Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Should Illegal Drugs Be Legalized?

PRO (yes)


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated in its Jan. 6, 1995 paper titled “Against Drug Prohibition”:

“The best evidence of prohibition’s failure is the government’s current war on drugs. This war, instead of employing a strategy of prevention, research, education and social programs designed to address problems such as permanent poverty, long term unemployment and deteriorating living conditions in our inner cities, has employed a strategy of law enforcement. While this military approach continues to devour billions of tax dollars and sends tens of thousands of people to prison, illegal drug trafficking thrives, violence escalates and drug abuse continues to debilitate lives…

Those who benefit the most from prohibition are organized crime barons, who derive an estimated $10 to $50 billion a year from the illegal drug trade. Indeed, the criminal drug laws protect drug traffickers from taxation, regulation and quality control…

In the same way that alcohol prohibition fueled violent gangsterism in the 1920s, today’s drug prohibition has spawned a culture of drive-by shootings and other gun-related crimes…

The recent steep climb in our incarceration rate has made the U.S. the world’s leading jailer… Nonviolent drug offenders make up 58 percent of the federal prison population, a population that is extremely costly to maintain…

Some people, hearing the words ‘drug legalization,’ imagine pushers on street corners passing out cocaine to anyone — even children. But that is what exists today under prohibition… In the long run, ending prohibition could foster the redirection of public resources toward social development, legitimate economic opportunities and effective treatment, thus enhancing the safety, health and well-being of the entire society.”

May 25, 2005


Benson Roe, MD, Professor and Chief Emeritus at the School of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, wrote in his article (accessed on Nov. 18, 2005) titled “Why We Should Legalize Drugs,” posted on the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy’s website :

“[N]owhere can be found reliable, objective scientific evidence that [illicit drugs] are any more harmful than other substances and activities that are legal. In view of the enormous expense, the carnage and the obvious futility of the ‘drug war,’ resulting in massive criminalization of society, it is high time to examine the supposed justification for keeping certain substances illegal. Those who initiated those prohibitions and those who now so vigorously seek to enforce them have not made their objectives clear. Are they to protect us from evil, from addiction, or from poison?…

The concept of evil is derived from subjective values and is difficult to define. Just why certain (illegal) substances are singularly more evil than legal substances like alcohol has not been explained… Addiction is also a relative and ubiquitous phenomenon… Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others and some ‘needs’ are more addictive than others. Probably the most addictive substance in our civilization is tobacco – yet no one has suggested making it illegal…

And ‘poison’ is also a misleading shibboleth. The widespread propaganda that illegal drugs are ‘deadly poisons’ is a hoax. There is little or no medical evidence of long term ill effects from sustained, moderate consumption of uncontaminated marijuana, cocaine or heroin. If these substances – most of them have been consumed in large quantities for centuries – were responsible for any chronic, progressive or disabling diseases, they certainly would have shown up in clinical practice and/or on the autopsy table. But they simply have not!”

Nov. 18, 2005


Joseph D. McNamara, PhD, former chief police in Kansas City, MO and San Jose, CA, stated during a symposium organized by the National Review for its July 1, 1996 cover story titled “Abolish the Drug Laws”:

“About $500 worth of heroin or cocaine in a source country will bring in as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city. All the cops, armies, prisons, and executions in the world cannot impede a market with that kind of tax-free profit margin. It is the illegality that permits the obscene markup, enriching drug traffickers, distributors, dealers, crooked cops, lawyers, judges, politicians, bankers, businessmen…

Sadly, the police have been pushed into a war they did not start and cannot win. It was not the police who lobbied in 1914 for passage of the Harrison Act, which first criminalized drugs… If drugs had been outlawed because the police had complained that drug use caused crime and disorder, the policy would have been more acceptable to the public and won more compliance. And the conviction that the use of certain drugs is immoral chills the ability to scrutinize rationally and to debate the effects of the drug war…

To enforce drug laws the police have to resort to undercover work, which is dangerous to them and also to innocent bystanders. Drug enforcement often involves questionable ethical behavior by the police, such as… letting a guilty person go free because he enticed someone else into violating the law… Police scandals are an untallied cost of the drug war. The FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and even the Coast Guard have had to admit to corruption. The gravity of the police crimes is as disturbing as the volume… The drug war is as lethal as it is corrupting. And the police and drug criminals are not the only casualties.”

July 1, 1996


The Cato Institute, a Libertarian think-tank, makes the following policy recommendations to the 108th Congress in its Dec. 2004 “Cato Handbook for Congress”:

“There are a number of reasons why Congress should end the federal government’s war on drugs. First and foremost, the federal drug laws are constitutionally dubious… Congress never asked the American people for additional constitutional powers to declare a war on drug consumers. That usurpation of power is something that few politicians or their court intellectuals wish to discuss…

[D]rug prohibition is a classic example of throwing money at a problem. The federal government spends some $19 billion to enforce the drug laws every year—all to no avail. For years drug war bureaucrats have been tailoring their budget requests to the latest news reports. When drug use goes up, taxpayers are told the government needs more money so that it can redouble its efforts against a rising drug scourge. When drug use goes down, taxpayers are told that it would be a big mistake to curtail spending just when progress is being made…

One of the broader lessons that [recent presidents and congresses] should have learned is this: prohibition laws should be judged according to their real-world effects, not their promised benefits… Congress should repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration, and let the states set their own policies with regard to currently illegal drugs… Repeal of prohibition would take the astronomical profits out of the drug business and destroy the drug kingpins who terrorize parts of our cities… Not only would there be less crime; reform would also free federal agents to concentrate on terrorism and espionage and free local police agents to concentrate on robbery, burglary, and violent crime.”

Dec. 2004


Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist, wrote in an Aug. 3, 2002 article for titled “In Drug War, Honesty is Best Policy,” that:

“There isn’t space here to outline all the arguments for and against legalization of some drugs, but it’s clear that: drugs are easy to get; the drug subculture thrives in part because it is forbidden and therefore attractive; dollar for dollar, the billions we funnel into this ‘war’ would be better spent on education, prevention and treatment. Would it not be better to control those substances, tax them, limit their availability to minors as we try to do with alcohol, rather than criminalize a huge segment of the population that probably includes many of our neighbors and even our own children? The genie in the bottle is truth, and the truth is that all drugs are not awful, evil or equally harmful…

Truth is also this: Drug abuse is different from drug use, just as alcoholism is different from the weekend cocktail party. Rather than fight the abuse war from a moral, shame-on-you posture, which doesn’t work with any age, we might try a medical model that educates with facts and urges human wisdom… Think of it as an investment in credibility so that potential users tune in to the discussion on consequences that needs to follow.”

Aug. 3, 2002

CON (no)


The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in the summary of its May 2003 booklet titled “Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization,” stated:

“We have made significant progress in fighting drug use and drug trafficking in America. Now is not the time to abandon our efforts.The Legalization Lobby claims that the fight against drugs cannot be won. However, overall drug use is down by more than a third in the last twenty years, while cocaine use has dropped by an astounding 70 percent…

The Legalization Lobby claims that the United States has wasted billions of dollars in its anti-drug efforts. But for those kids saved from drug addiction, this is hardly wasted dollars. Moreover, our fight against drug abuse and addiction is an ongoing struggle that should be treated like any other social problem. Would we give up on education or poverty simply because we haven’t eliminated all problems? Compared to the social costs of drug abuse and addiction—whether in taxpayer dollars or in pain and suffering—government spending on drug control is minimal.

Legalization of drugs will lead to increased use and increased levels of addiction. Legalization has been tried before, and failed miserably… Alaska’s experiment with Legalization in the 1970s led to the state’s teens using marijuana at more than twice the rate of other youths nationally. This led Alaska’s residents to vote to re-criminalize marijuana in 1990…

Most non-violent drug users get treatment, not jail time. The Legalization Lobby claims that America’s prisons are filling up with users. Truth is, only about 5 percent of inmates in federal prison are there because of simple possession. Most drug criminals are in jail—even on possession charges—because they have plea-bargained down from major trafficking offences or more violent drug crimes.”

May 2003


John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), wrote in a July 19, 2002 op-ed article titled “Don’t Legalize Drugs” in the Wall Street Journal that:

“The charge that ‘nothing works’ in the fight against illegal drugs has led some people to grasp at an apparent solution: legalize drugs… Better, the argument goes, for the government to control the trade in narcotics. That should drive down the prices (heroin would be ‘no more expensive than lettuce,’ argues one proponent), eliminate violence, provide tax revenue, reduce prison crowding, and foster supervised injection facilities.

Sounds good. But is it realistic?… Legalizers overstate the social costs of prohibition, just as they understate the social costs of legalization… Legalization, by removing penalties and reducing price, would increase drug demand. Make something easier and cheaper to obtain, and you increase the number of people who will try it…

Legalizers like to argue that government-supervised production and distribution of addictive drugs will eliminate the dangers attributed to drug prohibition. But when analyzing this ‘harm reduction’ argument, consider the abuse of the opiate OxyContin, which has resulted in numerous deaths, physicians facing criminal charges, and addicts attacking pharmacies. OxyContin is a legally prescribed substance, with appropriate medical uses—that is, it satisfies those conditions legalizers envision for cocaine and heroin. The point is clear: The laws are not the problem…

Legalization is a dangerous mirage. To address a crime problem, we are asked to accept a public health crisis. Yet if we were to surrender, we would surely face both problems—intensified.”

July 19, 2002


The Drug Free America Foundation stated in its “Myths About the Drug War” posted on its website (accessed Nov. 18, 2005):

“Under a legalization scenario, a black market for drugs would still exist. If drugs were legal for those over 18 or 21, there would be a market for everyone under that age. People under the age of 21 consume the majority of illegal drugs, and so an illegal market and organized crime to supply it would remain—along with the organized crime that profits from it. After Prohibition ended, did the organized crime in our country go down? No. It continues today in a variety of other criminal enterprises. Legalization would not put the cartels out of business; cartels would simply look to other illegal endeavors…

While ‘government drugs’ could conceivably be priced low enough to eliminate competition, perhaps by having taxpayers subsidize them to discourage a black market, the combination of low price and wide availability would result in greater consumption, and consequently increased addiction. Increased consumption and addiction lead to drug-related crime. This government regulation argument ignores the dangerously addictive nature of drugs. And finally, under a legalization scenario, a black market for drugs would still exist. If drugs were legal for those over 18 or 21, there would be a market for everyone under that age –a faction of the population that can be targeted by those looking to profit from the sale of drugs.”

Nov. 18, 2005


Charles D. Mabry, MD, Assistant Professor at the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas, wrote in an Oct. 2001 article titled “Physicians and the War on Drugs: The Case Against Legalization,” published in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons that:

“Does making addictive drugs illegal work? Cocaine and potent narcotics were freely sold in America until the first two decades of the 20th century, and the number of patients addicted dropped sharply once availability was curtailed…

More recently, several European countries have experimented with various attempts to legalize or decriminalize some illegal drugs. These experiments have resulted in a rise in the number of drug-addicted patients and a corresponding increase in the crime rate…

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has stated the situation concerning illicit drugs in this country most eloquently: ‘Drugs are not a threat to American society because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are a threat to American society.’…

There is another stark reality: In some cases, the only thing that forces someone who is addicted to drugs and spiraling out of control into therapy is the threat (or reality) of incarceration. Do away with laws prohibiting sale of these drugs, and you do away with the only hope of help for so many people who are addicted but just can’t stop themselves.”

Oct. 2001


Ann Coulter, JD, author, wrote in her Oct. 3, 2000 article “Don’t Do Drug Legalization” for that:

“The most superficially appealing argument for drug legalization is that people should be allowed to do what they want with their own bodies, even if it ruins their lives. Except that’s not true. Back on Earth, see, we live in a country that will not allow people to live with their own stupid decisions. Ann has to pay for their stupid decisions.

‘We’ have to ‘invest’ in ‘our’ future by supporting people who freely choose to inject drugs in their own bodies and then become incapable of holding jobs, obtaining housing and taking care of their children. So it’s not really quite accurate to say drugs hurt no one but the user, at least until we’ve repealed the welfare state…

Drugs enslave people. So do cigarettes and alcohol, the drug legalizers say… Assume alcohol and cigarettes induce dependency, ruin lives, cause disease, depression, countless traffic injuries and fatalities, and increase the incidence of homicide and suicide. This is supposed to be an argument for legalizing another drug like them?”

Oct. 3, 2000