Out on the Quad: Should Drugs Be Decriminalized?

“Out on the Quad” is an opportunity to show what college students think about issues that are important to them. One side is liberal, and the other conservative, but the full range of opinions on these issues is more complex. The liberal (or progressive) side usually represents the more popular opinion among college students.  This should compel the Republican Party to think about communicating relevant alternatives to the liberal vision in a clear and effective way.  Issues that will be covered in this series, such as drugs, environmentalism, multilateralism, legal immigration, and poverty, are often relegated to the sidelines, but they are vitally important to my generation.  It is in the interest of the Republican Party to take charge of these issues.
-Alex Ouligian, host

Empowering the Individual
Jonathan McIlroy

Our society’s sentiments tend to shun paternalism in favor of personal freedoms.  Given the wide variety of tastes, we cannot hope to choose another’s “best course of action.”  However, the Controlled Substance Act does just that.

Its supporters cite two key motives: protection of society and protection of the individual.   The protection of others appears to be a strong argument.  However, the positive externalities of repealing anti-drug laws far outweigh the negative consequences.  First, the illegal drug trade funds Mexican cartels and terrorist organizations.  By legalizing and legitimizing this industry, we can cut off revenue streams for some of the world’s deadliest organizations.  Competitive, federally regulated cultivation, production, and distribution can eliminate these organizations’ monopolies.  Second, by taxing narcotics, the government may tap into a multibillion-dollar industry. Limited taxation has proven effective for diminishing consumption while still precluding a significant black market. Third, regulating purity and administration standards through certified clinics will prevent contaminations and overdoses.  Trained staff can ensure both public and private safety in a controlled environment.  Fourth, by allowing for the synthesis of safer alternatives to popular drugs, pharmaceutical companies would have an economic incentive to produce less dangerous and less addictive drugs.  While certain provisions to forbid the most chemically addictive drugs are important, this should be the exception.  Tobacco and alcohol are two harmful and addictive substances that have a long history of societal vitality, and countries where other drugs have been decriminalized have shown a net decrease in overall usage. 

While the War on Drugs is a complex issue, it falls within a greater debate: Should government tell us how to live our lives? The universal sentiment of the governed is clear: the citizenry deserves the freedom to be able to choose for ourselves.  Our focus should be education, not legislation.

Regulation That’s Bound to Fail
Alex Ouligian

Everybody knows that the drug trade fuels violent cartels south of the border. Mexico is being torn apart right now—more than 26,000 deaths in less than four years.  But why less violence if drugs were legal? Assuming that the government would regulate the now-legal drugs, what’s stopping illegal versions of the drugs from being produced and sold on the black market?  The legal versions would be like free samples at a Costco—introduce customers to the light stuff first, and once the customer is hooked, he goes for the hard, illegal stuff.  Plus, there’s no reason to think that the US will be better at controlling both legal and illegal drug markets than it does controlling just an illegal one.

Taxation is another flawed argument. Junkies, who are fiscally prudent when it comes to their fix, will likely sidestep the taxable drugs and go for the illegal stuff.  More good feelings for the dollar! But hey, at least they’ll escape the taxes paid by the desperate lottery ticket junkies. 
Legalization of drugs will also increase their consumption. Presumably they’ll be more affordable, so people will buy more. There will also be more users. For people who consider law the highest authority, legalization presents them with a choice that they never previously considered.  And, because most drugs are addictive, choice eventually won’t matter.  Making drugs legal will remove the legal barrier that law-abiding citizens would otherwise obey.
Lastly, what does legalizing drugs say about our society? It says that we elevate the individual over social well being to a grotesque degree. The proliferation of pot is bad enough.  Like video games and pot (the two often go together), more dangerous drugs drown people in fantasy. Citizens cannot enact positive change with blanketed, indifferent minds.