The Hidden Upside Of Making All Drugs Legal
Hey, did you hear Hawaii's State Legislature just voted to study whether or not they should decriminalize all illegal drugs? Not "legalize," mind you. Hawaii's not looking to kick-start the medicinal crack industry. Decriminalization means no one gets jail time for simple possession of a substance. If Hawaii ultimately votes to decriminalize, they'll join Spain and Portugal in a grand experiment to answer that age-old question: Is throwing people in prison for drug use worse than just letting them take whatever they want?
All the current data points to "Sweet future-ghost of Keith Richards, yes." In Spain, where drug consumption is legal, the use of marijuana and cocaine (Spanish people's two favorite drugs) has fallen from their high points in 2009. Portugal decriminalized all drug use 14 years ago. Their rate of overdose deaths is currently at three per million, compared to 147 per million in the United States. Drug users in America are 49 times more likely to die than their stoned counterparts in Portugal.
Tragically, our heroin isn't 49 times as good.
The case for decriminalization here is incredibly strong, but there's one reason it'll probably never happen:
That's an interview with NPR reporter Keith O'Brien, and as much as you'd expect someone who works with NPR to be a potted-out weedhead, here's how the article opens: "Today, more users are in rehab, but drug use is on the rise, and reporter Keith O'Brien says the policy has made the problem worse."
The article then goes on to note that the number of drug users in treatment has gone up by 63 percent, while their population of "problem" drug users was cut in half. This is apparently a "problem" because more people were experimenting with drugs. Fewer people developed addictions and died, but more people smoked a jay or shot up a little heroin for the first time. It doesn't matter how clearly decriminalization benefits society; a lot of people will always freak out if it means more people trying, or safely using, drugs.
Note that the bullet points there say nothing of the fact that fewer young people are dying from drug use. What matters is that they're using recreational drugs. A certain subset of the population prefers "people dying" to "people getting high without great harm." A great case in point is the Drug Policy Alliance. Their big critique of the legalization of marijuana is that it would make it easier for more kids to try it.
You'll find that attitude in most of the anti-legalization campaigns. The first page of this drugfreeworkplace.org flier is all about how people use stronger pot more often:
This is in spite of the fact that all the evidence suggests that the legalization of marijuana means fewer fatal overdoses. Legal pot actually makes problems like opioid abuse 25 percent less deadly. But many Americans still rage at the idea of legalization because it means more folks might get high. This attitude is a big part of why states like Ohio and Arizona have failed to legalize yet. They'll surely join the herd one day, but pot seems to be the only currently illicit drug most Americans want licit. A Vox / Morning Consult poll conducted early this March suggests that Americans "overwhelmingly oppose" legalizing or decriminalizing any other drugs.
Literally all the evidence suggests that decriminalization will save lives, but it'll have to wait for an America that doesn't remember "Just Say No." McGruff the Crime Dog was one convincing son of a bitch.
According to a study conducted just now, drug users are 100 percent better at dog-related puns.
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