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Legalize heroin

By Brian Earp

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Forget about “medical marijuana.” Isn’t it time to legalize heroin in the United States? Recreational cocaine? Ecstasy? LSD? How about the whole nefarious basketful of so-called ‘harder’ drugs?

Yes, it is, says Ron Paul, a fourteen-term libertarian congressman and obstetrician from the state of Texas. It’s a view shared by virtually none of his Republican colleagues, nor, for that matter, very many Democrats. Nor really anyone in the “mainstream” of American politics. But in this post, I’ll argue that he’s right.

Paul—who is currently making his third bid for President of the United States—offered his perspective to comedian and Daily Show host Jon Stewart in an interview earlier this week:

“I think drugs [like heroin] are horrible. I think they’re dangerous—prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs. I think they’re very, very dangerous. But the war on drugs, which violates civil liberties—getting people busted in their houses—that is the danger … [So] I fear the war on drugs more than I fear the drugs themselves.”

The “war on drugs” is dangerous indeed; it has failed, and failed dramatically. A new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy concludes that that “political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”

The commission consisted of such figures as former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, and the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.

But what sort of “evidence” do they mean? What’s so bad about the war on drugs? A 2009 article in the Economist—to pick one of countless sources making the same point—renders the situation vivid:

The United States alone spends some $40 billion each year on trying to eliminate the supply of drugs. It arrests 1.5 million of its citizens each year for drug offences, locking up half a million of them; tougher drug laws are the main reason why one in five black American men spend some time behind bars. In the developing world blood is being shed at an astonishing rate. [And] far from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before.

Ron Paul is right. The drug war is “bad” not only because it plainly doesn’t work, but because it actually brings about much greater harm than the activities it wages against. In light of this fact, the Global Commission on Drug Policy made a number of common-sense recommendations, summarized here. Highlights include:

  •  Encourage governments to legally regulate drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and  security of their citizens
  •  Offer a variety of health and treatment services
  •  Invest in serious drug education programs (not cheap slogans like “Just Say No”)
  •  Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, not on individuals
  •  Replace ideology-driven drug policies with policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security, and human rights

These are all good ideas, and measures in line with such recommendations have already been shown to work. As Denis Owsley and Sarah Serot explain in this excellent article, Portugal had the worst drug problem in Europe in the 1990s, and chose to abandon its war on drugs for the failure it had proven itself to be. In 2001, it decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs by individuals, with the result that drug deaths are now down 40 percent. But that’s not all. Owsley and Serot report:

Crime is down. HIV/AIDS incidence is down 17 percent. Drug treatment rates have doubled because people are voluntarily getting treatment. Marijuana use among teens fell 33 percent because it is no longer forbidden and glamorous. Drug use remained stable and only increased at the same rate as the rest of the world.

Despite statistics like these, many people, even progressive and liberal-minded people, struggle to go “all the way” with Dr. Paul and support the wholesale legalization of drugs across the board. Jon Stewart, for instance, in the interview I mentioned above, seemed to advocate for something like a compromise in his response to Paul’s argument. That is, he acknowledged the failure of the drug war with respect to substances like marijuana, but implied that heroin use should be kept legally off-limits:

“There’s so much that you say that appeals. And then I always feel like ‘Ron Paul, he’s really telling it like it is,’ and then you’ll go one step and I’ll go ‘No, Ron, oh.’ We were talking about the drug war and the legitimacy of the drug war, and you were saying that this was failing, and I was listening to you and thinking ‘Yes. Ron Paul, he’s schooling these guys.’ And then you went, ‘Like heroin for instance.’ And I went, ‘No! Ron!”

But why? Why put heroin in a class of its own? To ask the question another way, does it make sense to be opposed to the drug war in general, but support a limited ban on certain drugs seen as being especially addictive and harmful?

I think the pragmatic answer to this question has already been given. Criminalizing heroin, cocaine, and other ‘hard’ drugs simply doesn’t work; so to ban them achieves no good end. But if heroin were legal, some might say, wouldn’t droves of new users get in line to start the habit? As Paul asked a debate audience in South Carolina in May: “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? Oh yeah”—signal sarcasm—“I need government to take care of me; I don’t want to use heroin so I need these laws!”

Paul might be right in his implied point that heroin use wouldn’t go up by much, at least long-term; but he might be mistaken. Those data would have to be collected. For my part, I can certainly imagine some individuals who might seize legalization as an opportunity to experiment with harder drugs—so it’s not inconceivable that this type of fear could be borne out. But libertarians like Paul would respond that if that really did happen (that is, if some people might try certain drugs if they were legal but not otherwise) it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Here’s why.

Libertarians believe that people should be maximally free, with one condition. That is, people have a right to do whatsoever it is they please—including stupid things that present a danger to themselves, even a grave danger, even danger to the point of death—just so long as they do not harm anyone else in the process. If they pose a threat to others, yes, the law can step in; otherwise personal liberty should be held paramount.

On the libertarian view, if a person wants to use heroin, knowing the addictive and life-destroying possibilities it harbors, the government has no business telling her she can’t. The government can educate; the government can persuade—but it has no moral right to force. It’s her body; it’s her life. Paul is also a strict federalist, by the way, which is relevant too. This means that he believes that nation-wide drug laws are by their nature overreaching; indeed, he thinks that they are inherently invalid as they deprive individual states of a vital prerogative. That prerogative, of course, is their 10th amendment right to experiment with legislation at a local-lab level—a constitutional design feature with huge practical benefit, since it allows for the generation of separate streams of real-world data on contentious issues, such as drug policy. It allows us to see what really works, or what works best in different situations.

So I should clarify Paul’s view. He doesn’t explicitly advocate the wholesale, immediate legalization of heroin and other hard drugs, nation-wide, as a practical policy measure in the US (though he clearly would support such a move in a libertarian utopia); but he does think that each state should be free to ban—or not to ban—substances of that ilk as they see fit.

Let’s re-cast the war on drugs, then, as a problem not just of pragmatics, but of principle. Given libertarian premises, at least (there are obviously many other premises to which we could appeal, including those concerning, e.g., racial justice), the question here is: Can it be consistent to defend a person’s right to harm herself if she chooses to do so … but only up to a point? Can you draw a line at marijuana, say, and leave heroin beyond the pale?

The answer, I think, is no.

It seems to me that the main concern here is third-party harm. That is, heroin can rightfully be banned if and only if its use can be shown to harm individuals other than the user. Remember: libertarians believe you have a right to take actions—even stupid, dangerous actions—so long as the one at risk of being hurt is you and you alone.

Then a few points arise:

First, you could obviously argue that an individual’s heroin use does indeed harm people other than the user. I don’t know enough about heroin to offer convincing examples, but insofar as the drug can gradually destroy a user’s body and mind, I expect that anyone who loves or cares for the user would be harmed—emotionally at least—by her disintegration. And insofar as this type of harm is worse for heroin than for marijuana, say, it could be a valid libertarian grounds for distinguishing between the two drugs in debates about legalization.

But arguments like this strike me as weak. People engage in all sorts of self-destructive habits and behaviors that cause emotional harm to loved ones, and we’d never think of banning all actions which cause this sort of harm to others. So is there another type of third-party harm we could invoke? Something more grounded, more physical?

What if heroin caused the user to commit terrible acts of violence, while under the influence, or at least made the commission of such acts much more likely under typical circumstances? But this won’t work, either, since heroin use—like marijuana use, and the use of several other presently illegal substances—has an inverse relationship with violence and aggression. The relevant counterpoint is alcohol which, as is well known, is significantly more likely to facilitate third-party physical harms than heroin, pot, and so on. But alcohol of course is legal, as it must be; prohibition doesn’t work.

So what are we left with? As far as I can make out, if a person has a right to engage in actions which are harmful only to herself, and if heroin is harmful in just this way—given the clarifying arguments and examples I’ve just explored—then there can be no good basis for banning even so dangerous a drug. Such bans don’t work, anyway; indeed they lead to greater overall harm to society than the drugs themselves.

The use of heroin, therefore, like that of ‘softer’ drugs like marijuana, should be treated as a medical and educational issue, rather than a criminal one. What do you think?

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83 Comment on this post

  1. We are under a "government of laws", not a "government of men". But if someone can plant drugs among your belongings, and if you are then required to prove that the drugs are not yours (which you can't), then you are under a government of men, namely of those who are willing to plant evidence. Therefore the reverse onus of proof cannot be valid in any jurisdiction.

    More: .

  2. Well, I don't share any libertarian leanings, and I couldn't give a hoot about federalism – but I think that theres a range of good non-libertarian reasons to support, at least, the decriminalisation of all drugs (if not their outright legalisation).

    The most important of these is that all the evidence suggests that drug addiction problems have got much, much worse since criminalisation – both in terms of the number of addicts, and the severity of that addiction. If you care about the welfare of users, decriminalisation seems to be the way forward.

    Plus, there'd be all manner of other benefits – the street price would fall, and the supply price would rise. That's better for communities, and it's even better in terms of international politics (since, say, an Afghan opium farmer might be able to secure a better income based on a non-monopsonistic market, without having to pay protection money – which can only be good for the future of that country, and all the rest of us by implication).

    Drug addiction would remain a serious public health concern – but it could be dealt with on those terms. My hunch is that success would be much more likely, too.

    1. hi iain — i think we agree. i wanted to explore a possible libertarian grounding for these arguments; but you're right that they can be made, and have been made, on other grounds as well. thanks for your contribution

    2. I'm curious about something – and this is not an attack at all, I just found part of your comment a little odd, and I'd like you to clarify. You say that you don't share any libertarian leanings. Libertarianism is based in the idea that it is illegitimate to initiate force against another person, a corollary of which is that people should be free to do what they want as long as they don't harm other people. Are you really saying that you don't agree with those ideas at all?

      1. Hi –
        By "libertarian", I understand a kind of small-to-no-state, individualistic outlook; it's that which I don't agree with – I think it implies an implausible account of personal and social dynamics, and it's socially pernicious. Libertarianism may, I suppose, be based in the ideas you describe – but those ideas aren't exclusive to libertarians. I don't see why a communitarian can't agree that people should be allowed to act as they want subject to similar kinds of constraint, for example. There will be differences in things like how you determine harm, and the moral status of the community – but the general direction needn't be too different.

  3. The trouble is that the war on drugs is largely an emotional topic (<i>"…but think of the children!"</i>) rather than a rational one. As demonstrated by moral psychology experiments by Jonathan Haidt, people tend to first determine with their gut what feels wrong and rationalize these moral intuitions afterwards. As a result, politicians can wage war on drug dealers and promote deregulated free markets at the same time without any sense of hypocrisy. At least in comparison to many of the other Republican candidates, Paul's position is logically a more consistent one.

    1. thanks for your thoughts ilmo — i think you're right that the emotional component is huge in debates over this topic. what sort of conditions or factors would be required, then, to create a culture-shift in the emotional default?

      1. An important thing to keep in mind is that emotions and reason aren't always incompatible, so a good way would be to take data and make it emotionally relatable through personal anecdotes. For example, the data from Portugal can probably yield a lot of good examples that can be presented alongside positive emotions (e.g., clean mothers who were able to overcome their addiction due to drug laws focused on treatment and harm reduction).

        However, hard drugs are closely associated with disgust and fear in the public. On one hand, this is very adaptive: disgust keeps an organism away from sources of contamination and health risks (and heroin sure is a health risk, even if legalized). Trying to get the public to feel good about heroin as a substance might be both unnecessary and too difficult of a task. Instead, a counter-intuitive approach might work better. Anger is a powerful negative emotion that arises when people do not tolerate certain kinds of behavior or circumstances. Anger is also easy to feel towards things that arouse disgust and fear. Therefore, to fight fire with fire, perhaps it would be a good strategy to fuel public anger at criminals who are benefiting from the illegality of drugs? That is, rather than misplace negative emotions on the substances themselves, frame the criminal black market as the problem and legalization as a way to fight back. I, for one, would be happy to put drug dealers out of business and channel money from illegal drug trade to harm reduction, education, and treatment.

        1. > heroin sure is a health risk, even if legalized

          Much, much lesser risk. Most health problems come from the fact that it's cut: sometimes it's a harmless cut, sometimes you inject yourself with something nasty, and sometimes you die from an overdose since that new stuff you got was undercut.

          I actually think, under legalization, heroin users can make a living almost as normally as a tobacco smoker can. Hell, I know people who do, they just abuse diamorphine (synonym for heroin) in prescription form.

  4. I like Dr. Paul's approach in decriminalizing drugs and treating it as a sickness instead of a legal matter. The $ from the war on drugs could then be spent on rehab. or drug prevention.

    1. i think you're right: it's a parallel argument to stopping foreign wars, which the US can't finance anyway, and which leads to blowback (unintended side-effects of interventionism), and using that money to finance actual defense, and other needed expenditures.

      1. Or "we" could not spend that money in the first place. The government could reduce their spending. I know, wishful thinking.

  5. Ilmo's comment raises the question what is realistically achievable here. In other words, suppose we were to decide that drugs such as heroin should be decriminalised, how would we endeavour to put our ideas into practice? How would we overcome people's gut instincts?

    1. Given that Portugal (and maybe some other places) have decriminalised a range of drugs, including heroin, we could simply point out that it's been successful there, and did not lead to an increase in drug use:,8599,1893946,00.html

      Basically, demonstrate that the evidence shows people's gut instincts are stupid. People will then either change their mind, or die off; older people, at least in America, are generally less supportive of decriminalisation of drugs:

      Though strangely, this poll suggests no difference in support by age:
      It also shows very little support for decriminalisation of drugs other than marijuana. But I suspect that if/once that is legalised, other changes in drug laws will follow more rapidly.

      1. Yes, presenting evidence certainly helps. But we probably need to fight cheap rhetoric with cheap rhetoric as well. Focus on the harm that criminalisation is doing, exaggerate it, and present it in anecdotal, visual, emotionally vivid ways.

        Question: assuming that decriminalisation (at least) would be a good thing, would this be ethical? If so, this would presumably be a case of the ends justifying the means (something that non-utilitarians generally have a problem with).

        1. I disagree with need to *exaggerate* the harm that criminalisaion is doing; if these exaggerations are exposed, then it would likely do far more harm to the campaign than good. And it could also harm others by association, such as reducing public trust of scientists who support decriminalisation. Stick with facts, but present them *alongside* genuine personal, emotionally vivid accounts.

          1. Fair point Matt, and to answer my question: certainly your approach looks more ethical than one involving exaggeration. But is there a faint whiff of wishful thinking here? Suppose a bit of exaggeration actually does more good to the campaign than harm? Suppose the extra impact (as long as the exaggeration doesn't get out of hand) outweighs the harms you mention? This seems likely at least for small amount of exaggeration. We might still decide not to exaggerate because we don't want to contribute to a lowering of the standards of the debate (a perfectly legitimate consequentialist/utilitarian concern), even though we know we are undermining our effectiveness as a result.

          2. thanks for this exchange, peter and matt — i have to say that i weigh in with matt on this issue: i think facts plus honest emotions are the way to go; you could make an argument for exaggeration if that were the only way to create change; but i just don't see why it should be the only way, and and credible persuasion's better in the long run, so you don't get backfiring when your hyperbole is found out …

        2. I believe Peter is right, and in line with Ilmo van der Lowe's statement that many will resort to an emotional response. While offering the evidence for review is a good place to start the reality is that there are far too many people who will glaze over the evidence and resort to irrational fears which have been indoctrinated these many years about drugs.

          How does one shift someone's mind from seeing a drug user as a criminal miscreant to someone with a medical addiction who needs help?

    2. No not wishful thinking at all, the more effective the the treatment and programs the money saved which could be allocated somewhere else. More treatment programs to employ more of our current jobless, or those effected from the drop in our legal system. Sounds like a win win, or is that wishful thinking?

    3. This is a refreshingly intelligent, well-considered debate. I made an effort myself of creating both emotional and rational favourable response to reform in my proposing speech at the Liberal Democrat conference on this issue. The rest of the debate also contained elements of rational and deeply personal, emotional argument. I would be interested to read what you gentlemen make of it

      1. Ewan — thanks for your contribution. Just had a chance to watch your video, and I think, clearly, you're on target. What happened as a result of this conference? How do you propose to get politicians past the paralysis of cowardice?

  6. Should we decriminalize heroin use and use of other hard drugs, or go all the way and legalize the market? It's a really tough question. Legalizing drugs would be ideal. It seems like the only way to stop the violence associated with illicit markets. Plus, if addicts are sick people, then why are we forcing them to be a part of a dangerous illicit market?

    But legalization raises issues not unlike the ones we are currently dealing with for prescription drugs. If someone overdoses on a drug they legally obtained, (from a doctor, say), then should that doctor be held legally responsible for the death? Partially responsible? Micheal Jackson's doctor, for instance.

    If we want to sell or provide heroin legally, then who is responsible for the harms? I think it has something to do with if the user was making an informed decision to use the drug. If the drug seller discloses to the customer the potential harms and addiction rates for a certain drug, and the customer makes an informed decision to use it anyways, that sounds fair to me. If the seller just wants as many addicts as possible for customers and talks the drug up as being safe and beneficial when it is not, then that seller should be held responsible for the harms incurred. In an unregulated illicit market, the latter is what happens more often than not.

    1. hi julia — i think "informed decision" is key … libertarian arguments work best when people make decisions under conditions of full awareness of what they're deciding about. so legalization would have to be coupled with serious educational and public health campaigns …

      1. I agree. Publicly funded drug education today is a joke. Was anyone else here in D.A.R.E. in 5th grade? "Drug Abuse Resistance Education" – it's been used in most public school systems since the 90s, and responsible for my entire generation's mass confusion about drugs. I learned in DARE that everyone who smokes marijuana becomes addicted after one hit, then fails out of school, stands up grandma, and becomes a tragic loser. I for one believed whole heartedly what I learned in school as a 5th grader, and DARE had a profound effect on my attitude towards drugs.

        The problem is that once kids find out that DARE lied about marijuana, they don't take any of the other DARE education seriously. Either that, or they consider themselves drug proof because they didn't get addicted to marijuana. No wonder we have a massive opiate addiction problem among young people. It's misinformation. We need honest and legit drug health education.

        As long as there is a political agenda behind keeping certain drugs illegal, we won't have the social honesty necessary for informed decision making.

    2. I like to ask people this all important question. Do you want drugs to be distributed by drug cartels and gangs or by legitimate business people in your community who have a much higher incentage to "not" sell drugs to teenagers and children? Whereby family members and friends can and do have enfluence over those who are distributing drugs in the community.

      Interestingly, even when given this choice, people wallow in indecision as they just can understand the free hand of the market and the influence that individuals can have on the system when government does not intervien in our affairs.

      As discussed by many, the negative ramification of any prohibition can be discussed, but getting past the initial though of unregulated distribution, many people just can grasp. Don't foreget however, that some people don't want to understand as they are well off under the current system, and have little empathy for their fellow individuals. I remember when legalized gaming was on the ballot here in Florida back in 1992. I was kind of shocked when the baseball and football interests, paramutuals, and offshort gaming where the primary contributors to the major anti-gambling campaigns. And let's not forget that the actual voting could easily be rigged.

      Prohibitions are just one form of malum prohibitum laws that manpulate the free market via central planning and control and you are going up against interests that have the money and power to manipulate the entire system. I believe it is Judicial action that can only work and until we improve our system of justice, those in power will continue to usurp individual rights.

      Two organizations that I highly recommend being involved with if you want to effectuate lasting change are: and

      One provides you with the resources to fight the various IRS and other misapplications of law and the other is a social experiment in transforming the courts to improve their written opinions

  7. Why should I pay for a user to lie around prison (probably using), feed, clothe, and house him, when he could do that at home or at his mom's house?

  8. One thing missing in this discussion, I think, is one that we, as a country, are responsible for. Per the LA Times: Reporting from Mexico City — The death toll from the Mexican government's three-year war on drug cartels is far higher than previously reported — more than 22,000, according to news reports published Tuesday that cited confidential government figures.
    The fact that we create a "need" for this product fuels this action in our neighbor to the south, while we have a tendancy to blame the Mexican Government for not policing their people. One could hardly blame them if they finally said, gee guys, your on your own. If we had 22,000 violent deaths in the three states bordering Mexico, we just might see this in a different light. Decrminalizing this issue would go along way toward lowering that death toll.

  9. I think that the war on drugs in the US is a little ridiculous myself for MANY reasons. Please read this all!

    What I have heard from the Portuguese is that when they originally legalized all drugs the usage increased for about a month. After this month, the experimentation of these newly legal substances dropped dramatically due to the deglamourization or mysteries surrounding them. With their increased public drug education programs and through word of mouth, the up and coming generations of of the country view hard drugs as a poison to their body, which it is. They care about their bodies and understand that these drugs are bad for them and how they can become addictive. It's very comparable to Germany, where parents allow their children to have red wine with meals. Children grow up understanding that alcohol can affect your brain when consumed at high quantities, but they don't all become alcoholics, in fact, many learn from an early age to control their intake. They don't feel rebellious when drinking at an early age, therefore underage binge drinking is less of a problem. It's the same sort of mentality.

    So, now, I'd like to list other benefits of legalizing drugs:

    1) In the US, we spend an insane amount of our budget on arresting, prosecuting, and prison maintenance on non violent drug related charges. By legalizing drugs, we would save money and be able to decrease our national debt AND reduce the amount of inmates in already overcrowded prisons.

    2) By legalizing drugs, we would reduce the amount of violence seen on our borders with Mexico by either regulating the trade or allowing the markets to dictate the trade of the drugs. This could, in effect, reduce violence surrounding drugs entering the US across the entire world. It's the humanitarian thing to do.

    3) If drugs were legal, the government could consider taxing recreational drugs such as cannabis. This would, again, help eat away our debt.

    4) Now, here's what I find the coolest factoid of all… If the US ended the war on drugs, then I would assume they would allow the population to grow hemp plants again. What's so cool about that you ask? Be able to smoke it at your leisure? Sure, if that's your thing, but no matter your take on smoking cannabis, I think you will find these facts about hemp interesting. In fact, these may make you angry at our governments around the world:

    4a) Hemp was the first drug the DEA deemed illegal in the 1930's. They made it illegal by slandering it in the media and creating propaganda films such as Reefer Madness to trick the public and change their views on it. Back in these times, people had more trust in the newspapers and films and the heads of these industries knew that. Who were the heads of these industries? None other than friends of the DEA, the Rockefellers, and the Duponts… keep reading…

    4b) Hemp was originally promoted by our founding fathers as a wonder plant for a multitude of reasons. The hemp plant fibers create a much stronger, naturally biodegradable rope instead of synthetic ropes and twines that will never decompose. The hemp seeds are incredibly nutritious, a handful will provide more nutrition than most children around the world will get in one week. Hemp paper lasts a very long time and doesn't yellow like wood pulp based paper. In fact, some of our most ancient manuscripts are on hemp paper, and look how old they are. Here's the best part about that one, hemp plants grow back very quickly, much quicker than a forest of trees that take hundreds of years to grow, but only months to cut down forever. AND, hemp plants can be grown in almost any soil condition.

    4c) Henry Ford had an entire field of hemp plants! Why's that? Because Ford's original Model T had hemp fiber plastic panels. These panels are nine times stronger than steel and do not crumple or bend during collision. Also, the Model T ran on hemp oil based ethanol, a much cleaner burning and renewable fuel than modern petrol products.

    4d) Hemp based clothing is much higher quality than cotton. It's more breathable in warmer weather and more insulating in colder weather. It is also more fire retardant than cotton.

    4e) So why did the DEA go against our founding fathers? Why did they go against the National Agriculture Association's recommendation for all farmers to grow hemp (you can look this up in the library of congress in the early 1930's)? It's crazy isn't it? It provides better products, is renewable, and doesn't harm our environment in the way current industries do! Perhaps it was the fact that Rockefeller had found oil a new source of energy, and Dupont had found new synthetic products to make out of petrol. They needed help in building their new businesses, so they turned to their friends in the DEA. Yes, these parties did meet, do research for yourself, it is eye opening.

    So, no matter what your thoughts are on the Rockefellers, Duponts, the DEA, or any crazy conspiracies out there, one thing remains true. The industrial facts on hemp. It truly is a miracle plant with very minimal ecological effects. We need to change our ways and we'll help save the planet. Legalizing drugs just may be the first step.

    1. Patrick, I do agree with your thoughts on drugs.
      Yes, they are illegal, yes we do need to find a better approach than this "costly an insane war on drugs", and I fully support the legalization of the plant that has so many applications towards a better tomorrow, but on the matter of the other drugs, I cannot support with a clear conscience.
      I personally think that the laws that create the harsh society we currently live in should be reduced, for Marijuanna and/or hemp I definately could support the legalization with a clear conscience, the other drugs however should just be reduced in terms of harshness.

      1. Right, Gyrannon, that's when it certainly becomes more of a difficult decision doesn't it? Hemp/Cannabis is the no brainer, but Cocaine, Heroin and the likes are another story.

        Here's another reason as to why I support full legalization. Regulated markets vs. the illicit market. If a drug is regulated by the government or some agency, then users will know what they are getting. You want cocaine? Ok, here's cocaine, not cut with any mysterious chemicals that could cause adverse reactions. On the other hand, the illicit market it so up in the air across all drugs. If you want to buy some cannabis you never know the true potency of it. Some people prefer weaker cannabis compared to the strong stuff that's on the streets right now; more along the lines of the potency of cannabis in the late 60's or 70's. Let's now use heroin as an example. Street dealers over the past 5 years have become less and less educated with the products that they sell and are selling "heroin" to their users. Little do they know that they are really selling fentanyl, a much stronger drug. Thus, the heroin users who are accustomed to using x amount have been overdosing left and right. If we allow these drugs to be sold by knowledgeable people, these types of misunderstandings wouldn't happen.

        I think you also have to have more trust in other human beings. I know, it's hard, because we're predisposed from an early age not to talk to strangers, not to do this, or that, which leads to us not trusting our neighbors. We're also given false, or not very in depth, facts about drugs. If the facts were truly presented to us at an early age, I feel that we as a society would understand the dangers of these drugs. When society as a whole understands these dangers, we will start to look down on users as dumb, wondering, "why would you do something so bad to your body?!?" The negative pressure of society will, in my opinion, drive addicts to get treatment and clean themselves up OR cause people to not try these substances altogether.

        At least that's the society I hope for. One in which humans are intelligent enough to protect themselves from their own decisions instead of relying on what the government allows us or disallows us to do.

    2. Patrick,

      I would like to point out that the experience in the U.S. with alcohol prohibition mirrors the experience in Portugal. It's important to realize that approaching the issue rationally has not been successful because of the entities who oppose legalization. It's instructive to apply the principle of "cui bono" or who benefits from keeping drugs illegal. What you will find is a collection of well-funded entities who lobby politicians including the pharmaceutical industry, the private prison industry, the paper and lumber industry, big oil, various law enforcement organizations, cotton growers and more. This is how the U.S. is run now, and even though the model is an abject and observable failure, use of rational argument will most likely never unseat these folks who hold power over citizens. I would love to be able to buy hemp products for a reasonable amount of money in the U.S. for many reasons. But unfortunately, unless somebody like Ron Paul is elected, I don't foresee a very bright future for legal drugs, nor for much at all in the way of respect for individual freedom by the federal government.

  10. I for one already knew that DARE was gonna fail at it's mission "to stop drug abuse among children (an above)", when I was in 5th grade, I remember how their attitude about drugs wasn't as sincere as I had originally thought – They warned us, schooled us, but made jokes, made strange examples, and always had a smile on their faces (which generally creeped me out) – before DARE had set foot into the school, there was no talks about drugs (Teacher: don't do drugs. Kid: wanna smoke some?), but as soon as they stepped in an left, EVERYONE treated "drugs" as a popular subject (the warnings an the "want some?") in the school, an most kids of the same grade or higher acted like "DARE" truly meant "I dare you. what, are you chicken?" which really did not help.
    When something is forbidden, children, teens, and adults will ALWAYS want to find out "why?" even if the said forbidden thing/object/act is explained, to most of the curious, "That's not enough for me". Another one is when I was warned about the legal drugs (Alchohol an Ciggs), but at a very young age (3) I was already allowed to drink beer but at a later age (8) I had also quit the drug (became drunk an acted bizzare which gave me the cause to quit, plus it was gross anyways, an still is gross to me), but when warned about ciggs, I was just simply told "just say no", if I asked why then I get "its against the law an could get you into trouble", again asked why, an I get the worst "because it just is" or "because I said so!"
    So what happens when you are not directed to a source that will satisfy your curiosity? You find your own answers, your own way. And thanks to the fact that all they could have told me was,
    "its addictive; the nicotine is what makes it so hard to let go. Thats why people want to quit smoking, but never do because it is so hard to let go" (an as helpful example to the word "addictive", its like trying to quit taking care of your puppy, you stop an it will die, you'll hate yourself, but if you keep the puppy with you – while it does make you think you are happy – it will hurt an scare away everyone that you love without you knowing), I took a cigg without askin an got hooked on the drug (16) simply because "I thought it wasn't bad, an no one really cared that I was smoking"
    of course now (26) I truly regret ever taking my first drag. Now if an when a child or teen ever asks why I haven't quit smoking, I give a FAR BETTER reason than "just because".

    The point is, is that when it comes to schooling kids, teens, an adults about drugs, the people giving the warning should use cold hearted facts an learn to give them answers to questions they haven't asked. If DARE was more sincere, more informative, and less about "joking the subject", they would've had a far better effect on all the grades instead of a small amount. I'm not saying that we should act like Military Drill Seargents when it comes to drugs (like we have been doing since the war on drugs began), I mean that we should present the truth, no matter how horrific or how overwhelming it might be for them – they may hate you now, but you'll be saving their lives, an later they'll love you for giving them the real cold truth.

    But on the subject of Heroin vs Alchohol, you could simply use the above suggestion (cold heart truth) as a way of telling the real difference between "why this is legal an why this is illegal". Or you could go with other resource examples:
    Yes, both drugs make the user into a violent person with an unstable personality, but the difference is that while alchohol can only be consumed orally, Heroin requires injection (most kids have a fear of needles, use that). Alchohol numbs the body (or at least makes you think it does), some use it as a mental reliever (high stress an depression causes them to consume more, trying to forget the painful thoughts), but when addictted an denied the drug, the user becomes violent towards others an acts as if they aren't getting their anti-depressant (very similar to ciggs), but also carry the issue that once addicted, the user consumes more an more (even when not depressed or not in any form stressed) which causes lots of internal damages, and will also place upon themselves the possible felonies they might commit, "Drink an drive, Drunk in public/ Public intoxication, reckless endangerment of others, ect ect". Heroin on the other hand, makes the user far more irresponsible, produces a far more unstable personality, addiction has a much higher chance than alchohol an ciggs, an while a lot talk about the internal damages it brings, the external damage is much noticable (especially for those that take it more frequently than average users). An when denied their drug, the withdrawl is much worse than alchohol an ciggs combined – nearly all heroin addicts that try to quit experience horrific hallucinations an have a much higher need to get more by any means possible, but if they can't any, an their will isn't strong enough to handle the loss of this drug, they'll resort to suicide (might even take some people with them).
    You can even get second opinions from three other sources (people that have used): Ex-Alchohol user, Ex-Heroin user, or Ex-Alchohol & Heroin user (to get their reasons on why they quit, what it did to them in both good ways an bad ways, an if either drug wasn't as bad as they experienced if they would go back to it then, ect ect).
    Hell, the people that are trying to explain the difference can also use pictures (before they used, while they took it, an all the way to when they were trying to quit it) – for alchohol, if pictures were used, an they showed the picture of the user when he/she is quitting, yeah it won't seem that bad in most cases by a simple picture. But with Heroin, it is almost gauranteed that every picture of a heroin addict trying to quit will look very horrible by comparison, an would have a dramatic effect on those that want to legalize an use it – it will tell them "I will show you horrors far worse than your mind can concieve, take me if you dare".

    If that isn't a good enough way to show the difference between Alchohol an Heroin, then I dunno what else could possibly work (aside from using "Requiem for a Dream" as another method) as a way to deter those from using the "insane drug".

  11. If our leaders would just try the legalization approach then we would see the result.
    As with Portugal we would be better off. There are obviously special interests working
    to maintain the prohibition. (pharma, law enforcement unions, prison owners, etc) Not until Americans have funded the Mexican cartels enough to
    allow them to threaten the US will things change.
    The logic and common sense in this article is rarely seen on this topic.

  12. Brian, thanks for a thoughtful analysis. In my view, decriminalizing drugs is not essentially a solution to the problem: this is a symptomatic response to a problem that is rooted in the society that somehow cultivates tendencies of residing in a parallel universe. You made reference to Portugal and how it dealt with its own drug problem. Portugal, despite its material progress, is still a society with strong family bonds. An individual with addition is not left on their own to deal with the problem: the whole family, relatives and friends gather together to help the individual. On the other hand, in the United States, due to a strong sense of individualism, the addict has to pretty much deal with his own problems. Regardless of the issues or problems on hand, It tends to be difficult for an average American to let go of their individuality. Therefore, I do not see this as a prudent approach in opening the gates to drugs by comparing two 'distinct' societies. Why a segment of population wants to live in a parallel universe? If we answer this question, we will pretty much be able to find a more viable and human-centric solution to the problem of 'drug addiction.' If we just deal with the present, out of control symptoms, we will continue to sustain and produce more and more addicts along with more brutal system of suppression. In view of this, would strongly suggest that rather than the US government spending $40 billions in fighting the influx of drugs, it should invest this money in educating, cultivating and eventually producing a beautiful 'new-mind' that is fully aware of its own existence and possesses the will to live a calm and conscious life. A sage once said: 'A green stick is very easy to bend, but when it dries, bending it will break it.'

    1. If a segment of the population wants to 'live in a parallel universe', who are you to tell them otherwise?

      1. Matt, very childish and unprofessional response. I would say the same: if the government wants to continue the war on drugs, imprison and brutalize the criminals, 'who are you to tell them otherwise?' If you have nothing constructive to say about my arguments, then please refrain from replying to my post.

        1. I don't want the government to continue the war on drugs because I don't think the government should be telling people what they can and cannot put in their body.

          My point is that you seem to be arguing that people who take drugs must not have what you believe to be a 'beautiful mind', or only choose to do so because there is something wrong with society. But what if people simply enjoy taking drugs?

    2. Khalid,

      I do agree with what you have said in regard to the family and individual aspects in our differing cultures. I also agree with the fact that we would be better off spending the money on treatment and education programs, rather than the inhumane system that we have created and use today, if the government must spend the money. (I don't feel government should be involved in the issue period.)

      That said, decriminalizing the drugs is a necessary part of this plan. All that decriminalization implies is that people will no longer be arrested or subject to involuntary programs because of a substances use. This position recognizes the simple fact that just because something is illegal or restricted, it will never go away. All of the money, education and family values in the world will not create a "drug free," society. I would argue that some extreme hobbies are a way for people to escape and live in a "parallel universe," and I have no problems with that. Drugs are not the only way to escape, so the issue you're talking about is not confined to drugs and to my mind is missing the point in this discussion.

      I think Matt hits on a very good point when he says that "people simply enjoy taking drugs." That's true. Regardless of how you would like to see the world, people will always take drugs for various reasons. In fact, some people actually use prohibited drugs, though likely not heroin, for personal and spiritual development and to battle, wouldn't you know it, addiction. (Read about Ibogaine treatments if you want to learn more) That's the problem when we talk about things like this because there is no blanket policy that will work. The only approach that is sensible is freedom.

      That is, the freedom to choose to do with our bodies as we see fit. Certainly, there is an aspect of mental sickness that goes hand in hand with drug abuse, but this can be addressed in a variety of ways, and must. There will never be a single program effective enough to end drug abuse, just as there is never one issue that causes the abuse in the first place. Every case is unique. A multifaceted, organic approach is needed. I only see this as a viable option if the market is allowed to dictate what works and what doesn't. For the market to function in this area, we must bring these drugs of the the "dark" and into the "real world" that you claim to inhabit.

      Decriminalization may be a reaction to the symptoms, but the symptoms of what? I say it is a reaction, and a necessary one, to the symptoms of prohibition, not drug abuse itself. And with that said, we must decriminalize all drugs, as it is the only way to begin addressing the issue in a realistic and humane manner.

  13. whats the deal with encouraging DARE or similar govt spending in educating youngsters about the problems of addiction? dont parents have any responsibilities anymore?
    why are govt institutions best placed to educate rebellious children? dont they 'hate' the establishment anyway?
    parents,friends and other social influences stand a better chance at education.lady gaga more than govt sermons

    1. Pravin: If there is such a nation-wide, structured and effective system controlled by parents in 'educating rebellious children,' then we have found the solution to the drug problem. However, since there is no evidence of such a system, we can only rely on the system that is already in place.

      1. that is interesting.why would faceless bureaucrats be more interested and influential than the closest ones in your family? most examples of people checking into rehab is when friends and family intervene and not because a govt official ordered somebody into it.

  14. Portugal is a good example, but so is the US. If you know history, you know that in 1910 you could send your ten year old daughter down to the corner drug store to legally (and safely) purchase opiates (Laudanum). It was inexpensive. There were no drug gangs. There were few addiction problems. All we need to do is return to those times and allow people to be responsible for themselves. If you can smoke marijuana and still hold down a job, why should you be put in prison? If you destroy your life with heroin, isn't that enough punishment without prison on top of it? People in this country need to start running their own lives and stop trying to make the world perfect by running everyone else's.

    1. Yep, and these same ten year old kids go to their local drugstores and by muggles, which were joints aka cannabis cigarettes. Muggles were used to treat a multitude of common ailments such as colds, headaches, nausea, etc… going price was 5cents.

    2. Thank you Davidus. I am not fully familiar with Portuguese history, except certain cultural and religious facts. However, I do agree with you that when the opiates were once sold openly, there were no traces of violence as a consequence of individuals consuming drugs – in Portugal and many other countries. Unfortunately, history does not give us any notable moment, which can demonstrate to us that a given society was successfully able to return to the good old days. So in absence of such a mass human transition into the past, we have no alternative but to work with what we have. In the face of such a dilemma, what then is the priority? Changing the system or changing the individual? If we are somehow able to introduce a new system, the problem with this is that the individual will remain the same: no change will occur in their thoughts, ideas or the 'will.' On the other hand, if we were to change the individual, the new system will be able to function remarkably well. This is because a new individual will be running a new system. For example, look at the fast food chain restaurant McDonald's: they not only introduced new healthy items into their menu, but even changed the look of their buildings inside out- at least in some parts of Canada. My question is: who brought the change? A new mind or an old one? We tend to come up with very simple solutions to our very complex problems, and this is where lies the root cause of our collapsing social fabric. In sum, to cultivate a beautiful garden for our beautiful children, we must ensure that the education they receive in schools not only develops their cognitive faculties, but also calibrates their moral sense.

  15. It's about time the USA goverment and all other goverments across the world woke up and realised that banning any chemical only makes the stream of it more dangerous. Over fifty new psycoactive chemicals being sold as recreational drugs have been identified in 2011 alone. This is an unstoppable pattern and we're causing far more harm than good by trying to ban each one of them. The solution is simple. Leagalise LSD, leagalise cocaine and legalise heroin. Do it today or else Dex will.

  16. Call me a libertarian if you want (i vote issues though, could care less about parties for the most part), but I agree. So long as a person is not harming another then who is the government to tell them what they can and can't do.

    Make it only legal when in the privacy of a residence only, to i.e. not in public, put a minimum age restriction on it, and sell/tax the junk through official channels so that any support/education/recovery programs are funded by that means exclusively.

    Think of all the empty beds we'd have in prisons after doing so, just waiting to be filled by corrupt politicians, bankers/etc.

    1. Andrzej: 'not harming others,' is a fairly reasonable argument in favor of decriminalizing the use and possession of drugs. However, can we, either statistically or on social grounds say that all those who consume cocaine or heroin will never in their lifetime reproduce – beget children? If so, then the 'not harming others' argument sustains its validity. On the other, if they were to beget children, wouldn't they be consciously and directly harming a new life whose DNA is possibly damaged?

        1. Thanks Andrzej: If I understood the parent post correctly, its core argument is 'should the possession and usage of heroin or similar class of drugs be decriminalized?' I believe, in the context of present discussion, alcohol and smokes lay beyond this argument. If we remain within the boundaries of the argument, we can perhaps come up with more enlightened reflections on the whole issue.

          1. You lost me, (hypothetically?) you asked whether the possibility that DNA harm is being done by drug users and passing issues down to potential kids is considered 'harming others'. I'm saying it should be treated no differently than the same thing happening when users smoke/drink when pregnant. Granted, its more of a stigma issues right now, but technically you are playing russian roulette with a half loaded gun if you do that. To skew things further, what about the people who smoke right in front of their kids/in cars with their kids/etc. That's not illegal, and harm IS being done. Not arguing the issues of that, just that other drug use should be held to the same standard.

            I.E. 'not harming others' should be interpreted as it was meant by a reasonable layman, not as would be convoluted by a lawyer looking for another class action milk job.

      1. Wait- this is an ethics blog, right? I hope the ethics your proposing now don't go unquestioned. Please produce evidence supporting your claim that those with heroin or cocaine use in their lifetime produce deformed children. I'm pretty sure there is evidence that during some of the nine months of pregnancy drug use can effect the fetus, but that's not what you said. In fact, what you said sounds eerily similar to the human race's past experiments with eugenics. But your ignorance does reflect our times….we used to sterilize jews, the mentally ill, gays….now we sterilize female drug addicts in prison. Yeah, I wish I was joking.

          1. None of those seem to support your claim. DNA damage in somatic cells does not equate to DNA damage being passed on to children.

  17. Society discriminates against "drug addicts" for a number of reasons, most of them either absurd or coincidental to their drug use.
    1) Societal Calvinism, the huge fear that someone, somewhere is having fun without a requisite amount of suffering involved.
    2) Association with crime. Drugs are associated with crime because they are illegal (duh). This forces drug users to associate with criminals and hang out in the ghetto etc.
    3) Association with disease: IV drug users get diseases because they don't have access to clean, legal drugs. Millions of diabetics inject drugs (insulin) multiple times a day virtually without problems simply because they have the supplies to do it cleanly.
    4) Association with self harm. The vast majority of "harm" that heroin users suffer is due to dirty needles, toxic chemicals in the street drug, poverty from the artificially high cost of their drugs and overdosing due to the inability to know the strength of the drug they are injecting.
    If people couldn't pick out a heroin addict from a "regular" person the prejudice would slowly fade for all these problems except for #1. Folks that just feel the need to control other peoples lives are just going to be a burden to the rest of us, probably for a long, long time.

  18. Let me give an example of the problem in the US you should be arrested if you violate the rights of another. So if a person is in their front your snorting Cocaine and he is arrested (kidnapped) his property siezed (theft or robbery) who is the criminal? Who is violating someones rights? Of course it is the kidnapper or thief!

    Kidnapping or theft involve some violating someones rights, using cocaine doesn't. In Germany the brownshirts killed the Jews. Today we will prosecute the people who did that, will we ever prosecute the police of today? I doubt it. Live and let live

  19. Coffee can kill you, breathing in car pollution is killing us, corn add ons in most of our food is killing us, and of course the two leading killers in the world, alcohol and tobacco are killing us, more people die each year from legal drugs like asprin then the combined amount from hard drugs, so to say that some substances will be abused if made legal again is a dumb arguement.

    The number one way to stop almost all deaths from hard drugs, legal drugs is to use a non toxic natural resource which has been criminally mislabeled as a drug, this resource if made legal again could show its true use which is to power our cars, businesses and world, feed the poor, reduce violence worldwide, reduce pollution, create jobs, restore freedom and liberty to America and the world, we call it pot.

    The entire war on tax paying pot smoking voters is legalized treason enforced by tax funded terrorism based only on discrimination and greed for profit. U.S. Patent 663-0507 is not being enforced which is a crime and no one is getting arrested for not enforcing it, yet if this single patent was valued the entire war on tax payers would have ended yesterday.

    You want jobs, legalize Cannabis
    You want world peace,legalize Cannabis
    you want to lower pollution, legalize Cannabis
    You want to end mass corruption of the legal system, legalize Cannabis.
    It is just that easy.

    But I suspect that the main reason is not what we are told, but that an foriegn enitity owns our polictical system , our legal system, and wants total control of all economics and resources for some unstated reason, which seems to point to the destruction of the planet Earth.

  20. I highly recommend to all who are actively contributing to the 'Legalize heroin' post to carefully and calmly read the history of the British instigated 'opium wars' against China. It brought an entire dynasty of 1000 years to its knees. Just by reading Lin Tse-Hsu's letter to Queen Victoria which he wrote in 1839 on behalf of the emperor, would give us a picture of how an 'insignificant' substance possesses the capability of uprooting an entire civilization. In my humble view, the issue is not about 'few' individuals who are not 'capable' of dealing with life's problems, and, as a result, opt for the 'quick fix,' but the very integrity and existence of a nation/civilization.

    'Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.' Edmund Burke

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'm confused about your comparison with the opium wars. In your humble view, do you think it is really fair to say opium alone was responsible for the entire uprooting of a civilization? Don't you think, say, British Imperialism played any role at all? Also, doesn't the fact that opium was illegal in China during the first opium war show that drug prohibition does not lessen the harmful effects of drugs? I don't think anyone here is saying heroin isn't harmful, we are saying it would be less harmful if it wasn't illegal.

      1. Thanks Julia: Let me just say that the main interest of the British was to force China to open its trade with the British and the Europeans. When they could not negotiate through the diplomatic channels, they started to pour opium into China. The result was that a large segment of the Chinese population became addicted to the drug: that became the problem for the emperor. What would happen if 50% citizen of a country get addicted to a drug that not only numbs the senses, but produces an extreme feeling of euphoria – if you believe that it's just fine to be living in a state of euphoria by way of drugs, then please note that I have nothing further to say. We are living in modern cities and states where our negative or positive actions will somewhat affect our family, friends, neighbors and citizens as a whole. When the Athenians accused Socrates of 'corrupting' the youth, his argument was: 'how can I intentionally harm the youth while my own children, family and friends live amongst the youth? will they not also become the victim of the same corruption.' Or in other words, 'what goes around comes around.' So it's not about criminalizing or decriminalizing of such drugs, it's about a nation, its citizens, its children and its future generation. A nation that refuses to face the challenges of life, a nation that excessively attaches itself to the artificial things of this life, a nation that indulges in the use of substances that alters the mind, must then recognize that it has lost its greatness.

        1. The topic of this post was "Legalizing Heroin". You don't seem to care to discuss "criminalizing or decriminalizing of such drugs" or the real, practical solutions for our country's problems with drug addiction. If you instead want to talk about how excessive substance use is ruining our nation and children, I'm sure there's many other blogs out there you could check out.

          1. Thanks Julia: could you please explain what do you mean by 'practical solutions?' And how is it that looking at the entire matter from another angle wrong? Could you, in any way, 'prove' that my views are unethical? What makes you think that I don't care about the subject under discussion?

  21. I don't think your views are unethical. By practical solutions, I'm referring to policy solutions. I was lead to believe you didn't care to discuss the criminalization of drugs (which is the topic of this blog post) when you said "it's not about criminalizing or decriminalizing drugs".

    1. Thanks for not misunderstanding me. Believe me I am really concerned about the whole issue. I am not simply an armchair person expressing my views, but have seen the misery, deaths and suicides resulting from the consumption of heroin. Once you open the door, the nation will have a greater problem on hand – especially when times are bad. Those who lean on the way Portugal 'handled' its own drug 'problem,' must carefully evaluate not only the current data and relevant laws, but any future trends for at least a generation. It's a social problem that cannot be simply solved by passing or restructuring laws. It must be handled through society's own initiative. Each member of the society must see the problem as their own and not someone else's. In current situation, government's role is clearly paternalistic. It's the government's duty to ensure that the majority remains protected from the harmful effects of such drugs – a common utilitarian approach. I am not in favor of 'applying patches,' or decriminalizing the possession of drugs, but what I think would produce long-term positive results is to start concentrating on the education of the younger generation, not state-wide, but nation-wide. This appears to me the most appropriate and future-centric way of protecting the forthcoming generation.

  22. I'm against Prohibition & the War on Drugs, not on ideological grounds or personal preferences for drugs. As a matter of fact, I do happen to believe that drug abuse can have serious detrimental effects on individuals, families and societies as a whole, but I also believe that reducing the drug problem, and how to deal with it, to abstinence or punishment is an insult to any rational person’s intelligence.

    If one is prepared to accept that it is not feasible to put an end to the demand for drugs — for there will always be, for whatever reason, people wishing to use them — then the question one need to answer is this: what is the best way to deal with the so-called drug problem? In order to answer that, one has to recognise that no alternative policy is exempt from costs. Once we accept that, the rational thing to do is to search for policies that maximises the benefits and minimises the costs.

    I do believe that Legalisation & Regulation is the rational, efficient and effective way of dealing with the consumption and production of drugs. In my view Legalisation does not mean free, unrestricted access to drugs; on the contrary, it means, access to drugs under a legal and regulated framework. As far as the drug trade is concerned, my position is not only that all drugs (both soft and hard) should be legalised and regulated but equally important, that it should include the whole chain of the drug trade: production, distribution and consumption.

    I do not think that anybody in their right mind could possibly think that Legalisation & Regulation is the silver bullet. I would argue, though, that Legalisation & Regulation —unlike Prohibition & the War on Drugs — is not a zero sum game. It is not a question of abstinence or punishment, but one of rational management of the drug problem

    When Prohibition was trumpeted as the panacea to society oldest vice, it's goal was to allow us to live in a drug-free world. Well, fifty years later we are still waiting for the utopia to materialise. Meanwhile, all Prohibition & the War on Drugs have delivered is utterly dystopia: massive incarceration, corruption, destruction of democratic institutions, thousands upon thousands of killings, intimidation and execution of journalists, judges, politicians and anybody brave enough to question the corrupting and murderous practices of the drug trafficking gangs that control the US$320,000 millions the illegal drug market generates in revenue every year…that's right, EVERY YEAR.

    It puzzles me why would anyone be willing to support Prohibition and the War on Drugs whose “positive results” (i.e. cessation of consumption and elimination of supply) after 50 year of being in place are negligible, whereas the negative effects are of such extent that we wouldn’t hesitate to consider them a price too high to pay, were them the result of any other policy but the War on Drugs.

    Think about that, almost 50,000 killings in the past four and a half years in Mexico alone, people sentenced to death in Asia and the Middle East, systematic violation of human rights, extrajudicial killings, … and the list goes on and on and on. There is no doubt in my mind that were such levels of criminal acts been happening as a result of policies other than the War on Drugs, we would be condemning them as crimes against humanity.

    I do believe that given such appalling balance, any rational, responsible and caring individual should be able to understand that a regime seeking to legalise and regulate the production and consumption of drugs CANNOT be as destructive and corrosive — socially, economically and politically speaking — as the current prohibition regime is. Moreover, even those who believe that Legalisation & Regulation of drugs is evil should by now understand that it is the lesser of the two evils.

  23. Netherlands to classify high-potency cannabis as hard drug, Friday 7 October 2011 18.43 BST

    "Maxime Verhagen, the economic affairs minister, said cannabis containing more than 15% of its main active chemical, THC, is so much stronger than what was common a generation ago that it should be considered a different drug entirely.The high potency cannabis has "played a role in increasing public health damage", he said at a press conference in The Hague."

  24. Just stumbled across this piece. Read the article, but have only skimmed the comments (so far). Will go back and read them all, but wanted to share this comment first.

    Couldn't there be a free-market solution to drug abuse, rather than one administered and enforced by the sword of the civil magistrate?

    Consider seat belts or motorcycle helmets. Don't need no steenkin' <i>law</i> telling us to wear them, just leave it up to the motorist/motorcyclist and his insurance company. You either agree to wear seat belts or helmets in order to enjoy reduced rates, or you admit in the application that you prefer not to wear them, with the understanding that you will pay higher premiums. And the application/contract stipulates that, if you're in an accident and NOT wearing your seat belt/helmet when you agreed to do so in the application, the insurer is absolved from any requirement to cover you.

    Now apply that general free-market principle to recreational drug use.

    First, any actions you commit while high that are already illegal (or otherwise legally actionable) <i>because they harm or endanger others</i> — e.g., reckless driving, domestic violence, family abandonment — remain illegal/actionable. But neither the law nor the enforcers get involved if all you do is get high.

    Second, why not let private parties dictate the terms of their free interaction with other private parties? Thus, if a cab company or or excavation (heavy equipment) company or a hospital or a hotel chain thinks it's in the best interests of their business, they can lawfully require prospective and established employees to be and remain drug free. Let the demands of the labor marketplace help workers decide whether or not they want to recreationally use drugs. If they want to get high, they'll be relegated to "digging ditches " — i.e., less-demanding or menial jobs whose employers have decided that the costs of such a policy aren't justified by the benefits.

    Lastly (and in fact, <i>primarily</i>), drug use needs to be treated by society as the <i>sin</i> that it is. Biblically speaking, not all sins are crimes — not all sins are punishable by the sword of the civil magistrate.

    So leave the matter to churches and similar ministries to deal with at the personal/spiritual level, and to the free market to motivate individuals to compete for and attain the kind of employment they desire. But keep the legislatures, the sheriffs and the prosecutors out of it.

    1. Frank — are you from Spokane, WA? My home city is Seattle 🙂 … Sorry HTML isn't working; I've seen it have this problem before. We'll see what we can do about getting it fixed. Finally, I'd like to say that I find your free-market arguments compelling. I'd like to see how readers counter-argue …

  25. The war on drugs should be an issue for each state to decide. Some may wish to continue with a similar program (FED) and others may wish to examine this further.

    I doubt any state would legalize heroin for general use. Legal heroin would be prescribed by doctors that treat addiction.

    Pot is the CASH COW of the drug war. Eliminate the prohibition on pot and we will see a huge reduction in crime

  26. The Case for Drug Legalization

    by Ron Paul, MD (……in 1998!!!!!)

    Today in Washington and on the campaign trail, Republicans and
    Democrats, conservatives and liberals, are calling for drastic action on

    The Reagan administration has made these substances a special issue, of
    course. From Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" to Ed Meese and his anti-
    "money-laundering," officials have engineered mammoth increases in government
    spending for anti-drug efforts, and for spying on American citizens.

    The Assault on our Privacy


    Our financial privacy has been attacked with restrictions on the use of
    honestly earned cash, and bank surveillance that has sought to make every
    teller a monetary cop.

    In the name of fighting drugs, the central government has modernized its
    vast computer network and linked it with data files in states and localities,
    enabling the IRS, FBI and other agencies to construct dossiers on every
    innocent American.

    In the Washington, D.C., of 1988, anyone exercising the basic human
    right to privacy is branded a possible criminal. This kind of 1984-think,
    more appropriate to Soviet Russia than the U.S.A., has grown alarmingly since
    Reagan came into office.

    As human beings, we have the right to keep our personal and family
    finances – and other intimate matters – secret from nosey relatives. Yet the
    politicians, who are dangerous as well as nosey, claim the right to strip us
    bare. This dreadful development is foreign to our Constitution and
    everything America was established to defend. The politicians claim it has
    nothing to do with taxing and controlling us.

    In this, as in virtually everything else, the politicians are lying. In
    fact, I believe that the drug hysteria was whipped up to strengthen big
    government's hold over us, and to distract Americans from the crimes of
    Washington, and the addiction to big government that is endemic there.

    There is Another Way


    Instead of spending tax money and assaulting civil liberties in the name
    of fighting drugs – usually couched in childish military metaphors – we
    should consider a policy based on the American tradition of Freedom. And I
    know the people are ready.

    I'm traveling full-time now, all over the country, and wherever I go, I
    get the message loud and clear: Americans want a change in federal drug
    policy. They may wonder about the proper course. But I am convinced that
    here, as in all other areas of public policy, the just and efficacious
    solution is liberty.

    Drugs: Legal and Illegal


    Alcohol is a very dangerous drug. It kills 100,000 Americans every
    year. Bit it is no business of government to outlaw liquor. In a free
    society, adults have the right to do whatever they wish, so long as they do
    not agress or commit fraud against others.

    Tobacco is an even more dangerous drug. It kills 350,000 Americans a
    year in long, lingering, painful deaths. As a physician, I urge people not
    to smoke. But I would not be justified in calling in the police. Adults
    have the right to smoke, even if it harms them.

    From the decades-long government propaganda barrage about illegal drugs,
    we could be excused for thinking that illegal drugs must be even more
    dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

    In fact, 3,600 people die each year from drug abuse. That's less than
    4% of those doomed by alcohol, about 1% of those killed by tobacco. Yet we
    are taxed – and are supposed to undergo extensive other restrictions on our
    liberty – to support a multi-billion dollar War on Drugs, which, like all the
    other wars since the Revolution, benefits only the government and its allied
    special interests at the people's expense.

    Not satisfied with the present level of violence, politicians are now
    advocating strip-searching every American returning from a foreign country,
    jailing people caught using marijuana in their own homes, turning the army
    into a national police force, giving customs agents the power and weapons to
    shoot down suspected aircraft, and transforming America into a police state –
    all because not enough Americans will Just Say No.

    Politicians want to mandate random urine drug tests for all employees –
    public and private – in "sensitive" jobs. Leaving aside the problem of
    defective laboratories and tests, the high number of "false positives," and
    the humiliation of having to urinate in front of a bureaucrat, what about the
    concepts of due process or innocent until proven guilty? One of the great

    American legal traditions, coming to us from the common law, is probable
    cause. Because of the experiences our ancestors had with the British
    oppressors, it is not constitutional to search someone without probable cause
    of criminal activity. And this is a very intimate search indeed.

    If this sort of search is justified, why not enter homes at random to
    look for illegal substances (or unreported cash)? Not even the Soviets do
    that, yet American politicians advocate something similar with our bodies.

    The Reagans, emulating Stalin, have even praised the chilling example of a
    child informing on his parents and urged others to follow his example.

    The 1980's war on drugs has increased the U.S. prison population by 60%,
    while street crime has zoomed. Seventy percent of the people arrested for
    serious crimes are drug users. And all the evidence shows that they commit
    these crimes to support a habit made extremely expensive by government
    prohibition. Urban street crime, which terrorizes millions of Americans, is
    largely the creation of the U.S. drug laws. That alone is reason enough for

    Drug Prohibition in American History


    All the drugs now illegal in the United States were freely available
    before the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914. Until that year, patent
    medicines usually contained laudanum – a form of opium, which is why – at
    least temporarily – they were indeed "good for all ailments of man or beast."

    First the feds – with the help of organized medicine – restricted
    narcotic drugs to prescription only. Thus, physicians were still able to
    treat addicts. Then the feds made that illegal, drastically raising the cost
    of drugs, with the results we all know.

    Yet about the same percentage of the population abused these substances
    in 1888 as in 1988. In other words, some people will abuse drugs, just as
    some people will abuse alcohol, no matter whether they are legal or illegal.

    All the government can do by outlawing these items is vastly increase their
    cost, and vastly decrease our liberties. But his is no bad thing to the
    government. Government officials – from Washington grandees to the county
    sheriff – get rich off bribes and corruption, as during Prohibition, and the
    innocent pay through zooming crime and lessened freedom.

    That does not mean, obviously, that illegal drug use is a good thing.
    As a physician, a father, and a grandfather, I despise it. My wife, Carol,
    and I have worked for years with a volunteer organization in our home town
    that fights teen drug and alcohol use. But we do it through moral and
    medical persuasion. Government force can't solve problems like this, it can
    only make them worse and spread the burden to many innocent Americans.

    The federal government began the modern war on drugs as part of its
    efforts to destroy the 1960's anti-war movement, since so many of its people
    used marijuana, often as an anti-Establishment statement. For the feds, this
    was a way to jail domestic enemies for non-political crimes.

    At the urging of the Nixon administration, which spied on and tax-
    audited so many Americans for opposing it, Congress greatly escalated the
    drug war in 1969. (Given all the evidence that the CIA has been involved in
    drug running since the 1950's, as pointed out by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall
    Street Journal and others, they might not have liked the competition either!)
    Today, the feds spend almost $4 billion a year through the Customs Service,
    the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the IRS. State,
    county, and local law enforcement adds billions more.

    Despite all this firepower, today one in five Americans from the ages of
    20-40 use illegal drugs regularly. Millions over 40 join them, and last year
    824,000 Americans were arrested for it, including Elvy Musikka of Hollywood,
    Florida. This elderly widow was thrown into jail for possession of four
    marijuana plants, even though her doctor has said that without marijuana,
    glaucoma will destroy her eyesight. All over America, the prison population
    has increased 60% in the last five years, largely due to drug laws.

    In spite of the immense sums of money spent on the crusade, drug use has
    not decreased. Heroin use has stayed level, while cocaine consumption has
    vastly increased, with about 5 million people regularly using it.

    During the 1930's and 1940's, Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal
    Bureau of Narcotics, whipped up the first drug fervor. Today the demon is
    "crack." To Anslinger, marijuana created "drug fiends," and as a result
    government violated civil liberties on a wide scale and imposed Draconian
    prison sentences for the possession of small amounts.

    The result was not, of course, the elimination of marijuana use, just as
    the earlier Prohibition failed to stop Americans from drinking alcohol.

    That "noble experiment" attempted by constitutional amendment and
    rigorous regulation to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages. The "temperance"
    movement called alcohol the main cause of violent crime and broken families,
    and called for rooting it out.

    The result of the war on drugs of the 1920's was disaster. Gangs of
    bootleggers replaced ordinary businessmen as sellers of the now forbidden
    substance. Notorious criminals such as Al Capone achieved their status
    through their control of the illegal trade in drink, just as criminals today
    derive much of their revenue from the market for illegal narcotics. Of
    course, drinking among the public did not disappear, though adulterated and
    poisoned alcohol led to many deaths.

    However unsuccessful they were at stopping drinking, government agents
    did succeed in suppressing civil liberties. We owe wiretapping to the
    Prohibition Era, and warrantless searches of private homes were common. Some
    federal agents, not content with what they viewed as an overly slow judicial
    process, destroyed supposed contraband on their own authority. And as
    happens today, government raids on bootleggers often resulted in shootouts
    with the innocent caught in the crossfire. A government policy calling for
    total victory, at whatever cost, over something many people wanted, meant
    inevitable death and destruction.

    Unseen Effects of Government Intervention


    Today and then, one of the unexpected results of outlawing desired
    substances is to increase their potency.

    A uniform tax on gasoline of so many cents per gallon promotes the
    production of higher octane gas, which sells for more and gives the consumer
    better performance. A uniform "tax" of the danger of going to jail imposed
    on making and selling alcohol during Prohibition stimulated the production of
    such items as White Mule whiskey, with "twice the kick," as well as of often
    dangerous substitutes such as synthetic gin made of wood or denatured
    alcohol. It also favored the production of whiskey itself over beer and
    wine. During Prohibition, distilled spirits accounted for more than 80% of
    the total underground sales. Before and after the criminalization of
    drinking, the figure was 50%.

    In the legal drug market, the trend is towards LOWER potency, as with
    low-tar, filtered cigarettes, decaffeinated coffee, and "lite" beer and wine.

    But with illegal drugs, as with alcohol during Prohibition, the reverse
    is true. Stronger cocaine, heroin, and marijuana have lead to more deaths,
    as have the adulterated products which kill most of the people listed dying
    from drug overdoses.

    Designer Drugs


    But what if the feds could seal the borders tight, and prevent the
    domestic cultivation of all illegal plants? We would see a massive increase
    in an already visible trend: "Designer Drugs."

    These chemically engineered artificial substances are up to 6,000 times
    as strong as morphine, and their toxic effects are bizarre and unpredictable.
    They are far more dangerous than heroin or cocaine, yet the government is in
    effect stimulating their production by focusing on their competition.

    Unlike natural narcotics, a few pounds of designer drugs could supply
    the entire U.S. market for a year. And they can be manufactured by the same
    clandestine chemists who now extract morphine from opium and convert morphine
    to heroin.

    What if We Tried Legalization?


    When the American people got fed up with their rights being trampled,
    they organized and supported candidates who pledged to erase the Prohibition
    Amendment from the Constitution. When they succeeded, most states legalized
    the distribution and sale of liquor, and the criminal gangs dominating the
    trade went out of business. The repeal of a bad law accomplished what the
    indiscriminate use of force and tax money could never do: the end of
    criminal trade in liquor. It would be no different for drugs.

    If the use and sale of drugs were not illegal, the power of crime
    syndicates now controlling these substances would disappear. These
    organizations derive their power and influence only from the fact that their
    business is illegal.

    Though the benefits in the destruction of criminal organizations more
    than justify an end to government intrusion in this area, a policy of
    decriminalization would have many other good results. For one thing, the
    users of drugs who now commit violent crimes to pay for heir "fix" would have
    much less incentive to do so. Prices of drugs, now subject to open
    competition, would drop sharply. Since narcotics are "downers," addicts
    would have no incentive to act any different from "Bowery" alcoholics.
    Instead of raving criminals, they would become street people.

    Even addicts would be better off. The major cause of death is not from
    drugs' narcotic properties. It is from poisoned drugs and adulteration. It
    is impossible for the user to know how much he is taking. Illegality causes
    these problems – the drug user can hardly ask his pusher for lab tests.

    A legal market would be an entirely different affair. Just as a
    customer in a liquor store need not wonder if his whiskey contains poison, or
    what he percentage of pure alcohol is, the consumers of drugs would no longer
    face a danger that is 100% Made in Washington.

    Also, the use of contaminated needles by narcotics users has been a key
    factor in the spread of AIDS. Through the availability of sterile needles in
    a free and open market, decriminalization would help control the spread of
    this disease.

    But if we legalized the trade in narcotics, wouldn't we have many more
    drug addicts than today? Wouldn't a lower price increase demand?

    Leaving aside the "forbidden fruit" phenomenon – the fact that many
    people find something more desirable precisely because it is illegal – the
    law of demand does not tell us how much consumption will increase with
    lowered prices. In fact, the data show that consumption of drugs remains
    fairly constant under widely varying conditions.

    Just as the sharply higher "price" of the escalated war on drugs has not
    lowered drug use during the 1980's, legalization would not increase it. Just
    as the availability of alcohol does not make everyone a drunkard, so the
    absence of criminal sanctions would not convert everyone into a drug user.

    Another important point: not all consumers of either alcohol or drugs
    use them at problem levels. Most people who use liquor are not alcoholics,
    and many users of drugs try them only occasionally. Most drug users are not
    "addicts" dependent on their daily use.

    What About Children?


    Would decriminalization place drugs in the hands of children? No, in
    fact, outlawing them has done it. Because of the severe penalties inflicted
    on adult drug suppliers in the 1970's, criminal syndicates now use juvenile
    distributors. Youngsters, even if prosecuted, are tried in special courts
    which cannot impose severe penalties. Thanks to the government, pushers now
    have every incentive to involve children in their business. Just as a free
    society properly has laws against selling liquor to minors, we would bar the
    sale of drugs to them.

    Law Officials Advocate Legalization (In Private)


    A few years ago, a friend was a consultant to a gubernatorial campaign.
    To aid the candidate in forming his anti-crime policies, my friend assembled

    a group of top DA's. All were glad to help, but they also unanimously
    agreed, – off the record, of course – that nothing significant could be done
    about crime until "drugs are legalized."

    They will never be legalized, said one famous prosecutor, because too
    many government officials make too much money off the drug trade: from the
    feds to the county sheriff: "BILLIONS of dollars." These men were also
    furious because of spending priorities. Every dollar spent pursuing drug
    dealers and users who didn't aggress against the innocent was a dollar less
    available going after criminals



    Bok Kwan Kim, a 49-year-old electrical assembly worker, lived peacefully
    in a tiny apartment with his wife, three daughters, and 78-year-old mother-
    in-law in Newark, California.

    Then late on the night of May 12th, nine narcotics police broke down his
    front door, handcuffed him and beat him until he was unconscious, handcuffed
    his wife and shoved her to the floor as their daughters screamed, and
    ransacked the apartment. Not one piece of furniture was left unbroken; every
    pillow or piece of upholstery was torn and emptied of its stuffing. All their
    dishes and porcelain were shattered. Only a picture of Jesus on the wall was
    left in one piece.

    Why? The narcotics police had gotten a false tip from an informer that
    Kim had a stock of amphetamines. Why the beating? The police said Kim had
    "resisted" the destruction of his home and few possessions.

    Kim is still in the hospital, and his daughters have nightmares every
    night. The head of the narcotics squad apologized, but noted that "this is

    Yes, but war on whom? We now have Republicans and Democrats passing
    laws – over the Pentagon's wise opposition – to turn the military into narco-
    police, which arrest civilians. And if anyone's rights are violated? The
    military narcotics police are to be immune from suit.

    Under the government's so-called Zero Tolerance program, boats and cars
    are being confiscated right and left. Recently a $3 million yacht was
    commandeered by the Coast Guard because a few shreds of marijuana were found
    in a wastebasket. The Coast Guard had boarded the vessel despite there being
    to probable cause of crime. The owner was not on board, and his employees
    were transporting the ship. Who did the marijuana belong to? It didn't
    matter. A yacht – which an entrepreneur had worked all his life to own – was
    stolen by the U.S. Government, and will be sold at auction. What's next? A
    house confiscated because someone finds pot in the garbage can? (Now that
    the Supreme Court says police can search your garbage without a warrant.)

    Mises on Drug Prohibition


    Ludwig Von Mises, the outstanding economist and champion of liberty of
    our time, as usual summed it all up in 'Human Action'

    "Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But
    once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect
    the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be
    advanced against further encroachments. A good case can be made out in favor
    of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's
    benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is
    not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more dangerous than
    bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad
    plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues, and from hearing bad music?
    The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both
    for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic
    drugs…"[N]o paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from
    regimenting its subjects' minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes
    man's freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away."

  27. Today's Front Page USA Today, November 14, 2011:

    "Surge in Babies addicted to drugs: prescription abuse on rise across USA."

    "Medical authorities are witnessing explosive growth in the number of newborn babies hooked on prescription painkillers, innocent victims of their mother's addictions."

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