Should Drugs be Legalized in America?

There’s an ongoing conversation across the country about the legalization of marijuana. With several states already having fully legalized the drug, and many others having decriminalized it, at least for medical purposes, the chance of the drug becoming completely legal across the country are far higher today than a decade ago.

While it seems this change has the approval of the majority of America, there are questions lurking in the background of this discussion that should be fleshed out, in particular: how dangerous can a drug be before it should be illegal? And, does making a drug illegal help or hurt society’s fight against drug abuse?

The first question is tricky to answer because it is hard to draw a line. Alcohol, after all, can be extremely dangerous, and yet it is available across the country. Cigarettes are clearly linked to cancer for the smoker and for second-hand smokers, and yet, while discouraged, they can be purchased across the country as well. It seems likely marijuana will join this list at some point as a drug with some negative consequences but ones that are within our societal parameters for acceptable drug-related risk.

What other drugs fit this description? On the surface, it appears that no other drugs match that description. A poll from Huffington Post found very little support for other drugs to be legalized, however, that may simply be because no campaign has been launched on those drug’s behalf in the way it has for marijuana. Some of the drugs on that list for instance (LSD and Ibogaine) have shown signs of being useful for certain kinds of treatment. If those facts were better known, it may change the opinions in the polls.

For now, though, it appears America is confident drawing a line after marijuana and saying all other illegal substances are too dangerous to make legal. However, the second question turns this entire conversation on its head. Should any drugs be illegal?

In the decades since the War on Drugs was launched, there’s been little obvious progress. Many would argue the harsh sentences introduced at that time have only clogged up the legal system with nonviolent offenders. Indeed, the consequences for having even a small amount of cocaine in your possession are life destroying.

Alternatively, removing the risk of punishment for drug use may allow many to come out of hiding and get treatment. Resources could be reallocated from the prison system to pay for better treatment options. Decriminalization may also remove the risk factor that so attracts many to drugs. And, the government might be able to regulate the production and sales of drugs better, while earning a profit from taxes.

These are nice hypothetical potential positives, but there are just as many potential negatives. Including the risk that use would explode once drugs were more easily available. While some might try them because of the risk, others may be discouraged because of it, and we can’t know offhand which group is larger.

These are questions without easy answers, but as America moves towards a tentative end of the War on Drugs, they’re questions we’ll have to find answers for.