The Debate of Drug Legalization in the United States

A mother is cooking dinner for her family while her children are playing. The father is in his office finishing up a project for work. It is just another normal evening for this family until the police abruptly barge into their house. Suddenly, their home is full of confusion, yelling, and fear. The police have targeted this house because they believe there are drugs inside, so they are raiding it to find the drugs. Sometimes, the police have the wrong house or are wrong about the possession of drugs.

The Chicago Tribune records this is exactly what happened to Paul Brown. He was on the computer at home when the police suddenly raided his house.

The police did not find any drugs in the raid and Paul was left angry and scared, but fortunately unharmed (McCoppin). The families impacted by these police raids are often left frustrated, traumatized, and broken due to arrests made. Some are even injured during the chaos.

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Drugs should be decriminalized because it will minimize the overcrowded prison system, spend less tax dollars and earn more tax revenue, and help minimize health issues brought on by drugs being illegal. Drug related stories seem to always be on the news, whether it is people being arrested, police raids, or people debating if drugs should stay illegal or be legalized. According to The Truth about Drugs, “an estimated 208 million people internationally consume illegal drugs” (Drug Free World). Drugs and their influence affects everyone. The Drug Legalization Debate says most people living in the United States of America believe drugs are the biggest issue facing the nation.

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This was true without regard to where they live, their social status, race, or ethnicity Ottinger 2 (Inciardi, McBride, and Terry 1).

Just 100 years ago, people living in the United States of America believed alcohol was the biggest issue facing the nation. The Alcohol Prohibition started in 1920, and was referred to as the “great experiment.” The experiment was to solve the negative effects of alcohol. This was short lived because it produced worse results than when alcohol was legal. The American Pageant recalls even the police became corrupt during Prohibition. Police were easily bribed. They often chose to ignore the illegal use and transportation of alcohol (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey 736). According to History, “In addition, the Prohibition era encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with bootlegging” ( Editors). Bootlegging is when alcohol was made and later sold illegally. People would go to speakeasies to drink. At the end of the 1920’s, crimes had risen to a point where many no longer supported Prohibition ( Editors). Some people argue keeping drugs illegal is causing more people to use them. Although alcohol was still around, less was drunk before Prohibition (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey 736).

History concludes when Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for President of the United States of America, he promised to repeal Prohibition. In 1933, Congress passed the 21 st Amendment, which appealed the 18 th Amendment, effectively making it legal to produce, transport, sell, and consume alcohol ( Editors). The American Pageant states, “They [prohibitionists] ignored the fact that one cannot make a crime overnight out of something that millions of people have never regarded as a crime” (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey 733). Although drugs have been illegal for a long time, jails and prisons are filled with people who have never regarded drugs as criminal. Unlike in the days of Prohibition, police are not so easily bribed today. People are arrested for making and selling illegal drugs. Anyone who is found with illegal drugs in their Ottinger 3 possession would also be arrested. By the end of 1992, over 1.2 million people were arrested for drug-related crimes.

One-third of those arrests were people who had drugs in their possession (Against Drug Prohibition). When people are arrested for drug possession and/or producing drugs, they are put in jail and some eventually get prison sentences. The ACLU records, “Nonviolent drug offenders make up 58 percent of the federal prison population, a population that is extremely costly to maintain” (Against Drug Prohibition). The tax money spent on the policing and enforcement of illegal drugs comes with a heavy financial burden on the United States of America. Jeffery A. Miron, Harvard University and Katherine Waldock, New York University, conducted a study for the Cato Institute. They found the government could save about $41.3 billion every year in the area of drug-related law enforcement if drugs were legalized (Ghosh). According to information from 45 states, the average cost of one prison inmate in 2015, was $33,274. Prisons have to supply security, staff, food, water, utilities, and maintenance. There are many other things that prison facilities have to provide as well (Vera Institute). In 2015, The Price of Prisons found that the employees costs takes up about 68 percent of the prison’s overall budget (Vera Institute). Inmates are a big cost to the prison systems as well.

According to Vera, “In 2015, among the 45 responding states, the total state expenditure on prisons was just under $43 billion” (The Price of Prisons). In order for people to have laws enforced, our police have to work. The ACLU says law enforcement today spend over half of their resources arresting drug related offenses. All the resources are put towards drugs could be better used for other, more egregious crimes (Against Drug Prohibition). The financial impact goes beyond the United States of America’s prison system and law enforcement. Since drugs are illegal, there is no tax revenue from their production, sale, or usage. Drugs being illegal has not been financially successful. $150 billion tax dollars has been Ottinger 4 spent on stopping drugs from crossing the borders since 1981 (Against Drug Prohibition). Ordinary citizens do not realize how much illegal, non-taxed money is made on drugs like marijuana. According to The Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization in the U.S., marijuana is the leading cash crop nationwide and the number one cash crop in twelve states (Ghosh).

Although these drugs are bringing big money to the growers and sellers, these profits are not being taxed. For a more accurate estimation of how much potential tax money is being lost, Palash Gosh says drugs could bring in about $46 billion in taxes every year when compared to the tax rates of alcohol and tobacco (Ghosh). Although the high costs of enforcing drug related crimes and lost tax revenue support legalizing drugs, some fear the consequences of health issues from such a decision. The Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization in the U.S. agrees, while legalizing drugs could help the government, many people are worried about the health consequences (Ghosh). Many people may be aware that drugs cloud a person’s judgement, memory, and mood (Get the Facts). Scholastic continues to state, “Drug abuse is linked to the top U.S. medical problems, including heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and mental illness” and “Cocaine has been linked to stroke and heart attack, as well as increased vulnerability to infection” (Get the Facts). Some of the consequences between drugs and health issues may not be as strong as they seem.

According to Scholastic, over half of drug addicts have a mental illness. It is unclear whether drugs create mental illnesses or if they just aggravate an existing illness in the person (Get the Facts). Some health issues are actually worse because drugs are illegal. According to the ACLU, the illegal status of drugs is causing significant health issues. Needles are often shared and are not sterilized because they are hard to get a hold of. HIV is easily transmitted through those needles. “In New York City, more than 60 percent of Ottinger 5 intravenous drug users are HIV positive” (Against Drug Prohibition). The ACLU goes on to say, “By contrast, the figure is less than one percent in Liverpool, England, where clean needles are easily available” (Against Drug Prohibition). Legalizing drugs could minimize the usage of dirty needles because people would not have to worry about being arrested for drug use. According to Legalizing Drugs Makes Matters Worse, if drugs are legalized, the people buying drugs will be safer. They will not put themselves at risk by going through an illegal dealer (Wilson).

Illegal dealers have to sell in places where they will not get caught. This could mean an alley, a bad part of town, or where a lot of people will not be around. Since these places are in dangerous locations, often out of the public’s eye, a person could easily be harmed by the dealer or others. There are real dangers from drugs which legalizing drugs will not take away. According to the Center on Addiction, “Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous” (Califano). In order to help stem the tide of illegal drug use, the Center on Addiction is suggesting when an adolescent is arrested for drug use, they should have to attend a meeting educating them on the dangers of drugs. This meeting would be like an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) for drunk drivers (Califano).

This approach would help minimize the dangers drugs create, by educating people on the negative effects and consequences of their use. Some may agree that even though some drugs can have a negative impact on health, currently illegal drugs like marijuana are used for medical reasons. Medical marijuana is used to treat a number of different health issues like cancer, seizures, and pain to name a few. According to WebMD, medical marijuana can mimic the human body’s ability to help cope with pain levels, mobility, and can destroy cancer cells. This beneficial chemical in the medical marijuana is called Cannabinoids (Medical Marijuana FAQ).

Although it seems medical marijuana can Ottinger 6 help in many medical conditions, some controls should be put in place before decriminalizing it. For example, WebMD continues to says, that they do not recommend adolescents to use medical marijuana because it can negatively impact their brain development (Medical Marijuana FAQ). Also many people are concerned those who are taking marijuana for their health may become addicted to it. Although there continues to be a debate on whether or not marijuana can and should be allowed to be used for medical reasons, with so many benefits, many people hope to see it legalized soon. Portugal has had success with legalizing drugs and the United States of America can look to them as an example. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drugs, becoming the first country to do so (Ferreira). This means people are no longer arrested or get a prison sentence for drugs. Instead, Ferreira records, Portugal gives out warnings, fines, and support to people found to have drugs (Ferreira). The Guardian says, “The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates” (Ferreira).

Although there was a positive impact from drugs being decriminalized, all the problems did not disappear. Portugal managed to reduce the usage of and deaths from drugs but some health problems are still around. They are also dealing with all the health related results from legalized drug use (Ferreira). Portugal’s results came from their change in government, language, and laws. Change must come from more than just the government. Meaningful change happens when people help make positive improvements. For example, when referring to drug addicts, citizens of Portugal started to call them “people who use drugs” instead of “drogados” (junkies) which was important (Ferreira). It is important for people to change their Ottinger 7 mindset of how those who are struggling with drugs are portrayed and regarded. Everyone is going through their own problems and people need to support and encourage one another.

People have many different reasons why drugs should stay illegal. Growers are fearful big businesses will drive them out of business if it is legalized (Ghosh). If drugs become legal, big corporations may begin producing and selling them for a profit. Since these are big corporations, they can lower prices until they run other suppliers out of business. Once that happens, those big corporations can raise their prices to benefit themselves. Fearful of the consequences, most people tend to obey the law. They do not use drugs over concerns of arrest and jail time. According to the Center on Addiction, “The U.S. has some 60 million smokers, up to 20 million alcoholics and alcohol misusers, but only around 6 million illegal drug addicts. If illegal drugs were easier to obtain, this figure would rise” (Califano). According to the Center on Addiction, people who want drugs to be legalized say they would only want them to be legalized for adults. The hope/expectation that adolescents will not use drugs will not be a reality. Youth will find a way to use drugs (Califano). This is similar to underage drinking.

Although alcohol is not allowed to be consumed by people younger than 21, in the United States of America, it is still consumed by minors. Legalizing Drugs Makes Matters Worse records, “I [John Stuart Mill] think that the harm to others from drug legalization will be greater than the harm—and it is a great harm—that now exists from keeping these drugs illegal” (Wilson). In conclusion, with so many facets to the arguments, there may never be an end to the debate on the legalization of drugs. Should drugs stay illegal because they are harmful to a person’s health and will keep the amount of addicts and users down? Or should drugs be legalized so the government will stop losing all the tax revenue and help decrease the amount of Ottinger 8 people in the prison system? Portugal has made a great example of decriminalizing drugs to help minimize the drug issues. It is important for everyone to educate themselves on all sides of the debate before choosing a side or forming their own opinion. People need to not depend on what others tell them, but to make a decision for themselves. I believe the best option is for drugs to be decriminalized and that the United States of America should follow in Portugal’s footsteps. People need to be open to change, positive, and supportive to others. Romans 12:10 ESV (English Standard Version) says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

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The Debate of Drug Legalization in the United States. (2022, Jan 09). Retrieved from

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