Answer to drug crisis lies in legalization


Riley Garland

Each year, new Northern students are required to complete an online course before attending the university. The lessons surround a variety of topics, but undoubtedly focus on drug abuse.

The zero-tolerance attitude presented in the course is typical of not just universities, but nearly all professional institutions in the United States. Programs like D.A.R.E. begin inculcating children at young ages to resist drugs at all costs. Universities and government-sponsored campaigns aim to oust drug use from everyday life. According to the Open Society Foundation, the U.S. federal government spends $15 billion a year annually fighting this war.

Yet, the United States, along with the rest of North America, continues to account for 25 percent of all drug-related deaths globally, despite representing less than 5 percent of the world population. Years after the infamous War on Drugs began, we’re no closer to eradicating the problem from our country. It’s clear that the fault is not with the effort put forth, but with the faulty strategy underlying those efforts.

As a general rule, zero-tolerance policies rarely work. Examine how abstinence-only sex education performs compared to comprehensive education in regards to teen pregnancy rate. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, states that focus on abstinence-only education actually had higher teen pregnancy rates, despite the zero-tolerance of teen sexual activity. The lesson learned here is instead of discouraging something as a whole, teach how to do it safely.

Drug use in itself isn’t bad. It’s the artificial manipulation of brain chemicals to induce desired effects. That’s not to say that many drugs don’t have unhealthy effects; they do. But, that’s no reason to revoke the right of people to choose for themselves what they would like to consume.

If we’re to start criminalizing things for being unhealthy, the first to go should be sugar. While drugs account for roughly 52,000 deaths a year in the United States, obesity-related illness kills around 300,000 people a year. Yet, we still allow people to consume sugar freely, opting to push for education about nutrition and health awareness. Why should it be different for drugs?

One common concern is that decriminalization would lead to increases in drug use, and thus drug-related death. However, in practice the exact opposite has occurred. An astounding real-world example of decriminalization is Portugal. In 2001, the country decriminalized the use of all drugs. Now, hardly anybody in the country loses their life to drugs. While a staggering 185 people per million in the United States die from a drug overdose, only 6 per million die in Portugal. That means that United States overdose deaths are over 30 times higher than a country that allows legal consumption. The issue clearly isn’t the drugs, but how we treat them.

Full decriminalization doesn’t just mean a drop in drug overdoses though. It would save a tremendous amount of money spent incarcerating drug users. Currently, there are roughly 300,000 people imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses. Considering that incarcerating someone costs $31 thousand per year as stated by the Vero Institute of Justice, the release of these prisoners would save $9.3 billion every year. This doesn’t even include the costs saved from having to prosecute these people.

Additionally, the government would generate a whole new stream of revenue from legalization. In Colorado alone, legalization of marijuana provided the state government with $247 million in 2017. Imagine how much state governments across our country could generate from taxes, licenses and fees for a newfound drug industry. That means a boost in education funding, or an investment in clean water. Here in Michigan, maybe we could finally fix our roads.

All in all, decriminalization of drugs just makes sense. It would provide our governments with a much needed influx of money and allow people the freedom to choose what to consume for themselves. Drug overdose deaths would drop and the black market for drugs would disintegrate, severely weakening criminal enterprise. Regardless of whether or not you support the proposal, though, we all should agree on one thing: we need a new strategy.