It’s an interesting thought, and probably one that most addicts have had at one time or another. But how many of us have really asked ourselves, “should we just legalize all drugs?” From the mind of an addict it’s simple. We tell ourselves we’re not hurting anyone else, or that we should be free to explore our own minds and bodies. The truth is most of the justifications that addicts lose are logical fallacies. Addicts not only hurt themselves but their family members and friends who care about them, as well as anyone is a victim of crimes that addicts commit in search of money for drugs or alcohol.
Yet the question remains and before we answer it there are a few distinctions we have to make. First, there is a distinction between legalization and decriminalization. Legalization means that drug users are completely free of any punishment. Possessing a pound of heroin will, in the eyes of the law, be viewed with the same punishment as possessing a cheeseburger or a bouquet of flowers i.e. no punishment. Decriminalization simply means that those in possession of drugs are not convicted of crimes and forced into jails. Instead they are given treatment. Dealers and manufacturers will still be tried with crimes but the decriminalization model means that addicts will be seen as patients instead of criminals.
To look at what decriminalization might look like we need only search as far as Europe. A decade ago Portugal decriminalized all drugs. That means everything from methamphetamine to heroin is placed in the same category and people found in possession are mandated into treatment programs. Since that time, Portugal has seen a nearly 60% decrease in drug usage nationwide, making it one of the lowest in Europe. But as we’ve already said, legalization is a lot different than decriminalization.
So why don’t we take the next step and legalize drugs? While most of us agree that hardcore narcotics are altogether bad for you, some argue that in a free society we should be free to make bad decisions. After all, cigarettes are still legal and according to the CDC they kill nearly 480,000 Americans each year. Alcohol is legal and we even have proof from the 1920s that prohibition only exacerbates the problem.
While everyone must ultimately answer this question for themselves, most people in recovery have a different viewpoint. We can see through hindsight the wake of destruction and death that follows the use of drugs like heroin, meth, or cocaine. Most of us have seen people relapse and either die, end up in jail, or worse. And we realize that if even one less person becomes addicted to drugs simply because they don’t want to go to jail, than the whole system is worth it. Maybe one day the U.S. will come up with a system similar to Portugal. Maybe society will finally stop treating addicts as offenders and start treating them as patients who need help. But until that time, making drugs legal will more than likely only make the problem worse.