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Modern Prohibition

Christen M. Gray

Why is it that some drugs are legal and others are not? Alcohol, by definition, is a drug. It can cause long-term damage to the liver, occasionally leading to the need for transplants; people can become so intoxicated that they pass out and die, and after consuming it people often make poor choices ending in tragedy.

In the past there have been two solutions offered to this problem. Once, in 1920, it was decided that as a drug, alcohol should be illegal. That “Noble Experiment” was Prohibition. The effect of Prohibition was the creation of an even more dangerous underground. Organized crime profited from the making and selling of illegal alcohol. Occasionally the “moonshine” created in someone’s basement would be deadly itself. While alcohol was under a blanket ban, it could not be safely monitored or regulated. All parties seemed to agree that the Noble Experiment was a failure.

However, alcohol is not the issue today. The drugs that have been centered on in the last few years are marijuana and ecstasy. There is a large movement for the legalization of marijuana. And why not? After all, how many reports of people being hit by “high” drivers do you hear on the news? If we spent half as much money on regulation as we currently do on trying to keep the stuff out, we would have a much safer and taxable industry.

How about heroin? Heroin is an opiate, one of a class of mind-altering drugs. People have been trying to alter their consciousness throughout history. Even Einstein used opiates, and it didn’t seem to hurt his career. Whether you personally approve of their use or not, opiates will be used. In a country where such drugs are illegal, a ban creates a consuming and deadly black market.

What makes the topic of opiates even more interesting is the usage of methadone in order to help heroin addicts get off heroin. Methadone is itself an opiate that blocks the receptors for the addict to get any “high” from heroin. In other words, they can’t get high because they already are, but legally! What the methadone is supposed to do is enable the addict to get a stable job and normal life before having to deal with the withdrawal. In many states, methadone can only be prescribed to addicts through clinics. In order to get their “fix”, the addict must be able to produce enough money a week to pay for the methadone (many clinics will not take insurance or welfare) as well as have the stability to go to the methadone clinic before work every day. Thus, addicts become functioning and productive members of society.

Now the question to be asked is, could they just simply arrange a similar distribution of heroin itself and have the same final result? Why should one opiate be legal while another is not? If the heroin were legal and regulated, overdoses among addicts would be less common. The addicts would also not have to spend the greater part of their time seeking out the drug in dangerous areas. Drug lords would not control the trade, capitalist companies would, reducing the amount of crime surrounding the trade.

But the illegal drugs are extra-bad, right? The government would only make them illegal if they were definitively more dangerous to our lives and our health, right? Wrong. According to studies involving the toxicity of nicotine versus marijuana, an adult can die from eating six cigarettes whereas it would require eating over 2,000 of the strongest marijuana cigarettes. As for alcohol, there is only a twenty-fold difference between an effective dose and an overdose.

The legalization of drugs in the U.S. would reduce crime and allow many who would otherwise waste their lives to have a better chance at being productive members of society.

The “experiment” of legalizing drugs is not a novel idea; it has already been tried in other countries. Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have all proven the merit in legalizing and regulating various types of drugs including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Because such drugs are legal, these countries have much less drug-related crime.

Maybe, it is time to examine the roots and merits of our country’s laws and our views on “social norms.”