Should We Legalize Robbery?

By Mina Seinfeld de Carakushansky
Director of the International Delegates
Drug Watch International

Untruths, when repeated many times, end up acquiring airs of truth. Some articles, written by people who are in favor of drug legalization, make reliable statements next to statements that are not.  But the untruths are so extensively repeated that they end up being accepted as true, even by well-meaning people.

One of these untruths states that prohibition of drugs causes much of the existing violence and therefore generates criminality. If we follow this type of logic, which is against common sense, we should also legalize such crimes as murder, theft, and rape.  Then, they would not be considered crimes, and we would decrease criminality. Prohibition of the indiscriminate extraction of wood in our Amazon Forest makes the wood much more expensive.  Should we stop the prohibition because it may generate illegal traffic, the formation of gangs, and violence?  Of course not.

The cause of criminality is not the existence of laws. Society must decide if it is for or against the indiscriminate and generalized use of psychoactive drugs, and must then decide what will be permitted and what will not be permitted by the law. To live in society implies accepting limitations to one's own individual freedom. What would happen if we lived in a society where each one had the freedom to commit murder, to rob, to drive an automobile placing at risk the lives of other people, or to exercise the "pleasure" of his pedophilia?

Drugs are, and should be, prohibited because they are psychoactive, that is, they change the operation of the brain, the organ that commands the control of our actions. If society legalizes the use of drugs, it will allow individuals to jeopardize not only their own health but also the health and lives of others, under the umbrella argument of exercising their pleasure. Who would like to be on a plane, having just seen the pilot buying cocaine in a little store at the airport? Who would like to undergo surgery by a surgeon who is addicted to crack? What teacher could teach a class to students who are numbed by smoking marijuana? In all places where there are liberal drug laws, such as in Switzerland, Australia, and Holland, drug consumption increased dramatically. The drugs got cheaper, easier to find, and there was no longer the stigma of illegality, which is an important factor of dissuasion.

When predicting supposed positive consequences that could be gained by drug legalization, people fall into the trap and commit the mistake of thinking that if we change the rules, we can apply the new rules to the same set of previously existing circumstances. However, changing the rules changes the social environment itself. As the rules that control any specific behavior become laxer, there is always an increase in the frequency of that behavior.

Neither is it true that, through legalization, the narco-traffickers will disappear. Tobacco cigarettes are legal in Brazil; however, due to high taxes, there is illegal traffic of one-third of the cigarettes consumed. In countries such as Italy, this illegal traffic ends up causing gang wars and many deaths.

One more untruth: the taxes that could be collected through the legal sale of drugs would finance the costs of treatment for the drug addicts. These resources would in no way be enough. The amount of money that the Brazilian government receives now from taxation of the sale of alcoholic drinks represents only 25% of the expenses that the government spends on diseases associated with alcoholism. Numbers vary from country to country, but international research finds that recovery rates of drug treatment are not greater than 10 percent. A comprehensive treatment program usually does not take less than 3 years, and a drug clinic treatment has a monthly cost of about 6 thousand reais (2.5 thousand dollars). The World Health Organization considers drug addiction an incurable disease, and one can imagine the costs of treatment in a society with legalized drugs.  The State — in other words, the citizens, even those who do not use drugs — would have to pay for these treatment costs, at least for the needy. Imagine the disaster this would mean for the public health system. At the moment, legalization is postulated only to guarantee the use of drugs "without restrictions." But almost unavoidably, with legalization, drug addicts will start to demand that society subsidizes their drug consumption. Heavily addicted people will be unable to keep a stable job, and they will demand that the Government sustains them, even in their addiction.  This is already starting to happen by providing free needles to drug addicts who use injectable drugs.

Another false report refers to the Prohibition Era in the USA. It is usually said that during prohibition there was great violence and corruption linked to organized crime, and when Prohibition was suspended, all this criminality disappeared as if by magic. That argument does not resist a more detailed analysis of the facts. The truth is that, in Chicago, in the short period from 1925 to 1931, there was an especially glamorous outlaw for the media, Al Capone. He and his gang inspired dozens of films and other fiction works, stimulating the idea that there were hundreds of Al Capones, accomplishing great "massacres," such as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in which seven people were killed. Considering all the many American cities, like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, etc., criminality between the twenties and the thirties is not, in any way, more impressive than in previous or later times. Few people mention that several public health indicators in the United States improved considerably during the time of Prohibition, and they worsened again after Prohibition was suspended. Even now, in many North American cities, some businesses do not have licenses to sell alcoholic beverages, there are schedule restrictions, and in some places it is even prohibited to walk on the street drinking a beer from a can or a bottle. Criminality in the USA did not begin with Prohibition, nor did it cease with the end of Prohibition.

The statement that we should legalize drugs because the "current system throws thousands of innocent poor into prison because they were consuming a few grams of marijuana and/or cocaine” is another obvious untruth. A study done in 1999 by the Rio de Janeiro State Justice Secretariat and by the Department of Prisons of the State of Rio de Janeiro concluded that more than 99.5 percent of all the prisoners incarcerated or put into Psychiatric Hospital in the State of Rio de Janeiro's penitentiary System were not in there because of simple drug use! The situation is similar to the one the United States. A Report published by the United States Statistic Bureau of the Justice Department, August 2001, points out that in 1999, the Federal Government prosecuted 38,288 people suspected of drug involvement, of which only 3% were arrested for simple possession of drugs. A great number of convicts and prisoners are incarcerated for drug trafficking, and people mistakenly or willfully mix simple possession with trafficking in order to reinforce their legalization argumentation. To avoid the hell of prison for simple offenses, it is not necessary to legalize drugs. It is enough adopt alternative penalties, as is the consensus today in Brazil and all over the world, not only for drug users, but also for other kinds of deleterious acts. That is much better than what is happening today, when policemen, public attorneys, and judges shut their eyes to the use of drugs, creating impunity and disrespect for the law.