Many of the arguments for drug prohibition are based on perceptions of drugs as dangerous to people, which creates the basis for a moral opposition to drug use. Some of these perceptions are based on common knowledge or scientific evidence, indicating how certain drugs are detrimental to individuals and communities, while other perceptions are based on popular myths. Those who are against prohibition argue that even when drugs are dangerous to people, it is much easier to control their use and minimize harm if drugs are legal. The decriminalization of drugs would then be perceived as a more ethical way to deal with the problem.
Some religious groups including the União do Vegetal, the Native American Church, the Bwiti religion and the Rastafari movement use psychoactive substances as sacrament in religious rituals. In some religious practice, drugs are sometimes used as a conduit to an oceanic feeling or divine union, equated with mysticism or entheogenic ('that which causes God to be within an individual') experiences. In others, the 'entactogenic' qualities of drugs are used to enhance feelings of empathy among congregations.
Almost all national governments have signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, amongst other human rights treaties, as a set of moral standards for the world to live by. One of the fundamental rights enshrined in international human rights law is the right to freedom of thought, which is violated by a blanket prohibition of drugs.
Altered states of consciousness enable many people to push the boundaries of human experience, knowledge and creativity. There is thus a moral imperative to experiment with drugs in terms of human progress, teleological development, or just increased artistic creativity; such ideas are central to Cognitive Liberty, Stoned Ape Theory and Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception.
Despite increasing amounts of money being spent on prohibition, drugs have become more accessible, cheaper, and more potent. The illegality of injectable drugs leads to a scarcity of needles which causes an increase in HIV infections. An easy cure to this problem, while upholding the illegality of drugs, is the Dutch policy of distributing free needles. The money spent on both increased health costs due to HIV infections and drug prohibition itself causes a drain upon society. Despite the fact that most drug offenders are non-violent, the stigma attached to a conviction can prevent employment and education.
A key component of this argument is that many of the health dangers associated with recreational drugs exist precisely because they are illegal. The government cannot enforce quality control on products sold and manufactured illegally. Examples would include: heroin/cocaine overdoses occurring as users don't know exactly how much they are taking, heroin users unintentionally injecting brick dust, quinine, or fentanyl with which their heroin had been cut, the easier to make derivative MDA sold as MDMA.
Janet Crist of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy mentioned that the anti-drug efforts have had "no direct effect on either the price or the availability of cocaine on our streets" (qtd. in Boaz). Additionally, drug dealers show off expensive jewelry and clothing to young children (Duke and Gross 33). Some of these children are interested in making fast money instead of working legitimate jobs (Kane 157). Drug decriminalization would remove the "glamorous Al Capone-type traffickers who are role-models for the young" (Wink 111).
The lack of government regulation and control over the lucrative illegal drug market has created a large population of unregulated drug dealers who lure many children into the illegal drug trade. The U.S. government's most recent 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that nationwide over 800,000 adolescents ages 12–17 sold illegal drugs during the previous 12 months preceding the survey. The 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nationwide 25.4% of students had been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug by someone on school property. The prevalence of having been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property ranged from 15.5% to 38.7% across state CDC surveys (median: 26.1%) and from 20.3% to 40.0% across local surveys (median: 29.4%).
Despite more than $ 7 billion spent annually towards arresting and prosecuting nearly 800,000 people across the country for marijuana offenses in 2005, the federally-funded Monitoring the Future Survey reports about 85% of high school seniors find marijuana “easy to obtain.” That figure has remained virtually unchanged since 1975, never dropping below 82.7% in three decades of national surveys.
The United States efforts at drug prohibition started out with a US$ 350 million budget in 1971, and is currently (in 2006) a US$ 30 billion campaign. These numbers only include direct prohibition enforcement expenditures, and as such only represent part of the total cost of prohibition. This $ 30 billion figure rises dramatically once other issues, such as the economic impact of holding 400,000 prisoners on prohibition violations, are factored in.
The war on drugs is extremely costly to such societies that outlaw drugs in terms of taxpayer money, lives, productivity, the inability of law enforcement to pursue mala in se crimes, and social inequality. Some proponents of decriminalization say that the financial and social costs of drug law enforcement far exceed the damages that the drugs themselves cause. For instance, in 1999 close to 60,000 prisoners (3.3% of the total incarcerated population) convicted of violating marijuana laws were behind bars at a cost to taxpayers of some $ 1.2 billion per year. In 1980, the total jail and prison population was 540,000, about one-quarter the size it is today. Drug offenders accounted for 6% of all prisoners. Today drug offenders account for nearly 25%.
It has been argued that if the US government legalised marijuana it would save $7.7 billion per year in expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Also, that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if it were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if it were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.
Mass arrests of local growers of marijuana, for example, not only increase the price of local drugs, but lessens competition. Only major retailers that can handle massive shipments, have their own small fleet of aircraft, troops to defend the caravans and other sophisticated methods of eluding the police (such as lawyers), can survive by this regulation of the free market by the government
Recently, this has become a huge problem in Afghanistan as well, which went from producing practically no drugs in 2000 having been banned by the Taliban to cultivating as much as 90% of the world's opium. The Taliban is believed to be heavily supported by the opium trade there.
Furthermore, the sale of the illegal drugs produces an influx of dollars that is outside the formal economy, and puts pressure on the currency exchange keeping the dollar low and making the export of legal products more difficult.
It has been suggested that ending prohibition could reduce the use of hard drugs as it has in countries such as The Netherlands.
Since alcohol prohibition ended and the War on Drugs began there has been much debate over the issue of consistency among legislators with regard to drug prohibition. Many anti-prohibition activists focus on the well-documented dangers of alcohol (such as alcoholism, cystisis, domestic violence, brain and liver damage). In addition to anecdotal evidence, they cite statistics to show more deaths caused by drunk driving under the influence of alcohol than by drivers under the influence of marijuana, and research which suggests that alcohol is more harmful than all but the most dangerous drugs (i.e. all but heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and street methodone).
A 2002 DAWN report for the USA records two overdoses where marijuana was the only drug found. Legal drugs however, have been the cause of more than half a million deaths a year: 480,000 from tobacco smoking-related illnesses and 80,000 from alcohol abuse. Together, tobacco and alcohol cause about 20% of all yearly deaths in the USA.
This inconsistency between the harm caused and the legal status of these common drugs undermines the declared motives of the law enforcement agencies to reduce harm by prohibition of marijuana.
The belief that "hard" drugs such as crack cocaine warrant stronger sentences than "soft" drugs such as marijuana or even powder cocaine represents a double standard not supported by scientific evidence. In the United States, defendants convicted of selling crack cocaine receive equal sentences to those convicted of selling 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine.
This disparity was lessened during the Clinton administration when the Powder Cocaine Sentencing Act changed the ratio to 10 to 1. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of offenders convicted for selling crack are poor and/or black, while the majority of those convicted for selling cocaine are not. This an example of the institutional racism which is found in many areas of the American criminal justice system.
Many drug policies group all illegal drugs into a single category. Since drugs drastically vary in their effects, dosages, methods of production, and consumption the arguments either way could be seen as inconsistent.
Some consider the war on drugs, at least in the United States, to be a "war on some drugs" … and some drug users. Current drug laws are enforced in such a way as to penalize non-whites more harshly and more often than whites, and to penalize the poor of all races more harshly and more often than the middle and upper classes.
Critics of drug prohibition often cite the fact that the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933 led to immediate decreases in murders and robberies to support the argument that legalization of drugs could have similar effects. Once those involved in the narcotics trade have a legal method of settling business disputes, the number of murders and violent crime could drop. Robert W. Sweet, a federal judge, strongly agrees: "The present policy of trying to prohibit the use of drugs through the use of criminal law is a mistake" (Riga 53). When alcohol use was outlawed during prohibition, it gave rise to gang warfare and spurred the formation of some of the most well known criminals of the era, among them the infamous Al Capone. Similarly, drug dealers today resolve their disputes through violence and intimidation, something which legal drug vendors do not do. Prohibition critics also point to the fact that police are more likely to be corrupted in a system where bribe money is so available. Police corruption due to drugs is widespread enough that one pro-legalization newsletter has made it a weekly feature.
Drug money has been called a major source of income for terrorist organizations. Critics assert that legalization would remove this central source of support for terrorism. While politicians blame drug users for being a major source of financing terrorists, no clear evidence of this link has been provided. US government agencies and government officials have been caught trafficking drugs to finance US-supported terrorist actions in events such as the Iran-Contra Affair, and Manuel Noriega but the isolated nature of these events precludes them from being major sources of financing.
When the cost of drugs increases, drugs users are more likely to commit crimes in order to obtain money to buy the expensive drugs (Duke 115). Legalizing drugs would make drugs reasonably cheap (Kane 155).
Many cultures have used, and still use the same drugs that are illegal under prohibition for both medicine, and comfort with success. It can be argued that if the benefits of a drug can be made clear then the prohibition of the drug is unfounded.
It has been shown that there may be legitimate medical uses to various illegal drugs, such as use of MDMA (Ecstasy) for cognitive enhancement in people with Parkinson's Disease, or its administration for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, such as people who have been raped. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is a non-profit research and educational organization which assists scientists to design, fund, obtain approval for and report on studies into the risks and benefits of MDMA, psychedelic drugs and marijuana. MAPS' mission is to sponsor scientific research designed to develop psychedelics and marijuana into FDA-approved prescription medicines, and to educate the public honestly about the risks and benefits of these drugs.
Cannabis is an example of a mainly illegal drug that can be used medicinally. For chemotherapy and AIDS patients, cannabis increases their appetite and counters nausea. The American Medical Association protested the 1937 marijuana Tax Act due to its interest in cannabis for medical purposes (McGrath 123+).
Often illegal drugs are purchased in the underground market, there is no care for hygiene, and drugs may be cut with other substances or sold under different guises to increase supply, sale, potential profit, or user addiction potential. This can be dangerous as even though numerous illegal drugs have very low toxicity levels (low potential for overdose) and low addiction potential their safety status can be altered dramatically if they contain other chemicals of which the buyer is unaware. This can increase the potential for unexpected effects, overdoses, and drug dependence. For instance, tablets sold as MDMA have commonly been found to contain methamphetamine as the primary active ingredient or include methamphetamine in addition to other drugs. Methamphetamine has much higher comparative addictive potential than MDMA, and a higher risk of overdose as demonstrated by its LD50s. (Actually MDMA is methylenedioxymethamphetamine and of course is not a combination of other drugs as is often proposed by teenage abusers.)
Dozens of people died in one year in Cook County alone, in relation to ingesting heroin unknowingly cut with fentanyl. Black tar heroin has been known to carry wound botulism. Variable heroin purity, active cutting agents, and contaminated product is one of the major dangers of heroin use, and is strictly caused by prohibition.
The illegality of many recreational drugs may be dissuading research into new, more effective and perhaps safer recreational drugs. For example, it has been proposed that a safer substitute to alcohol with many of the same desired effects could be created imparting many health and safety benefits to society. Furthermore, the compensation received and knowledge gained in the creation of new recreational drugs might allow for more basic research into human biology, treatments for medical conditions such as depression, and general improvements in the functionality of humans. Also, the illegality of recreational drugs may be hindering the ability of companies to discover and market drugs that could be used for recreation, but could also be effective as medical treatments.
Some paid advocates of drug prohibition claim that it works if it is part of broad-action program that includes many different types of action from information in schools to drug free treatment groups for prisoners. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, has argued - "Sweden is an excellent example. Drug use is just a third of the European average while spending on drug control is three times the EU average. For three decades, Sweden has had consistent and coherent drug-control policies, regardless of which party is in power. There is a strong emphasis on prevention, drug laws have been progressively tightened, and extensive treatment and rehabilitation opportunities are available to users. The police take drug crime seriously. Governments and societies must keep their nerve and avoid being swayed by misguided notions of tolerance. They must not lose sight of the fact that illicit drugs are dangerous - that is why the world agreed to restrict them. See also Drug policy of Sweden.
In criticism of governments that have relaxed their drug laws, Antonio Maria Costa, speaking in Washington before the launch of the World Drug Report in June 2006, said - "After so many years of drug control experience, we now know that a coherent, long-term strategy can reduce drug supply, demand and trafficking. If this does not happen, it will be because some nations fail to take the drug issue sufficiently seriously and pursue inadequate policies. Many countries have the drug problem they deserve." The quote was reported in the context of changes in cannabis classification in the United Kingdom when David Blunkett was Home Secretary and cannabis was downgraded from class B to class C, meaning that possession of small quantities of the drug was no longer an arrestable offence. The decision was taken on the recommendation of the UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, but Mr Costa warned - "Policy reversals leave young people confused as to just how dangerous cannabis is. With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government. The cannabis pandemic, like other challenges to public health, requires consensus, a consistent commitment across the political spectrum and by society at large. Today, the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
John Donnelly, writing for the Boston Globe on the presidential race of 2000, suggested that the candidates' silence on drug policy may stem from a widely shared belief that any position even hinting at reducing penalties for drug use would be political suicide. Charles R. Schuster, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse under Presidents Reagan and Bush, has also been reported as saying, "Talking sense about drug policy in today's climate of opinion can be political suicide.
Drug policy academic Mark Kleiman has argued:
Scott Morgan reports how he once attended a discussion of Peter Reuter and David Boyum's book "An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy", in which the authors admitted ignoring the legalization option in their analysis. Boyum claimed that there was no legitimate political support for ending the drug war and that he and Reuter had therefore confined themselves to recommendations that they thought were politically viable.
Some prohibitionists argue that particular drugs should be illegal because they are harmful. The U.S. government has argued that illegal drugs are "far more deadly than alcohol" saying "although alcohol is used by seven times as many people as drugs, the number of deaths induced by those substances is not far apart."
The US Government and others have argued that certain drugs (such as cannabis) act as gateways to use of harder drugs such as heroin, either because of social contact or because of an increasing search for a better high. Some studies support the gateway drug model., see Cannabis (drug)
There is an argument that illegal drug use undermines social order. The recreational use of drugs being prohibited, the use thereof is usually a sign of rebellion against the strictures of society, and therefore the government feels compelled to act against such flagrant disrespect for the law and societal norms. Illegal drug use is thus a shibboleth, whereby drug abusers and all involved in the traffic thereof are perceived as dissident, disruptive and harmful elements in society. To decriminalize such activity would symbolically surrender authority to those who by nature oppose authority.
There is an argument that much crime and terrorism is drug related or drug funded and that prohibition should reduce this.
US president George W. Bush, in signing the Drug-Free Communities Act Reauthorization Bill in December 2001, said, "If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America."
Detective superintendent Eva Brännmark from the Swedish National Police Board, in a speech given to Drug Free Australia’s first international conference on illicit drug use, said
This section refers to some of the counterarguments given to the arguments presented above. For example, where specific claims may be made on one side of the argument but may be disputed by the other. Counterarguments against prohibition would by implication be in favour of legalization/decriminalization, and vice versa of course, but are included separately here to indicate that they are in the main arguments of refutation.
Henrik Tham has written that sometimes it's domestically important to stress drug policy as successful, as the case of Sweden where this notion is important, serving "the function of strengthening a threatened national identity in a situation where the traditional ‘Swedish model’ has come under increasingly hard attack from both inside and outside the country." Tham questions the success of the Swedish model - "The shift in Swedish drug policy since around 1980 towards a more strict model has according to the official point of view been successful by comparison with the earlier, more lenient drug policy. However, available systematic indicators show that the prevalence of drug use has increased since around 1980, that the decrease in drug incidence was particularly marked during the 1970s and that some indicators point towards an increase during the 1990s.
The professor emeritus in Criminology at the University of Oslo, Nils Christie, pointed out Sweden as the hawk of international drug policy, being a welfare alibi and giving legitimacy to the US drug war. Adding that the two countries have a extraordinary influence on UNODC as the biggest donor countries.
Antonio Maria Costa's conviction that "countries have the drug problem they deserve" if they fail to follow the 'Swedish Model' in drug control has also been criticised in Peter Cohen's work - Looking at the UN, smelling a rat.
British Crime Survey statistics indicated that the proportion of 16 to 24 year-olds using cannabis decreased from 28% a decade ago to 21%, with its declining popularity accelerating after the decision to downgrade the drug to class C was announced in January 2004. The BCS figures, published in October 2007, showed that the proportion of frequent users in the 16-24 age group (i.e. who were using cannabis more than once a month), fell from 12% to 8% in the past four years.
There is evidence that many illicit drugs pose comparatively fewer health dangers than certain licit drugs (e. g. alcohol and tobacco). In the UK, an average of 500,000 people take ecstasy every weekend, 40 million are social drinkers, 11 million are "at risk" or "problem" drinkers, and 9 million smoke cigarettes, resulting in 40 ecstasy-related deaths a year, 6500 deaths due to alcohol and 120 000 deaths due to smoking, making the per user risk of ecstasy half that of alcohol (about 1:12,500 occasions, compared to 1:6,153 for alcohol), and much below tobacco (1:75).
Experts like Andreas von Bülow and Milton Friedman consent that almost every serious crime of terrorism is funded by illegal drugs but they don't agree that prohibition can reduce these phenomenons. In fact the prohibition protects the drug cartel insofar as it keeps the distribution in the black market and creates the risk that makes smuggling profitable.
Time for a Malt March in Gujarat ; The state's outdated alcohol prohibition policy is at odds with its image as a tourist destination.
Feb 28, 2012; The debate on whether the ban on liquor in Gujarat is in tune with the rapid strides the state has been making as an investment...