If all drugs were legal, what would happen?
If all drugs were legal, what would happen?
Heroin in lunchboxes? Not quite. Doctor Max Rendall answers your questions…
Why do you think that making drugs legal might make things better?
There is only one reason, and it is technical. Now, illegal drugs are sold by criminals. They make a lot of money, but they are not interested in the quality of the drugs or how safe they are. If the government sold the drugs, they could control and regulate the sales. To get a regulated drugs market, the drugs need to be legal. There is evidence that if drugs were legal, there would be less extreme drug taking. In Portugal, all drugs became legal over 10 years ago, and drug use has become safer (fewer deaths by overdose and fewer cases of HIV).
Don’t you worry, as a doctor, that making drugs legal would increase the use of dangerous drugs?
No. It would be much more difficult to buy dangerous hard drugs than now. If drugs were legal, people would be able to talk about them, they would not be so taboo or exciting. Drugs would become less cool. Maybe, people who have real problems would get help quickly. More people could be helped with the money saved in the police, customs and justice systems.
How could we protect children and young people?
It would be illegal to sell any drugs to people under 18, if 18 is the age they decide on. If people did sell to younger people, they would lose their licence to sell drugs, and lose a lot of their business, and might go to prison. The risk would be too big.
After drugs were made legal, how would they be controlled?
People would only be able buy drugs from certain shops or pubs. These shops or pubs would have a license. The person who owns the license would have training so they can give advice and know when there could be trouble.
There are possibly five types of drugs, depending on how dangerous they are. People would be able to buy the least dangerous type eg. a few codeine tablets, from a chemist, like now. People would only get the most dangerous type eg. heroin and crack cocaine, with a doctor’s prescription, or maybe from a special “drug use” room, to use drugs but not take them away. Other types of drugs could be sold in small amounts, or only in special places and at certain times. “Stoned” people would not be allowed to buy drugs. There would be restrictions on use in public places. We could learn from what works best.
This would have many advantages. There would be good controls for how good, how strong, how pure and how sterile the drugs are. Labelling would be controlled. So the drugs would be safer. The drugs would cost less. The government could set national prices, including tax and inspections. The government could control the ban on advertising and fair costs. There would be less crime to get money to pay for drugs, as the prices would be lower.
Isn’t it better to change the way people think – better than making dangerous drugs legal?
But that is not easy. Most parents are responsible, and they try to help children to stay away from drugs. But drugs are now a normal part of growing up. Most teenagers have some experience of drugs. And most casual drug use does no harm. At least it does not do as much harm as the drinking and smoking that the parents and grandparents did.
Is it true that people who can’t stop using drugs might be controlled by the drugs? So people who make the laws must protect them from themselves?
Some people who take drugs become obsessed, at least for a time, and can do dangerous things. But most do not. If we try to protect people from “themselves”, we could lose personal freedom.
If drugs are legal, will there be a private free market for drugs?
No. It would be more difficult than now to buy them. And fewer drugs would exist.
Would hard drugs become cheap?
They would become cheaper, but tax would be added. However, it would be more difficult to buy hard drugs than now – only with a prescription, or from an illegal seller.
Do you think that some drugs, eg. crack cocaine, should be illegal for health or social reasons?
There are many reasons why most drugs should be illegal, but that is what happens now. Sometimes, if a drug is illegal, that makes some people want it more. We need one legal market for all drugs. If people cannot get some drugs from this market, criminals and the uncontrolled black market will supply them.
Even if we make drugs legal, is it possible that there will still be a “black” market?
Yes, but the prices are important here. Illegal drugs would be more expensive than the legal market, but some people would still want to pay. However, this market would probably be small, and little money would be made. So there would be far more cheaper, legal drugs.
Has any country or region tried legalization of drugs and been successful?
No – no-one has tried it.
How could legalization happen? Could it be in all countries and suddenly?
Yes, ideally. The United Nations would need to take a lead. Most countries in the world would need to agree. But some countries would not agree. However, when people saw the benefits, more would agree. But one idea will never solve all the problems of drugs and drug-taking. And not many people believe that drugs will be made legal soon.
Where can I find out more information?
Transform (tdpf.org.uk) is a drug policy charity. It does a lot of good work to see how legalization might be possible. You can see these very interesting books on their website: “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation” and “A Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of the Prohibition and Regulation of Drugs”.
Max Rendall is the author of Legalize: the only way to combat drugs (Stacey International, London, 2011). Stacey-international.co.uk
As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://www.newint.org/features/2012/09/01/drugs-legalization/