Reasons to Legalize "Hard" Drugs

(Guest Post by Boulder, CO criminal defense attorney Lenny Frieling:)

In a large South American country, a farmer looks out from his veranda over his two main crops. On the right side of the rutted dirt, row upon row of coffee are growing in the high mountain air. To the left, coca grows in equally ordered rows. Both crops require tending, and both require some degree of processing to yield roasted coffee beans on one side, processed cocaine on the other.

Both are transported to the United States. In addition to the shipping expenses, the coffee requires the payment of various tariffs, while the coca shipments are accompanied by gangs, bribes, guns, and related violence, to the extent that some towns in Northern Mexico are “owned” by drug cartels. Coffee arrives on US grocery shelves at $6 to $12 a pound. Cocaine arrives at around $44,000 a pound. [More..]

The pharmacological effects of coffee and cocaine — unlike alcohol — generally do not lead to the commission of crimes. It is the extremely high value of cocaine that results in crime. Drug dealers are associated with murder, kidnapping, taking over towns, drive-by shootings, money laundering, violence against law enforcement, and more. Drug users and addicts, in order to be able to afford the costly drug, commit crimes including car-jackings, burglaries, robberies, and thefts of all varieties. (In 32 years of criminal defense practice, I have never encountered a turf-war involving coffee). Snitches are sometimes killed. Mules (who smuggle illegal drugs) die from many causes ranging from homicide to accidental overdoses when the balloons in their bodies burst unexpectedly.

The price of coke is so high because it is illegal. If the government did not create and support the artificially high street price of cocaine, the cocaine-associated crime would disappear. I should also mention that on the other side of the world, poppies are grown, harvested, and processed into heroin by the Taliban. This illegal drug provides a major source of funding for worldwide terrorist activities. Easy legal availability of these drugs might increase the number of users and addicts. The resulting public health problem, though unfortunate, would be accompanied by a marked reduction in violent crimes that claim innocent victims.

Today, those found guilty of various drug crimes such as possession and sale go to prison at a cost of $30,000 a year or so. Minorities are disproportionately turned into non-voting felons who, once out of prison, will have trouble getting jobs for the rest of their lives. Many owe thousands of dollars that they cannot afford for the attorneys they hired to defend their drug case. I am among the majority of defense attorneys who would happily forego the fees associated with drug-crime defense as a consequence of legalization.

Given the choice between having illegal drug users presenting a public health issue, or providing funding for violence—gang violence or terrorist violence—we should be electing to deal with the public health issue. A further benefit of legalization and regulation: pharmacologically induced death is frequently associated with street drugs whose purity is unknown by the user. Legalizing and controlling these drugs will shift the burden of who pays the price from all of us to the people who are actually using the illegal drugs, their families, and friends. There is still a cost to society, but it is a burden to be born primarily by the users, and not so much by the rest of us.

(Guest Post by Boulder, CO criminal defense attorney Lenny Frieling)

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  • Display: Sort:
    And it is not like... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by kdog on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 05:53:05 PM EST
    this is an unprecedented profound new discovery of thought either...this is how it was 100 years ago, basically.  Go to the "drug store", visit your friendly neighborhood pharmacist, and get your cocaine, heroin, whatever...no permission slip required.  

    Freedom...imagine that.

    historically, (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by cpinva on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 10:00:55 PM EST
    anything banned by the powers that be creates a black market for that item, be it sex, drugs or gambling. as well, historically, legislated morality has never been successful, absent a gun in the back of the citizenry.

    unfortunately, both items create the opportunity for unscrupulous or naive politicians to aggregate power. the "war on drugs" is a roughly 44 billion dollar a year industry in the US. it employs 1,000's, across the country, and makes a lot of people wealthy.

    neither the politicians or the economic beneficiaries of the "war on drugs" will willingly give up the power and wealth bestowed on them, by virtue of the continued ban on that activity.

    just ain't gonna happen.

    I'm convinced (none / 0) (#1)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 04:45:38 PM EST
    but I guess I am not the target audience.

    Here here (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 04:48:19 PM EST
    Rational, unsparing, no illusions, just what sends the reactionary right into convulsions.

    We should at least consider it. (none / 0) (#3)
    by mexboy on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 05:03:27 PM EST
    Jeralyn makes great points, such as the violence and killing. Legalizing the drugs would eliminate cartels overnight.

    Regulate the drugs, invest in education and prevention, and let the people- who are going to do drugs anyway- do it in a more responsible manner.

    I am all for that. If they choose to do drugs and (none / 0) (#6)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 07:03:25 PM EST
    get hooked is it the taxpayers responsibility to pay for their treatment?

    I agree with the Dark Avenger (none / 0) (#9)
    by mexboy on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 10:55:42 PM EST
    Plus you'd save millions in court costs, police work and incarceration.

    Is there any time when an (none / 0) (#11)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Jun 17, 2009 at 05:58:02 AM EST
    individual makes a choice that would have consequences that society would not have to pay for?  

    So it is about cost.? (none / 0) (#14)
    by Wile ECoyote on Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 06:39:06 AM EST
    Heh (none / 0) (#10)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Jun 17, 2009 at 05:54:43 AM EST
    you really think there would be a "small tax" only?  Besides, a sin tax would be on those least able to afford it.  

    I know the mark up (none / 0) (#15)
    by Wile ECoyote on Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 06:40:47 AM EST
    I was just remarking about a "Progressive" saying small tax.  Heh.

    I approve this message. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Faust on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:45:39 PM EST