The Women's Christian Temperance Union reacted to abuses of drugs and alcohol, gained influence, and the net result was a ban on the recreational use of drugs. In effect, the government was acting to protect citizens from themselves and their own choices.
Subsequent to this regulation was a ban on the manufacture, use and possession of alcohol. Again, influenced by such bodies as the temperance movement, this was government acting to protect people from their own choices by eliminating those choices and criminalizing certain behaviors.
A consequence of this regulation and restriction of individual choices was the rapid expansion of criminal forces to take advantage of a demand without a supply. Criminal suppliers of drugs and alcohol became wealthy, and the battle for that wealth was increasingly violent.
The regulation of drugs was separate from the ban on alcohol. When the overall cost of the ban on alcohol became too great, the public accepted a return to a moderately regulated system through which alcohol might be made, sold, and possessed for consumption. The regulation and restriction on drugs continued, and the general ban on recreational use of drugs has continued to this day.
For a time the illegal use of drugs continued to fuel a criminal economy which was content to remain in the background. Good people simply did not go to the side of town where drugs were sold and used, and the violence of that drug culture was largely ignored.
In the decade of the 1960's the use of drugs expanded from these dark realms. College campuses became another place where drug use was common, and a "rebellious" youth bent on exploring all aspects of life brought those drugs and their purveyors into environments previously unsullied by such "filth."
This was certainly not a problem for the criminal communities. Expanding their markets was quite appealing. Eventually even some of the rich and powerful were at least sometimes users. The taint of drug use colored entertainment, politics, and even the best of families. The fingers of the criminal organizations reached high and deep.
We are fast approaching the centennial of this failed effort to control the choices of citizens with regard to recreational drug use. The cost of enforcing these laws has become a huge burden on the society at large. Much of the enormous cost of incarcerating so many offenders is directly related to the illegal drug industry. Meanwhile, drug cartels have become so wealthy and powerful that they have camped literally on the borders of the United States, even taking control of entire towns in Northern Mexico.
Unless the U.S. government is willing to fight a real war on drugs, with real guns and bullets and death for multitudes, the only reasonable choice is legalization and a moderated system of regulation.
Consider the consequences. Drug cartels will immediately lose their vast wealth, and the motivation to continue in the drug market. Drugs will be regulated regarding mode of distribution and with regard to quality. The price of drugs will come down from the astronomical rates required by criminal distributors, and very few drug users will be compelled to steal or sell their bodies to secure this much more affordable substance.
The savings in enforcement cost and incarceration expenses can be applied to other services, to include expanded drug and alcohol awareness education. The choice as to whether or not use drugs would be returned to the individual, and the individual would not become a criminal for choosing to use drugs or alcohol.
Granted, there exists the possibility of some people who refrained from drug use due to the criminal aspect going ahead and now choosing to use drugs. There exists the possibility of an increase in antisocial behavior in some places at some times due to the reduced regulation and increased access. The degree is unknown, and predictions will remain speculations until the case is tested through a well planned and executed legalization of drugs.
I propose that the money saved in enforcing a failed drug management policy could be better spent in education and providing services to overcome such slight bumps in the road as I mentioned above. The legalization and reduced regulation is not a perfect answer to the problem. Indeed, the problem may be so deep seated in humans as humans that it cannot be fully overcome, by regulation or anything else created by human beings.
Even so, the present system enriches criminals, costs a great deal in a multitude of resources including human lives, and has accomplished little in the hundred years of regulation. Perhaps it is time to try something else. Something radical. Something that returns the dignity of choice to the individual regarding their own lives.
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