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Opinion Paper, Research Paper Example

Pages: 1

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Research Paper

Introduction

       Given the enormous cost and lack of progress of the war on drugs, there is in place a continuing debate as to why narcotics and other drugs are criminalized at all.  Those who support criminalization of drugs and their status as illegal hold that legalization would translate to widespread addiction; that a humane society must penalize substance abuse to limits its impact, and criminalization goes to this end; and that drug criminalization is virtually demanded by the ethical foundation of a government in place to serve the people.  Opponents claim that criminalization of drugs itself generates crime industries; resources that could go to helping addicts are wasted in combating illegal drug traffic; and that the issue of personal responsibility is ignored when substances are made illegal.  These points are presented in the following, with a conclusion reflecting the more rational argument.

Discussion

Drug abuse, it is felt by proponents of criminalization, can only be contained through maintaining it as illegal and subject to severe punishments.  If this protective mechanism of criminality is removed, drugs will be so accessible as to infect the society with addiction.  This will in turn generate crime removed from trafficking, a result as potentially destructive as addiction itself.  Many legislators hold that, while decriminalization would likely end trafficking issues, a new wave of crime would be fostered as increasing numbers of people abused drugs and engaged in erratic and/or criminal behaviors (Abadinsky, 2009, p. 398).  By maintaining laws that at least partially dissuade drug usage, a “lid” is kept on an otherwise explosive situation.

Supporters maintain as well that there is a social imperative in the process.  Those inclined to experiment with drugs must be stopped by any means possible.  Criminalization is in essence a way of helping drug addicts because it emphatically affirms that their drug use is unacceptable to the society, which in turn goes to promoting the addict’s ultimate welfare.  For the supporter, criminalization equates to reinforcing drug abuse as a medical issue, in that the state is required to intervene without the patient’s consent (Hood, 2011, p. 4).  Drug abuse comes down to health or illness, and a responsible state criminalizes that which generates illness.

Lastly, the illegality of drugs goes to supporting the essential framework of the government.  More exactly, to decriminalize drugs would be to violate the ideologies and concepts going to the foundation of the nation.  The legalization of medical marijuana alone reveals how criminalization of drugs is virtually demanded by the government, in accord with its responsibilities to the public; namely, it is still widely felt that legalizing medical marijuana translates to a general approval of its use recreationally, and the government cannot so endorse a control substance (Clark, 2000).  The laws of the nation consistently are in place to promote the well-being of the people, so legalizing substances known to cause severe damage is irreconcilable with the government’s purpose.

Turning to arguments in favor of decriminalizing drugs, there is the belief that legalization would not increase use.  This is, of course, an inherently unanswerable point, as drugs remain illegal.  Nonetheless, what research exists indicates that fears of increased usage are groundless.

For example, smoking marijuana has long been legal in the Netherlands, yet the consumption of marijuana there is less than in the United States, where it is still largely banned. The same lessened marijuana usage has been noted in Alaska, where marijuana is legal (Ostrowski, 2012).

Ultimately, the argument that substance abuse would dramatically rise once drugs are legal is specious at best, and it is just as likely that the accessibility of substances would lessen their appeal, in eliminating the “forbidden” attraction.

Then, and as has been widely documented, the United States spends billions annually on a drug war showing no signs of abating.  Not only does criminalization cost vast sums in the legal efforts to police trafficking, there is as well the significant factor of lost income to the society and government.  There is no working model revealing how much revenue could be generated through the legal manufacture, sale, and taxation of recreational substances, but it may be estimated as exceeding, or at least matching, the billion-dollar alcohol industry (Husak, 2009). Legalizing drugs, in both cutting enormous spending and in eliciting inestimable profits, would enable the society to seek more effective, and not punitive, ways of helping those addicted to drugs.

There is also the considerable factor of personal responsibility.  Criminalizing drugs is as much a moral stance as it is a legal one, and no society is entitled to dictate the individual choices made by its citizens in regard to their personal consumption, unless that consumption creates behavior dangerous to others.  Cigarettes and alcohol, while responsible for millions of deaths annually, are primarily addressed in the society by dissuasion, and not by overt criminalization (Lyman, Potter, 2003, p. 390). It is one thing for a government to protect its people; it is another for it to legislate moral beliefs, and this is largely what drug criminalization does.

Conclusion

Even as medical marijuana is becoming increasingly legal in the nation, the reality nonetheless remains that the criminalization of drugs is hotly debated.  Arguments in favor of it are by no means inherently invalid, but the cannot overcome the most critical – and pragmatic – issue: drug abuse, while illegal, is a vast problem, and efforts to reduce it through criminalization cost enormous sums, crowd the courts and jails, and fail.  Decriminalization is then the only rational and ethical approach to an issue that centers on personal choice.

References

Abadinsky, H.  (2009).  Drug Use and Abuse: A Comprehensive Introduction. Belmont: Cengage          Learning.

Clark, P. A. (2000). The Ethics of Medical Marijuana: Government Restrictions vs. Medical      Necessity. Journal of Public Health Policy, 40-60.  Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3343473?uid=3739616&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102245572591

Hood, D. E.  (2011).  Redemption and Recovery: Further Parallels of Religion and Science in   Addiction Treatment.  New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Husak, D. (2009). Predicting the Future: A Bad Reason to Criminalize Drug Use. Utah   LawReview, 105.  Retrieved from             http://www.epubs.utah.edu/index.php/ulr/article/viewFile/144/126

Lyman, M. D., & Potter, G. W.  (2003).  Drugs in Society: Causes, Concepts and Control.  New            York: Elsevier.

Ostrowski, J. (2012). “Thinking about Drug Legalization.”  The Cato Institute, :Policy Analysis            121.  Retrieved from http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/thinking-about-

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