Keeping Drugs Illegal

Keeping Drugs Illegal

Arguments for decriminalization assume drug control is ineffective and legalization creates black markets.

The argument for the decriminalization of drugs has been a topic of controversy for many years. In this analysis and research, the problem of drug legalization is analyzed revealing that there are many facts that are overlooked proponents of legalization. These proponents also falsely state that drug criminalization does not work and that legalization breeds black market activities. The following analysis disproves these claims and provides evidence as to why drugs should remain illegal in the United States.

The arguments for drug legalization are often compelling when one notes that the drug problem seems to have, at best, been controlled or at least slowed in progression. The arguments for decriminalization are founded on the assumption that drug control is ineffective and that legalization creates the black market for illicit drugs. These assumptions are only partly correct and do not represent the reality of decriminalization. The dangers and negative impacts of drug use and related activities clearly show why drugs should not be decriminalized.

Advocates of decriminalization argue that the criminalization of drugs creates a black market and crime. The argument of the failure of prohibition is often used to prove this point. While criminalization increases crime, such as in the case of prohibition, it would still exist even if drugs were decriminalized. There are many other markets that are evidence of the failure of decriminalization. For example, cigarettes are legal and there is a black market for the product (Johnson, 2011).

“The tax loss for the diversion of cigarettes into the criminal markets costs the taxpayers many millions of dollars per year,” ATF Agent in Charge Scott Sweetow said.

“This is not a new problem but the scope of it I think would startle most people,” said Sweetow (Winne & Tangherlini, 2011).

Another example of the failure of decriminalization can be found in prescription drugs. Many prescription drugs which are controlled and legal are commonly found on the black market (ATF, 2012). The illegal purchasing and selling of prescription drugs is a major problem. Many people who are sick and need these drugs are often so poor that they are induced to sell their prescription in order to make money to live. In fact, the prescription drug black market is so large that it rivals the illegal drug market.

Operators of a nationwide black market have illegally sold more than $100 million of expensive HIV medications and other drugs obtained from patients on the government-run Medicaid health insurance plan, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday…Authorities said that in the last 15 months, the scheme cost Medicaid $108 million. In total, going back seven years, the fraud could be as much as $500 million, they said (Katz, 3012).

One of the best examples of the misunderstanding of decriminalization can be found in alcohol. While prohibition increased crime, decriminalization of alcohol did not do away with the black market for the product. Studies have shown that 50% of the time underage drinkers can get served at bars and liquor stores, not showing ID (Forster et al, 1994). Every year, billions of dollars in tax revenue is lost from alcohol, cigarette, and drugs being illegally sold (ATF, 2012). This is a common misconception that criminalization creates black markets. In truth, it is the demand for drugs that creates the criminal market, not the drug's legal status.

Proponents of drug decriminalization falsely argue that criminalization is ineffective. The supporters of decriminalization often use prohibition as an example of the ineffectiveness of drug criminalization. As far as the black market is concerned, this might be true, however; prohibition significantly affected public health in a positive manner. Prohibition reduced Alcohol-related illnesses and deaths. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver alone, decreased by close to 30% during prohibition (Will, 2012).

Another example of the success of legal intervention with drugs can be seen in the tobacco industry. When cigarette companies were allowed to advertise without legal interference the number of smokers in the United States was almost 40% and the death toll from smoking was significantly higher. Other extremely addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin are currently below 1% use within the population (SAMHSA, 2011). Using alcohol and tobacco as a comparison, one can easily deduce that legalizing drugs will profoundly increase the number of addicts and users of addictive drugs. For example, legalizing drinking increased the rates of alcohol abuse and addiction from less than 1% to 7% of the population (Will, 2012).

Decriminalizing drugs does not have the desired effect that proponents claim it will. In Portugal, drugs were completely decriminalized and this did nothing to change the problems. Although there are few drug arrests in Portugal, criminal activity with drug dealing has not changed (Szalavitz, 2009). As well, the number of addicts in Portugal has not been reduced by decriminalization (Szalavitz, 2009).

Examples such as Portugal show how decriminalization is a misconception. The countries which claim successes are not decriminalized completely and most of these countries distinguish between hard and soft drugs. In the Netherlands, while drugs are considered decriminalized they are only speaking of specific drugs such as cannabis (Peeperkorn, 2003). In countries such as Portugal where full decriminalization has occurred, the problem of drug addiction became out of control. This is especially true of countries that did not take into account the more addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Commonly known to most people was the opium epidemic in China which hurt the country from the 1800s to the 1940s (Brook & Wkabayashi, 2000). At one point, there were 70 million opium addicts in China (Brook & Wkabayashi, 2000). In China, it took harsh criminal penalties to end the opium trade which caused the deaths of millions during the opium wars (Brook & Wkabayashi, 2000).

One of the most serious misconceptions concerning the decriminalization of drugs is the increased issue of public health safety. There are serious health problems that occur when drugs are decriminalized. The largest problem is that addiction and secondary diseases become larger problems such as rises in STDs, hepatitis, and AIDS. The effect of decriminalization extends beyond the user as other issues such as diseases like AIDS can affect non-users within the population. In order to combat this issue, in most countries where intravenous drugs are legal, the governments have to issue free needles in order to keep AIDS and other communicable diseases from being spread throughout the addict populations.

There are many problems that occur when drugs are decriminalized. The largest problem is that addiction and other public health issues become larger problems. The effect of decriminalization extends beyond the user as other issues such as increased diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis can affect nonusers but also increase the cost of containing and dealing with these issues. This leaves many questions of whether the secondary costs of legalization and the impact on society are worth legalization to remove the criminal element? In some sense, legalization completely looks over the reasons that warranted legalization in the first place.

Decriminalization presents a situation in which there is an appearance of less crime and fewer problems, but this is really an illusion created by the fact that arrest rates become lower since buying and using drugs is no longer an issue. Essentially, when decriminalization occurs, the problem of drugs and addiction is merely masked. Instead of being a legal problem it now becomes a public health issue. In a sense, the only people who benefit from drug decriminalization are the people who are dealing and using drugs since they are no longer at risk of being incarcerated or fined for their activities. For this reason, and for the concern of the non-drug-using population, decriminalization should not be allowed in the United States.


ATF. (2012). Alcohol smuggling. Retrieved from smuggling&site=default_collection&sort=date:D:L:d1&output=xml_no_dtd&ie= UTF-8&oe=UTF 8&client=atf&proxystylesheet=atf&ip=,, ccess=p&q=( )&entqr=3&entqrm=0&ud=1&start=10

Brook, T., & Wkabayashi, B. T. (2000). Opium regimes: China, britain, and japan, 1839–1952. Berkley California: University of California Press.

Forster JL, McGovern PG, Wagenaar AC, Wolfson M, Perry CL, Anstine PS. The ability of young people to purchase alcohol without age identification in northeastern Minnesota, USA. Addiction. 1994 Jun;89(6):699–705.

Will, G. F. (2012, April 4). The drug legalization dilemma. Retrieved from harm-than-good/2012/04/04/gIQANg46vS_story.html

Johnson, K. (2011, April 8). Violent criminals expand into cigarettes. Retrieved from

Katz, B. (3012, July 17). U.s. busts $108 million black market in medicaid drugs. Retrieved from arrests-idUSBRE86G0KZ20120717

Marc Peeperkorn (22 April 2003). “Kamer voor legaliseren softdrugs” (in Dutch). Volkskrant. Retrieved 31 January 2009. “To make the sale, trade and growth of softdrugs not punishable is currently hindered by United Nations treaties.”

SAMHSA. (2011, September). Results from the 2010 national survey on drug use and health: Summary of national findings. Retrieved from

Szalavitz, M. (2009, April 26). drugs in portugal: Did decriminalization work?. Retrieved from,8599,1893946,00.html

U.S. smoking rate hasn’t changed, CDC says September 08, 2010 By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times

Winne, M., & Tangherlini, T. (2011, October 19). Up to 50 arrested in illegal cigarette trafficking ring . Retrieved from illegal-cigarette-trafficking-ring/nFJ8P/


Triola Vincent. Sat, Jan 23, 2021. Keeping Drugs Illegal Retrieved from

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