He Said: War on drugs is a failure

Tyler Davis | Contributing Writer

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Celebrity substance abuse has indeed become a common topic over the past few years, with the deaths of stars such as Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger and, most recently, Whitney Houston. As a result, many individuals have come out on both sides to either support the legalization of drugs or stricter government regulations. The one major fact that opponents of drug legalization are missing is that all three of the individuals named above died from complications with legally prescribed drugs. Not marijuana, not LSD, not cocaine, not heroin and not methamphetamines. All of their deaths were caused by drugs given to them by a doctor who is still prescribing those very drugs.

The war on drugs and the problem of prescription drug use in America are two very different issues. I would agree that the reason celebrities so often abuse drugs is because of their power and social status; however, what we so often forget is that, most of the time, the drugs these individuals are abusing are legal. For example, in Whitney Houston’s toxicology report, the two drugs in her system at the time of death were a surplus of Xanax and alcohol, both legal drugs. The issue of celebrity drug use rarely has to do with illegal drugs. More often what occurs is the doctors of these stars and icons will prescribe them whatever drugs they desire. Whether that is Xanax, Vicodin or Adderall, all of these drugs can be just as dangerous and addictive as some of the more seriously illegal drugs previously mentioned.

A few of the primary pro-legalization arguments are that there would be a reduction in violence and black market activity, but the list of benefits is endless. To say that legalization would merely prevent black market profits is simplifying that advantage significantly. The United Nations has reported that since 2003 the illegal drug trade has resulted in criminal profits of over 350 billion dollars a year and continues to increase at a steep rate. To put that in perspective, the illegal drug trade alone brings in more revenue each year than the average gross domestic product of most countries around the world. In fact, only 30 nations currently have an average GDP above 350 billion dollars every year.  Also, in regards to the advantages legalization would have on our nation’s youth, the return would be beneficial. Visit most middle or high schools in America and ask a random student which is easier to buy, booze or dope; the majority of the time that student will tell you dope. And you can be pretty sure that drug dealers don’t check IDs.

It should also be noted that the reason most drugs are illegal has nothing to do with how safe or addictive they are. Two of the most deadly and addictive drugs on the planet, alcohol and nicotine, remain recreationally legal in the U.S., whereas drugs that have never killed a single person directly, such as marijuana, remain illegal and can result in serious prison sentences.    

The most likely reason these drugs are illegal is political. Marijuana, for instance, is illegal because of its benefits, not the risks. Hemp, as the drug was traditionally known, can be used for a plethora of medical treatments, as well as an environmentally-friendly alternative for paper.  Major pharmaceutical and lumber companies stand to lose a lot of money. As a result, their respective lobbyists have no problem stuffing congressmen’s pockets full of cash to ensure that the prohibition remains intact.

Also, to say that allowing state governments to regulate and control these illegal substances would increase government intervention would be entirely untrue. Currently, on record, the federal budget designates six billion dollars annually to the ever-failing “war on drugs” and nearly two billion of that alone is spent on fighting marijuana, which people rarely consider to be a hard drug anyway. Imagine if those six billion dollars were spent on regulation instead of prohibition? Instead of wasting those dollars fighting a war which will never end, that money could be used to establish a credible and legitimate system for prescribing and distributing these currently illegal drugs. Several prominent economics professors from Yale, Cornell and Stanford have all stated that if many prohibited drugs were federally controlled and regulated it could help pull the United States out of its recession at a rapid rate. Not only would this help generate job growth on many different levels, it would also save taxpayers significant dollars which currently go to prisons, housing criminals who are serving time for non-violent drug offenses.

Now without a doubt some illegal drugs are extremely dangerous, and there is no way these drugs should be legalized.  Drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are dangerous and addictive, and should certainly be kept off the streets at all costs. However, since the other less serious drugs are also illegal, it makes it much easier for drug dealers to distribute and profit from all of their drug sales.

The reality is that the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure. It is time we take a step back as a nation and look at which of these substances are truly harmful to our culture, and which could actually be beneficial. The truth of the matter is that many prescription drugs which are legal are just as dangerous, if not more harmful, than many of the illegal drugs which people are arrested for on a daily basis.  And as far as celebrities go, doctors will continue to prescribe for them whichever legal drug gets them their fix, no matter what happens with the war on drugs.