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Opinion | Marijuana legalization does not go far enough: All drugs need to be legalized

Milam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On February 10, 2014

As support grows for the legalization of marijuana, it is time to consider legalizing all drugs in the United States - heroin, LSD, crack, everything - and end the destructive War on Drugs.

Such a notion seems counterintuitive; marijuana is a natural substance, has potential medical benefits and almost half of all American adults have used it. Moreover, a CNN poll found 55 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

However, consider this: a potent fentanyl-cut of heroin killed 22 people in Pittsburgh. Heroin overdoses increased 84 percent in New York City from 2010 to 2012. Meanwhile, heroin use has almost doubled across the United States since 2007 from 373,000 users to 669,000.

This is not a war we are winning so long as we see drug use as a criminal problem instead of the health crisis that it is. As Lucy Steigerwald argued in Vice, jail time, police harassment and the potential for dangerous product is only magnified by prohibition laws.

"Laws can't stop people from using drugs, they can only make drug use a more harrowing experience for addicts," Steigerwald said.

If one is too skeptical about legalizing all harder drugs, then the least we could do is make heroin use safer by making naloxone readily available to users.

Naloxone, hailed as a miracle drug, is an antidote for heroin overdoses. It has been in medical use for 30 years and is approved by the American Medical Association. Yet, it has not been approved for over-the-counter use by the Federal Drug Administration.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose on Super Bowl Sunday. After his death, health professionals and policy advocates in The Atlantic and The New York Times argued that heroin use could be made safer.

Jeff Deeney argued in The Atlantic that while naloxone is not drug treatment, it might have saved Hoffman's life.

"Dead people can't get clean. Every reversed overdose is another chance at life," he said.

Nobody should be caged for marijuana use, but neither should they for snorting a line of cocaine or injecting a needle full of heroin into their arm.

First, there is the moral element. As autonomous human beings, we own our bodies. Therefore, we can decide to put what we want into our bodies. If such a course of action becomes an addiction, then it is a health problem, not a criminal one.

Republicans who fret about liberal paternalism regarding the welfare state do not seem to mind this strain of it in the enforcement of the War on Drugs. Democrats that lambaste conservatives for waging an invasive war on women do not seem to mind anal cavity searches in New Mexico for drugs.

Drug use can be foolish, but it does not have to be unsafe and it most certainly need not be the concern of the government.

Second, it is a matter of the law: we know prohibition does not work.

People generally look back on alcohol prohibition in the 1920s as a bad idea, but fail to see how destructive such prohibition of drugs is.

There is a reason you do not see Budweiser and Miller having gunfights in the inner cities. Comparatively, since 2006, 63,000 Mexicans were killed on and around the border in drug-related crime. The United States has helped to wage this ineffective war on the Mexican drug cartels with the Mexican government.

"For the past seven years, Mexico and the United States have put aside their tension-filled history on security matters to forge an unparalleled alliance against Mexico's drug cartels, one based on sharing sensitive intelligence, U.S. training and joint operational planning," said Dana Priest for the Washington Post.

Not only did violence increase with U.S. involvement, but the flow of drugs into the U.S. went on unabated. Ending the War on Drugs would go a long way to weakening the cartels.

Moreover, directing resources, time and money to hunting people down and locking them up for what they put in their own bodies is an awful misallocation. Such time could better be spent on eliminating the rape kit backlog across the country and going after violent crime.

After 43 years of prohibition, millions of arrests and over $1 trillion spent on enforcement, what has the Drug War won us? The United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. It also has a policy that disproportionally targets minorities.

Even though all blacks and whites use and sell drugs at similar rates, blacks comprise 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession.

Michelle Alexander published a provocative book, "The New Jim Crow," which argued the War on Drugs is the modern day version of the Jim Crow laws that formed after the Civil War.

"The fate of millions of people-indeed the future of the black community itself-may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society," Alexander said.

The War on Drugs from every conceivable angle - economics, social justice, morality - is disastrous and a blight on the United States and its southern neighbor, Mexico.

Growing support for marijuana legalization is exciting, but it does not go far enough to end the pervasive problems with drug enforcement.

Legalize all drugs, not because you condone drug use, but because it is the right thing to do.


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