Should drugs be legalized in the United States? Why or why not?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are a few ways you could approach this question. First, you will need to determine the answer you wish to defend. Below, I will list three broad approaches to this, provide some context and directions you could pursue, and offer some sources throughout to help you do your own research on the matter.

Before I continue, it would be best to define what a “drug” is. Two definitions per Merriam-Webster, which I believe are the most useful for this exercise, are:

1: A substance used as a medication or in the preparation of medication
2: Something and often an illegal substance that causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness

Key to this is the idea that drugs are something that change your state of mind and lead to habitual reuse. While this clearly applies to substances like alcohol, cannabis, or cocaine, which are commonly viewed as “drugs” in the popular consciousness, this would also apply to substances like caffeine or sugar.

There are three general positions you can take to answer this question.

  • No drugs should be legalized
  • All drugs should be legalized
  • Some drugs should be legalized (the current state of affairs in the United States)

While you can pick your own points to look at, one that often comes up in this debate is the impact of drugs on crime. Those who associate drug use with crime might argue that legal drug sales will increase availability of drugs and thus increase the crime or dangers associated with drug use (for example, a person driving while intoxicated and endangering his/her fellow motorists). Others may take an opposite position, claiming that much of the crime associated with drug use is really the byproduct of an underground and unregulated market of drug sales and that allowing drugs to be sold legally will shut down these black markets and actually decrease crime.

Another important point in this debate is the potential of legal drug sales to generate tax revenue, as is already done with alcohol and tobacco sales. Supporters of legalization may say that legal and regulated drug sales provides another opportunity for the government to collect tax revenue by taxing the sale of alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, etc.

There are some real-life case studies you can look at to help strengthen your case and approach these key points of both drug use and crime and drug use and taxation"

If you choose to argue that either no drugs or all drugs should be legalized, you'll need to look to these historical examples to help make your case.

Currently, some drugs are legal in the United States and some are not. You can also take this balanced approach and argue that, for example, because the effects of caffeine are so different than the effects of heroin, one should be legal while the other should not. The drug schedule system is how the federal government currently answers such questions.

It's also worth considering the approach of the government in handling cases of drug use and drug distribution. Maybe, for example, you argue that the creation and distribution of some or all drugs should be illegal, while the usage of drugs should be treated with rehabilitation and not imprisonment. That would allow the government to try to curb the availability of certain drugs and focus its resources on the criminal networks that create and distribute them, while approaching addicts and drug users from a position of rehabilitation and not punishment.

While you're answering this in the context of the United States, every country answers differently, so be sure to also look to the examples set by other countries on imprisonment, rehabilitation, and legalization practices.

Another point to consider is the difference between state and federal drug legislation. As this country is a collection of states, there are some that believe in a stronger federal government with laws that supersede what a state might legislate, while others believe that the federal government should be weaker and that states should have greater control over how they run themselves.

It is a valid position to say that the federal government should make no laws concerning drug legalization, leaving that up to the states. If you choose to go this route, you will need to make sure you consider where the federal government should intervene, such as in the case of a person carrying drugs across state lines (potentially bringing a drug that is legal in one state into another state where it is illegal). At that point, is it the responsibility of the federal government to prosecute this, or should the state in which the drug is illegal handle it? You could also argue the opposite, that only the federal government should legislate drug legality.

It is also important to understand that legalization does not imply free usage by all citizens. Alcohol and tobacco sales are legalized, but there are restrictions on who can purchase them, when and how they can be used, and, in the case of alcohol, further restrictions on actions like driving while intoxicated. If these laws are broken, then the person who breaks them will still be prosecuted despite its otherwise legal status. If you argue that all drugs should be legalized, then it would be important to consider if you further wish to remove any restrictions on their usage or, if not, how you would handle restrictions on the variety of drugs and their variety of impacts on the human body.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial