Is it Time to Abandon the War on Recreational Drug use

 “On May 13th about 49 bodies were dumped on a roadside near Monterrey, in Nuevo León (the figure was imprecise because the victims had been dismembered).” This comes from an Economist article from November 2012 regarding the violence in Mexico from drug gangs. This is but one minor article in a sea of similar stories emanating from the drug war and the violence is in many cases, gruesome. It is not enough to kill ones victims, but decapitating or dismembering seems to send a desired message. Thus this happens all too frequently from this battle that is being waged. A battle that one needs to ask, is it necessary?

There has been a heavy toll in terms of money and in lives for this “war on drugs.” According to a FoxNews article, “After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.” In other words, the fight has been less than successful, to be polite. This leads one to question whether or not straight combat is the best way to approach this issue. There are those who would argue it is an issue of morality to fight this war even if the fight is being lost.  Is this not similar to the whole prohibition era? It seems that the banning of drugs, however noble, is not only leading to more rampant use, but it is leading to unsafe use.

Like the war on alcohol, the question of, “is it better for someone to use an unhealthy or counterproductive product produced in a bathtub or a wash basin in a basement or to be produced in a more sterile and healthier environment?”  Especially operating under the assumption that the product will be manufactured and consumed regardless of any legal ramifications or the products’ legal status.  This calculated assumption is not only based on past experience with the mystique of illegal activity, but the last 40 years of American’s drug war and its continued failure to hinder its spread.

Then there are all the arrests that have been made in the drug war. These arrests are tying up not only the Unites States legal system, but spending tax payer money on feeding, housing, and entertaining users in prison. Regardless of the moral implications that some polite folks might invoke, the cost is extremely high. As these numbers continue to grow, the cost will continue to grow as well.  This then leads into many other economic concerns that the United States is facing.

There is also an interesting conundrum regarding the legal ramifications of legalization of marijuana. Certain federal laws make any involvement with drug sales a violation. Take the Fox Business article that addresses some banks concerns in dealing with federal tax money taken from states that have legalized marijuana, given that federally, marijuana is still illegal. Also some banks would feel they would open themselves up to criminal and civil lawsuits if they were to provide business loans to marijuana stores. There are many related matters that make the incremental legalization a serious concern for our national businesses.  If there was going to be a move for legalization then a federal level ruling would be much easier for everyone, but given the polarized point of view on the issue this is highly unlikely until more states vote to legalize.

The proponents of legalization have argued that there are health benefits to marijuana. As the writer to a article wrote, “While the benefits and risks of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates and opponents of marijuana legalization, the new legalization will help researchers study the drugs’ medicinal uses, and better understand how it impacts the body.” The illegal status of the drug does make it very difficult for the medical community to properly test and evaluate its true effects on users. Currently there is much hearsay and prejudices that make up the foundation of most arguments. Their validity is based on the ignorance of the medical community because they are not able to conduct the level of testing necessarily to answer the important questions. This testing will prove beneficial regardless of documented outcomes. 

Legalization supporters are under the belief that marijuana is beneficial. Now, can users continue with their belief regardless of what doctors discover? Of course, but currently, given the lack of any real medical evidence, their arguments are as grounded in research as ignorance can be. If it turns out that there are, in fact, medical benefits then all the more reason to embrace its legalization, but let it be based on solid scientific research rather than phobias and imagines of boogiemen.

Interestingly enough, what little research has been conducted has found mixed results. Some such benefits include increased lung capacity; at least according to a study reported by TIME from the Journal of the American Medical Association.  This study found that while tobacco smokers saw decreased lung function, pot users in some cases actually saw an increase in lung function. Of course, there have been several studies that talk about glaucoma treatment. The list goes on and the debate continues. Hard and factual research will go much farther in determining marijuana’s true uses and effectiveness.

In the end, the United States has been engaging this fight with religious zeal for decades and they are losing ground. Perhaps, in the vast arena that is this debate, some consideration should be paid to its legalization, if anything, to determine it’s true nature rather than relying on suspicion. Hopefully the states that have legalized it will prove to motivate the United States to consider letting the people have what they obviously desire. 

Also, a national legalization would eliminate many of the legal issues that many banks and business are struggling to deal with given the states that have legalized it. Then if reports prove positive then employers will need to reevaluate some of their drug free workplace positions, which will be a major hurtle even if legalization is successful. Any type of federal mandate to force employers to allow employment of marijuana users will not come until extensive and time-tested evaluations have ruled out any perceived dangers. Then again the federal government may never step into that minefield and instead let employers determine for themselves whether or not to employ users given their needs, position qualifications, and expected duties. 

The next question will be how long will it take for the average US citizen to become: a thin, relaxed, Pink Floyd fan? Therein lies the true nature of the debate.