The Unsurprising Effects Of Total Drug Decriminalization

Reforming legal stances on intoxicants is one of the most enjoyable ideas that come to mind when thinking of actions that society could take to quickly reduce suffering and inequality. I support the legalization of all recreational drugs. A variety of people (and animals) will and have chosen to do drugs forever. The USA is currently facing an epidemic of people overdosing on legally obtained pharmaceutical opioids while also holding the world’s largest prison population, with many of the targets of incarceration being people in competition with the pharmaceutical industry, drug dealers. America’s prison system is filled with drug offenders who were the pawns of a wildly profitable, and in some cases, highly destructive black market industry.

Parts of Latin America are under the control of powerful, warring drug cartels. The cartels’ wealth and power comes from the cocaine that travels through South and Central America to reach the voracious American market. It was estimated that  as of 2014 more than 80,000 people had been killed by cartel violence since the Mexican war on drugs began in 2006, a further 26,000 Mexicans remained disappeared. The war has also seen politician, journalists, and social media users kidnapped and executed for intimidation purpose and as a part of partisan struggles between cartels.

A more recent example of the war on drugs being used to terrorize a population is under President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Duterte came to power in June 2016 promising to eliminate violent crime from the drug trade. His weapon of choice was rhetoric encouraging vigilante justice against drug dealers and a controversial system for drug addicts to seek treatment from the government. More than 4000 people have been killed by police and vigilantes since Duterte’s inauguration and he made a speech in September in which he claimed that he would kill 3 million Filipino drug addicts. The population of the Philippines is just over 100 million people.

A 2009 report from the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, consisting of Latin American politician and intellectuals, recommended the decriminalization of marijuana and cocaine. The report argues that the changes would help to switch the focus of the judicial system in regards to addicts from criminalization to being treated as a patient. It also argues that the resources of the war on drugs should be redirected to the persecution of organized and violent crime.

I’m offended by the war on drugs. It causes unnecessary conflicts between members of society, it stimulates economies built around black markets and human trafficking, and it forces people facing desperate economic situations to become outlaws. Cocaine has a history as an anesthetic in dentistry but its practical uses are dwarfed by those of the marijuana plant which, including hemp, can compete with pharmaceutical drugs and raw materials for industrial manufacturing. The humanistic and environmental potential for welcoming these plants back into industrial society are significant, but the argument made here is for the humanistic effects.

Portugal decriminalized possession of drugs for personal use across the board in 2001. This 2015 study of the effects of across-the-board drug decriminalization found that the effects have been unambiguously positive. Decriminalization has not increased rates of drug use, it has reduced adolescent drug use and rates of HIV/AIDS infection, it has (obviously) reduced rates of drug-related incarceration and increased the number of people being treated for addiction. Some American scholars, as supported here by President Obama, argue that America is a different environment and the positive results from Portugal wouldn’t be relevant here. However, I believe that this opinion is entrenched in the mindset of a world where powerful people benefit from the incarceration of poor and non-white people, and where pharmaceutical corporations benefit from being the only legal distributor of artificial versions of the drugs that the government prohibits. The American States that have legalized marijuana have become the home of thriving marijuana markets and have saved money in law enforcement costs. Now, the argument coming from intellectuals on the left is that American capitalists spent decades incarcerating poor people for peaceful drug offences and now that the marijuana market has been created, they are getting ready to make money from the same industry that they persecuted.

Our drug laws take away from every individual’s freedom. Nudity (public indecency) and some sexual (sodomy) laws do the same. Laws like these repress people from expression and understanding. Bill Hicks said, “I can see why the government is cracking down on the idea of experiencing unconditional love. Isn’t it interesting that two drugs that are legal, alcohol and cigarettes, that do absolutely nothing for you whatsoever and drugs that grow naturally on this planet, drugs that open your eyes up to make you realize how you’re being fkecud every day of your life are against the law”. If it were my choice, the war on drugs would be ended and replaced with a well functioning addiction treatment and rehabilitation system funded by the money saved from this failed war.

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