Depending on who you ask, the criminalization of drugs is either a huge mistake that the government initiated in order to stay in control, or a rightful law that stops people from harming themselves and their communities. But what is the truth, why are drugs illegal?
Why Drugs are Illegal
We have the United States and probation to thank for the criminalization of most drugs. It all began with prohibition and with The Untouchables, a team setup to stop the flow of illicit alcohol in the US and so-named because they were unfazed by bribes, which were used to make the police turn a blind eye at the time.
After alcohol was no longer a threat, this team turned their attentions to a new one: marijuana. They created a campaign of fear that led to the now infamous anti-drug campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, campaigns that essentially lied about the effects of drugs in order to terrify the public.
They did their job, the public was scared into submission and laws were made to criminalize these drugs and protect citizens from themselves.
Why the War on Drugs Continued
It’s hard to undo years of fear-mongering, especially when you consider that this continued well into the 1970s. Because after marijuana was targeted following prohibition, the authorities turned their attentions to drugs like LSD in order to oppose the counter culture groups forming at the time, groups considered suspicious and anarchic by the government.
These laws were closely followed by many of America’s allies, including the UK. They all adopted the same or similar laws, although few of them banned alcohol and no first world country took such a strict line on marijuana as the US did.
Why They Are Illegal Now
These days, the drug laws make little sense. According to the official drug scheduling in the US, many are illegal because they offer little to no medicinal benefits. But at the same time, alcohol and tobacco are not illegal and marijuana, which is used for countless ailments, and opiates, which can help with mild to severe pain, are illegal. It’s fair to say that there are some discrepancies here, and its equally fair to say that the mega rich tobacco industry and the hangover of prohibition have got something to do with it.
Legalizing drugs would cut down on the countless drug offences and the costs to the government that they accrue. They would allow the government to collect a huge amount of money in tax and in the case of drugs like marijuana they would also help many people in need.
But there would also be a number of problems, including a huge increase in the number of overdoses and death. It’s not an easy decision to make, but if it was all about money, and it usually is, drugs would be legal.
The laws are gradually changing though and public opinion is changing with it. The generations who grew up being influenced by those “this is your brain on drugs” commercials will no longer be the ones with a voting majority in years to come and when what happens and the children of the 70s and later are the ones with all the say, we will likely see some major changes.