic and social settings and in family functioning. They are more likely to be abused by their parents and suffer from neglect, and they are more likely to have mental and behavioral disorders as well as functional impairments. The data that was collected also showed that mental illness, poverty, and domestic violence were more likely in homes where at least one parent had a substance abuse disorder. Often, when the idea of drug decriminalization and legalization is being thrown around, the lives of those around drug users are not considered. At the end of the day, real lives are at the front of this issue. When parents use drugs, they stop giving their children what they need whether they intend to or not. There is no support there for the child when they have to worry about their parent overdosing, when they have to worry about their parents not providing for them, when they have to worry that their parents will hurt them in a drug-induced rage. The argument that a person’s individual freedom is any more important than another person’s life is flawed. Drugs can be useful, they can cure diseases, relieve pain, and let you live a fulfilling life by helping with pain management.

When they can be used even when they are not needed, when they can be used in excess, they become dangerous, and not just to the person abusing them. Drug legalization benefits the drug user almost entirely. It is a stance that is careless, and even when putting that aside, its implementation could be problematic. If, let’s say, drugs became decriminalized and became widely available to the public, there would surely be a large cultural change that would follow it. There may be positives. For example, people may feel more inclined to seek the help of professionals without the fear of getting in trouble with the law, without fear of judgment. On the other hand, legalizing and decriminalizing drugs has the potential to create a culture that encourages drug use and enables addiction. If the use of drugs was regulated even further, there would be no need to seek help with addiction because there would hardly be the occasion to do so. Ideally, addiction would be very rare. But, of course, if we are being realistic, maybe the best that we can do is to try to minimize the risk of developing addictions in the first place.

The only way that can currently be done is to minimize the cause of addiction: the drugs themselves. Through tighter regulations, through the development of new policies, perhaps even through force. The solution to the problem isn’t to give in to it, it is to fix it. It is to prevent it and reduce risk factors like poverty, trauma, and exposure so people can reach their full potential, not have it squandered because their body can’t help but crave something that is destroying who they are. Legalizing drugs probably won’t help. If anything, it would likely magnify the problems that already exist in the United States without offering much of any solution. Sure, maybe one day, it will be possible to live in a world where people can make the decision to indulge in drug use in a safe and controlled environment that affects only the user.

But until there is a detailed proposal that acknowledges and solves the issues that may come from that sort of society, perhaps it is the best action we can take as a nation is to do what we can to regulate drug consumption and distribution as much as we can without neglecting people that truly need them.

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Is It Worth Legalizing Drugs or Not. (2022, Jan 09). Retrieved from

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