Most countries in the world have laws banning the production, sale, and possession of illicit drugs. Despite billions being spent each year on enforcing these laws, a robust criminal market for drugs persists, and many places are undergoing epidemics of drug addiction. The challenges of enforcing drug prohibitions have led some advocates to propose legalizing drugs, while others maintain that laws and enforcement should only be made stricter. Which strategy makes the most sense? Should we change the status quo and legalize all drugs, or stay the course and focus on enforcement? Or does decriminalization offer a more favorable compromise?
No, we should not legalize all drugsShow moreShow less
Drugs are dangerous and lead to criminal activity, and people need to be protected from them by the law.
The legalization of all drugs would expose our society to unprecedented risks of epidemics of drug addiction. In fact, this exact situation has already played out on a smaller scale. The opioid epidemic has resulted in numerous deaths due to overdose and a high rate of drug abuse. Lax regulations on opioid distribution and aggressive marketing of opioid drugs by pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s led to many Americans being prescribed opioid painkillers unnecessarily by their physicians. The addictive properties of opioids were not initially well-understood, so many patients became addicted to these drugs, and by 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. On average, it was estimated over 130 Americans died each day from opioid overdoses in 2018.
If the opioid epidemic could begin, persist for decades, and reach the level of a public health emergency even within the highly regulated systems of doctors prescribing legal pharmaceuticals, then there is little reason to believe that even more addictive and harmful illicit drugs would have more benign effects on society if they were legalized. The lesson of the opioid epidemic is that the intrinsic risks of highly addictive drugs are too great to rely on legal regulation to prevent them from causing addiction crises. Some drugs are simply too dangerous and addictive to be legalized.
[P1] The opioid epidemic shows the harms can cause even within a legal framework.
[P2] There is no reason to think that legalizing drugs would reduce their harm.