RUDGLEY: Legalize drugs

The War on Drugs should end because it is costly, anti-American and unnecessary

The purpose of this piece is not to disprove the widespread notion that drug use is bad; rather, I want to illustrate how legalization is the best way to limit the social, human and economic costs of drug use. As a clarifier: this argument covers recreational drugs like marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, LSD and heroin. A brief outline of theoretical, economic and public health and safety arguments will demonstrate how legalization is the best approach to taking on the enormous challenge presented by the growing illicit drug trade and the War on Drugs that is spiraling out of control — both in lives lost and tax dollars wasted.

In 2003, the illicit drug border was a $320 billion industry. That was almost 1 percent of the world’s GDP and exceeded the GDP of 88 percent of the world’s countries. The War on Drugs, one of the world’s most costly wars at present, has killed or displaced over 1.6 million in Mexico alone between 2005 and 2010. The sheer enormity of the drug trade begs the question: whom does the status quo help? The answer is drug cartels, distributors and dealers, who profit from the exorbitant risk-inflated costs while American businesses, the American economy and the American people lose. Indeed, drug kingpins readily admit this: for example, drug magnate Jorge Roman called the War on Drugs “a sham put on the American taxpayer” that is “good for business.”

Let’s begin with the foundational principle that we should be able to do whatever we please so long as it doesn’t directly prevent others from doing the same. Recreational drug use in one’s own home doesn’t harm anyone else nor does it infringe on others’ personal liberties. Though illicit drug use can detrimentally affect others or dependents indirectly, so can alcoholism, adultery, smoking cigarettes and chronic overeating — none of which can be justifiably outlawed either. The paternalistic notion that the government should protect us from ourselves is anathema to what George Washington et al fought for when they founded this republic. Thus, individual liberty and self-governance — key ideals of the American political tradition — stand to benefit from legalization of drugs.

If you legalize drugs and put manufacturing in the hands of regulated American businesses, myriad economic benefits ensue. First, manufacturing, regulatory and sales jobs associated with the drug trade, and its enormous profits, would be transferred from the hands of criminals to law-abiding Americans and American businesses. Second, tax revenue from the sale of currently illicit drugs would be lucrative and could help fund schools, hospitals and medical initiatives that could treat drug addiction as a medical condition and not a crime; one study estimated that the tax revenue on drugs (at similar rates to alcohol and tobacco) would yield $46.7 billion annually. Third, the federal government could achieve greater fiscal integrity by ending the War on Drugs that costs $41.3 billion each year just domestically — the United States sends many more billions to Latin Americans to fight their own fruitless wars on drugs. Fourth, the United States spends countless taxpayer dollars on locking up non-violent drug offenders; indeed, this country, with the highest incarceration rate in the world, is home to 25 percent of the world’s imprisoned and has over 2.3 million people behind bars (many of these were jailed for marijuana possession and are now becoming hardened criminals).

By pulling the rug out from under organized crime, legalization of drugs would also improve public safety. Organized crime thrives during drug prohibition; during the era of alcohol prohibition homicide rates rose astronomically. It is not a stretch to say that Americans would be safer if organized crime’s main source of revenue was eliminated. Additionally, it is hardly far-fetched to argue that treating rather than imprisoning drug addicts through initiatives like free, clean needle distribution in inner-city areas would be a boon to public health. Furthermore, federal regulations will compel drugs to be pure, whereas the status quo exacerbates — even incentivizes — the problem of dealers cutting MDMA, for instance, with cheaper, unknown, often more dangerous substances.

How many more Americans have to die from drug-related violence and organized crime, while federal deficits climb ever higher, for legalization to be seriously considered and promoted? The legalization of drugs would promote individual liberty and self-governance while creating jobs, fixing the deficit, helping — rather than hurting — drug addicts and taking on organized crime. If Einstein was right in saying that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” then maybe the War on Drugs and prohibition, not legalization, are crazy.

Ben Rudgley is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

Published April 11, 2014 in Opinion

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