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Legalization of Drugs: The Myths and The Facts

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Legalization Of Drugs: The Myths And The Facts

Robert L. Maginnis, Familly Research Council

Despite data which strongly supports the continuation of effective drug abuse prevention, treatment and enforcement programs, some prominent Americans support legalizing illicit drugs. For example: George Shultz, former President Reagan's Secretary of State, says that "Legalization would destroy dealer profits and remove their incentive to get young people addicted."[1]

Nobel laureate in economics Milton Friedman says that the criminalization of certain drugs undermines respect for the law and creates "a decadent moral climate." He states that legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine would "thus strike a double blow; reduce crime activity directly, and at the same time increase the efficacy of law enforcement and crime prevention."[2]

U.S. Federal District Judge Robert Sweet says the nation should learn the lesson of prohibition and the crime that ensued when alcohol was illegal. "Look at tobacco, the most addictive drug, and we've reduced [use] by a third."[3]

Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke commented on former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' call for a study to legalize drugs. "I think what the Surgeon General said was absolutely courageous and correct."[4]

Aryeh Neier, president of billionaire philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute, states, "The current [drug] policy is wasteful and it promotes crime and disease.... From every standpoint, it is a failure."[5]

Many other officials disagree. Lee P. Brown, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House, labels legalization "a formula for self-destruction"[6] and warns that decriminalization of drugs would mean genocide for the black community.[7]

Wayne Roques, a much-published Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman, says, "Drug policies which legalize drugs would decimate the inner cities and gravely wound the suburban populations.... Legalization is a morally and intellectually bankrupt concept."[8]

Most Americans want to know the truth about drugs and expect public policy to be based on facts and not myths. Yet myths about legalization

abound. Consider:

Myth #1:

lllicit Drugs Are No Worse Than Legal Drugs Like Alcohol And Tobacco

Marianne Apostolides of the pro-legalization Lindesmith Center wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "Marijuana is safer than other substances such as nicotine and steroids. Most people who use marijuana have no problem with it."[9]

Yale law professor Steven B. Duke, who wrote America's Longest War: Rethinking Our Tragic Crusade Against Drugs, believes,"Our biggest, worst drug problem is the tobacco problem. Legalizing drugs will reduce the use of alcohol, which is far more damaging than any popular illegal drug."[10]

The fact that some dangerous substances are legal does not mean that all dangerous substances should also be legal -- especially when there are significant differences between the substances in question. Clearly, alcohol and tobacco can be quite harmful. They have a major impact on morbidity and mortality in the United States. Alcohol is a cause or contributing factor in most traffic deaths and nearly half of all murders, sexual assaults, robberies and other violent crimes. More than 40,000 babies are born at risk each year because their mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy.[11]

Similarly, tobacco kills over 400,000 people each year in the United States, and the British medical journal, Lancet, estimates that tobacco is the cause of death for 20 percent of the people in the developed world.[12]

Nevertheless, a given dose of cocaine or crack is far more dangerous than a drink of alcohol. Alcohol has an addiction rate of 10 percent, whereas cocaine has an addiction rate as high as 75 percent.[13]

And when cocaine is combined with marijuana, it can be deadly. According to a study in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, an increase in heart rate due to cocaine was markedly enhanced if preceded by smoking marijuana.[14] The dual use creates greater risk of overdose and more severe cardiovascular effects from the cocaine. An article in Schizophrenia Research found that up to 60 percent of schizophrenic patients used non-prescription psychoactive drugs.[15]

By itself, marijuana is a dangerous drug as well. A joint of marijuana is far more carcinogenic than a cigarette. Microbiologist Tom Klein of the University of South

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