Drug Prohibition Argument Essay Structure
See also: Prohibition (drugs) and Drug liberalization
Arguments about the prohibition of drugs, and over drug policy reform, are subjects of considerable controversy. The following is a presentation of major drug policy arguments, including those for drug law enforcement on one side of the debate, and arguments for drug law reform on the other. Arguments for and against drug prohibition discuss which system is more effective to protects human rights, prevent drug abuse and violence, and which system is more ethical.
Drug laws are effective
Supporters of prohibition claim that drug laws have a successful track record suppressing illicit drug use since they were introduced 100 years ago. The licit drug alcohol has current (last 12 months) user rates as high as 80-90% in populations over 14 years of age, and tobacco has historically had current use rates up to 60% of adult populations, yet the percentages currently using illicit drugs in OECD countries are generally below 1% of the population excepting cannabis where most are between 3% and 10%, with six countries between 11% and 17%.
In the 50-year period following the first 1912 international convention restricting use of opium, heroin and cocaine, the United States' use of illicit drugs other than cannabis was consistently below 0.5% of the population, with cannabis rising to 1-2% of the population between 1955 and 1965. With the advent of the counter-culture movement from the late 1950s, where illicit drug use was promoted as mind-expanding and relatively harmless, illicit drug use rose sharply. With illicit drug use peaking in the 1970s in the United States, the "Just Say No" campaign, initiated under the patronage of Nancy Reagan, coincided with recent (past month) illicit drug use decreases from 14.1% in 1979 to 5.8% in 1992, a drop of 60%.
In March, 2007, Antonio Maria Costa, former executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, drew attention to the drug policy of Sweden, arguing:
Sweden is an excellent example. Drug use is just a third of the European average while spending on drug control is three times the EU average. For three decades,[nb 1] Sweden has had consistent and coherent drug-control policies, regardless of which party is in power. There is a strong emphasis on prevention, drug laws have been progressively tightened, and extensive treatment and rehabilitation opportunities are available to users. The police take drug crime seriously. Governments and societies must keep their nerve and avoid being swayed by misguided notions of tolerance. They must not lose sight of the fact that illicit drugs are dangerous - that is why the world agreed to restrict them.
— Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC (March 2007). "Cannabis... call it anything but "soft"", The Independent (UK).
In Europe, Sweden spends the second highest percentage of GDP, after the Netherlands, on drug control. The UNODC argues that when Sweden reduced spending on education and rehabilitation in the 1990s in a context of higher youth unemployment and declining GDP growth, illicit drug use rose but restoring expenditure from 2002 again sharply decreased drug use as student surveys indicate. In 1998, a poll run by SIFO of 1,000 Swedes found that 96% wanted stronger action by government to stop drug abuse, and 95% wanted drug use to remain illegal.
Criticizing governments that have relaxed their drug laws, Antonio Maria Costa, speaking in Washington before the launch of the World Drug Report in June 2006, said:
After so many years of drug control experience, we now know that a coherent, long-term strategy can reduce drug supply, demand and trafficking. If this does not happen, it will be because some nations fail to take the drug issue sufficiently seriously and pursue inadequate policies. Many countries have the drug problem they deserve.
Drug laws are ineffective
One of the prominent early critics of prohibition in the United States was August Vollmer, founder of the School of Criminology at University of California, Irvine and former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. In his 1936 book The Police and Modern Society, he stated his opinion that:
Stringent laws, spectacular police drives, vigorous prosecution, and imprisonment of addicts and peddlers have proved not only useless and enormously expensive as means of correcting this evil, but they are also unjustifiably and unbelievably cruel in their application to the unfortunate drug victims. Repression has driven this vice underground and produced the narcotic smugglers and supply agents, who have grown wealthy out of this evil practice and who, by devious methods, have stimulated traffic in drugs. Finally, and not the least of the evils associated with repression, the helpless addict has been forced to resort to crime in order to get money for the drug which is absolutely indispensable for his comfortable existence.
The first step in any plan to alleviate this dreadful affliction should be the establishment of Federal control and dispensation – at cost – of habit-forming drugs. With the profit motive gone, no effort would be made to encourage its use by private dispensers of narcotics, and the drug peddler would disappear. New addicts would be speedily discovered and through early treatment, some of these unfortunate victims might be saved from becoming hopelessly incurable.
Drug addiction, like prostitution, and like liquor, is not a police problem; it never has been, and never can be solved by policemen. It is first and last a medical problem, and if there is a solution it will be discovered not by policemen, but by scientific and competently trained medical experts whose sole objective will be the reduction and possible eradication of this devastating appetite. There should be intelligent treatment of the incurables in outpatient clinics, hospitalization of those not too far gone to respond to therapeutic measures, and application of the prophylactic principles which medicine applies to all scourges of mankind.
Stephen Rolles, writing in the British Medical Journal, argues:
Consensus is growing within the drugs field and beyond that the prohibition on production, supply, and use of certain drugs has not only failed to deliver its intended goals but has been counterproductive. Evidence is mounting that this policy has not only exacerbated many public health problems, such as adulterated drugs and the spread of HIV and hepatitis B and C infection among injecting drug users, but has created a much larger set of secondary harms associated with the criminal market. These now include vast networks of organised crime, endemic violence related to the drug market, corruption of law enforcement and governments.
These conclusions have been reached by a succession of committees and reports including, in the United Kingdom alone, the Police Foundation, the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, the Royal Society of Arts, and the UK Drug Policy Consortium. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has also acknowledged the many "unintended negative consequences" of drug enforcement.
The editor of the British Medical Journal, Dr. Fiona Godlee, gave her personal support to Rolles' call for decriminalisation, and the arguments drew particular support from Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, who said we should be treating drugs "as a health issue rather than criminalising people" and "this could drastically reduce crime and improve health".
Danny Kushlik, head of external affairs at Transform, said the intervention of senior medical professionals was significant. He said: "Sir Ian's statement is yet another nail in prohibition's coffin. The Hippocratic oath says: 'First, do no harm'. Physicians are duty bound to speak out if the outcomes show that prohibition causes more harm than it reduces."
Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council, made comments in a report in the profession's magazine, in which he said that drug-related crime costs the UK economy about £13bn a year and that there was growing evidence that decriminalisation could free up police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health.
A report sponsored by the New York County Lawyers' Association, one of the largest local bar associations in the United States, argues on the subject of US drug policy:
Notwithstanding the vast public resources expended on the enforcement of penal statutes against users and distributors of controlled substances, contemporary drug policy appears to have failed, even on its own terms, in a number of notable respects. These include: minimal reduction in the consumption of controlled substances; failure to reduce violent crime; failure to markedly reduce drug importation, distribution and street-level drug sales; failure to reduce the widespread availability of drugs to potential users; failure to deter individuals from becoming involved in the drug trade; failure to impact upon the huge profits and financial opportunity available to individual "entrepreneurs" and organized underworld organizations through engaging in the illicit drug trade; the expenditure of great amounts of increasingly limited public resources in pursuit of a cost-intensive "penal" or "law-enforcement" based policy; failure to provide meaningful treatment and other assistance to substance abusers and their families; and failure to provide meaningful alternative economic opportunities to those attracted to the drug trade for lack of other available avenues for financial advancement.
Moreover, a growing body of evidence and opinion suggests that contemporary drug policy, as pursued in recent decades, may be counterproductive and even harmful to the society whose public safety it seeks to protect. This conclusion becomes more readily apparent when one distinguishes the harms suffered by society and its members directly attributable to the pharmacological effects of drug use upon human behavior, from those harms resulting from policies attempting to eradicate drug use.
With aid of these distinctions, we see that present drug policy appears to contribute to the increase of violence in our communities. It does so by permitting and indeed, causing the drug trade to remain a lucrative source of economic opportunity for street dealers, drug kingpins and all those willing to engage in the often violent, illicit, black market trade.
Meanwhile, the effect of present policy serves to stigmatize and marginalize drug users, thereby inhibiting and undermining the efforts of many such individuals to remain or become productive, gainfully employed members of society. Furthermore, current policy has not only failed to provide adequate access to treatment for substance abuse, it has, in many ways, rendered the obtaining of such treatment, and of other medical services, more difficult and even dangerous to pursue.
In response to claims that prohibition can work, as claimed by Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, drawing attention to the drug policy of Sweden Henrik Tham has written that sometimes it's domestically important to stress drug policy as successful, as the case of Sweden where this notion is important, serving "the function of strengthening a threatened national identity in a situation where the traditional 'Swedish model' has come under increasingly hard attack from both inside and outside the country." Tham questions the success of the Swedish model - "The shift in Swedish drug policy since around 1980" ...(more difficult to receive nolle prosequi for minor drug crimes)[nb 1] ..."towards a more strict model has according to the official point of view been successful by comparison with the earlier, more lenient drug policy. However, available systematic indicators show that the prevalence of drug use has increased since around 1980, that the decrease in drug incidence was particularly marked during the 1970s and that some indicators point towards an increase during the 1990s."
Leif Lenke and Börje Olsson from Stockholm University have conducted research that showed how drug use have followed the youth unemployment in close correlation. They noted that unlike most of Europe, Sweden did not have widespread and lingering youth unemployment until the early 1990s financial crisis, suggesting that unattractive future prospects may contribute to the increase in drug use among the young. CAN, the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs, 2009 report stated that the increase in drug use have continued since the 1990s with a slight dip in the mid-2000.
The professor emeritus in criminology at the University of Oslo, Nils Christie, pointed out Sweden as the hawk of international drug policy in a 2004 book. He said that Sweden are serving the role of being welfare alibi for, and lending legitimacy to the US drug war. Adding that USA and Sweden have had an extraordinary influence on UNODC as the biggest donor countries. Sweden was the second biggest donor financing 8% of the UNODC budget behind the European Commission in 2006, followed by the US. In 2007 and 2008 Sweden was the fourth biggest donor, behind the European Commission, USA and Canada. In 2009 it was the third, as USA withdrew some of its funding.
An editorial in The Economist argued:
fear [of legalisation] is based in large part on the presumption that more people would take drugs under a legal regime. That presumption may be wrong. There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer. Embarrassed drug warriors blame this on alleged cultural differences, but even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates.
Antonio Maria Costa's conviction that "countries have the drug problem they deserve" if they fail to follow the 'Swedish Model' in drug control has also been criticised in Peter Cohen's work - Looking at the UN, smelling a rat.
In its 2011 report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy stated that "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world".
Arguments that prohibition discourages drug use
A 2001 Australian study, of 18- to 29-year-olds by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research suggests that prohibition deters illicit drug use. 29% of those who had never used cannabis cited the illegality of the substance as their reason for never using the drug, while 19% of those who had ceased use of cannabis cited its illegality as their reason.
Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the US ONDCP argues,
Controls and prohibitions help to keep prices higher, and higher prices help keep use rates relatively low, since drug use, especially among young people, is known to be sensitive to price. The relationship between pricing and rates of youth substance use is well-established with respect to alcohol and cigarette taxes. There is literature showing that increases in the price of cigarettes triggers declines in use."
The DEA argues "Legalization has been tried before—and failed miserably. Alaska's experiment with legalization in the 1970s led to the state's teens using marijuana at more than twice the rate of other youths nationally. This led Alaska's residents to vote to re-criminalize marijuana in 1990."
Drug Free Australia has cited the Netherlands as an example of drug policy failure because it is soft in approach. They argue that the Dutch idea of going soft on cannabis dealers, thereby creating a "separation of markets" from hard drug dealers has failed to stem the initiation to drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines, saying that, in 1998, the Netherlands had the third highest cannabis and cocaine use in Europe. According to Barry McCaffrey of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dutch tolerance has allowed the Netherlands to become a criminal epicentre for illicit synthetic drug manufacture, particularly ecstasy, as well as the home for production and worldwide export of strains of cannabis with THC reportedly 10 times higher than normal. Gil Kerlikowske has attested that, where there were once thousands of cannabis cafés there are now only several hundred. Levels of cannabis use, in 2005 only marginally higher than in 1998, while other European countries have accelerated past them, are more likely, Drug Free Australia argues, the result of a growing intolerance of cannabis in the Netherlands rather than a growing tolerance. Drug Free Australia has also argued that British reductions in cannabis use after softer legislation may be more so the result of heavy UK media exposure of the stronger evidence of links between cannabis and psychosis.
Arguments that prohibition does not discourage drug use
It has been suggested that drug law reform could reduce the use of hard drugs as it has in countries such as The Netherlands. According to a 2009 annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the Dutch are among the lowest users of marijuana or cannabis in Europe, despite the Netherlands' policy on soft drugs being one of the most liberal in Europe, allowing for the sale of marijuana at "coffee shops", which the Dutch have allowed to operate for decades, and possession of less than 5 grams (0.18 oz).
British Crime Survey statistics indicated that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds using cannabis decreased from 28% a decade ago to 21%, with its declining popularity accelerating after the decision to downgrade the drug to class C was announced in January 2004. The BCS figures, published in October 2007, showed that the proportion of frequent users in the 16-24 age group (i.e. who were using cannabis more than once a month), fell from 12% to 8% in the past four years.
The use of drugs by minors is much more difficult to control with drugs prohibited. To effectively regulate the sellers of drugs so as to ensure that they only sell drugs to adults, drugs must be legalized, and the sellers licensed. With drugs prohibited, sellers are "underground" and therefore nearly impossible to control. Licensed sellers in a community sometimes attempt to increase their income by selling to minors, but when the community suspects such activity, it is a trivial task to discover which of the licensed sellers is breaking the law, and then put them out of business. Underground sellers may adhere to a "code or honor" and not sell to minors, but, when they do sell to minors, it is very difficult to expose. The difficulty results from the somewhat sophisticated culture of underground drug sales and use that has evolved, with one of the most fundamental adaption mechanisms of this culture that the sellers and consumers act such in such a manner so as to make it as difficult as possible for outsiders to discover information about their activities, including, of course, who is selling to whom.
Gateway drug theory
Main article: Gateway drug theory
Arguments that cannabis is a gateway drug
The US Drug Enforcement Agency's "2008 Marijuana Sourcebook" argues that recent research supports the gateway hypothesis that certain drugs (such as cannabis) act as gateways to use of 'harder' drugs such as heroin, either because of social contact or because of an increasing search for a better high. Proponents cite studies such as that of 311 same sex twins, where only one twin smoked cannabis before age 17, and where such early cannabis smokers were five times more likely than their twin to move on to harder drugs.
Arguments that cannabis is not a gateway drug
In the American Journal of Public Health, Andrew Golub and Bruce Johnson of the National Development and Research Institute in New York wrote that young people who smoked marijuana in the generations before and after the baby boomers did not appear to be likely to move on to harder drugs.
Researchers from the independent Rand Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, California, looking at data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse between 1982 and 1994, concluded that teenagers who took hard drugs did so whether they had first tried cannabis or not.
A twin study (of 510 same sex twin pairs) which adjusted for additional confounders such as peer drug use, found that cannabis use and associations with later hard drug use existed only for non-identical twins. The study suggested that a causal role of cannabis use in later hard drug usage is minimal, if it exists at all, and that cannabis use and hard drug use share the same influencing factors such as genetics and environment.
Health arguments for drug laws
Advocates of prohibition argue that particular drugs should be illegal because they are harmful. Drug Free Australia for example argues "That illicit drugs are inherently harmful substances is attested by the very nomenclature of the 'harm reduction' movement." The U.S. government has argued that illegal drugs are "far more deadly than alcohol" saying "although alcohol is used by seven times as many people as drugs, the number of deaths induced by those substances is not far apart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during 2000, there were 15,852 drug-induced deaths; only slightly less than the 18,539 alcohol-induced deaths." Ratios of the harms of illicit opiates to licit alcohol and tobacco in Australia are similar, with 2 deaths per hundred opiate users per annum versus 0.22 deaths per hundred for alcohol (9 times less) per year and 0.3 for tobacco (7 times less).
The DEA has said:
Marijuana is far more powerful than it used to be. In 2000, there were six times as many emergency room mentions of marijuana use as there were in 1990, despite the fact that the number of people using marijuana is roughly the same. In 1999, a record 225,000 Americans entered substance abuse treatment primarily for marijuana dependence, second only to heroin—and not by much. [...] According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day." Marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, including the most harmful substances found in tobacco smoke. For example, smoking one marijuana cigarette deposits about four times more tar into the lungs than a filtered tobacco cigarette. [...] The short-term effects are also harmful. They include: memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate, and anxiety. Marijuana impacts young people's mental development, their ability to concentrate in school, and their motivation and initiative to reach goals. And marijuana affects people of all ages: Harvard University researchers report that the risk of a heart attack is five times higher than usual in the hour after smoking marijuana.
— US Drug Enforcement Administration (2003). "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization"
Many of the deaths from using cannabis, other than from car accidents while intoxicated or violence and aggression, are more likely to figure in the longer term, just as with tobacco, where both nicotine overdose and cannabis overdose are extremely rare. While ecstasy may have lower rates of immediate mortality than some other illicits, there is a growing science on the already recognized considerable health harms of ecstasy. Drug Free Australia argues that distinctions between "soft" and "hard" drugs are entirely artificial, and titling cannabis "soft" or ecstasy "recreational" does not lessen the extensive harms of these substances.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) argues that in the United States, illegal drugs already cost $180 billion a year in health care, lost productivity, crime, and other expenditures, and that number would only increase under legalization because of increased use.
Drug Free Australia claims arguments that increased health harms of illicit drugs are the result of lack of government regulation of their purity and strength are not well supported by evidence. In Australia, which has had the highest opioid mortality per capita in the OECD, studies found that "overdose fatality is not a simple function of heroin dose or purity. There is no evidence of toxicity from contaminants of street heroin in Australia." Drug Free Australia claims that other causes of death such as suicide, murder and accidents are an effect of the drug themselves, not of their purity or otherwise.
Drug Free Australia argues "Regarding the freedom of choice of those addicted to a drug, it is important to recognize that addiction is defined as compulsive by its very nature and that addictions curb individual freedom." [...] "As is the case with alcohol addiction, illicit drug addictions likewise serve to keep many such users functionally in poverty and often as a continued burden on friends, family and society. Where it is argued that all disabilities are a burden on society it must be recognized that most disabilities are not the result of a choice, whereas the decision to recreationally use illicit drugs is most commonly free, and with the knowledge that they may lead to an abundance of addictions."
Health arguments for drug law reform
There is evidence that many illicit drugs pose comparatively fewer health dangers than certain legal drugs. The health risks of MDMA (Ecstasy) have been exaggerated for instance, the risks from cannabis use also overstated, and health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater, even than from cocaine use for example (occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems).
Many trials have shown beneficial effects associated with psychoactive drug use:
- There is evidence that MDMA (ecstasy) can treat or cure post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in cases of terminal illness.
- LSD has been widely researched as a therapeutic agent, and has shown effectiveness against alcoholism, frigidity and various other disorders. See Psychedelic therapy.
- Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital found members of a religious group regularly using peyote scored significantly better on several measures of overall mental health than did subjects who did not use the hallucinogen.
- A 2007 study, by Santos et al. found that users of ayahuasca scored better on tests measuring anxiety and hopelessness than people who did not use the drug.
According to a World Health Organisation report: "As cannabis is an illegal drug its cultivation, harvesting and distribution are not subject to quality control mechanisms to ensure the reliability and safety of the product used by consumers. It is well recognised in developing countries, such as Kenya, that illicit alcohol production can result in the contamination with toxic by-products or adulterants that can kill or seriously affect the health of users. The same may be true of illicit drugs such as opiates, cocaine and amphetamine in developed societies."
The government cannot enforce quality control on products sold and manufactured illegally. Examples include: the easier to make derivative MDA being sold as MDMA, heroin users unintentionally injecting brick dust, quinine, or fentanyl with which their heroin had been cut; and heroin/cocaine overdoses occurring as a result of users not knowing exactly how much they are taking.
The illegality of injectable drugs leads to a scarcity of needles which causes an increase in HIV infections. An easy cure to this problem, while upholding the illegality of drugs, is the Dutch policy of distributing free needles. The money spent on both increased health costs due to HIV infections and drug prohibition itself causes a drain upon society.
Studies on the effects of prescribing heroin to addicts as practiced in many European countries have shown better rates of success than any other available treatment in terms of assisting long-term users establish stable, crime-free lives. Many patients were able to find employment, some even started a family after years of homelessness and delinquency.
Block to research
The illegality of many recreational drugs may be dissuading research into new, more effective and perhaps safer recreational drugs. For example, it has been proposed that a drug with many of the same desired effects as alcohol could be created with fewer adverse health effects.
Misleading health statistics
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has suggested that illegal drugs are "far more deadly than alcohol", arguing that "although alcohol is used by seven times as many people as drugs, the number of deaths induced by those substances is not far apart", quoting figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), claiming "during 2000, there were 15,852 drug-induced deaths; only slightly less than the 18,539 alcohol-induced deaths."
The DEA's use of such figures is questionable however. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association gave the number deaths caused by alcohol in year 2000 as 85,000 - over four and a half times greater than the DEA's preferred figure.[nb 2] The DEA's argument also overlooks tobacco, causing 435,000 US deaths in year 2000. And, the CDC definition of "drug-induced death" includes suicides using drugs, accidental overdose,[nb 3] and deaths from medically prescribed (not illegal) drugs. An analysis of drug-induced deaths for the 20-year period 1979–1998 found the vast majority attributable to accidental overdose, and suicide by drug taking, which together account for about 76 percent of all such deaths. Taking into account deaths from non-illegal drugs leaves only 21 percent of CDC "drug-induced death" figures actually due to the use of "illegal" drugs.
Claims that cannabis is far more powerful than it used to be are also dubious, with "scare figures" skewed by comparing the weakest cannabis from the past with the strongest of today. Figures regarding emergency room mentions of marijuana use can be misleading too, as "mention" of a drug in an emergency department visit does not mean that the drug was the cause of the visit.
A document published for the non-profit advocacy organization Europe Against Drugs (EURAD) argues that "one cannot vote for a medicine" and that a scientific approval basis is essential. It says that EU rules set out strict criteria for the acceptance of a drug for medical use:
All active ingredients have to be identified and their chemistry determined. They have to be tested for purity with limits set for all impurities including pesticides, microbe & fungi and their products. These tests have to be validated and reproduced if necessary in an official laboratory. Animal testing will include information on fertility, embryo toxicity, immuno-toxicity, mutagenic and carcinogenic potential. Risks to humans, especially pregnant women and lactating mothers, will be evaluated. Adequate safety and efficacy trials must be carried out. They must state the method of administration and report on the results from different groups, i.e. healthy volunteers, patients, special groups of the elderly, people with liver and kidney problems and pregnant women. Adverse drug reactions (ADR) have to be stated and include any effects on driving or operating machinery.
Arguments against medical uses of prohibited drugs
According to Janet D. Lapey, M.D., of Concerned Citizens For Drug Prevention, " Due to a placebo effect, a patient may erroneously believe a drug is helpful when it is not. This is especially true of addictive, mind-altering drugs like marijuana. A marijuana withdrawal syndrome occurs, consisting of anxiety, depression, sleep and appetite disturbances, irritability, tremors, diaphoresis, nausea, muscle convulsions, and restlessness. Often, persons using marijuana erroneously believe that the drug is helping them combat these symptoms without realizing that actually marijuana is the cause of these effects. Therefore, when a patient anecdotally reports a drug to have medicinal value, this must be followed by objective scientific studies."
The US Drug Enforcement Administration also says:
There is a growing misconception that some illegal drugs can be taken safely. For example, savvy drug dealers have learned how to market drugs like Ecstasy to youth. Some in the Legalization Lobby even claim such drugs have medical value, despite the lack of conclusive scientific evidence.
— US Drug Enforcement Administration (2003). "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization"
Arguments for medical uses of prohibited drugs
Most of the psychoactive drugs now prohibited in modern societies have had medical uses in history. In natural plant drugs like opium, coca, cannabis, mescaline, and psilocybin, the medical history usually dates back thousands of years and through a variety of cultures.
Psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin (the main ingredient in most hallucinogenic mushrooms) are the subject of renewed research interest because of their therapeutic potential. They could ease a variety of difficult-to-treat mental illnesses, such as chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol dependency.MDMA (Ecstasy) has been used for cognitive enhancement in people with Parkinson's disease, and has shown potential in treating posttraumatic stress disorder.
Lack of access to controlled medications
Under prohibition, millions of people find it very difficult to obtain controlled medications, particularly opiate pain-relievers. The United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires that opiates be distributed only by medical prescription, but this is impractical in many areas.
According to the Transnational Institute, June 2008:
According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is now an unmet demand in opiates. Ironically, the current drug control regulations hamper access to controlled opiate medications for therapeutic use. Many patients are unable to access morphine, methadone or an equivalent opioid. Global medical morphine consumption would rise five times if countries would make morphine available at the level of the calculated need, according to a recent WHO estimate.
According to the New York Times, September 2007:
Under Sierra Leone law, morphine may be handled only by a pharmacist or doctor, explained Gabriel Madiye, the hospice's founder. But in all Sierra Leone there are only about 100 doctors — one for every 54,000 people, compared with one for every 350 in the United States.... "How can they say there is no demand when they don't allow it?" he [Madiye] asked. "How can they be so sure that it will get out of control when they haven't even tried it?"
Economic arguments for prohibitive drug laws
The DEA argues that "compared to the social costs of drug abuse and addiction—whether in taxpayer dollars or in pain and suffering—government spending on drug control is minimal."
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, has said:
The economic argument for drug legalization says: legalize drugs, and generate tax income. This argument is gaining favour, as national administrations seek new sources of revenue during the current economic crisis. This legalize and tax argument is un-ethical and uneconomical. It proposes a perverse tax, generation upon generation, on marginalized cohorts (lost to addiction) to stimulate economic recovery. Are the partisans of this cause also in favour of legalizing and taxing other seemingly intractable crimes like human trafficking? Modern-day slaves (and there are millions of them) would surely generate good tax revenue to rescue failed banks. The economic argument is also based on poor fiscal logic: any reduction in the cost of drug control (due to lower law enforcement expenditure) will be offset by much higher expenditure on public health (due to the surge of drug consumption). The moral of the story: don't make wicked transactions.
— Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC (June 2009). Preface to World Drug Report 2009.
Gil Kerlikowske, current director of the US ONDCP, argues that legalizing drugs, then regulating and taxing their sale, would not be effective fiscally.
The tax revenue collected from alcohol pales in comparison to the costs associated with it. Federal excise taxes collected on alcohol in 2007, totaled around $9 billion; states collected around $5.5 billion. Taken together, this is less than 10 percent of the over $185 billion in alcohol-related costs from health care, lost productivity, and criminal justice. Tobacco also does not carry its economic weight when we tax it; each year we spend more than $200 billion on its social costs and collect only about $25 billion in taxes.
— Gil Kerlikowske, current director of the ONDCP (April 2010). Why Marijuana Legalization Would Compromise Public Health and Public Safety.
Former directors of the ONDCP, John P. Walters and Barry McCaffrey have accused billionaires George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, of bankrolling the pro-pot or drug legalisation movement. "These people use ignorance and their overwhelming amount of money to influence the electorate", Walters said. Billionaire US financier, George Soros said in his autobiography, "I would establish a strictly controlled distribution network through which I would make most drugs, excluding the most dangerous ones like crack, legally available." . The drug legalization lobby's vigorous and well funded promotion in media and schools of a 'safe use of illegal drugs' message. indicates that drug prohibition is in the midst of a pitched battle waged by those who are accepting not only of the drug user but who also strongly promote an acceptance of drug use itself.
Prohibition of hemp industry
Opposition to the legalization of hemp, which uses plants of the cannabis genus for commercial purposes, centres on the fact that those wanting to legalize the use of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes themselves present it as their Trojan horse for that very purpose:
Alex Shum, importers of hemp fabric, "feel that the way to legalize marijuana is to sell marijuana legally. When you can buy marijuana in your neighbourhood shopping mall, IT`S LEGAL! So, they are going to produce every conceivable thing out of hemp.
— High Times, "Hemp Clothing is Here!", March 1990
In a Huffington Post interview, Mark Kleiman, the "Pot Czar" of Washington state, said he was concerned that the National Cannabis Industry Association would favor profits over public health. He also said that it could become a predatory body like the lobbying arms of the tobacco and alcohol industries. Kleiman said: "The fact that the National Cannabis Industry Association has hired itself a K Streetsuit [lobbyist] is not a good sign."
Economic arguments for drug law reform
The United Statesefforts at drug prohibition started out with a $350 million budget in 1971, and was in 2006 a $30 billion campaign. These numbers only include direct prohibition enforcement expenditures, and as such only represent part of the total cost of prohibition. This $30 billion figure rises dramatically once other issues, such as the economic impact of holding 400,000 prisoners on prohibition violations, are factored in.
The war on drugs is extremely costly to such societies that outlaw drugs in terms of taxpayer money, lives, productivity, the inability of law enforcement to pursue mala in se crimes, and social inequality. Some proponents of decriminalization say that the financial and social costs of drug law enforcement far exceed the damages that the drugs themselves cause. For instance, in 1999, close to 60,000 prisoners (3.3% of the total incarcerated population) convicted of violating marijuana laws were behind bars at a cost to taxpayers of some $1.2 billion per year. In 1980, the total jail and prison population was 540,000, about one-quarter the size it is today. Drug offenders accounted for 6% of all prisoners. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, drug offenders now account for nearly 51%.
It has been argued that if the US government legalised marijuana it would save $7.7 billion per year in expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Also, that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if it were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if it were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.
The creation of drug cartels
Mass arrests of local growers of marijuana, for example, not only increase the price of local drugs, but lessens competition. Only major retailers that can handle massive shipments, have their own small fleet of aircraft, troops to defend the caravans and other sophisticated methods of eluding the police (such as lawyers), can survive by this regulation of the free market by the government
[…] it is because it's prohibited. See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That's literally true.
— Milton Friedman
Effect on producer countries
The United States' "War on Drugs" has added considerably to the political instability in South America. The huge profits to be made from cocaine and other South American-grown drugs are largely because they are illegal in the wealthy neighbouring nation. This drives people in the relatively poor countries of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil to break their own laws in organising the cultivation, preparation and trafficking of cocaine to the States. This has allowed criminal, paramilitary and guerrilla groups to reap huge profits, exacerbating already serious law-and-order and political problems. Within Bolivia, the political rise of current president Evo Morales is directly related to his grassroots movement against US-sponsored coca-eradication and criminalization policies. However, coca has been cultivated for centuries in the Andes. Among their various legitimate uses, coca leaves are chewed for their mild stimulant & appetite suppression effects, and steeped as a tea which is known to reduce the effects of human altitude sickness. Rural farmers in the poor regions in which coca has historically been cultivated often find themselves at the difficult and potentially violent intersection of government-sponsored eradication efforts, illegal cocaine producers & traffickers seeking coca supplies, anti-government paramilitary forces trafficking in cocaine as a source of revolutionary funding, and the historical hardships of rural subsistence farming (or its typical alternative – abandoning their land and fleeing to an urban slum). In some regions, farmers' coca and other crops are frequently destroyed by U.S.-sponsored eradication treatments (usually sprayed from the air with varying degrees of discrimination), whether or not the farmers directly supply the cocaine trade, thereby destroying their livelihoods. Agricultural producers in these countries are pushed further to grow coca for the cocaine trade by the dumping of subsidised farming products (fruit, vegetables, grain etc.) produced by Western countries (predominantly US and EU agricultural surpluses) (see BBC reference, below), which reduces the prices they could otherwise receive for alternate crops such as maize. The net effect can be a depression of prices for all crops, which can both make the farmer's livelihood more precarious, and make the cocaine producers' coca supplies cheaper.
After providing a significant portion of the world's poppy for use in heroin production, Afghanistan went from producing practically no illegal drugs in 2000 (following banning by the Taliban), to cultivating what is now as much as 90% of the world's opium. The Taliban is currently believed to be heavily supported by the opium trade there.
Furthermore, the sale of the illegal drugs produces an influx of dollars that is outside the formal economy, and puts pressure on the currency exchange keeping the dollar low and making the export of legal products more difficult.
Prohibition of hemp industry
Main article: Hemp
The War on Drugs has resulted in the outlawing of the entire hemp industry in the United States. Hemp, which is a special cultivar of Cannabis Sativa, does not have significant amounts of psychoactive (THC) substances in it, less than 1%. Without even realizing the plant had been outlawed several months prior, Popular Mechanics magazine published an article in 1938 entitled The New Billion-Dollar Crop anticipating the explosion of the hemp industry with the invention of machines to help process it. Recently, governmental refusal to take advantage of taxing hemp has been a point of criticism. Hemp has a large list of potential industrial uses including textiles, paper, rope, fuel, construction materials, and biocomposites (for use in cars for example). Hemp has some drawbacks, however, one being that the long fibers in hemp are only a part of the outer bast, and this has contributed to hemp having only modest commercial success in countries (for example in Canada) where it is legal to harvest hemp.
The seed of the hemp plant is highly nutritious. Rare for a plant, it contains all essential amino acids. Rare for any food, it is a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid which is deficient in most diets.
Crime, terrorism and social order
Arguments for prohibitive drug laws
While concerns are sometimes expressed that the "war on drugs" can never be won, there is a failure to recognize that other justifiably costly policing wars such as "blitzes" on speeding can likewise never be won. Such blitzes reduce and contain speeding, as with policing of illicit drug use. Failure to police speeding drivers simply allows inordinate harm to be inflicted on other individuals. Speeding is not legalized simply because it can never be eradicated.
There is an argument that much crime and terrorism is drug related or drug funded and that prohibition should reduce this.
Former US president George W. Bush, in signing the Drug-Free Communities Act Reauthorization Bill in December 2001, said, "If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America."
The US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) says that drug-related offences may include violent behavior resulting from drug effects.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration claims:
Crime, violence and drug use go hand in hand. Six times as many homicides are committed by people under the influence of drugs, as by those who are looking for money to buy drugs. Most drug crimes aren't committed by people trying to pay for drugs; they're committed by people on drugs.
— US Drug Enforcement Administration (2003). "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization"
The U.S. government began the Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program in 1987 to collect information on drug use among urban arrestees. In 1997, the National Institute of Justice expanded and reengineered the DUF study and renamed it the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program. ADAM is a network of 34 research sites in select U.S. cities.
DUF research indicates that:
- Frequent use of hard drugs is one of the strongest indicators of a criminal career.
- Offenders who use drugs are among the most serious and active criminals, engaging in both property and violent crime.
- Early and persistent use of cocaine or heroin in the juvenile years is an indicator of serious, persistent criminal behavior in adulthood.
- Those arrested who are drug users are more likely than those not using drugs to be rearrested on pretrial release or fail to appear at trial.
Criminal behavior can importantly be the direct result of drug use which can cause emotional/brain damage, mental illness and anti-social behavior. Psychoactive drugs can have a powerful impact on behavior which may influence some people to commit crimes that have nothing to do with supporting the cost of their drug use. The use of drugs changes behavior and causes criminal activity because people will do things they wouldn't do if they were rational and free of the drug's influence. Cocaine-related paranoia is an example. If drug use increases with legalization, so will such forms of related violent crime as assaults, drugged driving, child abuse, and domestic violence.
That higher prices make the trade lucrative for criminals is recognized but countered by the argument that capitulating to illicit drug use on these grounds makes no more sense than capitulating to those who continue to traffic in human lives, a more expensive business because of its illegality and therefore more lucrative for the criminal, but necessary for the rights of vulnerable citizens.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that the idea that our nation's prisons are overflowing with otherwise law-abiding people convicted for nothing more than simple possession of marijuana is a myth, "an illusion conjured and aggressively perpetuated by drug advocacy groups seeking to relax or abolish America's marijuana laws." ONDCP state that the vast majority of inmates in state and federal prison for marijuana have been found guilty of much more than simple possession. Some were convicted for drug trafficking, some for marijuana possession along with one or more other offenses. And many of those serving time for marijuana pleaded down to possession in order to avoid prosecution on much more serious charges. In the US, just 1.6 percent of the state inmate population were held for offences involving only marijuana, and less than one percent of all state prisoners (0.7 percent) were incarcerated with marijuana possession as the only charge. An even smaller fraction of state prisoners were first time offenders (0.3 percent). The numbers on the US federal prisons are similar. In 2001, the overwhelming majority of offenders sentenced for marijuana crimes were convicted for trafficking and only 63 served time for simple possession.
Detective superintendent Eva Brännmark from the Swedish National Police Board, in a speech given to Drug Free Australia's first international conference on illicit drug use, said:
The police have been able to solve other crimes, e.g. burglaries, thefts and robberies, by questioning people arrested for using drugs. Some even provide information about people who are selling drugs, and the police have seized large amounts of drugs as a result of information from people brought in for a urine test. Many interrogations of drug abusers have also resulted in search warrants and the recovery of stolen property.
— Brännmark, Eva (2007). "Law Enforcement – the Swedish Model" in Drug Free Australia's First International Conference on Illicit Drug Use.
The argument that drug addicts of certain drugs are forced into crime by prohibition should first and foremost highlight the fact that this argument presupposes and underlines the addictive nature of some illicit drugs (which legalization proponents often downplay), addictive enough to create a viable criminal supply industry. Secondly, the harms of increased addictive drug use, which as previously outlined would be a consequence of legalization and its cheaper prices, far outweigh the current crime harms of prohibition. It is worth pointing out, this argument is not useful for substances such as LSD and mescaline, with no addictive properties.
Although criminal punishments vary with rooting out drug usage, it is not the foremost eradication technique to resolve drug abuse issues. In order to combat these issues, the application of treatment and support group resources coupled with community support and understanding, has far higher long-term potential to cure the ever-growing epidemic plaguing the nation, especially in rural areas.
- C.-N. Robert (1989:2)
... the inclusion of a product in a category of dangerous drugs the use of which is illegal reflects much more a relationship of power than any scientific truth, a relationship of power that sets the group of people using drugs against those attempting to make them illegal.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1- Theoretical framework
2- The structure of the ban on drugs in international law
3- The implementation and development of prohibition in Canada
Appendix 1 Classification of substances under international conventions
Appendix 2 Summary of the development of international conventions andCanadian legislation in the 20th century
Appendix 3 International regulatory agencies under the authority of the UN
Appendix 4 Offences involving possession of narcotics in Canada 1922-1972
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Classification of substances in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961
Reproduced from Caballero (1989: 26-27)
natural opiates (opium);
semi-synthetic opiates (morphine, heroin);
coca (cocaine) and cannabis (hashish) derivatives;
various synthetic substances (pethidine, methadone, etc.);
substances used for medical purposes (codeine);
synthetic substances (propiram, destropoxyphene);
pharmaceutical preparations made from substances in Table II in smaller concentrations or that do not lead to abuse or have harmful effects. For example: certain powders and liquids based on opium.
Includes some of the drugs in Table I regarded as having particularly dangerous properties and limited therapeutic value. Semi-synthetic opiates (heroin, desomorphine) or synthetic opiates (cetomebidone, etophine) as well as cannabis and cannabis resin.
APPENDIX 1 (continued)
Classification of substances in the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971
Reproduced from Caballero (1989: 26-27)
Includes dangerous drugs that pose a serious risk for public health and have dubious or no therapeutic value. It includes natural hallucinogens (mescaline, psylocybin), a number of synthetic hallucinogens (LSD 25, DMT) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC);
Includes amphetamine-type stimulants of limited therapeutic use as well as certain analgesics such as phencyclidine, which is of no therapeutic value to humans;
Includes fast-acting barbiturates and those that are active in the medium term and are subject to serious abuse, although they have their uses in therapy;
Includes hypnotics, tranquilizers (benzodiazepine) and analgesics that cause substantial dependence but are generally useful in therapy.
Historical summary of the development of internationaldrug conventions 1909-1998
1909 Shanghai Commission
1912 Hague International Convention on Opium
1925 Geneva Conventions
1- Convention on the suppression of the trade in and use of prepared opium,
2- Convention on raw opium and other narcotics
(International Opium Convention).
1931 Geneva Convention
1931 Bangkok Convention
19 Geneva Convention
1946 Lake Success Protocol
1948 Paris Protocol
1953 New York Protocol
1961 Single Convention on Narcotics (New York)
1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (Vienna)
1972 Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotics (New York)
1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Vienna)
... and more recently....
1998 UN General Assembly (New York) organized by the International Narcotics Control Board. Adoption of strategic plan 1998-2008
APPENDIX 2 (continued)
Historical summary of the development of drug legislation in Canada
1908 Opium Act
1911 Opium and Other Drugs Act
morphine and cocaine included;
1920 Opium and Narcotic Drugs Act:
• creation of the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs,
• creation of the Canadian Department of Health and the Federal Drugs Bureau with responsibility for international agreements
• creation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) responsibility for enforcing federal laws, including drug legislation;
1920-23 Addition of the following amendments :
• increase in police powers of search;
• imposition of discriminatory penalties on certain categories of accused persons;
• deportation of foreigners who broke the law;
• imposition of whipping for minors who were convicted of these offences.
1923: • inclusion of codeine, heroin and cannabis.
1923-27: Extension of the penalties, offences and sentences including:
• whipping for possession and distribution
• creation of the offence of aiding and abetting which strengthened the police powers of search without a warrant;
• presumption of possession by anyone found in the presence of the prohibited substances unless the person could prove that he or she had no knowledge of them.
1929: Opium and Psychotropic Substances Act
1930-1955 Consolidation of the federal bureaucracy including :
• introduction of the offence of cultivating cannabis and opium (1938)
• powers of deportation transferred to the Immigration Act (1952)
• inclusion of new synthetic substances and their components.
1961 Narcotic Control Act
1969-1973 Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs
1974 Bill S-19 (not passed)
1997 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (C-8)
International regulatory agencies under the direction of the UN
United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESC): an agency that determines the major policy approaches to drug control for the organization.
Narcotics Commission: existed prior to the Single Convention of 1961 and made up of governments, Has the power to determine, jointly with the WHO and UNESC, the classification of substances. Plays a dual role : 1) gives advice to the UNESC on narcotics, advice on the appropriateness of implementing and negotiating new international agreements; 2) ensures that appropriate control measures are implemented under international agreements including measures to regulate narcotics, psychotropic substances or substances subject to controls under the 1988 Convention.
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB): made up of thirteen experts, three of whom are selected on the recommendation of the WHO and the other ten by governments. Is responsible for monitoring, in close co-operation with governments, their performance of their obligations under international agreements. 3 objectives:: 1) limiting all relevant activities solely to the needs of medicine and science (cultivation, production, manufacture, trade and use; 2) ensuring that this limitation does not result in products that are inappropriate for medical needs, ensuring that there is a balance between supply and demand; 3) helping governments to prevent (because the UN acts only indirectly) unlawful activities of cultivating, producing, manufacturing and trafficking.
United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) : operates within the United Nations Secretariat. As it now exists, the program dates from 1991 when the General Assembly merged all the structures of the Secretariat but its origins date back to 1925 and the League of Nations, long before the UN was established. Consists of two major divisions : 1) treaty implementation and support services division, which is responsible for managing the financial resources of the UNFSD and the database management unit; 2) operations and technical support division consisting of twenty service offices located on the four continents responsible for on-the-spot management and co-ordinating actions on the ground with partners in and outside the system.
United Nations Fund for the Struggle Against Drugs (UNFSD): created in 1968 to put an end to the illicit production of narcotics by encouraging replacement crops.
International Criminal Police Organization (OIPC-INTERPOL): its task is to ensure co-operation among police forces in various countries with a view to preventing and suppressing common law crimes.
World Health Organization (WHO): its particular role in connection with the Convention is to appoint the members of the INCB, evaluate drugs, act as an international expert on drugs and to provide for health protection.
Table 4.1 - Offences of possession of narcotics in Canada 1922-1972
Source: Bureau of Dangerous Drugs, Health and Welfare Canada, 1973. Statistics taken from Giffen et al. (1991)