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Legalization of Marijuana

By , But that increase is too small to have had much of an impact on attitudes. Both younger and older people developed more liberal views about the legalization of marijuana at a similar pace over the last 30 years. In this way, changes in attitudes about marijuana legalization mirror recent increases in support for LGBTQ individuals. We looked to see if people who lived in states where it was illegal, but resided next to ones where it became legal, were more likely to have changed their views.

The pros and cons of legalising drugs

But the rate of change has been no different in states that legalized marijuana than in others. Likewise, the pace of change has been similar across political parties, religions, educational levels, racial and ethnic groups and gender. As politically polarized as the country may seem, when it comes to marijuana, Americans have been changing their attitudes together, as a nation.

We did find that a small part of the increase in support was related to more people disaffiliating with religion. The proportion of people who do not identify with a religion has increased some, by about 7 percent between and People who do not have a religion tend to be more liberal than others. However, this factor accounts for only a small proportion of the change.

Dealing with Legalization

What has likely made the biggest difference is how the media has portrayed marijuana. Support for legalization began to increase shortly after the news media began to frame marijuana as a medical issue. We took The New York Times as a case study, looking at the number of published articles from to about marijuana. Just before the number of Americans supporting legalization began to increase, we found a sharp increase in the proportion of articles about marijuana that discussed its medical uses.

In the s, the vast majority of New York Times stories about marijuana were about drug trafficking and abuse or other Schedule I drugs. At that time, The New York Times was more likely to lump marijuana together in a kind of unholy trinity with cocaine and heroin in discussions about drug smuggling, drug dealers and the like.

During the s, stories discussing marijuana in criminal terms became less prevalent. Meanwhile, the number of articles discussing the medical uses of marijuana slowly increased. By the late s, marijuana was rarely discussed in the context of drug trafficking and drug abuse. And marijuana had lost its association with other Schedule I drugs like cocaine and heroin in the New York Times. Gradually, the stereotypical persona of the marijuana user shifted from the stoned slacker wanting to get high to the aging boomer seeking pain relief. But analysis of newspapers of record, like this one, provide insight into how the news media has changed its framing of marijuana, especially during an era when newspapers were still a primary news source.

As Americans became more supportive of marijuana legalization, they also increasingly told survey researchers that the criminal justice system was too harsh. As Americans started to feel the full social and economic effects of tough-on-crime initiatives, they reconsidered the problems with criminalizing marijuana. Did concern about the harshness of the criminal justice system affect support for legalization — or vice versa? These laws, then, actually promote epidemic disease and death.

Drug Legalization | Philosophy Talk

By contrast, the figure is less than one percent in Liverpool, England, where clean needles are easily available. Scarce treatment resources. The allocation of vast sums of money to law enforcement diminishes the funds available for drug education, preventive social programs and treatment.

As crack use rose during the late s, millions of dollars were spent on street-level drug enforcement and on jailing tens of thousands of low level offenders, while only a handful of public drug treatment slots were created. An especially needy group -- low-income pregnant women who abused crack -- often had no place to go at all because Medicaid would not reimburse providers.

Instead, the government prosecuted and jailed such women without regard to the negative consequences for their children.

Drug prohibition has not only failed to curb or reduce the harmful effects of drug use, it has created other serious social problems. Caught in the crossfire. In the same way that alcohol prohibition fueled violent gangsterism in the s, today's drug prohibition has spawned a culture of drive-by shootings and other gun-related crimes.

And just as most of the s violence was not committed by people who were drunk, most of the drug-related violence today is not committed by people who are high on drugs. The killings, then and now, are based on rivalries: Al Capone ordered the executions of rival bootleggers, and drug dealers kill their rivals today.

A government study of all "cocaine-related" homicides in New York City found that 87 percent grew out of rivalries and disagreements related to doing business in an illegal market. In only one case was the perpetrator actually under the influence of cocaine. A Nation of Jailers. The "lock 'em up" mentality of the war on drugs has burdened our criminal justice system to the breaking point. Today, drug-law enforcement consumes more than half of all police resources nationwide, resources that could be better spent fighting violent crimes like rape, assault and robbery.

The recent steep climb in our incarceration rate has made the U. Nonviolent drug offenders make up 58 percent of the federal prison population, a population that is extremely costly to maintain. While drug imprisonments are a leading cause of rising local tax burdens, they have neither stopped the sale and use of drugs nor enhanced public safety.

We now have what some constitutional scholars call "the drug exception to the Bill of Rights. Inner city communities suffer most from both the problem of drug abuse and the consequences of drug prohibition. Although the rates of drug use among white and non-white Americans are similar, African Americans and other racial minorities are arrested and imprisoned at higher rates. For example, according to government estimates only 12 percent of drug users are black, but nearly 40 percent of those arrested for drug offenses are black.

Nationwide, one-quarter of all young African American men are under some form of criminal justice supervision, mostly for drug offenses.

The big problem with legalizing marijuana

This phenomenon has had a devastating social impact in minority communities. Moreover, the abuse of drugs, including alcohol, has more dire consequences in impoverished communities where good treatment programs are least available. Finally, turf battles and commercial disputes among competing drug enterprises, as well as police responses to those conflicts, occur disproportionately in poor communities, making our inner cities war zones and their residents the war's primary casualties.

The universality of drug use throughout human history has led some experts to conclude that the desire to alter consciousness, for whatever reasons, is a basic human drive. People in almost all cultures, in every era, have used psychoactive drugs. Native South Americans take coca-breaks the way we, in this country, take coffee-breaks.

Native North Americans use peyote and tobacco in their religious ceremonies the way Europeans use wine.

It’s not about use, geography or demographics

Alcohol is the drug of choice in Europe, the U. A "drug free America" is not a realistic goal, and by criminally banning psychoactive drugs the government has ceded all control of potentially dangerous substances to criminals. Instead of trying to stamp out all drug use, our government should focus on reducing drug abuse and prohibition-generated crime. This requires a fundamental change in public policy: repeal of criminal prohibition and the creation of a reasonable regulatory system.

While it is impossible to predict exactly how drug use patterns would change under a system of regulated manufacture and distribution, the iron rules of prohibition are that 1 illegal markets are controlled by producers, not consumers, and 2 prohibition fosters the sale and consumption of more potent and dangerous forms of drugs. During alcohol prohibition in the s, bootleggers marketed small bottles of plus proof liquor because they were easier to conceal than were large, unwieldy kegs of beer. The result: Consumption of beer and wine went down while consumption of hard hard liquor went up.

Similarly, contemporary drug smugglers' preference for powdered cocaine over bulky, pungent coca leaves encourages use of the most potent and dangerous cocaine products. In contrast, under legal conditions, consumers -- most of whom do not wish to harm themselves -- play a role in determining the potency of marketed products, as indicated by the popularity of today's light beers, wine coolers and decaffeinated coffees.


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Once alcohol prohibition was repealed, consumption increased somewhat, but the rate of liver cirrhosis went down because people tended to choose beer and wine over the more potent, distilled spirits previously promoted by bootleggers. So, even though the number of drinkers went up, the health risks of drinking went down. The same dynamic would most likely occur with drug legalization: some increase in drug use, but a decrease in drug abuse. Another factor to consider is the lure of forbidden fruit. For young people, who are often attracted to taboos, legal drugs might be less tempting than they are now.

That has been the experience of The Netherlands: After the Dutch government decriminalized marijuana in , allowing it to be sold and consumed openly in small amounts, usage steadily declined -- particularly among teenagers and young adults. Prior to decriminalization, 10 percent of Dutch and year-olds used marijuana. By , that figure had dropped to 6.

Would drugs be more available once prohibition is repealed? It is hard to imagine drugs being more available than they are today. Despite efforts to stem their flow, drugs are accessible to anyone who wants them. In a recent government-sponsored survey of high school seniors, 55 percent said it would be "easy" for them to obtain cocaine, and 85 percent said it would be "easy" for them to obtain marijuana.

In our inner-cities, access to drugs is especially easy, and the risk of arrest has proven to have a negligible deterrent effect. What would change under decriminalization is not so much drug availability as the conditions under which drugs would be available. Without prohibition, providing help to drug abusers who wanted to kick their habits would be easier because the money now being squandered on law enforcement could be used for preventive social programs and treatment. Some people, hearing the words "drug legalization," imagine pushers on street corners passing out cocaine to anyone -- even children.


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