Two weeks ago, vendors in Washington began selling marijuana for recreational purposes. Initiative 502, passed in 2012, has finally been implemented. Majorities of both the state and the U.S. as a whole favor marijuana legalization, perhaps indicating legalization at the federal level is in the not-too-distant future.
Don’t be appeased. This prospect offers little hope to those who strive for a society that does not suffer from the residual effects of drug prohibition.
Marijuana legalization is merely a pathetic stopgap measure — not a solution — to the most devastating consequences of the War on Drugs. This war is culpable for high rates of drug abuse, prison overcrowding, misappropriation of law enforcement’s focus, a sizeable chunk of gang-related activity and much of the violence at the U.S.-Mexico border. These are not just exciting plot points in “Breaking Bad.” These problems degrade many aspects of American society. Only once the federal government legalizes all drugs will there be a chance to mitigate, and eventually eliminate, these consequences.
The estimates of cartels’ profits that can be attributed to marijuana vary significantly: RAND estimates pot sales account for 15 percent of all profits. The U.S. government’s estimate is four times as high. Hypothetically, marijuana legalization would reduce this illegal drug trade and, consequently, much of the violence. Nonetheless, if marijuana is the only drug legalized, it is likely that the cartels will make up for lost profits by investing more in hard drug trafficking. Even if only a small portion of the marijuana market is replaced with increased heroin and cocaine trafficking, there will still be a sizable and costly drug war on the scene.
The primary argument against drug legalization is that it is correlated with increased use. Luckily, the U.S. can look to Europe as an example. Dutch citizens use marijuana regularly at lower rates than in France, Spain and the U.S., all of which ban pot. Between 1997 — the year before cannabis made its way into Dutch coffee shops — and 2009, the percentage of citizens 15 to 64 years old who reported regular usage in the past year did increase, but only from 5.5 to 7 percent, not likely to have created a discernible difference on the social fabric of the Netherlands.
Regardless, if drugs are legalized, lobbying groups will have less of an impact on what information from medical reports will be shared with the public, because they will no longer have a political impetus to skew science in their favors.
Despite legalizing all drugs, the system proposed here still bans recreational drugs from free market exchange. The only way to purchase a teener of coke or a sheet of acid will be at the local county Federal Recreational Users Dispensary (FRUD), which will be administered by the DEA. All drugs sold will be fabricated by government chemists and engineers and tested by the FDA. Doses will have to meet certain purity and health standards, just like pharmaceutical drugs do today.
The FRUD will work as follows: Customers will go through a doctor’s informational session where the doctor will explain the effects of the drugs the customers would like to use, the appropriate dose and the risks that they face given their particular health statuses. Only after understanding all of this information will they be allowed to purchase the drugs they want, which, it is important to note, will be sold at a price low enough to dissuade a strong competing private market. The revenue the FRUD accrues will go directly toward maintaining facilities, paying FRUD employees and developing strong rehabilitation programs, a subsection of the FRUD for users who want to end their addictions.
The FRUD is a self-sustaining ecosystem. Yes, it perpetuates, and perhaps even facilitates drug users’ self-destructive habits. However, the FRUD mitigates the residual effects of drug prohibition on innocent citizens, and has a system in place to fix those who want to be fixed. It will be much easier to tackle the problems related to drug use when the vast majority of these problems are contained in one place.
Government dispensaries do present one particularly disconcerting issue: Won’t a black market open up to target users who are fed up with the inconvenience of the FRUD? Probably — at some level — but it will be rendered impotent.
The success of the FRUDs will be contingent upon harsh mandatory sentencing laws for private drug dealers and purchasers, perhaps even harsher than they are now. These draconian measures will shrink the free drug market so much that the few private dealers remaining will be much easier to identify, target and prosecute. On top of that, users will be very unlikely to risk arrest to purchase a product through unlawful methods that they can obtain legally, merely for convenience.
The War on Drugs will still exist, but it will have been demoted to the Skirmish on Drugs-you-didn’t-buy-at-your-local-FRUD.
In addition to reducing the number of non-violent offenders and avoiding the increasingly threatening prospect of prison privatization, FRUDs will reduce the frequency of health catastrophes from drug misuse. These facilities will provide users the necessary information to avoid overdoses, and the FDA-tested drugs will run little to no risk of contamination. For those who want to fight their addictions, a FRUD will serve as an environment where users can seek treatment without fear of legal prosecution or spiraling into debt.
Yes, people will use drugs, but will use them in as healthy a way as possible. FRUDs will mitigate the greatest consequences of drug use: addiction through overuse and users’ — albeit irrational, yet present — fear of legal repercussions should they admit their addictions. There are also numerous positive side effects like reduced drug treatment costs and more efficient use of law enforcement. The police will spend much less time focusing on drug-related crimes when the black market is so significantly reduced.
The government is the only prospective dealer whose main incentive is not profit. Its primary motivation in this case is to reduce citizens’ health risks. Whether you want to buy your biweekly ounce of weed or try to end your meth addiction, the U.S. government is the only dealer that has your best interest at heart.
Contact Pepito Escarce at [email protected].