In 1933, the Congress of the United States passed the 21st Article to the U.S. Constitution, repealing the prohibition of alcohol. In doing so, they recognized that rather than reduce the use of alcohol, by making it an illegal substance they had only exacerbated its influence on society. Instead of making this country a safer place for the citizens, prohibition had created a whole new class of criminals, namely, ordinary citizens who wanted nothing more than a relaxing beverage at the end of a hard days work. In addition, by outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol, the U.S. government had helped usher in an era of black market hoodlums who sought only to line their pockets and elevate violence through territorial claims on the liquor market. Religious moralists who sought to control an individual’s right to consume a product that created an altered state of consciousness, something that they claimed went against the rule of God, preceded the passage of prohibition in 1919. As an after thought, they also claimed that the use of alcohol was the cause of crime, poor health, and wreaked havoc on the family structure. While the latter elements of their position had some merit, it was the religious element of prohibition that helped gain passage of the law. But in outlawing its use, the prohibitionists only succeeding in increasing public consumption, increasing crime, and increasing the governments restriction on individual freedoms.

Today we have the War on Drugs. Though not enacted through a constitutional amendment, our prohibition on the use of some drugs has had the exact same result as the prohibition on alcohol, only more so. According to the Federal Prison Bureau, nearly 60% of convicted inmates are serving sentences for non-violent drug offenses. According to the DEA, nearly 40 million Americans use some type of illegal drug each year. In 1995, the federal government spent over $13 billion just for enforcement of the nations drug laws. This figure does not include the costs of incarceration, treatment programs, or arrogant foreign policy. Nor does it take into account the number of families torn apart by the arrests of people whose only crime is ingesting something into their own bodies for their own sense of pleasure. Despite these draconian figures, drug use has remained fairly constant, with the only real negative effects being those caused by the laws themselves Obviously, there is something seriously amiss in these policies.

I could write pages and pages regarding the historical and political machinations that have been employed to create the current state of drug laws in this country, but several good works have already documented these facts. (You can find some of this yourself at or by reviewing The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herrar, among others.) Instead, I will discuss how the current anti-drug regime contradicts the notions of common sense governing and inhibits personal responsibility and freedom. Suffice it to say that the War on Drugs has become a marriage between religious morality and big business and is more about maintaining money and power than about public safety. Drug laws are arbitrarily applied and lacking the scientific and practical evidence necessary to back up the claims used to maintain their illegality. In fact, the current regime of drug laws creates a self-perpetuating cycle by making criminals out of ordinary citizens for the purpose of rationalizing their very existence. And the economic windfalls realized by private incarceration, treatment programs, defense lawyers and testing centers exert pressure on the politicians to maintain the status quo.

Why then do we allow the current drug laws to remain? Study after study shows that the application of drug laws is unevenly enforced. Sentencing of drug offenders is not commensurate to the act, especially when compared to the penalties given to violent criminals. Our overburdened prisons and overtaxed public finances can’t keep up with the demands created by these drug laws, and the loss of otherwise productive citizens from the social and economic grid creates staggering consequences for families and business alike. Further, potential harmful effects of drug use are infinitesimal compared to the harm caused by legal drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and pharmaceuticals. While I can concede that on an individual level, drug abuse can have grave consequences for the user and their close family members, on a societal scale, drug use is of no concern to a free nation, except when it causes great harm. In that context, the real criminals are the drug laws themselves.

The only logical answer is to follow the same course that ended the prohibition of alcohol. From both a social and political standpoint, the eradication of the War on Drugs provides a way to strengthen moral values without legislating them, while reducing the drain on government funds and the strain on society.

From a social standpoint, decriminalization of drug use and sales would put an end to the scourge of broken families that incarceration creates. The stigma surrounding drug use would lessen and the user would no longer have to feel threatened or need to hide from society because their actions would no longer carry criminal penalties. Similarly, drug manufacturers and sellers would no longer stand to make great profits through the underground market, thus eliminating the criminal element from the economic side of drugs. Society benefits through the reduction of street gangs vying for territory and market share, creating safer neighborhoods for everyone. The absence of criminal status would further reduce the instances of people using drugs simply because they were taboo, because the element of danger would be eradicated as would the so-called “coolness” factor that accompanies such actions.

On the governmental level, the amount of tax money saved by the reduction of enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration costs could be funneled into educational efforts that provided honest information to students regarding the effects, uses, and potential problems associated with drug usage, as well as providing a proper social context for their use. Further, the legalization of drugs would allow for increased tax revenue to be generated by the creation of a new legal product that could in turn be used to fund social programs that benefit everyone. Also, the need for ever increasing prison space would become a non-issue, allowing for violent criminals to be kept incarcerated until such time as they could be rehabilitated rather than releasing them back into society due to lack of prison space.

For those who claim that legalized drug use would lead to an increase in crazed individual’s who would be more likely to commit crimes to support their drug habits, I would support strict criminal penalties for anyone who commits a criminal act while under the influence of a drug, much like we do today with the alcohol laws. Through increased public education, without the propagandized scare tactics, citizens would grow up knowing that drug use as a recreational endeavor is not an excuse for unacceptable or dangerous, anti-social behavior. Finally, by allowing drugs to be sold in the open market, society could regulate the quality, potency, and purity levels of a given drug, much like we do with alcohol, tobacco, and the legal pharmaceuticals today.

While the use of drugs may seem morally unacceptable to some people, that is not reason enough to maintain a legal prohibition. The War on Drugs has proven itself to be ineffective at preventing drug use, financially unsupportable and wasteful of tax dollars, and constitutionally questionable with regards to personal freedom. It has created a violent sub-culture of distributors and manufacturers and has caused otherwise productive citizens to become a drain on the social coffers. Never mind the implications of legislating individual morality; these reasons alone are enough to put an end to it.