“Do you think drugs should be legalized?” The first time I was asked this question, I got so angry I left the room. My response was typical of my demographic as a politically conservative Christian woman. Have you lost your mind, not to mention your faith? Drugs can cause catastrophic destruction of lives and families. So why on earth would we legalize them?
Then I became a foster mom, and I began to see how harm from drugs falls into two categories. One category is the harm a substance can do to the person taking it, but the other is harm from the drug policy of prohibition. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that drug prohibition is responsible for much of the harm we blame on drugs.
The level of preventable harm is so high that I switched careers and started End It For Good, a nonprofit to invite people to consider how legal regulation of drugs could reduce harm to children, families, and communities. Wesley J. Smith wrote an opinion piece in The Epoch Times last week disagreeing with our work. He brings up many valid points. Legalization certainly has downsides, but so does prohibition. We must decide which imperfect solution produces better outcomes.
Toward the end of his piece, he summarizes what he believes will happen if drugs are legalized: “The inevitable outcome would be more addiction, increased deaths, and destroyed families.” I want to take these four outcomes—crime, death, addiction, and destroyed families—and show why prohibition has increased each outcome and how legalization offers a path toward life, health, and peace. Perhaps after reading, you’ll resonate with a state trooper who attended one of End It For Good’s events earlier this year and afterward said to me, “I’ve never thought about it like this before.”
Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture of drugs so we can trace the root causes of harm. When a popular substance is criminalized, supply doesn’t disappear since demand is still there. Instead, it shifts underground. The only people able to supply consumers with the drugs they want are people willing to break the law. Legal, law-abiding businesses close their doors while gangs, cartels, and terrorist organizations rake in hundreds of billions of dollars every year selling illegal drugs. The more brutal they are, the more territory they can control, increasing their revenue as a result. Banning popular drugs financially rewards crime and violence across the globe, destabilizing whole countries, and exacerbating the crisis at our southern border. Drug prohibition doesn’t fight crime; it makes it extremely profitable, undermining law and order.
What about Smith’s concern that legalization would bring more death? When a drug is legal and regulated, the consumer knows exactly what’s in the drug they’re buying and its potency. But when a drug is prohibited, all quality control is lost. Consumers are buying a baggie of powder or a random pill without knowing what’s in it or how strong it may be. In this free-for-all, the synthetic opioid fentanyl is often included because of its high potency. The biggest punch in the smallest package is a predictable and profitable business decision to make drugs easier to smuggle.
It’s important to note that fentanyl is not inherently deadly. My son cut his finger badly three years ago and had to get stitches. As we waited for the doctor, a nurse cheerfully announced she was giving my son fentanyl to help with the pain. Later she came in and gave him some more. He was 4 years old. Regulated fentanyl, dosed appropriately, doesn’t kill anyone. And yet thousands of people die from fentanyl overdoses yearly because the drugs they’re buying on the street are concoctions with absolutely no quality control. Had they known the potency, they could use an appropriate, nonlethal dose, and tens of thousands of consumers would still be alive. Instead, prohibition is making drug use far more deadly. Only legalization offers life-saving quality control.
I share Smith’s concerns over addiction and family breakdown as I share his other concerns. As foster parents, we opened our home to children whose parents were struggling with drug addiction. It can be devastating, but incarceration doesn’t solve addiction. It doesn’t stop people from accessing and consuming drugs since they’re readily available in jails and prisons across the country. Incarceration does, however, disconnect people from their job, housing, family, and community. When people get out of jail, they often have a criminal record for the rest of their lives. Regaining employment becomes nearly impossible. Without a decent job, they can’t afford housing or provide for themselves.
The incarceration cycle is incredibly traumatic for a person as well as his or her family. A host of studies demonstrate how the more trauma someone experiences, the more likely he or she is to use drugs. Learning this blew my mind and changed my perspective. I always thought people addicted to drugs were bad people intent on doing bad things. But research says it’s far more likely they’re people who have been deeply hurt and are trying to cope. That’s not to excuse harmful behavior stemming from their drug use, and it’s not to condone their coping mechanism. It’s simply to say that if we want people to stop using drugs, adding more trauma to their life is like throwing gasoline on a fire.
If we truly want to decrease addiction, we must address the human problems causing it. We’ve focused for decades on drugs. It’s time to focus on why people use them.
Drug prohibition can’t deliver the health, safety, and control we want. It delivers the opposite, making crime, death, addiction, and family destruction far worse. Banning popular drugs can have some positive outcomes, but those benefits are eclipsed many times over by the suffering and death that come along with it. We live in a broken world with hurting people and potentially harmful substances. There are no perfect solutions, but there are realistic options that significantly reduce harm. I believe legal regulation of drugs is one of those, producing outcomes that better align with my values as a conservative and a pro-life Christian.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.