DRCNet Reponse to the
Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization


Legalization of Drugs Will Lead to Increased Use and Increased Addiction Levels.

DEA Statement


A cornerstone of the legalization proponents' position is the claim that making illegal drugs legal would not cause more of these substances to be consumed, nor would addiction increase. They claim that many people can use drugs in moderation and that many would choose not to use drugs, just as many forego alcohol and tobacco now.


This is obviously true. If heroin was suddenly legal, would you want to spend your life stoned on it? People do not use drugs for the most basic reason of all -- they just don't want to live their lives that way.
Participants in the Anti-Legalization Forum felt strongly that if drugs were more widely available--as they certainly would be if they were legalized--rates of use and addiction would increase. There is simply no evidence to support this. There is more evidence to suggest that, with the proper policies, rates of use and addiction and -- more importantly, problems resulting from addiction would decrease.
Legalizing drugs sends a message that drug use (like tobacco and alcohol) is acceptable, and encourages drug use among people who currently do not use drugs. When the social taboos about premarital sex were removed, the nation's illegitimate birthrate soared. And we are paying dearly for it. This is clearly faulty reasoning. The fact that alcohol is legal does not mean that anyone condones alcohol use. It is not necessary to put people in prison to discourage drug use or abuse.
Look to our history. For years, the United States legally refined morphine from opium and hailed it as a miracle drug. Many soldiers on both sides of the Civil War who were given morphine for their wounds became addicted to it. Are we ready for more morphine addicts? Crack addicts? Heroin addicts?


High addiction rates arose in this era because these drugs were the only drugs the medical profession had which really worked, and they were poorly understood by both the public and the medical profession. In addition, the drugs were sold in all kinds of over-the-counter preparations, with absolutely no labeling requirements and the most outlandish advertising claims. Addiction rates dropped dramatically when the Federal Government took the simple step of requiring labeling of the contents.

See the many articles on the history of these laws under Historical References.


Early in the 20th Century, drugs were plentiful, cheap, and legal in the United States. Some could even be bought from the Sears Catalogue. But Americans realized that these legalized drugs were harmful to individuals and society, and drug laws were written.


The DEA would like us to believe that the drug laws were passed because of a genuine concern about the dangers of these drugs. In fact, the laws were the result of racism and ignorance, and the worst kind of distortions and fraud.

See the many articles on the history of these laws under Historical References.

Legalization proponents would have these statutes repealed and make opium as available as chewing gum. This is a ridiculous statement. The only people who have suggested that opium should be as available as chewing gum is the DEA itself.
The experts believe that legalization of drugs would decrease the perception of risk currently associated with drug use. The perception of risk depends upon public education, not the laws. If the DEA was really concerned about the perception of risk, they would recommend more education, rather than more enforcement.
The group strongly endorsed the notion that the government should help protect people from substances and activities that are harmful to them, the community and society at large. If someone wants to harm themselves, with drugs or anything else, there is ultimately nothing the Government will be able to do to stop them.
Some facts which help to confirm the observations of the forum participants may be used in debates:  
  • Dr. Herbert Kleber, prominent psychiatrist from Yale University, former Demand Reduction Deputy Director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy and currently with the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, stated in a 1994 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clinical data support the premise that drug use would increase with legalization.


As the DEA itself admits, there is no clear definition for "legalization". Therefore, Dr. Kleber's study is simply the process of setting up his own idea of "legalization" and then knocking it down. There is no evidence -- as shown from the DEA's own citations, above -- that tough criminal laws reliably reduce drug use or abuse.
  • He said: "There are over 50 million nicotine addicts, 18 million alcoholics or problem drinkers, and fewer than 2 million cocaine addicts in the United States.
Even though there are nine times as many alcoholics as cocaine addicts, the DEA is not proposing that alcohol be banned. The reason is very simple -- prohibition doesn't work. See, for example:

Should Alcohol be Prohibited?

Why Alcohol Should Not be Prohibited

  • Cocaine is a much more addictive drug than alcohol.
Simply not true. For the NIDA rankings of the addictive qualities of drugs see: Which drugs are the most addictive? Under Basic Facts About the War on Drugs.
  • If cocaine were legally available, as alcohol and nicotine are now, the number of cocaine abusers would probably rise to a point somewhere between the number of users of the other two agents, perhaps 20 to 25 million...the number of compulsive users might be nine times higher...than the current number.
This is simple fear-mongering with no evidence to support it.
  • When drugs have been widely available--as... cocaine was at the turn of the century--both use and addiction have risen."
Cocaine was completely unregulated at the turn of the century and manufacturers of concoctions were not even required to list it on their labels. When labeling was required, drug addiction rates dropped. Even with no labeling requirements and drugs which were not nearly as well understood by the public as these drugs are today -- the rates of addiction were still not as high as Dr. Kleber estimates for modern legalization.
  • England's experience with widely available heroin shows that use and addiction increase. Great Britain allowed doctors to prescribe heroin to addicts. There was an explosion of heroin use and by the mid-1980s known addiction rates were increasing by about 30% a year. According to the Lancet, the respected British medical journal (Lancet, January 9, 1982), 2,657 heroin addicts were registered in 1970 compared with 5,107 in 1980.
The first thing that is noticeable about these figures is how trivial they are in comparison with the figures for US addicts. An increase of 2,400 addicts would not even be noticed in the United States.

The DEA is plainly distorting the facts again. See for example:

Rx Drugs: The Liverpool Experience

Narcotics Addiction and Control in Great Britain

Supplying Heroin Legally to Addicts


  • This was a program in which heroin users needed a doctor's authorization to get their drug. What would happen if anyone wanting to try heroin could simply buy it at the government store?
See Rx Drugs: The Liverpool Experience Among the things that happened were that about 80 percent of the addicts regained normal lives and honest employment, street drug markets virtually disappeared, drug-related crime went down, AIDS went down, and the number of new addicts dropped to one-twelfth previous levels.
  • Legalization was given a lengthy try closer to home when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that the state could not interfere with a person's possession of marijuana in his home for personal use.
The Supreme Court ruling was hardly "legalization", except for those who grew it and consumed it in their own homes -- similar to the manner in which any American citizen can make their own wine or beer without interference from the DEA. The DEA's definition of "legalization" changes to suit their particular purposes at the moment.
  • Enforcement was permitted only when the quantity possessed exceeded four ounces--this in a state that, because of the long, sunny days of its brief growing season, produces extra potent marijuana.
Alaskan marijuana is no more potent than the varieties grown anywhere else. Attempting to use this as an argument is just nonsense.
  • The court's ruling was interpreted by many Alaskans as a signal to light up, and so they did, especially the young ones, even though the ruling was limited to persons 19 and over. According to a 1988 University of Alaska study, the state's 12 to 17-year-olds used marijuana at more than twice the national average for their age group. "The frequency with which marijuana was used within the current sample," the report on the study said, "suggests that it is not an experimental event for many students, but that it seems to have become well incorporated into the lifestyle of many adolescents."
We have asked the DEA to provide a copy of the study, so we may post it here in its entirety. So far, they have failed to further identify the study, or to provide information where we may obtain a copy.


  • Although they historically cling to their personal liberties, Alaska residents voted in 1990 to recriminalize possession of marijuana, demonstrating their belief that increased use was too high a price to pay for increased personal liberties.
It is interesting to note that the DEA tacitly admits that the marijuana prohibition is an infringement on personal liberties. The truth is that the Federal Government waged a fierce lobbying campaign to recriminalize possession of marijuana. Then, as now, they declined to submit to open and honest debate on the issue.
  • Will the public support an aggressive marketing approach?
For guidance, the American public should do the same thing the DEA should do - read the recommendations of the Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.
  • While "government drugs" could conceivably be priced low enough to eliminate competition, perhaps by having taxpayers subsidize them to discourage a black market
It would not be necessary to subsidize them any more that it would necessary to subsidize alcohol or tobacco.
  • , the combination of low price and ready availability would bring more consumption, more addiction. We would have won the battle and lost the war. If they see this as the probable outcome, the American people can hardly be expected to endorse a "sell at all costs" policy.
This simply isn't true, unless one assumes "legalization" policies as bad or worse than the current policies. In the Netherlands, for example, where marijuana is sold openly in bars, marijuana use by teens is about one-fourth what it is in the United States.


  • Robert L. DuPont, M.D., former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, considered the impact legalization would have on use and addiction rates in a paper published in 1994.
  • "Would legalization increase the number of drug users and the social harm produced by the use of drugs?" Dr. DuPont asked. "The answer to those two questions is simply, 'Yes, it would.'"
Again, we have someone setting up their own idea of legalization and the knocking it down. Dr. DuPont should refer to the recommendations for reform contained in the Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.
  • The current global experience with alcohol and tobacco reveals the downside of legalization clearly, Dr. DuPont said.
The experience more clearly demonstrates the futility of trying to make these drugs illegal. See, for example,

The History of Alcohol Prohibition

Should alcohol be prohibited?

Why alcohol should not be prohibited.

  • "Legalization of any drugs leads to large increases in the use of the legalized drugs," he said. "Because most of the social costs of drugs are not the costs of prohibition but the costs created by the drug use itself (a point proved beyond dispute by the dismal global experience with alcohol and tobacco), legalization raises the net social costs of drug use."
This is simply not true. The The History of Alcohol Prohibition demonstrates that prohibition ultimately has no real effect on drug use.
  • "Legalization is an old, siren call which promises to reduce the high costs of drug use, but which abundant evidence shows would inevitably raise the costs society pays for drug use, not reduce them. We do not need new experiments to make this point."
The DEA is simply stating again that they are not open to listening to any alternatives to their current repressive policies. It is this attitude which is the real problem with our drug policy -- and guarantees that we will never make any progress with our drug problem as long as it is present.




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