Resolved: The United States should significantly reduce the number and severity of laws against recreational drugs

The Black Lives Matters movement has generated a call to action: Defund Police. This seems to me a bad slogan, because it does not really capture what the movement leaders want to happen, and it stiffens resistance in those people inclined to resist the movement. Also, I think that the policy is sub-optimal. Instead, I suggest an alternate call to action: Legalize Drugs.

TL;DR The US drug policy creates more harm than good and should be suspended.

One of the triggers of the BLM protests was the death of Breonna Taylor. Much has been made of the fact that Taylor was Black, but relatively little has been made of the fact that the goal of the police raid was to arrest a drug dealer. Defund the Police is aimed at reducing the times police kick down a door and shoot innocent people in the household; I am arguing that police should not even be arresting drug dealers in the first place.

Now, those of you who choose to take the Negative side of this question are, I expect, already polishing your argument that “Reno, this policy will increase the number of junkies dying of overdoses,” and you are already preparing for my rebuttal that there is no evidence that the number of OD’s increases when drugs are legalized, and my citation of Portugal and Amsterdam. Let’s short-circuit that–I am not going to argue that at all. My argument is much simpler: I don’t give a sht about the lives of junkies*. Frankly, I don’t believe that you do either.

It is simple. Breonna Taylor was killed to keep junkies alive, but her life was worth more than a thousand junkies lives. If you believe that the War on Drugs must continue, you have to argue that killing Breonna Taylor was justified if it saved X junkies. I will make it easy on you–you don’t have to prove that killing Broenna did save those X lives, or even that there is not a better, cheaper way to save junkies. All you have to do is argue that the lives of some number of junkies is worth the life of Broenna Taylor.

And, by the way, you know who agrees with me that junkies’ lives are worthless? Junkies. Anyone who thinks that his or her life is worth more than an armful of junk is, by definition, not a junkie. I am happy to give societal resources to helping those people.

Therefore, I argue that the US should immediately move to legalize recreational drugs. The DEA shall receive guidance that no drug shall be made illegal unless it can be demonstrated to be more harmful than alcohol and tobacco. States shall be directed to regulate and tax the sale of recreational drugs as they choose.

Criminal activity in the US will drop by approximately 50%. The flow of money to some of the worst organizations in the world will dry up. The “drug dealer” as a figure to emulate in poverty stricken regions will vanish. The need to have high funding and staffing levels in police departments will vanish. These advantages will take time to accrue–the War on Drugs has been prosecuted for at least 75 years, and it will take at least 1 generation for some of the scars to start to heal, but within 25 years the US society will reap substantial benefits from the policy.

Thank you. I now stand open for cross examination.

I spent most of my career in drug enforcement and agree. However, that fact the someone was under the influence or committed a crime a crime to feed their drug habit should no longer be considered a mitigating factor.

I know you are looking for an argument (or at least a great debate), but you won’t get one from me. Wasn’t prohibition enough of a lesson. I think marijuana was made illegal for no better reason than to give revenooers something to do when prohibition ended. And then Nixon decided that a war on drugs would damage two of his main enemies: Blacks and Hippies.

I’d propose a tweak to take into account how addictive a particular drug is. I know people CAN get addicted to anything: food, sex, exercise but some drugs are extremely addictive. I’d drop the legal limit below the addictive-level of nicotine if it was my choice.

Free clean syringes and Narcan would be vastly cheaper to prevent ‘junkie ‘ deaths. Thereby reducing the need for the huge budgets to ‘save junkie lives’ (for which I have absolutely no objection to my tax dollars being used for).

I agree - legalize them all, it’s fine with me. But defense attorneys then have to stop saying their client only robbed or assaulted someone because of their drug use and arguing “He needs treatment, not prison”.

One of the ways junkies OD is when the old drug dealers are locked up and new people move in with more potent drugs. So junkies used to using X amount to get high use X amount of stronger stuff and OD. Legalized drugs would be standardized and quantity/quality controlled which would eliminate that group of problems. Additionally, by taking the criminal element out of it, so said addicts could take drugs in clean, sanitary surroundings, and the situation would be such that if they did have a problem friends/fellow addicts standing by would not fear to call for help or take them to help, which would, again, reduce the number of adverse effects. So yes, I’d expect the overall number of dead junkies to be the same or even less.

Actually, I DO give a shit about junkies, and not just the ones who are/were friends or relatives. I spend four years working at clinic specializing in treating drug addiction because I believe in treatment over incarceration, and after those four years believe in it even more strongly. Admittedly, I may be a bit unusual in this regard.

I’m open to discussing legalizing many substances however I do have the opinion that some drugs are better controlled to one degree or another, either due to dosing problems (fentanyl, as an example, or some of the other highly potent anesthetic agents) or due to other possible problems. Drugs were regulated for a reason, not just a whim. Completely unrestrained chemical access was damaging to individuals and society. The fact our society swung too far into prohibition does not change that.

I also feel that there need to be much strong restraints on use of drugs that put others at risk or outright harm others. Alcohol is legal, driving a vehicle while drunk is not. There are some professions (pilot, truck driver, bus driver, etc.) that absolutely require a person to be sober for the safety of others. If you want to fly airplanes (as an example) then I’m sorry, your opportunity to do drugs is going to be somewhere between very limited and non-existent.

So I am willing to allow others to chemically alter their minds, but only if they do not put other people at risk by doing so.

Nicotine is pretty goddamned addictive. Back in the clinic days I knew quite a few people who found giving up opiates easier than giving up nicotine.

I’m not even sure there is a scale of addictiveness of substances that isn’t rife with politics and agendas. Also, there is considerable variation between individuals regarding which substances they seem most inclined to abuse rather than use.

Clean syringes only protect against blood-borne diseases (they reduce infections, but not prevent them as someone who is high is not going to have the best sterile technique). Narcan is only effective against opiates, and only for a brief time (less time than is usually takes for the opiate to clear a person’s system - Narcan should be followed by transport to an actual medical facility). Mind, I am all for BOTH of those things, and additional steps that will protect people from the downsides of other drug categories.

Sure - but I also advocate for real treatment opportunities for people in prison. I also advocate for mental health treatment (not just drugs and warehousing) for those in prison who need it.

I have no problem with treatment opportunities, in prison or outside. What I have a problem with are people who talk out of both sides of their mouth and say that people shouldn’t go to prison for possessing or selling drugs - but they also shouldn’t go to prison when they commit non-drug crimes that can be blamed on their drug use.

It’s hard to remember, now, that there was a time when drugs actually seemed to many young Americans to be The Wave of the Future, or at least part of it. Of course, that was all about “mind-expanding” drugs and all in the 1960s. Then came the '70s, and drugs were only for partying. I did see Timothy Leary, in the 1980s or '90s, give a campus lecture once, and he remained true to the original vision. One point he made is that we’re meant to take LSD and such because they correspond to pre-existing receptors in the nervous system, otherwise unused; my Unitarian minister called that “an interesting teleology.” (Leary also used Pac-Man as an illustration – the game where you’re gobbling up pills while the cops chase you, and you can turn on them if you get the “super-pill.”)

Based on the results of Portugal, decriminalization of drugs isn’t even putting more junkies’ lives in danger.

I really agree that this should be a bigger issue that it is in the wake of the BLM protests. The war on drugs has done enormous harm to all of American society, and has disproportionately hurt Black people as well. Even it’s origins had a lot of racist intent on the part of the Nixon administration.

If we ended the War on Drugs, and had state and federal policies to not imprison people for personal use of illegal drugs and to pardon those already in prison, the number of unnecessary police interactions with Black people would go down dramatically, the prison population would go down especially for non-violent offenses, prisoners who are still inside are less likely to be in overcrowded prisons and it might be more possible to rehabilitate them, and the priorities for a city budget can be more prioritized towards preventing real violent crime through better education and economic opportunities and more focus on mental health rather than being centered on arresting and punishing nonviolent offenders.

The cynical side of me thinks that Defund and 8-can’t-wait are getting more attention because they are advocating local-level policy changes where it’s a lot easier to get some quick wins for the movement, so they’re afraid to go after state and federal policies that are more heavily opposed by the establishment and special interest groups. And of course 8-can’t-wait is hugely important also, but I genuinely think real lasting change in our rotten law enforcement system is only going to come with ending the war on drugs.

Perhaps this should be cross-posted in Elections, but Oregon currently has a measure on the ballot that would essentially, if passed, go full Portugal. They were the first US state to decriminalize cannabis in the '70s, but the impact of that was not nearly as great is this measure would likely be. If it passes, we shall see how they fare.

I didn’t know that. But if the feds winked at marijuana legalization, it seems very unlikely to me that they would do the same for heroin, cocaine, etc.

Tobacco is a terrible drug, BTW, and highly addictive. I wonder if the fact that it was a major southern business was why no one ever tried to ban it.

is why no one seriously tries to ban it.

Hopefully with a Biden administration they would use a hands-off approach and let Oregon do their thing.

I’m pretty sure Trump would bring the hammer down out of pure spite if nothing else.

I’m pretty sure it’s because tobacco has a smaller role on behavior. It’s unhealthy, addictive, and affects people around the smoker (all good reasons to never smoke), but my coworker can smoke and still do their job. They can be trusted to step outside to smoke, even in the winter. They can drive after putting out their cigarette without turning into a risk on the road. And so forth.

Personally if it was up to me, we’d legalize all drugs; sale and consumption. I’d have some regulations, like we have with alcohol and tobacco. But overall I feel that if you’re an adult and you want to smoke some crack and meth with LSD sprinkled on top, it’s your business. Just don’t come complaining to me when your heart explodes.

I agree with legalization. However, I care about junkies lives as much as anyone elses, but legalization along with purity and labeling laws will lead to fewer overdoses because you can tell how pure what you are taking is. It might, but might not, enable people to wean themselves off also by providing a measurably lower dose over time instead of a variable reinforcement schedule.

I have no proof that labeling would help prevent overdoses, but people take around half as much alcohol as can be deadly all the time. If there was no way to tell how much alcohol they’d just consumed I expect we’d be seeing a lot more deaths from acute alcohol poisoning (or choking on vomit) than we see now, and most other drugs are not regularly consumed so close to the dangerous threshold.

There would also be the positive effect of less dangerous policing, not to mention the costs of paying them and warehousing the convicted drug offenders, and the loss of productivity from said police and offenders who could be doing something else as a career that might be productive to society.

I’m not sure that there wouldn’t be more addiction as a result of wider availability of drugs, but I believe the reduction in danger and productivity loss per dose would more than make up for any raw increase in the number of users.

Going by Prohibition - the alcohol sort - when you legalize a substance use does go up. Does abuse go up? That in part depends on how you define it. It does become more visible.

However, alcohol was legalized even if that meant more drinking and more drunks because the social cost of banning alcohol became too high in other ways, like organized crime.

I expect legalizing drugs would be the same - more use, maybe more addicts, but the social costs would go way, way down so overall there would be a net benefit.

There have been some studies in the states that legalized cannabis that show net positives in use/abuse profile data. However, cannabis itself comes with zero addiction potential (about comparable to or less than the addictiveness of poptarts or quilting), and we cannot assess any change in the OD rate, because no one ever has been known to OD on cannabis.

But, as you suggest, making “drugs” illegal makes it much harder to assess their effects. We never can be sure whether that one guy we work alongside gets/is high because that person has a massive disincentive to speak of it to us/just anyone. Taking that disincentive away will make it easier for our experts to get a clear view of the real-world effects of these substances on users and those around them.

One problem: Even if you don’t care for the lives of junkies, they weren’t always junkies. Every junkie was once a clean, sober person, until some dealer gave them “just a taste”. Should there not be any penalties for the dealers?