Legalization: How did possession of some drugs become a crime?
Why consider legalization? After all, until the 20th Century, possession of drugs was not a crime.
So no one ever needed a Drug Defense Attorney. And the “common law crimes” were things like murder, assault, rape, theft.
Why did they criminalize some drugs; but not others?
The difference cannot be potential harm to the user, can it? After all, drink too much alcohol and you will die of overdose.
But no human fatally overdosed from marijuana, ever. So marijuana is safer.
What about drug abuse? If a person is chemically dependent, existing civil commitment laws can force the person to get medical help. See, Minnesota Statutes Chapter 253B. Legalization won’t change that.
Power, priorities and the blame game
But today, even many who volunteer for chemical dependency treatment cannot get it. And that’s because funding is lacking. (For example, when someone seeks funding for inpatient treatment again, within two years.)
Why then, we ask, do we fully fund prisons – brimming with non-violent drug offenders? And why are we spending billions on criminal prosecutions?
So, imagine a world that no longer needs a drug defense attorney. With legalization, we spend on rehabilitation, instead of punishment.
Prohibition laws cause more harm than they avoid
The experiments in Prohibition – first with alcohol, then with marijuana – have failed. Prohibition laws have failed utterly and completely, again and again.
And though the Prohibitionists’ goal was to reduce the usage of those drugs; the opposite has occurred.
So Prohibition laws have resulted in higher usage rates, during criminal Prohibitions. And this is true for both alcohol and marijuana; both in the United States and other countries.
Demand has exponentially increased since the beginning of the criminal Prohibition.
And who meets that demand? The underground, illegal economy supplies that demand.
Moreover, immense amounts of money flow through it. But legalization destroys the criminal underground economy.
“Prohibition is the trigger of crime.”
Ian Fleming, Goldfinger
Security: Prohibition laws trigger violent crime
So who provides security for that money, in the underground, illegal economy? Not the police, of course.
Self-help security strategies develop to protect that money. And these include street crime gangs. So, most violent crime is the result of the Prohibition laws. And Prohibition triggers much of the criminal use of guns. However, when we remove the laws criminalizing drugs; then the violent crime rate drops.
So why not change the laws? The laws could instead focus on Public Health, harm reduction for abusers. The laws could instead the destroy the underground economy. And then we would not need prosecutors; nor a drug defense attorney. We can have that, with legalization.
Priorities: “send a message” or reduce social harms?
But some say, “O.k., criminal drug laws may not reduce drug abuse; but at least they send a message.”
To that we say, “Why choose symbolism; when we could instead help the suffering and reduce drug abuse?
Decriminalizing illegal drugs reduces the rate of use, and abuse. So for example, in Holland where marijuana is not a crime; the usage rate is half that in the illegal states of United States.
Why is the usage rate lower, where it is legal?
Here, at different times: Look at the alcohol Prohibition in the U.S. – lower usage before, higher during and lower after. In science, we call this an A-B-A experimental format.
Now, in different countries: Compare the current marijuana prohibition in the United States vs. Holland (The Netherlands). Or Portugal.
The evidence is consistent and clear.
When the substance (alcohol, marijuana) is “legal,” per capita usage rates are lower. Legalization reduces drug usage rates.
So what explains this?
Economist Milton Friedman explains:
“I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my value system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.”Milton Friedman, Conservative Economist
The reason is economics – the law of supply and demand. Because natural law trumps man’s law.
As criminal enforcement increases while demand remains constant, first price increases. (Ironically, government officials have actually cited price increases as evidence of “winning the drug war!”)
During the alcohol Prohibition, a drug defense attorney had to help people busted for alcohol. But alcohol legalization solved these problems.
The law of supply and demand – natural law
Then as price increases in the unregulated, Underground Market; the incentive to produce Supply also increases. For truly addictive drugs, such as heroin, the increase in supply can also then increase demand over time.
But in the end, increased criminal law enforcement results in higher price. And higher price increases incentive to the suppliers. That leads to greater supply, and then more demand and higher usage rates.
And the cycle repeats.
So that’s why where we use criminal law to repress supply, the usage rate is higher per capita . And that’s how Prohibition laws increase usage rates.
But repealing criminal Prohibition laws can reduce usage rates. Legalization reduces harms.
Treating drug abuse as a medical problem works. And it eliminates the need for a drug defense attorney.
Harm reduction – the solution that works – legalization
To reduce harms caused by abuse, the drugs of potential abuse should be:
- either distributed like alcohol (as in the case of marijuana); or like prescription drugs (as in the case of addictive drugs like heroin, opiates); and
- with billions saved from harmful criminal enforcement; provide chemical dependency education and treatment; and reduce taxes.
“Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could.”William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008)
Author & journalist, founder ‘National Review’
About the author, Attorney Thomas Gallagher & legalization
Thomas C. Gallagher is a criminal defense lawyer who defends people targeted in the government’s war on drug users.
And he writes and speaks on legalization and drug policy reform.
Attorney Thomas C. Gallagher is a decades-long member of the NORML Legal Committee. And he serves on the Board of Minnesota NORML, since 2011.
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