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An extremely controversial question lingers among citizens and government officials of the United States today. Should drugs be legalized ? Is the “War on Drugs” working ? After thoroughly researching this topic and understanding each side of the argument, I can easily state that the War on Drugs is not working, and the United States government has taken the wrong approach on handling drugs in the United States. Although it may seem as a problematic solution to some Americans, the legalization (and regulation, of course) of drugs is the only way to solve the issues caused by the newly founded War on Drugs. Legalization will not only halt the wasteful, ineffective War on Drugs, but it will help the United States economy, and solve the over crowding problems in our jails and legal systems that are caused by this “war” that was begun for the nation’s “public health”(Harris 1).
Despite the strong opposing arguments, many disagree with this opinion. Many people say the War on Drugs is working, and no benefits can result from legalizing drugs. Drugs are looked down upon, and some are known to be very dangerous, even lethal if abused. In addition, some say drug use rates would only increase if legalized, causing even more problems among our communities. Most people would assume drugs would be more readily available to our youth, and addicts would just be able to get the drugs they crave easier. It is easy to assume things such as this when hearing that legalization is the solution to our nation’s drug problems, but these assumptions are indeed wrong.
When government and health officials in our country became aware of some of the problems certain drug users were going through, such as drug abuse, violence, and death, the officials in our government began to make more and more laws restricting drugs in the United States. These resulted in the prohibition of drugs, making all drugs illegal to posses, manufacture, or distribute (Schaffer 3). Then Nixon declared war on all drugs, and the “War on Drugs” began, becoming increasingly worse as the years progressed. Under Nixon’s orders, drug laws became stricter, and efforts were made to try and influence the American population not to do drugs. Lies and propaganda were used in commercials, while outrageous claims were being made to scare people away from drugs (Harris 2). Right away, problems were being caused. “The US prison population was relatively stable from about 1926, when figures were first compiled, through 1970. After this point, the effects of Nixon’s war against drugs, and later the Reagan and Bush war against drugs, produced a dramatic increase in the number of prisoners.” (Schaffer 39). Today, this problem has progressed and has become even worse. “There are currently about 1.5 million people in state and Federal prisons and jails throughout the United States. At the current time, at least 24 states are under Federal court orders to relieve prison overcrowding.”(Schaffer 39) Despite these high numbers of prisoners that resulted from the War on Drugs, about 10 million Americans are casual drug users (Schaffer 4). These statistics clearly show that a large portion of Americans still use drugs, despite the strict laws that make them illegal. “Despite the $15 billion spent on drug use prevention every year, most Americans agree that it is not working (Schaffer 5). American citizens are not the only ones holding the opinion that the war is not working. “Official reports state that the war on drugs has reduced the American supply of drugs 10 to 15 percent. However, former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara told New York Magazine, ‘Off the record, [the Drug Enforcement Agency says] it’s more like one percent.'(Schaffer 32).”
In addition to the War on Drugs being ineffective, the legalization of drugs will not only eliminate that problem, but it will eliminate other problems caused by the prohibition of drugs. One huge problem in our government today is the money wasted on trying to enforce these drug laws. Jails are also becoming overcrowded, clogging our court systems, and wasting even more money. Some people think that it is good that many convicts go to jail, because it eliminates the violence that supposedly is linked to illegal drugs. Violence is not linked to the use of illegal drugs, and it is only caused by the prohibition. “Of all psychoactive substances, alcohol is the only one whose consumption has been shown to commonly increase aggression.”(Harris 7). “All major authorities agree that the vast majority of drug-related violent crime is caused by the prohibition against drugs, rather than the drugs themselves. This was the same situation which was true during alcohol Prohibition. Alcohol Prohibition gave rise to a violent criminal organization. Violent crime dropped 65 percent in the year Prohibition was repealed (Schaffer 12).” It is obvious that the prohibition against drugs is the problem, and not the drugs themselves. The violence caused by prohibition is apparent in drug marketing, such as disputes among rival distributors, arguments and robberies involving buyers and sellers, property crimes committed to raise drug money and, more speculatively, social and economic interactions between the illegal markets and the surrounding communities (Schaffer 26). Additionally, the money spent each year on this war could be saved, and used more productively. If the governments of America didn’t have to spend so much money on putting drug offenders in jail and making efforts to reduce drug use, they could more wisely use the money on putting more serious criminals in jail. The money could also be used to help more drug abusers with their problems. One way to save much of the money spent on the war would directly result from less citizens being put in jail for drug offences. State prisons are so crowded, that at least 24 states are under Federal court orders to relieve prison overcrowding. On average, it costs thirty thousand dollars a year to hold one prisoner in a jail (Schaffer 24). “The cost to put a single drug dealer in jail is about $450,000. The same $450,000 can provide treatment or education for about 200 people. In addition, putting a person in prison produces about fifteen dollars in related welfare costs, for every dollar spent on incarceration. Every dollar spent on treatment and education saves about five dollars in related welfare costs. (Schaffer 19).” Legalization clearly demonstrates benefits that outweigh any negative effect in this situation, and this can lead to making our communities much better places.
Not only would the people of our country gain from legalization of drugs, but our country’s economy would as well. “The best analysis done to date by any Federal official shows that ‘legalization’ of the now illegal drugs would result in a net $37 Billion annual savings. This estimate is considered conservative. That is, it is likely that the savings would be more (Schaffer 18).” One important substance that would aid in the boost of our economy is marijuana, or the hemp plant. Hemp is cheaper to produce than cotton, and has many more uses and benefits than cotton does. Growing hemp plants as a cash crop would provide many jobs, and prove to be a large, profitable industry (Gieringer 4). Not only will marijuana be used as a cash crop, but it can also be sold to many Americans, with regulations such as those for alcohol. Substances would be safe because they would come from plausible drug companies, it would eliminate dealers from trying to sell drugs, and it would also be taxable, generating money for the government. “Marijuana legalization offers an important advantage over decriminalization in that it allows for legal distribution and taxation of cannabis.(Gieringer 5)” Also, by eliminating dealers and placing regulations on the substance like those on alcohol, marijuana would also be harder for the youth to get a hold of (Gieringer 7). “Altogether, legalization would save the taxpayers around $8 – $16 billion, not counting the economic benefits of hemp agriculture and other spin-off industries (Gieringer 8)”. There are clear positive effects on our economy that could result from the legalization of drugs, or even marijuana alone.
The legalization of drugs may seem to be a solution that would only cause more problems in our society, and it may seem that drug use would only increase. However, by making all drugs illegal, the government has taken the wrong approach on solving our nation’s drug issues. The “War on Drugs” has proven to only more problems in our society, and these problems can and should be eliminated. There are far too many benefits of legalizing drugs for our country’s laws to remain as they are. Not only is the drug war ineffective, but has caused our jails to become overcrowded. It has also brought violence among our nation with the drug traffickers that smuggle drugs into the country and distribute them. The sixty seven billion dollars that is spent each year on the war on drugs can be used more productively by solving many of our nations other problems, in turn making our country a better place to be.
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