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The purpose of administering laws in any given society is to implement the states values upon their citizens. Although each individual state has its own views and opinions, it is in its best interest to enforce what is morally just to ensure the care and protection of its people. In regards to the regulation of recreational drugs, it is essential to understand that the following proposals are preferably for developed, industrialized, and westernized states, since they have similar existing policies. The ideal objective surrounding a state's regulation for drugs should be "related to the harms any action or substance causes or threatens" (Wolff, 61). The harm that should be considered under these particular circumstances is the negative effects that a drug may cause to the individual whether such effects are physical or mental. The laws produced by the state to which its citizens conform are designed to protect their own wellbeing. However, in order to change regulations, we must evolve from current laws, as "change is harder to justify than keeping things as they are, given that change is bound to have unanticipated consequences" (Wolff, 79). This is not to say that change is unachievable; rather there must be clear evidence behind a justification so that it is possible for a notion to go through, and to develop within existing regulations. This essay argues that the usage and distribution (through legal establishments) of marijuana should be legalized because it poses less physical harm than the legally -if limited- available alcohol and tobacco. Yet, the conventional use of alcohol and tobacco are to remain of the status quo since prohibition is unfeasible in practice, and certain drugs should continue to be illicit due to the harms they can impose.
"By the scientific definition cannabis (marijuana) is not technically a drug; it is a plant material containing many different psychoactive drugs, most notably tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidol" (Kleiman, 1). Evidently, the use of marijuana is not nearly as harmful in comparison to alcohol or tobacco, which are both legal in the state. In Kleiman's novel Drugs and Drug Policy, a chart is shown comparing other substances - such as alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine - and the dimensions of risk for each one. The chart significantly presents that in contrast to alcohol and tobacco, the risks of using marijuana are relatively similar and in some aspects are less harmful. The damage of casual and heavy usage from cannabis is low to moderate whereas alcohol is moderate to high (Kleiman, 13). "If you're worried about cancer or heart disease or stroke, tobacco does the most total harm by far" (Kleiman, 14). Alcohol and tobacco are generally accepted through state even under the harms they pose towards an individual. Consequently, on the basis of severity of harm to a person's health, it follows that the availability of cannabis-with harm levels significantly lower compared to harm levels posed by alcohol and tobacco-should be increased via distribution through legal establishments.
Some may argue that the legalization of marijuana influences people to experiment with harsher drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine as popular belief considers it to be a gateway drug. In contrast, the author of the book, Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Inquire argues that, "allowing easier access to the least harmful drugs is a way of trying to get users to stop taking more harmful drugs" (Wolff, 66). Since the state will provide attainable access to marijuana, people could take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from what is being provided to them. Citizens could trust the state to provide what is safe for them to use, understanding that they will be responsible for their own actions. Instead of purchasing drugs off the unreliable black market, users could feel safe about government marijuana. Further, the acquisition of decriminalized marijuana through legal sources could also lessen the potential of risky drug deals; if marijuana is readily available (albeit moderated by government regulations), there would be no need to involve oneself with potentially untrustworthy or dangerous drug dealers in order to buy cannabis for recreational enjoyment because there would little to zero concern over arrest by authorities.
Although I argued above that when making laws it is important to be mindful of the harms a drug could do to an individual, alcohol and tobacco have been present in society for many centuries therefore setting restrictions against them would not be practical. "Centuries of tradition and decades of marketing have left alcohol use a deeply ingrained feature of most social systems" (Kleiman, 38). We can also apply this idea to the usage of tobacco. If alcohol and tobacco were only introduced into society today, it would then be more possible or feasible to ban them, but since we have an established user base it would be impractical to impose prohibition (Kleiman, 38). Even though the idea of making alcohol and tobacco illegal is unreasonable, the state still makes an effort to look out or prevent the harms they may cause to their citizens.
There are many strategies that are already being used in order to help reduce the harm alcohol and tobacco can cause to users. By setting an age restriction, this limits the usage to only those who are old enough to take responsibility for their actions. The state also provides health and social services to the public to attempt to reduce the drug-related harms through the following as suggested by Drug Policy and the Public Good: a summary of the book by Thomas E. Babor. Prevention is used through school drug programmes, mass media campaigns and policing to reduce access to youth (Babor, 1140). Services such as therapy and counselling are used to reduce crime and overdose deaths as well as treat psychiatric disorders (Babor, 1140). There are also methadone clinics to assist users who are attempting to go through detoxification. These methods help inform the masses of the harm and treat or lessen the negative or dangerous effects of what such substances may have already caused. Another suggestion comes from Kleiman who believes that "higher taxes would improve the health and longevity of heavy drinkers" (Kleiman, 39). By adding higher taxes to alcohol and tobacco, more money will be spent and many will not be able to drink as much due to the steep (and to some, unreasonable) prices. This taxation would also benefit the government since there would be a higher income from even just the regular purchase of these products. The purchasing of alcohol and tobacco will always continue to occur since they are so deeply integrated into the norms of many societies. From these strategies and suggestions, the state can help reduce the harm alcohol and tobacco can cause to people, as well possibly benefit from the taxations if prices were to be raised.
When it comes to the use and possession of "Class A" drugs such as cocaine, crack, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, methadone, methamphetamine and magic mushrooms, these drugs should continue to remain illegal. The degree of harms that these drugs can impose on an individual depends on the function of each one: George Sher explains through his article, On the Decriminalization of Drugs that heroin harms the user by sapping his motivation and initiative; regular use of cocaine and methamphetamine significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke; LSD can trigger psychosis; and ecstasy harms the brain and impairs the memory (Sher, 30). "Furthermore, by drastically enhancing self-confidence, aggression, and libido, these drugs elicit behaviour that predictably culminates in high-speed collision, shootouts in parking lots, and destroy immune systems" (Sher, 30). All these drugs are highly addictive and continuous usage can lead to serious injury or even death. By keeping "Class A" drugs illicit, the state maintains the safety of their citizens by protecting them from the irreversible harms these particular drugs can cause.
Critics argue that, "most laws limit or restrict liberties" (Husak, 24). Each person has the right to their own body therefore they should be allowed to do what they please, even if that means partaking in the usage of prohibited drugs. Experimenting with "Class A" drugs-once or on occasion-will not damage a person's wellbeing permanently. To argue against this, although people are entitled to their own bodies, they are not necessarily aware of the highly addictive effects of certain drugs, which can lead to continuous usage and at times, dependency. It is possible that a one-time experimentation may get one hooked. An individual who is addicted to heroin may say it is their choice and they have control over the usage of it, but in reality they do not. They no longer have control over the usage of heroin; rather heroin has control over them and to detrimental results. Addicts revolve their lives around drugs causing them to change their personalities and lifestyle adversely. Not only can the user harm themselves but those around them as well. Relationships between loved ones are damaged "by depriving them of the steady companionship and income of their addicted partners" (Sher, 31). Children who are exposed to their drug-addict parents are "neglected and abused" (Sher, 31). The use of such drugs harms the individual and their relationship with others as well. Regulations over "Class A" drugs are held in society to protect citizens from the potential harms they can cause unto themselves and others likewise.
Although in 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin (Greenwald, 2), this may have worked for them considering the different type of lifestyle they live in comparison to western societies. As such, the social and political contexts of a given state must be taken into great consideration by lawmakers in comparing differing government laws when it comes to drugs and similar substances, as well as other issues. Even if these suggestions do not exhibit an abundance of change to existing policies, it is logical to progressively alter state regulations in order to adapt to ever-shifting real-life circumstances, because it can be difficult for a state to adapt to change. When considering drug regulations, the state should keep in mind the harms certain substances can impose unto the individual. Marijuana is a drug that causes less harm as opposed to alcohol and tobacco. Some may consider it to be "trigger" to experiment with "Class A" drugs, but it can be seen as a method to get people to stop using hard drugs due to the easy accessibility that comes with legalization. With regards to alcohol and tobacco, total prohibition is impractical and unfeasible because it is deeply rooted into many societies and cultures. The harms they do cause are monitored by the state using strategies such as social and health services to help demonstrate and inform people of the damages they can cause or treat effects from long-term usage. When it comes to "Class A" drugs they should remain illegal for the purpose of the negative, irreparable harms they can inflict on the users and their loved ones. Even if people do have the choice to make their own decisions on drug use because it is their own body, they should be aware how highly addictive this particular class of drug is. "Class A" drugs can ruin the lives of the individual as well as those around them, and in such situations users need to make use of various state initiatives to lessen the damages such drugs cause and perhaps start their path to recovery. Though it is not possible for there to be a drug-free world since the existence of drugs will always be there, and the public may never reach total consensus on the banning of such substances, through logical regulations the state can rightfully serve the public by setting laws that protect and prevent them from harm. The state then needs to balance its responsibility of protecting the safety and health of its citizens while ensuring that its laws allow a measure of adaptability to meet the real-life, shifting challenges that present themselves in these changing times.