Rocky Mountain HIDTA
Denver, CO 80231
Fact Sheet on the Myths of Drug Legalization
by Director Thomas J. Gorman
Just as in the 1970s, the drug legalization movement has received a great deal of media attention. Also just as in the 1970s, this movement, unfortunately, has contributed to the rise in drug use by painting the picture that drug laws - not drugs - are the villains. Legalization advocates attempt to support their position with faulty analogies, misrepresentations, and unsupported theories. This fact sheet will address the myths propagated by the pro-drug movement.
MYTH: Drug laws infringe on individual freedom and privacy as well as make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
FACT: All laws, by their nature, restrict a certain degree of freedom - the freedom to do as one pleases, whenever one pleases, regardless of the harm or potential harm to oneself or others. Civilized society has the right and the responsibility to regulate behavior in order to protect individuals from their own poor decisions as well as others from the risks of certain behavior. Drunk driving, traffic regulations, possession of explosives and weapons, incest, and child labor are but a few examples.
Those who want to legalize drugs would have you believe that individuals who choose to engage in illegal behavior bear no responsibility; but, instead, the law is to blame, even though most of our citizens elect not to violate the law. The legalization advocates focus on the rights of drug users while ignoring the rights of the public. Based on their philosophy, it is acceptable to allow a very small segment of our society to get high with impunity while placing the majority in great jeopardy from their intoxicated state. Based on their theory, drunk driving should not be against the law. A drunk should only be punished after he or she has a traffic accident and kills or maims someone.
Additionally, the majority of our citizens do not fear law enforcement. It is those few who choose to violate the law who feel threatened by the police. They seek protection of their own freedom while they choose to violate the freedom of others.
MYTH: Drug use is a victimless crime.
FACT: There are actually four classes of drug use victims: the users themselves, the family and friends of users, the individuals who are victimized by the acts of those under the influence, and the taxpayers/consumers who are paying the price. Tell these people, who have had firsthand experience with drug abusers, that they are not victims. Tell the mother and father whose child was killed by a drugged driver, or the husband whose wife was raped by somebody loaded on cocaine, or the sister whose brother was brutally beaten by a "speed freak" that they are not victims of drug use. The nexus between violence and being under the influence is indisputable. Tragic stories of promising young adults dropping out or children beaten by their drug-using parents are all too common. How anyone, assuming that they truly understand the drug culture, can suggest a policy that would facilitate drug use is beyond comprehension.
MYTH: Alcohol and illicit drugs are no different; thus, it is hypocritical for society to allow alcohol use while outlawing other drugs.
FACT: Alcohol and illicit drugs have a major difference. Most people use alcohol as a beverage and don't drink to become intoxicated; whereas, with drugs, intoxication is the sole purpose. That is why marijuana smokers seek the higher THC content in marijuana and why crack is so popular among cocaine users. A more factual analogy would be to compare drug use with drunkenness. In addition, illicit drugs are far more addicting than alcohol. Also, approximately one-half of our citizens use alcohol, whereas only approximately 8 percent use illicit drugs. In fact, there are almost as many people addicted to alcohol as use illicit drugs. The reason is that alcohol is legal, relatively inexpensive, readily available, and socially acceptable, whereas illicit drugs are not.
MYTH: The legalization of illicit drugs should be based on the alcohol model.
FACT: Alcohol is hardly the model to use to justify legalizing illicit drugs. Legal alcohol has been consumed by a majority of our young people, whereas only a small percentage use illegal drugs. There are almost as many people addicted to alcohol than use all the illicit drugs combined. Alcohol kills five times more people, the medical costs are triple, and economic costs are double those of all illicit drugs combined. There are also three times as many arrests for alcohol offenses as there are for drug offenses. The paradox is, while society is strengthening and demanding stricter enforcement of alcohol laws, there are those who want to decriminalize and even abolish drug laws.
MYTH: We tried alcohol prohibition, which was a failure, proving that prohibition against drugs does not work.
FACT: Alcohol prohibition, under quite different circumstances in the 1920s, was an attempt to pass laws that the majority of the people did not support. Even with that, there was an approximate 50 percent reduction in alcohol consumption, deaths from alcohol-related diseases, admissions to mental institutions, and alcohol-related psychosis. Unlike the legalizers would lead you to believe, crime did not skyrocket. Prior to enforcing drug laws and alcohol prohibition, from 1900 to 1920, the murder rate jumped 300% (1.5 to 8 per 100,000) . During prohibition, the rate climbed only 30% (8 to 9.5 per 100,000). Rescinding prohibition after only 13 years was insufficient time to change society's attitude following 2,000 years of acceptance. Regardless of whether you drink alcohol or not, you would probably agree that our society would be much better off if we didn't have alcoholic beverages.
MYTH Elimination of drugs would reduce crime and free prison space for the more serious violent offenders.
FACT: Removal of laws would reduce incidents for those specific violations, but the behavior would not change. Lowering the age consent to 12 would reduce the number of child molestation crimes, but it would not change the fact that predators were molesting young children ages 12 to 18. The advocates fail to recognize what drug experts are well aware of: that a high percentage of drug dealers were criminals first. They would continue their criminal behavior in order to acquire sources of income. The Mafia did not disband after Prohibition nor would the Crips and Bloods become choirboys if drugs were legalized. The drug black market would continue unless all drugs for all ages were legalized, a proposal few support.
The nexus between being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and violence is well documented. Because drugs alter the mental state, drug users commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes. These acts of violence are often against family members and friends. Fifty percent of all child abuse cases are attributed to drug-using parents. Drug users are five to ten times more likely to be involved in fatal traffic accidents than drunk drivers. The perpetrator was under the influence in well over half of the violent crimes such as murder, rape, and serious assault. Only 5 percent of all murders are committed because of drug laws, whereas approximately 25 percent are committed because the murderer was under the influence of drugs.
There are three times as many arrests for alcohol violations as there are for drug violations. Legalizing substances such as alcohol was supposed to reduce crime, or is it that intoxication leads to more crime?
Ninety-three percent of all state prison inmates are violent and/or serious repeat offenders. Only 1.4 percent are first time, "non-violent" drug offenders. Keep in mind that "non-violent" only describes the act for which individuals are incarcerated and not their past history or previous behavior. If an organized crime "hit man" were convicted for income tax evasion, then he would be considered a non-violent inmate. In addition, only approximately 10 percent of those arrested for drug offenses actually end up in prison. The simple truth is that if we legalize or decriminalize drugs, the acts of violence against our citizens would skyrocket.
MYTH: Other countries have had successful experience with a more lenient and/or pseudo-legalized drug policy.
FACT: In the 1970s legalization advocates cited Great Britain's decriminalization of heroin as a model drug policy. When Britain's failed policy resulted in increased addiction, while the addict population remained stable in the United States, the advocates discontinued citing Britain. They then pointed to Platzspitz Park in Zurich, Switzerland, which essentially offered free drugs. This program was to prove all the so-called positive benefits of legalized drugs. The advocates expected less crime, more addicts accepting treatment, decreased AIDS, and the isolation of addicts. After five years, this experiment was abandoned because crime increased, drug-related deaths doubled, AIDS rose, and the health care system was overwhelmed. The very persistent advocates then began focusing on the Netherlands and its "enlightened" drug policy of not enforcing laws against selling and using marijuana in certain areas. After a number of years, the Netherlands began experiencing the consequences of lenient drug laws with increased drug use, unemployment, and crime. From 1984 to 1992, teenage drug use in the Netherlands increased 250 percent, while in the United States, at the same time, teenage drug use was reduced by 50 percent. Crimes of violence in the Netherlands - for instance, serious assault - increased 65 percent.
The advocates actually don't have to look beyond this country to examine the results of legalization. The experience in Alaska with decriminalized marijuana resulted in twice as many Alaskan teenagers using the drug as those in the rest of the nation. Also, in the early 1900s, prior to legal sanctions, when drugs were inexpensive, available, and legal, the drug crisis per capita was triple today's drug problem.
The advocates failed to examine the assertive drug policies of Japan and Singapore that resulted in the virtual elimination of the drug problem. Along with some Muslim countries, Japan and Singapore have proven that tough drug laws, coupled with aggressive enforcement, work.
MYTH: The cost of enforcing drug laws is too expensive, and the money could better be spent on social programs dealing with the root causes of drug abuse.
FACT: What the legalization advocates fail to address is the cost to this country if drug laws were not enforced. Making illicit drugs legal, inexpensive, and readily available would lead to a significant increase in the number of users and increased consumption among current users. Increased use and consumption would result in corresponding greater costs for homelessness, unemployment, welfare, lost productivity, disability payments, school dropouts, lawsuits, medical care, chronic mental illness, accidents, crime, and child neglect, to name a few.
Fifty to sixty percent of mental health care patients are substance abusers. Drug-using teens are three times more likely to commit suicide than their non-using peers. Seventy-five percent of teenage runaways are substance abusers. Hundreds of thousands of newborns are drug-exposed and impaired, costing taxpayers over $100,000 per child.
The current economic cost of illicit drug abuse is still half that of one legal drug - alcohol. The money raised in taxing alcohol covers less than 10 percent of all social and health expenditures due to that drug. Federal, state, and local government expenditures for drug law enforcement, which includes police, prosecutors, public defenders, courts, and prisons, is less than 1 percent of total government expenditures. Relatively speaking, this is not a significant investment considering drug law enforcement, when compared to alcohol, helps save hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
Putting drug law enforcement expenditures into perspective, our federal government spent ten times that amount paying the interest on the public debt, ten times that amount on the war on poverty, and more money on the Food Stamp Program alone than all federal, state, and local expenditures for drug law enforcement.
There is also an assumption that with legalization there would be no governmental costs to regulate and control the distribution, sale, and use of drugs similar to those we currently have with alcohol. In addition, drug law enforcement would still be required for those drugs that remain illegal or to police the sale to and use by those under age.
Most importantly, the cost-saving argument, referred to as "blind-side economics," only addresses economic issues and not the more tragic costs in terms of loss of life, pain and suffering, broken families, child neglect, and the general poisoning of Americans.
MYTH: The answer to the drug problem is increased drug prevention and treatment and not law enforcement.
FACT: It is interesting to note that most drug treatment and prevention professionals are against legalizing drugs. They consider law enforcement an essential precursor to both successful prevention and treatment. Good drug policy requires all three disciplines. Drug treatment experts agree that law enforcement offers strong incentives not only to receive treatment, but once treatment has been completed, to stay off of drugs. Making drugs legal, inexpensive, and readily available would eliminate that important incentive. Drug prevention experts agree that legal sanctions and public attitude against drug use are essential for successful education and prevention programs.
MYTH: This country's 80-year war on drugs has been a failure, proving that strict laws and enforcement do not work.
FACT: It should be noted that there is not actually a "war" on drugs, but a limited engagement. Even with that, drug sanctions and enforcement have been successful during this 80-year period. Experts estimate that in the early 1900s, prior to drug laws or enforcement, there were as many addicts in this country as there are today, even though the population was one-third smaller. Recognizing the tremendous costs and problems associated with drug use, citizens, through their government, elected to pass and strictly enforce drug laws. The drug problem was significantly reduced so that by the 1940s and '50s, it was relatively minor. Anyone attending high school during that period could testify that drugs were virtually non-existent for most people.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a major shift in attitude regarding drug use. Terms such as "recreational drug use" were coined; the legalization movement gained momentum; drug use was glorified; and drug law enforcement was de-emphasized. This resulted in a tremendous increase in drug use and related problems in America. In the 1980s, through a combination of increased law enforcement, highly publicized prevention messages, and more effective treatment, drug use was reduced by 50 percent in just twelve years. In 1979 there were 24 million drug users and by 1992 there were only 11.4 million. It was during that period that drug arrests and incarcerations doubled. High school seniors graduating in the class of 1992 were 50 percent less likely to use drugs than their counterparts in the class of 1979.
Studies and surveys show that while 70 percent of eighth graders had used alcohol, only 10 percent had tried marijuana, and only 2 percent cocaine. Additional studies demonstrate that a majority of students cite the fear of getting into trouble with the law as a major deterrent to drug use. Yet another study shows that 79 percent of those responding stated they had no chance to use cocaine. Of the 21 percent who did have a chance to use cocaine, over half did. The U.S. military's tough drug policy dropped drug use from 28 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in 1992. Private industry has repeatedly proven that tough anti-drug sanctions are successful.
There have been few modern social problems in this country, such as welfare, teenage pregnancy, homelessness, high school dropouts, and test scores for American students that have shown the same degree of success as our country's drug policy. If, for instance, teen pregnancies were reduced by 50 percent, homelessness reduced by 50 percent, or SAT scores raised by 50 percent, the successes would be applauded. Instead, a 50 percent reduction in the number of drug users is considered a failure.
You don't have to be a drug-abuse expert, an intellectual, or hold a variety of degrees to understand that to make illicit drugs legal, readily available, relatively inexpensive, and reduce the risk would lead to increased numbers of drug users as well as increased consumption among current users. Likewise, common sense would dictate that with increased drug use and consumption, the problems affecting this country would be overwhelming. Drug abuse exacerbates most social problems facing this country and touches all segments of our population. There would be no greater threat to destroy our country from within than making drugs inexpensive, available, and legal. I don't think this is a legacy that we want to leave our children or our grandchildren. Instead of repeating the mistake of the 1970s, we should build on the successes of the 1980s. It is a mystery as to what drug culture the legalization advocates are referencing. Drug abuse experts are positive it isn't the one they deal with on a daily basis. Intellectual theory, although interesting, often has no basis in reality.
This article written by Thomas J. Gorman was first published and distributed by the California Narcotics Officers' Association in 1995.