Are the Current US Drug Laws too Strict for Modern Society?


Drug Laws
The current US drug laws are remnants of the 1980's and 90's, an era of rampant drug use. In 1971, President Nixon declared the so called War on Drugs for which he declared a zero-tolerance policy, not discriminating between different types of drugs. Later President Reagan continued on this path, enforcing even stricter laws and longer sentences, even for non-violent drug offenses. The number of incarcerated, non-violent drug offenders increased from 50,000 in 1980, to over 400,000 in 1997. This is a result of Congress passing draconian laws that allowed courts to put offenders behind bars for periods of 25 years and longer, despite some crimes only being misdemeanors. (source: www.drugpolicy.org)

Many people consider these laws to be far too strict when compared to drug use in modern society. According to statistics reported by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the use of illicit drugs, marijuana, and cocaine is down by more than 20% from 1985 to 1999(source:see charts in pdf at erowid.org). Why then does the War on Drugs continue to be one the most highly financially supported government programs? The Drug Policy Alliance attributes this to hysteria created by such programs as Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No', which was aimed at creating wide-spread awareness of the dangers of drugs. Before the War on Drugs, only about 2-6% of Americans believed drug abuse to be America's number one problem. After its conception, that number increased to 64% (source:drugpolicy.org) . Even though drug use has significantly decreased over the past two decades, it is still believed to be the main cause of crime in the United States. This stigma has kept alive the idea that drug offenses must be strictly and forcefully regulated.

In addition to unnecessarily long prison sentences, strict drug laws have created another unintended consequence. The illegal drug trade is one of the most profitable industries while being one of costliest to the American government. Drugs will be sold, bought, and used whether they are legal or not. Making them illegal creates a huge market for violent black markets that run by their own rules. Joseph Adinolfi, of IBT, writes that the profits of the illegal drug trade is estimated between $200 and $750 billion. These profits go directly to suppliers who live the life of luxury and therefore directly benefit from drugs being illegal. In contrast, the cost for the US to imprison drug suppliers is about $25,000 per inmate, $8.2 billion annually combined.

Health care costs, especially when accounting for crime-related costs, also rise to $193 billion annually (source: drugabuse.gov). If drugs were legal, their sale and purchase could be regulated under government standards. Black markets would be eliminated and thus costs for keeping suppliers in prison would vastly decrease. In addition, the sale of drugs could be taxed, bringing in revenue that the US government needs. The Cato Institute estimates that the tax receipts for the legal sale of marijuana would be around $8.7 billion.

Not as an advocate for the use of drugs, the institutes that recommend drugs be legal report, on scientific basis, that the legal sale would benefit society. The tax revenue could be of great value to a government in debt. Additionally, black markets that operate under violent and dangerous rules would no longer exist. And finally, laws pertaining to non-violent drug offenses could be renewed so that people committing misdemeanors would have a chance at reform rather than spending the majority of their lives in prison. The laws currently in place were relevant when they were created, a time when drug use was rampant and needed reform. However, today, drug use is down and violent crime is merely falsely associated with them. The benefits that law reform could have on society are much greater than the strict laws.

Written By: Kimeko Neil, United States

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

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