The need to legalize heroin

The need to legalize heroin

The Need to Legalize Heroin

The abuse of hard drugs such as heroin and its consequences imposed on society have spiraled out of control under a policy of prohibition during the last decades. We are faced with an ever increasing number of addicts and crimes directly related to drugs. Even within groups favoring a particular alternative approach to this epidemic problem, little consent has been reached. Not only are there disagreements about the extent to which an approach should be implemented, but there are also contradicting opinions about effectiveness and implications for society as a whole. A critical look at the concepts under discussion reveals, however, that neither the prohibition nor the decriminalization of heroin are effective ways to manage, leave alone contain the problem. Even though to some the legalization of heroin presents a drastic step, it is the only approach with the potential to benefit both the addicts and society in general.

Prohibition

Prohibition does not, cannot, will not, and has never worked. In sharp contrast to the claim that prohibition has a deterrent effect on people and is therefore able to minimize the harms inflicted on society, we are faced with soaring numbers of users of narcotics such as heroin, “while drug-related crime is rising with narcotics now supporting a worldwide business empire second only in value to oil.”( Brown, J., & Langton, D. (2007, October 15). Legalize all drugs: chief constable demands end to 'immoral laws' THE INDEPENDENT. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/legalise-all-drugs-chief-constable-demands-end-to-immoral-laws-396884.html). Apparently, prohibition, which applies the criminal law to people charged with possession of illegal drugs for personal use, seems to have quite the opposite effect. Just like the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s, which resulted in more Americans drinking hard liquor and in the establishment of organized crime for the first time, the prohibition of hard drugs has resulted in the rise of organized crime in the form of drug cartels and gangs. (cp. Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://idpi.us/compassion). As long as there is a black market and huge illegal profits can be made, cartels, dealers, and gangs will be willing to take their chances and continue to fight over territory. (cp. Brown, J., & Langton, D. (2007, October 15). Legalize all drugs: chief constable demands end to 'immoral laws' THE INDEPENDENT. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/legalise-all-drugs-chief-constable-demands-end-to-immoral-laws-396884.html). The prospect of earning a considerable income also lures many young people into entering the trade; they turn into the casual drug dealers that live in so many neighborhoods these days. According to Father Marquis, a Catholic priest, the current situation fosters greed: “Greed is a much more subtle evil than the immaturity that leads to substance abuse. Like a cancer, it produces ancillary evils as destructive as its root.” (Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://idpi.us/compassion).

To some, the criminalization of drug use is immoral because it is a “victimless crime”, just like gambling, prostitution, or sexual acts between consenting adults: “-the entire range of ‘victimless crimes”- had been mistakenly subject to the criminal law, with terrible consequences for the courts, the prisons, police departments, and the very status of the law. The criminal law is an inefficient instrument for imposing the good life on others.”( Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 353). Whether you view victimless crimes as immoral or not, the bottom line is that the law cannot control such behaviors. People will always make their own choices as long as it does not affect third parties. Perhaps the right to make such choices is even part of the rights of free people. In addition, such victimless crimes are very difficult to enforce, and may result in nothing more than clogged courts and rising costs. It is also a fact that in many places police cannot even keep up with addicts and related crimes, and judges have to let out the convicted early in order to free up space in the already filled prisons. (cp. Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 341). Under such circumstances, law enforcement starts looking like a joke. Prohibition leads to a never-ending struggle where only one side wins, and that is the side of crime. Property crimes are on the rise and every day one can read about acts of violence closely related to drugs; whole neighborhoods are lost to the growing drug culture, while an official policy of prohibition is maintained. It almost looks desperate.

The indirect victims of the policy of prohibition are society in general and the addicted in particular. Prohibition sustains “by law the victimization of the majority by a minority.”( Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 350). Innocent people get caught in the middle of violent crimes committed by those who truly profit from prohibition,- the drug lords, dealers, and gangs, - while those in need of help, the addicts, are left to their own devices and instead threatened with punishment. Father John Clifton Marquis expresses it very eloquently when he states in U.S. Catholic May 1990.”When law does not promote the common good, but in fact causes it to deteriorate, the law itself becomes bad and must be changed.”( Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://idpi.us/compassion). Similarly, a senior British Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, argues that “if policy on drugs is in future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibitionist stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral to be replaced with an evidence-based unified system aimed at minimization of harms to society.” (Brown, J., & Langton, D. (2007, October 15). Legalize all drugs: chief constable demands end to 'immoral laws' THE INDEPENDENT. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/legalise-all-drugs-chief-constable-demands-end-to-immoral-laws-396884.html).

Decriminalization

Consequently, some groups believe that decriminalization of heroin is the answer. The supporters of this approach come from a variety of fields and argue from slightly different angles. They view drug addiction either as a mental/psychological disease or as the expression of a disease of society. Mental health professionals want to treat the problem with medicine, while some liberals and sociologists suggest an increase in social programs for the victims of “blocked opportunities” that “would get at the root cause of deviancy -programs designed to attack chronic unemployment and the grinding poverty of the underclass.”( Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 343-344). However, there is little agreement among the advocates of decriminalization about the extent of the reform.

“For minimalists among the advocates of reform, what is necessary is an end to the prosecution of people who have drugs in their possession, or who are engaged in small-scale street-level trade. For yet others decriminalization implies the need to medicalize the problem, replacing policemen with physicians, punishment with treatment.” (Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 342).

Simply eliminating criminal sanctions for those charged with heroin possession for personal use without giving them legal access to heroin would not make any difference in the current situation. One reason is that because of overextended and understaffed police departments, as well as clogged courts, this type of decriminalization is already unofficially practiced in many places. It has not made a difference at all. Furthermore, this approach does not eliminate the black market and its effects on both users and society. All it does is take off some pressure from addicts without any further benefits to them or the communities.

The so-called “clinical model,” which calls for the use of methadone and heroin as maintenance drugs prescribed by a physician, has its clear limitations as well. Many addicts do not want to or cannot simply “manage” their addiction, as weekly TV shows such as Intervention illustrate with emphasis. Some do not even want to give up their lifestyle and habit and refuse treatment. Trials with heroin addicts in the 1970s reached the conclusion that many addicts are in pursuit of the narcotic high that a maintenance dose will not offer. (cp. Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 348-349). Only those with the desire and will-power to quit their habit would profit from such a clinical concept. All others would continue to get their true fixes from the black market, while perhaps at the same time taking advantage of the occasional maintenance dose on top of it, and nothing would change in the big picture. However, if the “clinical model” could be implemented in addition to the concept of legalization, maintenance drugs could play an important role in helping the addicts who wish to get better.

Legalization

Apparently, much more than decriminalization needs to be done in order to promote the common good and regain control over a very bad situation. Legalization is the only approach which would put an end to the reign of illegal markets with its devastating consequences for addicts and communities alike. In contrast to decriminalization, the legalization of heroin calls for a concept similar to what we have in place for alcohol and tobacco. Ronald Bayer refers to it as the “liquor store” approach (Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, p. 306). It is based on the idea that, like the decision to use alcohol or tobacco, the use of heroin or other narcotics is the private choice of a free person (cp. Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, p. 302) and not necessarily the result of a disease (cp. Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, p. 306). Dr. Thomas Szasz, one of the most significant proponents of this thought, sees the decision to use heroin “as a free choice-a manifestation of personal freedom.”( Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, p. 306). This type of tolerance for deviant behaviors is referred to as the “ideology of tolerance” by Ronald Bayer and has been criticized by people such as Herbert Marcuse:

When tolerance mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society, when it serves to neutralize opposition and to render men immune against other and better forms of life, then tolerance has been perverted.”( Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, p. 314)

Bayer notes similarly that

“instead of assisting in the struggle against human misery those concepts provide the justification for choosing human misery. Because the ideology of tolerance tends to conceal the extent to which certain forms of deviance are reactions to deprivations rooted in the social order- indeed, can be considered as determined by that order- and because it seeks to integrate behavior that should serve as the starting point for a critique of society, it serves to neutralize the possibility of opposition.”( Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR,P. 314).

Both Bayer and Marcuse agree that tolerance for deviance may have some repressive consequences and that a challenge of the social order is called for in order to avoid a so-called “repressive desublimation”: “-…the ideology of tolerance may, by providing the justification for actual social policies and practices, foster behavior that undercuts the possibility of a successful challenge to the prevailing social order.”( Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, P. 315).

Even though these thoughts and warnings about the repressive consequences of a tolerance for deviance are very valid and should be kept in mind, they do not necessarily result in the dismissal of the legalization approach. The legalization of heroin has far more advantages than downsides, for both the addicted and the communities in general, and is ultimately the only approach which can have a positive impact on the problem. It is unlikely that the social order will be challenged any time soon, and we do not have the luxury of wasting more time in order to wait for such a fundamental change to happen. “The moral principle involved here is very old and very sure: pick the lesser of two evils.”( Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://idpi.us/compassion). Father Marquis goes on by arguing that the issue is “to do the very best that can be done to give the community maximum control over drug availability, and consequent drug use. Society cannot cure every drug abuser or alcoholic; that is a given. But the communities can create a social condition in which innocent people do not become victims and where health care professionals have a better opportunity (with more funds and people available) to serve the healing process of drug abusers.”( Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://idpi.us/compassion). The issue is not whether you want to tolerate deviant behavior or not tolerate it, for whatever reasons; the issue is to deal with the facts and the current problems as best and as fast as possible to prevent an even bigger issue down the road.

Legalization of heroin will reduce drug-related crimes and put an end to the illegal, profitable structure for marketing drugs. Drug cartels and gangs will lose their power, and less young people will be tempted into making some easy money by getting involved. There are no crimes committed for the sake of alcohol and tobacco, which are both legal substances. The legalization of heroin will eliminate the reasons for violence in the struggle to control the drug trade; it will have a dramatic impact on crime related to drugs. In addition, dealers will lose their influence over children and adolescents, thus creating a much safer environment for them.

Furthermore, individual addicts will also benefit from this approach. They will have the knowledge of consuming pure substances and will not have to degrade themselves any longer in order to obtain heroin. Money currently channeled into futile law enforcement efforts could be used to improve treatment options and institutions to help those who want it. Additionally, taxes from the legal sale of heroin can be used to create social programs that are aimed at the social roots of the issue. “…difficulties that will definitely result from legalized drugs will be far, far less numerous and less destructive to the whole society than theft, bribery, violence, murder, mayhem, and self-degradation that daily bread in the United States today.”( Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010.

Those who fear that legalization of heroin would go hand in hand with more or better availability should think again. “The reality is that U.S. grade schools and prisons are two of the hottest areas of drug trade. How much more available can the stuff become?”( Marquis, F. C. (1990, May). Drug Laws are Immoral. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://idpi.us/compassion).In addition, an interesting study by Dr. Norman Zinberg in the 1970s showed that social control of intoxicants, whether it is alcohol or heroin, is the only humane and reasonably successful way of managing their use. “Social control means that society permits the use of intoxicants under various legal restraints and social sanctions which define acceptable use.”(Zinberg et al, 1975, quoted in Bayer, R. (1978). Heroin Decriminalization and the Ideology of Tolerance: A Critical View. Journal of the Law and Society Association, 12(2), 301-318. Retrieved March 08, 2010, from JSTOR, p. 308). Just as is the case with alcohol, there will be people who might consume heroin and remain functioning members of society, while others will abuse it and fall apart. By giving legal access to heroin, we might be able to train its users into a responsible use in the long run.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is apparent that prohibition of heroin needs to end. Applying the criminal law is an “inefficient instrument for imposing the good life on others.”( Bayer, R. (1991). The Freat Drug Policy Debate: What Means This Thing Called Decriminalization? The Milbank Quarterly, 69, 3rd ser., 341-363., p. 353). The possession of heroin for personal use is after all a “crime” without a direct victim, and falls within the sphere of personal choices. Prohibition creates illegal trading and drug-related crime, with tempting vast profits and a rise in organized crime. It also exposes our children and youth to the influence of dealers and gangs. Prohibition does not prevent heroin use, fails to contain it, and is unable to manage it.

Decriminalization is a half-hearted and too cautious attempt to regain control. Although heroin maintenance programs and the creation of social programs are good starting points to tackle the problem, and should be part of any approach that will be implemented, they are not enough to bring about a much needed improvement of the situation. Decriminalization does nothing to take the power away from drug-related organized crime and therefore ignores the indirect victims of the drug problem, the non-addicted members of society, who are the majority. Ultimately, decriminalization does nothing to stabilize producer countries or to stop the cross-border drug trafficking. Without changing the social order, decriminalization can only be a superficial, cosmetic approach.

Legalization is the lesser of two evils. If we cannot reform our social order in order to eliminate many of the root causes of heroin addiction, it is our duty as rational and responsible human beings to go with the approach which holds the most promise for the common good. Both addicts and communities would benefit from legalization. The most important benefits would be a) the end of the power of drug lords and organized crime and a considerable reduction of drug- related violent crimes, and b) the channeling of more resources into programs designed to help and treat the addicted. There will always be people who make poor choices. Human beings are rarely perfect and society created by human beings is deeply flawed as well. In a perfect world, everybody would do what is good for them, would be considerate of others, and everybody would have the same opportunities in life and the same good upbringing. Reality is different, though. As much as it is true that the social order should be challenged in order to get to the root cause of addiction, it is unlikely that this will happen any time soon. Therefore, we have to act now, if we do not want to risk living in a world progressively dominated by organized crime. This type of misery would only create more misery. For now, we have to settle for harm reduction in the form of legalization. Hopefully, sometime in the future, society itself can change to rid itself of the root causes of addiction.

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