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April 13th, 2009
12:22 PM ET

Drug legalization: "A great idea whose time has not come"

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Robert Stutman is a former Special Agent with the DEA."]

By Robert M. Stutman
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Robert M. Stutman is a former Special Agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Principal of The Stutman Group.

Gee, things aren't going great in the war on drugs: violence in Mexico; more and more kids using dangerous drugs at an early age; kids overdosing all over the country from drugs like heroin and OxyContin. If you like this and want a lot more, let's give any drug to any person at any age who wants to use it and see where that gets us.

Our present system is not perfect and needs a lot of fixing, but blowing up the system and giving up completely would be like a contractor who has to demolish a building and instead of using dynamite to take down the building, uses a nuclear device to take down the city. Granted the system is not perfect, but fortunately, even most religions don't demand perfection, they demand of you to try your best. Surrendering is not trying our best!

Counterpoint – Commentary: Legalize drugs

Drugs are not bad because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are bad. About 12% of regular alcohol users become alcohol addicts. About 12-50% of users of drugs (depending on the drug and age of user) become addicts. Right now there are about 175 million regular users of alcohol (at a 12% addiction rate) that equals about 20 million alcoholics. Most studies and even most anti prohibitionists agree that if all drugs are made legal the use of these drugs will significantly increase. A study in Alaska after marijuana decriminalization showed a doubling of marijuana regular use. There are 175 million regular users of alcohol in the US and about 20 million drug users. Do those figures fall out that way by accident? Certainly not—one is legal one is not. Most experts agree that a fair number for the increase in users, if we make all drugs available to anyone who wants them, is about five times the present number of users. Five times 20 million is about 100 million drug users with an average addiction rate of 25% (depending on drug and age). Therefore, we end up with an additional 25 million addicts on top of the 20 million alcoholics we already have. Can we handle that?

Who will pay for the increased addicts who can't work; need health care; and need public assistance, etc? What about the significant increase in overdoses, spousal abuse, child abuse, automobile accidents. These issues are not a guess they are already here with alcohol. Why would anyone with any common sense want to add on cumulatively to the alcohol addiction problem we already have?

By the way, for those who make the specious argument that there is no proof if we legalize drugs and make them available presumably at a cheaper price the use won't go up, I would ask them if that is our experience with alcohol. Study after study shows that if you significantly raise the tax base on alcohol (or tobacco), the user rate significantly decreases. Lower the price, and use goes up. It's not magic, its economics 101.

Vote! Should drugs be legal in the U.S.?

Finally, the argument of whether we will do away with cartels and crime and violence associated with drug sales by legalizing, has some merit. If you are willing to give all drugs to all people at any age—crack to 12 year olds who want it—then you will certainly affect the crime associated with the drug problem. But as soon as you place some black markets in the picture (no one under age 18 can get legal drugs) then the cartels will simply re-market their product to the group who can't get the drug legally. If the government raises the tax the cartels will sell the product cheaper. Remember their cost of goods sold is almost zero so they can sell much cheaper than the government. Crack as a drug was marketed by drug groups in New York in 1985 in order to lower the price of cocaine (from $100 per gram to $5 a vial) in order to specifically reach the children's market. The government is not that good in anything to compete with the cartels. We will always lose the marketing/sales battle.

Legalization is a grand experiment, which if we tried and it didn't work, we could not eradicate. Once drugs have been made available legally in societies they can rarely be taken back.

Finally, for those who say drug addiction is a "victimless crime," I wish they would tell that to the mom I met recently at a speech who told a group, "My son is 37, has been an addict for 22 years, and I wish he had died. My husband and I are divorced because of him; none of his siblings talk to each other because of him; and worst of all he has a 4 year old daughter and I know what is going to happen to her." Victimless crime?...Anyone who says that has spent too much time in universities and not enough time seeing the real world that drugs and alcohol cause.

Filed under: Controversy • Drugs
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Tif

    I dont want people to do drugs!! I just want my money back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 9, 2009 at 7:35 am |
  2. Tif

    Incredibly stupid. Fine. Your taxes will continue to go up. Crime will rise. Build more prisons. Your children will get addicted. More people will die. Maybe you,if not ur kids!! Keep repeating HISTORY.

    July 9, 2009 at 7:24 am |
  3. Tif

    Oh wait MJ had all the money he wanted, as did Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Elvis, ...and on and on! Least WE could get tax dollars to pay for their probs!! Im poor and I can get u any drug u want. ANY DRUG!! Think about it! P.S. I dont do drugs.

    July 9, 2009 at 7:15 am |
  4. Tif

    A certain percentage will always do drugs. Why am I paying to put them in jail? Cheaper to put them in rehab for life than prison!!

    July 9, 2009 at 7:06 am |
  5. Kendra Holly

    I am a Poli Sci major in college and I am currently taking a course called "Drugs and Politics". It is frustrating to hear these arguments from people (especially journalists b/c America blindly follows the word of the media). There is a plethora of facts and pertinent issues not addressed in this article. Drug Policy can generally be broken into these concerning issues: Use, Public Health, Crime, and Economic loss. USING causes all the the other three issues. Yet, because use is based on supply and demand, then USE cannot be stopped. Mankind has never been able to stop has only forced it into black markets. Some countries have realized fighting "Use" (prohibition) is ineffective, expensive and creates MORE problems than it causes. Instead they focus on minimizing and fighting the rest of the concern (most of which are largely alleviated just by decriminalizing). They develop rehabilitations, and clean needle programs. Their efforts have been more successful than ours. But America is so obsessed with not wanting people to use -even if it doesnt make logical sense when weighing the costs. The United States dumps money into a War on Drugs that has been completely ineffective since it began and has created dangerous and powerful druglords. When are we going to figure out that what we are doing isnt working? The United States is the most powerful country in the world, we have the toughest drug policy, yet we have one of the worst probelms. I wish journalist were required to RESEARCH before they say least he could have made a better argument than that.

    April 21, 2009 at 11:17 pm |
  6. Sweetpoison

    Secreto you propose goverment and corporate control of our bodies.Maybe check for other things like caffiene,nicotine,alcohol,excess sugar and other things people don't agree with. Throw them all out of work and create a new class of poor. I prefer the goverment and businesses stay out of my body.

    April 17, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  7. Bill G

    "A study in Alaska after marijuana decriminalization showed a doubling of marijuana regular use."

    That's absolutely not true. There was a survey done by a university up in Alaska that found high use of marijuana by teens. It was allegedly double the national average at the time. This was not a comparison of one survey done before decriminalization and another done after decriminalization. They just compared the single university survey of Alaskan teens with the federal government's results from their National Household Survey on Drug Abuse from the same year. I don't know how valid such a comparison would be using two completely different surveys, but even if both surveys were accurate, the fact is that per capita marijuana use has been higher in other states than it was in Alaska at the time, even states that have not decriminalized marijuana. This survey was done at a time when marijuana use had dipped to a low point. Per capita use goes up and down. Alaska always has among the highest per capita percentages of marijuana users, maybe because it is a state full of young adventurous types and it's too cold to get out and do much. I don't know. The point is though that this guy either doesn't know what he's talking about, or he is intentionally trying to mislead people. There is no evidence whatsoever that marijuana use doubled in Alaska after decriminalization. He's made a gross misrepresentation of the facts here.

    April 16, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  8. Jay

    prohibition didn't work in the 30's and it still doesn't work today. the most dangerous attribute of marijuana is the US criminal justice system. wake up america.

    April 16, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  9. secreto

    non-addictive and medicinal... wow it's coming to this. Let's make sure you are pregnant too, so then your kid would come into this world with the shakes. I'm still waiting for an argument on why not mandate ALL employers to frequent urine testing. The cost? I'm sure some negotiation could be made with the clinics if funded by government. Your working in the U.S. earning American money... why couldn't it be mandated. Force employees to come clean or adios! I've seen people toking up in employer parking lots... even government employees. pee test pee test pee test. want to work here be clean... not just the pre-hiring screening. Let's see I need to stay clean for 30 days... then I'm in the clear. NOT WORKING. This is silly to legalize crap that is scientifically proven to destroy your brain. Legalize it and I'm investing in Cheetos.

    April 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm |
  10. Brad

    This article is devoid of critical thinking. Beyond that, it's ridiculous to take the opinion of a DEA agent on this matter. Were he to face the truth, he would realize that he spent his entire career doing something that is both counterproductive and unconstitutional.

    April 16, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  11. Reed

    Prohibition has now brought the violence here, where formerly there was none. We had this same experience in the 1930's.

    I've been an advocate for legalization, particularly Marijuana, since the late 1970's, but for different reasons:
    – Unconstitutionality of prohibition (as mentioned in the quote of Abraham Lincoln, above)
    -Sensible social values (more-dangerous alcohol and tobacco are legal, regulated, and managed by society without criminalization)
    -Health/medical benefits (has surpassed the plant-derived Aspirin as a wonder-drug)

    More and more professional organizations in the U.S. are recognizing positive social and medical implications of Marijuana legalization/decriminalization. These include, among others, the American Medical Association (AMA) and various law enforment associations.

    This recent invasion of violence, that was clearly not present some years ago, can most swiftly and successfully be addressed by legalization, just as it was in the 1930's.

    April 16, 2009 at 9:40 am |
  12. Randy

    Mr. Stutman:

    Open your eyes and look at the facts. 70+ years of "our system isn't perfect" (your words). Well, just how much more time do you believe that punitive measures based on the flawed Theory of Prohibition require before the "system" becomes more perfect? How much more taxpayer money must be spent? It's already into tens to hundreds of billions each year. How many more non-violent personal users of drugs need to be jammed through our court systems or prisons before somebody realizes that enough is enough? Despite any and all government increasingly massive interventions, every single drug problem has escalated to unprecedented proportions. PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK. NOT ONE OF IT'S GOALS HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED, AND IS IN FACT THE REASON THAT THE BLACK MARKET CONTINUES TO EXIST AND THRIVE. People have proven over the decades that they will continue to demand AND obtain drugs regardless of their legal status. Legalization would create a means for government regulation, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco, which are tougher for our youth to obtain than any drug, illegal or not. How could legalization possibly make drugs any more available to our youth and others than they are now? The common sense answer is to legalize all but a few of the real nasty ones such as PCP or meth, with availability through the medical system and with medical oversight. Governments have so far been unable to enforce away the problem. More of the same tactics, even more enforcement, is highly unlikely to accomplish any more than has been already to quell the drug problems. Tactics need to change. Legalization would also ultimately shut the cartels down as people would shop the legal alternative. Here's a challenge. Try the concept of legalization, if only on a trial basis. It's not as if laws can't be changed back. We the people are tired of the violence and want it to end as much as anybody. Please, try some common sense and for once, forget about protocol. That's why we're in this mess.

    April 16, 2009 at 7:29 am |
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