What was once radical has become mainstream.
George Will, a conservative writer with the Washington Post, recently published a column about legalizing hard drugs. Not a full endorsement of the idea, mind you, but a recognition that current practices may not be the right approach.
Here in Canada, as elsewhere, opinion is divided, but mainstream public figures, including some Attorneys General and police chiefs, have said we should legalize marijuana.
Critics of legalization rightly point out the social ills we already have from alcohol, and argue legalization will increase use of drugs. They also fear the tacit endorsement legalization would seem to imply.
Many people think intoxication is immoral. And still others correctly note that we won’t know the full effect of legalizing drugs until it’s already implemented – and it will be too late to stop it then.
But the arguments for legalizing marijuana and even harder drugs are persuasive. Even conservatives can see the appeal of revenues from a new sin tax, and potential savings on law enforcement and incarceration, while libertarians welcome the retreat of the nanny state.
There’s also Will’s point: “It is not unreasonable to consider modifying a policy that gives hundreds of billions of dollars a year to violent organized crime.”
A couple of things are clear. The first is that public sentiment is shifting, at least in terms of marijuana. Each year sees an ever-larger percentage of the public support decriminalization or legalization of cannabis. And every year, fewer of the people in authority can honestly claim to have never tried recreational drugs.
Given this shift in public sentiment, and given the increasingly persuasive argument that drug use and abuse is a public health issue, not a criminal issue, how much longer can the federal government maintain the façade that stiffer penalties and longer jail sentences will stem the tide of drug production and use?
Wouldn’t their efforts be better spent trying to answer this question posed by Will:
“Would the public health problems resulting from legalization be a price worth paying for injuring the (drug) cartels and reducing the costs of enforcement?”