Illicit Drug Decriminalization, Legalization and Drug Control Policies
The debate on illicit drug decriminalization, legalization and removal of penalties on drug abuse has been going on for some time, as policy makers strive to find solutions to drug trafficking and use. Drug use and dependence has become a major threat to global health, particularly in the developing countries. However, drug war practices have resulted to high levels of incarcerations as well as marginalization of some groups of people. Many countries are turning to legalization of drugs and drug policies to address the issue of drug use rather than using criminal justice system to punish drug users. Criminologists have pointed out that the certainty and swiftness of a punishment has proved to be more effective in deterring drug misuse than having severe penalties. The US government should avoid promoting risky drug policies based on speculations, and instead focus on coordinated balanced strategy that incorporates prevention, treatment, change of behavior, and international cooperation.
Illicit Drug Decriminalization
The debate on decriminalization of illicit drugs has gained momentum owing to the pressure by psychologists, who held the opinion that punishing drug users creates more harm than benefits. Decriminalization is the response, by the community or non-governmental agencies, to drug offenses by utilizing administrative processes instead of using criminal justice system. According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), almost 250 million people worldwide used illicit drugs in 2009 while 18 to 38 million among them have become drug-dependent (Felix and Portugal 1). According to UNODC, drug use and dependence on drugs have become major threat to global health, and the most affected people reside in the developing countries.
Illicit drugs need to be categorized into various groups so that the relevant authority can differentiate between harmful substances from the less harmful drugs. Less harmful drugs can be decriminalized because they are easy to control and are quite popular among the youth. In the US, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) carries out classification of drugs under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) (Drug of Abuse 1). The DEA agency undertakes numerous investigations concerning certain drugs to ascertain drugs that require to be controlled and those that should be removed from control. Thus, the decision to decriminalize drugs is based on the DEA report.
Decriminalization of illicit drugs is likely to reduce the population of inmates in the US prisons because drug users would not be reprimanded during the promotion of treatment of drug addicts. This practice would encourage drug addicts to seek treatment voluntarily in any health facility while doctors would be more than willing to assist them to stop the behavior. Criminal sanctions against drug use are not purely corrective tools because they frequently deter individuals struggling with addiction to seek treatment (Mineta n.p). Most of the referrals on drug addiction come from criminal justice system, and this implies that most drug addicts have continued to suffer in silence due to the fear of being apprehended if they seek treatment in public hospitals.
The notion that use of illicit drugs lead to abuse implies that complete abstinence is the only rational option. However, continuous criminalization of drug use has fueled the spread of fatal diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C, among other diseases, in the community, as well as in prisons. It is almost impractical to have a clean society without drugs. Decriminalization offers an appropriate approach for preventing the spread of such diseases, as drug users would volunteer to seek treatment once they are convinced that no one would punish them. Decriminalization would also minimize curiosity of using drugs, particularly among the youth, as it has been witnessed in alcohol and cigarettes.
Decriminalization can assist in reducing costs on criminal justice. Majority of funds set aside for drug control in the US are channeled towards enforcement of drug laws, but the number of individuals held for trafficking and using drugs has continued to rise. Decriminalization of illicit drugs can assist in identifying drug addicts and direct them to seek treatment and counseling. Money save from decriminalization can be redirected towards the health system to cater for drug addicts. Law enforcement personnel who are involved in pursuing drug traffickers and drug users can be redirected to handle more serious and violent crime.
Portugal was the first European country to proclaim abolishment of all criminal penalties for individuals found in possession of drugs that include cocaine, heroin, marijuana (Goldstein 96). In 2001, the country realized that locking drug offenders in prisons is more costly than investing on their drug treatment. In addition, legalizing drugs encouraged drug users to seek treatment since punishing drug users make them hide their problems. The Portuguese authority came up with a commission that determines the extent of addiction to drug among individuals caught with drugs. The commission decides on whether an individual should go for treatment, pay a fine, or undertake an administrative sanction.
The US can adopt the Portuguese idea of decriminalization of illicit drugs while becoming strict on drug trafficking. Decriminalization of illicit drugs can assist in minimizing racial disparity that has emerged due to drug enforcement law. This practice can also eradicate human rights violations that arose during the enforcement of drug regulations. However, decriminalization in the US is normally utilized as a political tool to push for full legalization of illicit drugs (Mineta n.p). People who opposed decriminalization of drugs claimed that it would augment drug use, which, in turn, increases both social costs and health costs.
Legalization of Illicit Drugs
Legalization involves the amendment of law with an aim of eliminating sanctions or administration linked with the use or distribution of controlled drugs. Legalization of illicit drugs acts as a consumer protection tactic, as it is accompanied by regulations and controls meant to enhance quality and accountability. Many people hold the notion that illicit drugs are harmful and dangerous. However, over-the-counter drugs can also be harmful if they are prescribed wrongly, yet they are not termed as illegal. Thus, legalization of illicit drugs aimed at enhancing their control.
Drug users usually identify themselves as victims of governmental and public subjugation instead of victims of drug abuse. Equally, the public perceive drug abuse victims as people who have suffered an overdose or encountered some negative physical manifestation due to misuse of drugs (Lyman 401). Legalizing some drugs can minimize the use of such drugs because users would not fear to be punished, and those who would like to stop the behavior can voluntarily seek drug treatment programs (Goldstein 92). The war on drugs in the 1980s failed to produce desirable results because of the increased law enforcement in the US.
Legalizing drugs can assist in tackling crime in a country. Netherlands has legalized the use of drugs as a measure towards curbing drug problems (Lyman 393). The country permits marijuana to be sold in coffee shops and be used openly, only by individuals who have attained the age of 18 years. The open policy has helped in categorizing high-risk drugs, which include cocaine and heroin, from low-risk drugs. Although the policy has encouraged drug tourism and prostitution in the country, the Dutch government claimed that the policy has helped in minimizing crime in areas that exercise open policy. The US is among the countries that have high percentages of people who use marijuana. Thus, legalizing some drugs through an open policy can assist the US administration to institute control measures.
Drug legalization offers positive implications on the country’s judicial system. When drugs are legalized, the work of police officers, judges, and district attorneys, would be reduced significantly each year, as few cases would be brought to court (Goldstein 92). Legalization reduces arrests for drug trafficking, as well as use of drugs. Prisons would not be overcrowded, as no prosecution of drug offenders would take place. In addition, the expenses on prosecution and incarceration would be saved and, consequently, taxpayers’ money would be redirected to other essential services. Drug enforcement creates a financial burden on the national economy, as more police officers have to be trained on how to detect drug traffickers while prisons are coerced to employ more workers to .cater for the crime offenders. Even though the people who oppose legalization have realized that the price of enforcement is quite heavy, they still emphasize that all civilized societies must impose some controls to reduce substances that alter individual’s mind.
The argument on legalization of illicit drugs is not likely to end soon due to lack of enough evidence on the benefits accrued from legalization. The existing drug policy in the US has addressed public health as well as public safety portions of drug use by expending the support offered on drug prevention and treatment. President Obama has signed a law that reduced the mandatory minimum sentencing difference between crack and powder cocaine, thus enhancing the efforts to assist millions of Americans to recover from drug abuse (Mineta n.p).
Legalization of illicit drug may not happen without a voice of opposition. For every American who advocate for legalization, at least two Americans emerge to oppose it. According to the opponents of legalization, allowing some drugs to become legal would encourage more drug use, more addiction, as well as increase in drug-related crime (Goldstein 101). They argued that legalization would deceive young people that drugs are not harmful, leading to ride in their use. In addition, they emphasized that society is quite safe when all drug users and traffickers are held in prisons. In this connection, they propose tough punishment to discourage kids from experimenting with drugs.
The experience with the two legal substances, namely, alcohol and tobacco, has proved that legalization of abusive drugs amounts to an increase in societal acceptance of the drugs, in addition to increase in their availability and use. Due to their acceptance, the two substances have continued to claim thousands of lives each year, a number that is greater than that of people who die from all illicit drugs combined (Mineta n.p). Marijuana is not widely accepted by the youth, as alcohol and tobacco. One reason that makes marijuana less acceptable among the youth is due to the notion that it is still illegal. Thus, legalization of such drug may create more harm than good to society.
Legalization of illicit drug may not guarantee elimination of black markets. Legalization of the drugs will be accompanied by taxation, which would make their prices shoot in the open market. In addition, the government would be coerced to establish new regulations that would not create economic incentives to the drug dealers. As a result, the underground drug markets would persist if the government would not offer tax incentives. In addition, legalization of illicit drugs is likely to popularize such drugs, lead to more acceptability among the youth u society. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health’s 2008 data, 59% of grade 10 students believe that regular smoking of marijuana is harmful while 43% believed that smoking cigarettes regularly is harmful (Mineta n.p). This study illustrated that legalizing some drugs makes them more acceptable to the youth than banning them.
Drug Control Policies
Drug use and dependence has pushed for the establishment of drug policy in several countries to cater for social and economic costs of the vice. In the US, the federal government has been instrumental in assisting millions of Americans to recover from drug abuse. The US drug policy endeavors to address both the public health as well as public safety features of drug use by enhancing the support on drug prevention and treatment. According to DEA, the Controlled Substance Act directs the manufacturing and distribution of various drugs, in addition to classifying them based on their safety for use and acceptability (Drugs of Abuse 1). The Act offers a mechanism on how substances have to be controlled, decontrolled, or transferred from one level to the other.
Many policymakers have asserted the combination of political and security threats, which surround international drug trafficking, has necessitated the establishment of stricter drug policy that focuses on disruption and dismantling of the criminal acts, as well as organizations that engage in drug trade. The US government has established tough drug laws that many people perceive as appropriate to curb drug use, but tough laws are not suitable for preventing drug use. The tough enforcement was meant to make illicit drugs quite expensive, thus, making it hard for the majority of youth to afford. However, such rules have not succeeded in minimizing the supply of illicit drugs. According to Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, drug addicts “need treatment and second chances, not knee-jerk, lock-‘em-up policies” (Goldstein 99). Drug policies should endeavor to address the issue of public health, individual safety, as well deterring individuals from using illegal drugs. Psychologists have demonstrated that addiction is a form of brain damage, which can be prevented and treated; hence, drafting a policy that incorporates early health intervention approach can assist individuals to evade drug use, engage in violent crime, or imprisonment.
Drug use escalated in all categories when the US began its prohibition in the 1920s. More strict rules were imposed in the 1980s when drug crimes increased. New York State passed the famous Rockefeller laws that incorporated mandatory minimum sentences of not less than fifteen years (Goldstein 71). The mandatory sentence was later reduced to five years. However, most Americans began criticizing the laws, as the punishment only helped to get rid of drug traffickers and not prohibited drugs. A more compassionate approach for drug use began to gain numbers in the late twentieth century. The legislature in New York State repealed the mandatory minimum sentences and permitted the judges to offer first-time drug offenders an option to enroll in treatment programs.
Preventing drug use is cost-effective, particularly when prevention is done before a person begins to use drugs. When President Obama took office in 2008, he pledged to end the war on drugs by reviewing the drug policy. The Obama administration placed significant emphasis on community-based prevention programs, as well as incorporating drug treatment into conventional health care to enhance access to such services (Youngers 72). While several states have supported the medical use of marijuana, the Obama administration is still in dilemma as to whether a national wide legalization of marijuana is the best way to go. However, the struggle to change the US drug policy has been inhibited by bureaucracy, which is too broad and firmly entrenched to allow change (73).
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in conjunction with federal agencies, have played a critical role in ensuring that the strategies employed to reduce illicit drugs have worked effectively. The ONDCP has sought a comprehensive approach towards eliminating use of illicit drugs by emphasizing on drug abuse prevention, as well as treatment, using evidence-based techniques (Maurer 3). Drug abuse prevention incorporates activities that discourage first-time use of controlled substances, in addition to encouraging individuals who have just began using illicit drugs to abandon their use.
The DEA leads in drug-related law enforcement, thus, it should ensure that individuals suffering from drug addiction are identified and encouraged to go to rehabilitation centers instead of taking them to prison. A large number of non-violent drug offenders are incarcerated instead of recuperating in rehabilitation centers. Many states have already turned to rehabilitation of drug addicts in favor of confinement, since rehabilitation is more likely to transform drug users than prisons. More funds should be channeled to construction of rehabilitation centers as well as training on drug use. The DEA should ensure that all pharmacies are registered so that they can be monitored to prevent prescription of harmful medications that are risk to human health. Any individual who intends to deal with controlled substances should get a permit from DEA (Drugs of Abuse 5).
The US drug policy should be reviewed to correspond with the current technology. This is because drug traffickers have turned to cyberspace to sell their drugs. They are targeting the youth who are the majority users of social media. The drug policy should direct and exploit the media on matters of advertisement, education on drug use, as well as treatment programs for drug addicts.
The debate on illicit drug decriminalization and legalization is expected to offer solution to financial burden, prison overcrowding, and elimination of drug cartels. However, this debate is not supported by evidence, as some policymakers have stated that the benefits of legalizing illicit drugs, such as marijuana, carry less weight when compared to negative consequence of legalization. Most people recognize that use of illicit drugs is a threat to individuals’ health, and that the government has a role to ensure that policies are in place to prevent and treat drug addiction. Establishing strict punishment and fines cannot eradicate drug use, thus, legalizing and decriminalizing illicit drugs can assist in minimizing the use of illicit drugs. A drug policy that caters for both drug addicts and society is vital, as issues of addiction can never be solved through courts.
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