Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How About Decriminalizing Drugs?

Last week, I devoted time to the debate over legalizing drugs. Some of you are probably wondering if I am not presenting a binary between sending drug users to jail, and completely legalizing drugs. So why not pursue a middle course of “decriminalization” of drug possession? In other words, don’t punish drug users for doing drugs, but continue to punish sellers. Here are a couple of questions to ask:

1. Is this fair?

In order to believe that drugs should remain illegal to sell, you have to believe something is wrong with doing drugs, or that they hurt society. But if there aren’t buyers of drugs, then there can’t be sellers. Is it really fair to punish a poor, desperate crack dealer, but not the person who comes to him repeatedly for the drug? An analogy might be made to prostitution. Would it be fair to punish prostitutes, but not the men who seek their services?

2. Does decriminalization deter drug use?

I think not. You could argue that locking people up does deter drug use. But with no penalties attached, it seems drug use would not be deterred in the slightest. Think about underage drinking. Even with fines and mandatory education as penalties, laws against underage drinking don’t deter. If you need proof of that, just visit your local college campus.

3. Can drug decriminalization claim the benefits of drug legalization?

No. If it’s still illegal to sell drugs, then the only people doing so will be gangs and terrorists. That means they’ll get all the money from the drug trade, and use it to finance their activities. Even worse, because potential drug users have no deterrent, there will probably be more demand for drugs. This will lead to increased prices, and more drug sales, which means ever higher profits for gangs. Moreover, there will be no way for government to regulate the drugs to make them safer. Also, government won’t be able to tax drugs, so it has to forfeit all the potential revenue. On the other hand, decriminalization does mean we can spend less money on prisons and law enforcement, so money can be saved.

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