Drug legalization is gaining ground in American discourse. What was once a rock-solid political issue, worthy of a so-called war, has now begun to tremble against the backdrop of an increasingly-incarcerated population and a border neighbor descending frighteningly toward civil war. Just today, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Mexican drug cartels are now successfully corrupting officers on this side of the border to do their bidding.
I abhor drugs. I have never used narcotics and would not do so, regardless of the law. Most people to whom I've ever spoken about the issue have affirmed in a similar fashion. However, both my libertarian and practical point-of-view is that we must legalize all narcotics.
For one thing, the war on drugs puts people in jail who've done nothing but hurt themselves. While I agree that families and friends bear a psychological toll from these addictions, there does not seem to be any mitigation of those effects by the incarceration of their loved ones. Worse, drug addicts often resort to desperate, lifechanging measures in order to perpetuate their addictions while in prison.
The drug laws also create criminals due to the artificial inflation of drug prices. Because demand is inelastic (meaning that it does not vary according to price changes), addicts are still going to need their fixes no matter how tight the supply of drugs into the country is squeezed. The problem is that addicts are willing to steal and commit other crimes in order to earn enough money to feed their habits.
Legalizing drugs would cause more drugs to enter the country, but in a controlled environment. Drugs would be cleaner, higher-quality and cheaper because they would be distributed by reputable companies (as reputable as beer and alcohol producers, anyway). The policy emphasis could shift toward treatment of addicts, rather than punishment, and would likely cause overall usage and death rates to drop. Moreover, the drug war in Mexico would lessen or even cease outright because of the massively lower barrier to entry and new sources of competition.
The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal suggests that my assumptions would likely bear fruit. This report documents both a decrease in drug overdoses and a decrease in usage. In fact, predictions that Portugal would become a new haven for drug use have not come to pass. While many fear legalization would create a society awash in drugs, common sense tells us that, if I may paraphrase Newton's law of motion, people who are not using drugs would tend to continue not using drugs.