Opinion polls have shown that Americans view the widespread use of drugs as the number one problem in the United States, where drugs are illegal. Every year the United States spends $8 billion on its war on drugs, mostly on the cost of law enforcement and prohibition, such as the recently imposed mandatory drug testing of athletes and state and federal employees. Because drugs are illegal, they have become very expensive. Black market prices for heroin and cocaine, for example, are estimated to be 100 times greater than the cost of production. With such prices, drug pushers can earn more than $20 billion each year by pushing their wares in even the poorest neighborhoods. Most people agree that the so-called "drug war" is far from being won in the United some solution to the drug problem. An obsession for many Americans to find some solutions to the drug problem.
One proposal is to fight the problem by making drugs legal. This proposal has, in fact, been the cause of a lengthy, unresolved debate. Ever since the 1970s, Americans have argued whether taking the extreme measure of legalizing drugs would, in fact, decrease drug use. People who support this proposal believe that the current policies of prosecution and punishment are a waste of money. They feel that more money should be spent on education and treatment, arguing that the black market drives the prices of drugs too high, providing an incentive to get into the drug business. They point to the gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s who disappeared with the end of the prohibition of alcohol in America. If drugs were made legal, they say, drug dealers would lose their big incomes, and drug-related crime would decrease. Advocates of legalization see drugs as a health problem rather than as a criminal justice problem. As it is now, they say, anyone who is caught using drugs is treated as a criminal, not as an addict who needs help. This proposal for legalization has been supported by a variety of leaders, from the most conservative to the most liberal, from secretaries of state to federal district judges who advocate the sale of drugs at prices resembling their costs. These supporters also favor the legalization of soft drugs, such as marijuana and hashish. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke has been a leader in advancing the policy of legalization. For years Schmoke worked as state prosecutor and had to deal with the many deaths of law-enforcement officials from drug-related crimes. Frustrated by the unsuccessful policies to control drugs, and responding to the requests of his constituents to take a more aggressive position in dealing with the drug problems of his community, Schmoke decided to take a hard-nosed approach to charging the current drug policies: He proposed the legalization of drugs.
The proposal to legalize drugs has not been accepted easily by all Americans, however. In fact, it has taken a lot of flak over the years. Those who oppose the legalization of drugs feel that decriminalizing drugs would be a surrender in a drug war that has not really even begun. For them, the solution is not to decriminalize drug crime but to make laws more severe. They point out that legalization would lead to greater drug use, explaining that, with drugs such as crack being so common in our cities, there would be an increase in cases of crime and child abuse and an even greater spread of AIDS. Crack is known to cause people to become violent and, when used with dirty needles, spreads disease. Opponents of legalization also point to China. When drugs there were made legal, the selling of opium increased and fanned the drug trade rather than slowed it down. Those who oppose legalization also raise important questions such as: Which drugs would be legalized? Would the state or the individual administer the drugs? Would the government have to support facilities that sell the drugs with tax money? Would the black market really disappear with the legalization of drugs?
So, is it time to recognize that the current war on drugs is not working and accept that legalization may be the only solution? Every few years, voters are asked to cast their votes for politicians who claim to have answers to this question. But as of yet, Americans have not chosen legalization as a solution to their country drug problems.