How could society benefit by allowing another addictive recreational drug?
BY NORM JACKSON
June 16th, 2010
The arguments for legalizing pot generally look like this:
•Taking the drug off the black market will allow us to regulate and
control it. This will eliminate the criminal element. We could tax it
and use the money to educate against its use.
•With so many people using the drug now we might as well legalize it.
We could save millions of dollars in police work.
•Using a drug is a personal matter. Society should not be involved in
The same arguments were aggressively voiced in the 1930s to get
another addictive drug legalized: alcohol. The similarities with pot
make it worthwhile for comparison and extrapolation purposes. How
well did these arguments hold up after we legalized alcohol? We
discovered that by legalizing alcohol, it received cultural approval
and its use soared. We find it everywhere; at movies, church
functions, etc. Because it is legal, it has become the nation's
number one drug problem. Nonetheless, we see its advertisements
wherever we go, as though it is a harmless drug. If people did not
drink alcohol, there would be a 74 percent decrease in liver
cirrhosis, 80 percent fewer esophageal cancers, and drops in a host
of other lethal diseases (see research at ncadd.org). Such statistics
grew as the drug's use became more prominent.
That it kills and maims seven million people every year and has
hooked 20 million "alcohol dependent" users, goes unnoticed as
cleverly misleading advertising floods the air waves daily,
convincing old and young alike that the ad's brand of alcoholic
beverage will bring its users healthy, attractive bodies, popularity,
happiness, sexual allure, and youthful energy. Once pot is legalized,
such ads would effectively obscure pot's darker side.
The pivotal point in this debate is the dangers of the substance.
Using alcohol as an example, we now know it costs more to police a
legal drug than it does to police an illegal drug. No matter how you
measure, in dollars, health, job loss, hospital stays, family
breakups, arrests, or incarcerations, accidents at work or on the
highways, the addictive legal drug alcohol is far and away more
expensive to police to regulate, and to clean up after, than an illegal drug.
To think another addictive drug will be used benignly without
consequence to society is witless. Pot has been responsible for many
highway deaths already. According to Dr. Marc Galanter of New York
University Medical Center, a recent government report shows more than
600,000 high-school seniors drove under the influence of marijuana, a
drug that messes with reaction time, attention, and overall ability
to handle complex tasks. The Tribune in April 2009 reported about a
murderer who said he was high on marijuana and Robitussin when he
committed the crime. Legalizing pot will lead to more deaths and
burdens for society.
The notion that if enough people break a law, the law should be
abolished is asinine. Murder continues to happen, but we will not
abolish laws against murder. Most people do obey laws. This was well
demonstrated during prohibition when the death rate for liver
cirrhosis dropped dramatically and then returned when alcohol was
made legal again.
If pot is legalized, we can expect a ground swell of use and
consequences. The problem with the "It's my free choice" argument is
two-fold. First, the drug user's behavior inevitably destabilizes
society. It costs non-users higher insurance rates, costs public
funds to staff social services to help addicts get sober, and many
non-users lose their lives in auto or work-related accidents caused
by users. Second, users inevitably need assistance. The one thing
they insist on is having free choice whether to use the drug or
notironically, when they become drug dependent, they lose their
freedom of choice; they obey the drug's demands. They even risk
incarceration and lengthy jail time getting money they don't have, to
Norm Jackson is a retired Cal Poly English professor and former board
member of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of
San Luis Obispo County. When he was 11 years old, his sister was
killed by an impaired driver who was under the influence of drugs and alcohol.