That society should have serious issues with drug use is reasonable. Many who take drugs, and particularly those using heroin and more extreme varieties, destroy their lives, injure their families and communities, and become locked in cycles of painful addiction. These realities, however, may not be employed to support the criminalization of drugs, and for a variety of critical reasons. On one level, the illegality of drug use and traffic has generated a waste of taxpayer funds staggering in its dimensions, just as these funds are directed to fighting a black market which consistently thrives, and which also breeds actual and violent criminality. It is very much an expanded reality of the immense failure of alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century. Criminalizing drug use also does nothing to address the needs of the addict, whose “crime” is actually that of being a victim. This then relates to a third element, in that rendering drug use illegal attaches an ethical element to a matter of personal responsibility, which defies the essential nature of a secular government. Damage notwithstanding, addiction to drugs is not a crime in any real sense of the word, and criminalizing drugs generates real crime, wastes vast sums of money, and contradicts the ethical and legal foundation of the United States by imposing unjust moral sanctions on personal behaviors beyond the government’s rightful scope.
To begin with, any proper definition of crime must involve harm as inflicted on another, and for no legitimate reason. It is difficult to conceive how taking drugs conforms to any such definition. Drug users harm only themselves when they go too far and/or become addicts. It is true, certainly, that loved ones suffer as well, but personal grief as such is no component in determining crime. Put another way, a family may be distressed by a child’s decision to change religion, but this is no concern of the law because the situation, as with drug use, is inherently a matter of personal choice, and reactions of family and friends are equally private affairs.
Then, and no matter the individual’s feeling regarding drug usage, it is an inescapable reality that the infamous U.S. “war on drugs” continues to be an immense failure. Escalations in cost significantly reveal how utterly ineffective the efforts are. The Nixon administration in 1969 spent $65 million in combating drugs; by 1982, the figure rose to $1.65 billion; in 2007, President Bush called for over $12 billion to be directed to fighting illegal drug traffic (Lyman 10). Meanwhile, there is no estimating the many billions of dollars generated by the black market supplying the drugs. It is argued, in fact, that legalization of drugs would not only eliminate immense and wasteful spending, but create enormous revenues going to community betterment in the form of available tax dollars. This potential aside, however, there remains the glaring fact that, decade after decade, the government spends billions fighting drug traffic which continues to grow. Legalizing drugs would then end such monumental waste.
As noted, the criminalization of drugs generates black markets, and mainly because criminalization creates two powerful foundations for them: high demand and high profits. The illegality of drugs has in fact consistently reflected – and expanded – the reality of alcohol consumption during Prohibition. In the most basic terms, the criminalizing of alcohol in the 1930s gave rise to an immense underground industry, as well as far more overt forms of actual criminality (Bertram 12). As with drugs today, the alcohol was readily available, and corruption and violent crime resulted from its traffic being relegated to underground channels. Today, violent crime, ranging from drug-related prison violence to cartels murdering competitors, is irrefutably a consequence of drugs being illegal.
Lastly, there is the matter of the actual motivation or rationale on the part of the society criminalizing drugs. This translates in fact to an abuse of governmental authority of the greatest impact, because the criminalization clearly represents the imposing of a moral value on what is only a personal choice. The culture considers drug use “bad,” not necessarily because it is harmful to health, but because it is linked to moral weakness. Such a viewpoint is by no means invalid, but it may not be used to mandate criminality because it remains an ethical perception, rather than a social reality. Even the reasoning that drug use harms health alone may not justify criminalization because it defies the rights of personal responsibility. In any republic, the citizens are as entitled to harm themselves as they are to better themselves, provided that harm affects no others directly. Consequently, criminalizing drugs contradicts constitutional liberties.
Counter and Conclusion
It is argued by many that drug users are incapable of helping themselves, so the government is obligated to do so. It is also argued that a great wrong such as drug traffic demands fighting, no matter the success level. Both points, however, overlook more fundamental realities. If the drug user requires help, criminalizing the usage in no way provides help. Then, the “wrong” of drug traffic is, like the wrong of drug use, only a moral attachment, and not valid in shaping law. In the final analysis, addiction to drugs is not a crime in any real sense of the word, and criminalizing drugs creates real crime, wastes enormous sums of money, and contradicts the ethical and legal foundation of the United States by imposing moral sanctions on personal behaviors beyond the government’s rightful scope.
- Bertram, E. Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Print
- Lyman, M. D. Drugs in Society: Causes, Concepts and Control. New York: Elsevier, 2010. Print.