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A cogent and concise argument in favor of legalizing drugs—all of them

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Economics professor Jeffrey Miron explains why legalizing all drugs is a good idea.

My basic argument is that, first, in a free society we should allow people to consume whatever they want—no matter how dangerous, no matter how much it might be bad for them—because that's what freedom means. Not just the freedom to do things that are good for you, but the freedom to do things that might not be good for you, or that other people might think are not good for you. 

Second, by trying to discourage people using drugs and trying to discourage the genuine unfortunate circumstances which happen sometimes because of drug use, we incur far worse negative outcomes, far worse costs, than the results simply from the use of drugs in a legal framework. So what are these adverse consequences of attempting to prohibit drugs?

Well to begin with, we don't actually eliminate drugs, we drive the market underground. And the underground market for drugs is violent, it's corrupt, it has poor quality control, in the attempt to enforce it we have to infringe civil liberties by basically shredding the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. We reduce the ability of people who are sick to use drugs like marijuana or opiates freely to reduce pain, to relieve nausea from chemotherapy, and a whole range of other symptoms. We interfere in other countries. The violence that we observe in Mexico, the profitability underlying the Taliban in Afghanistan.  All those result form the fact that we've driven drug markets underground, and so terrorist groups make a profit by selling their protection services to the drug traffickers, the drug traffickers get the protection and the terrorists get profits. So that's another ancillary cost of trying to wage the war on drugs.

Miron goes on to cite some evidence suggesting that if drugs were legalized, drug use would probably remain relatively consistent. At least one example suggests drug use would actually decline if the United States legalized. Ten years after Portugal decriminalized all drugs, drug use in that country was down by a full fifty percent.

We've been talking about the militarization of the police a lot lately, especially in the wake of the ACLU's report and the protests against police violence in Ferguson. One of the primary drivers of the militarization of the police over the past three decades is the war on drugs.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.