NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Case Against Legalizing Drugs

July 19, 2002

Recently, Britain went one stop closer to legalizing drugs by decriminalizing the possession of cannabis. John P. Walters argues that legalizing drugs will merely trade a crime problem for a public health problem.

Pro-legalization arguments sound persuasive:

  • Legalizing drugs would lower prices and eliminate the gangs and organized crime associated with illegal drugs.
  • Drug offenders would not flood the prison system.
  • Governments could regulate and tax drugs, increasing quality and raising tax revenue.

Walters argues that these benefits are mostly illusionary and are easily outweighed by the health costs. He points out that drug abuse alone cost an estimated $55 billion in 1998, not factoring criminal justice costs. Moreover, deaths directly related to drug use have more than doubled since 1980. When British physicians were allowed to prescribe heroin to certain addicts, the number skyrocketed from 68 in 1960 to over 20,000 in London alone by 1982. Legalizing drugs would increase use, abuse and death according to Walters.

Furthermore, Walters argues that the benefits are illusionary:

  • For example, drug legalizers claim that 1.5 million American are arrested for drug crimes, flooding the prisons.
  • However, Walter argues that most of those arrested do not serve jail time, and those that do, deserve it.
  • Some 24 percent of state prison drug offenders are violent recidivists, while 83 percent have prior criminal histories.

Pointing out a New England Journal of Medicine article in 1999, Walter notes that cocaine use raises the risk of domestic violence by a factor of four. Other studies indicate that up to 80 percent of our child welfare caseload involves substance abusers.

Walters asks if society could trust legal drug addicts to works nurses or even bus drivers? And, what of female cocaine addicts becoming pregnant?

Source: John P. Walters, (director, National Office of Drug-Control Policy), "Don't Legalize Drugs," Wall Street Journal, Friday, July 19, 2002.

For WSJ text (requires subscription),,SB1027036381964514720,00.html

For National Office of Drug-Control Policy


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