Posted by: trickyguy | March 24, 2009

What a Novel Idea: Legalize Drugs

Today on CNN.com there is a guest commentary advocating the legalization of drugs.  But there’s a new twist this time: it’s not written by some half-stoned pot head or washed up social worker, it’s written by Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist.

Before all you conservatives out there decry him as another out of touch academic liberal, you should read the article.  He makes some very salient points about the amount of violence associated with trafficking in illegal drugs, as well as the massive cost of the enforcement effort itself.

He notes how much violence was associated with alcohol during prohibition, and the near absence of it prior to and afterward.  He also writes about the potential revenue from the taxation of drugs.

These are all points that are hard to dispute.  But are they points that support legalization?  And, do they consider all aspects of the problem?

One can answer these questions by combining and then examining two points of perspective, both used in Mr. Miron’s writing.  First is his assertion that drug use is a victimless crime.  And second is his use of the example of alcohol prohibition.

No one can deny that alcohol is a drug.  Nor can they deny that it is the most commonly used drug in the United States.  (The National Center for Health Statistics reported that 61% of all adults in the US consumed alcohol in 2006.)  So really there is significant evidence available about the effect of legalizing a drug.

For 2005, there were more than 21,000 deaths directly attributed to alcohol abuse, excluding homicides and accidents.  And, if you add to that the nearly 17,000 traffic deaths attributed to alcohol (39% of all traffic deaths), you have nearly 40,000 Americans who died in one year (or one every 13 minutes) due to alcohol abuse.

And those were only the deaths.  Of the 5.3M convicted offenders under the auspices of the corrections system in 1996, 36% had been drinking at the time of their offense.  Two thirds of all domestic violence occurs when one or both participants have been drinking alcohol.

So clearly, use of alcohol is not without victims and not without cost.  And none of this speaks to the lost jobs, the failed marriages, or the child abuse that occurs or is exacerbated because of alcohol use.

Yes, Mr. Miron, there are some good reasons to legalize drugs.  But there are equally as many very compelling arguments against it.

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