Should the US legalize all drugs?

With more states decriminalizing marijuana, some people are saying applying that approach universally would benefit the economy and society.

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 7, 2013 2:10PM
A detective with the Los Angeles Police Department gang unit finds six ounces of crack cocaine inside a woman's purse on April 14, 2010 (© Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

"Legalize it," reggae pioneer Peter Tosh sang back in the day, "and I will advertise it." The musical "it" in question was marijuana. But now, with medical marijuana legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., and recreational cannabis use legal in Washington state and Colorado, some people are taking that thought to its extreme: Why don't we just legalize all drugs?

Economist Allison Schrager is examining that argument over at from a variety of angles.

Of course, blanket legalization would have a huge financial impact. The U.S. spends more than $40 billion annually on its war on drugs, but Schrager notes that figure doesn't include the additional economic burdens of keeping people in prison, drug-related violence and the cycle of poverty that drug use can help perpetuate.

On the other hand, she says, "prohibition does decrease drug use. The World Bank estimates cocaine use would double if it became legal in America." Another concern is that legalizing drugs would spark a international public health crisis.

But legalization, she says, could radically change the whole dynamic around drugs. Cocaine, for example, is price-sensitive. Taxing it might be an effective deterrent and also ensure quality control and make sure users got what they wanted. It might also increase the number of people who wouldn't otherwise seek treatment, fearful of the stigma attached, to do so.

Taking the drug trade "out of the shadows," Schrager says, would be a game changer both in the developing countries where those drugs are produced -- and whose economies are sometimes at the mercy of traffickers -- and for economically developed nations that are the major drug consumers.

"If drug production and trade were legal," she says, "contracts and property rights would be enforceable under law instead of violence, and drug-producing countries could tax drug exports and put the revenue toward economic development."

Even some doctors wonder about bringing illegal drug production and distribution in from the cold.

"As a physician, I abhor drug use and addiction of all forms," Dr. Harvey Lefton writes in the Physician News Digest. "But isn't it time we recognize the misery and the ineffectiveness of present programs?"

Lefton says letting the pharmaceutical companies produce now-illegal drugs and having the government regulate them would not only create new revenue streams worth billions of dollars but also combat the spread of disease and drug-related violence while funding rehabilitation and drug education programs.

"It may be too much to ask a government that hasn't passed the budget in four years to develop an enlightened social conscience," Lefton concludes. "But at some point we need to recognize that the disease of drugs is destroying our society. It needs to be treated in a more effective manner."

More on moneyNOW

Jun 7, 2013 2:36PM
Legalize it all, but allow employers to fire junkies and junkies to be booted off any section 8, foodstamps , and welfare.
Jun 7, 2013 2:31PM
I have never used any drugs other than Doctor prescribed. I really don't see what people get out of it that is worth ruining your life for. Having said that, I say legalize them and start getting the taxes off them. The drug wars are not working. People who want drugs get them. We waste a lot of time and money chasing after the users and dealers. If people want to fry their brains, let them.
Jun 7, 2013 2:19PM
Jun 7, 2013 2:33PM
Thank you for openind up a needed discussion!  The most dangerous ones are legalized already. They are openly advertised by "ask your doctor" ads.  Legal drugs kill more people than illegal drugs.  The "war on drugs" should be fought from the top, beginning with CONgress.  It is a shame that in our country, CONgress allows the legal drug lords to harm, destroy and kill our people for money!  I am so sick of "ask your doctor" ads, I hardly watch televison anymore.  If it were not for my wife, I would set the thing out by the street or sell it for whatever I could get for it.  In the old days, televison was free. Then CONgress mandated we get cable, satellite or a box to get programming. That too, in my opinion, was a money swindleing idea of CONgress. And, now we have endless "ask your doctor" junk!
Jun 7, 2013 2:57PM
I don't know if legalizing all drugs is a good idea right now but marijuana is long overdue to be's not an dangerous drug and I've never heard of anyone stoned commiting major crimes (unless stealing a donut is major crime). plus the gov. would get extra millions in taxes not to count the millions saved in sting ops. and uneccesary imprisonment.
Jun 7, 2013 3:22PM

The government will never legalize all drugs because the drug war is too profitable for law enforcement budgets and for-profit prisons.


Addicts should be treated medically for their addiction instead of locking them up in a prison.

Jun 7, 2013 2:34PM
Just think all the money wasted, crime, overcrowded jails would go away. Just think of all the revenue that would be created not to mention the illegal importing off drugs from Mexico and Afghanistan. Oh but I don't think any of that is in our Gov'ts best interest.
Jun 7, 2013 3:16PM

After spending over 300 billon dollars in the last 2 decades trying to stop drugs we have accomplished nothing. Drugs are still being sold on the street where organized crime only profits. The profits are so large that they think nothing of killing people for their benefit. Think of the profits they make that they can afford submarines,high powered speedboats and planes to deliver drugs. The U.S. government would make billons of tax dollars on the sale of drugs , not to mention the savings in the military , police and jails. Alcohol is legal and we don't have a nation of drunks . When prohibition was enforced only the mob made money and people still drank and the U.S. Government lost millions in tax dollars that's why it was repelled. Most people might try drugs , but the percentage who get addicted is relatively small compared to the whole population. With billons of extra tax money some can be used to help people with addictions instead of serving time in jail. If it were legal not many people would deal to support their habit and their would be money to help them. Face facts we haven't stopped it in 40 years.

Jun 7, 2013 2:42PM
You know we tried prohibition, we try to convince people not to use tobacco. OK, people use tobacco and alcohol. The government has a hand in rehabilitation and collects a whopping tax on sales. We have tried to wipe out illegal drugs forever and have spent billions and failed. Legalize drugs, have them manufactured by drug companies, tax from origin, make them readily available at street prices, monitor the users and the billions to stop them and the billions the cartels make will stop. Putting users and pushers in jail costs a fortune. It is very easy to fix, it is congress that is dragging it's feet. All legal drugs are dispensed by pharmacies. All the illegal drugs could be dispensed by the same pharmacies with prescriptions monitored by hospital staffs. Of course it would cost money to prepare for this new dispensing method however the taxes and markup for the drugs would be profitable like alcohol and tobacco.
Jun 7, 2013 2:56PM

"Cocaine, for example, is price-sensitive. Taxing it might be an effective deterrent..."


Why would they pay more for taxed cocaine when they could still buy it from some dealer?   Stupid comment.

The government wouldn't price people out of the market either, they'd want their cut.

Jun 7, 2013 3:23PM
It might not be a bad idea. Wipe the slate clean, then start over with what to make 100% legal, what needs some control, and what to ban / re-criminalize and how. Focus on treatment and give users the option on what path to take. As it stands, the drug war has ruined far more lives than it has helped. By focusing on education and rehabilitation, everyone from the worst addicts to average citizen voters and legislators would have a much clearer picture on how to move forward. Cartels, unregulated manufacturers, money launderers, and tax evaders would be the ultimate losers.
While Marijuana should-could Federal, State, and City Taxed selling over counter to those of age. Be better that the Aroma Therapy they sell too smoke. Now which is worst?
Jun 7, 2013 3:31PM
Jun 7, 2013 4:02PM
Time to wake up folks.  Almost all of the bad things associated with drugs are not caused by the drugs themselves, but are caused by the War On Drugs.  Everything that could possibly be wrong with the WOD is wrong with it.  Don't Americans prate about worshipping personal freedom?  Sorry, but you can't have it both ways, you can't worship freedom and at the same time support the concept of victimless crimes.  In addition, the WOD doesn't even limit the number of drug users. To give one example, conservative Swizterland decriminalized heroin a few years ago and since then the number of addicts has actually gone down--a common experience.  Also, the mountain of criminality associated with drugs, from the drug users themselves many of whom are forced to live degrading lives of petty crime to the billionaire drug lords, is created by the WOD.
A little smoke is ok, but really, legalize all drugs, there is some pretty nasty stuff out there.
Jun 7, 2013 3:30PM
why would world bank say anything unless it was going to lose money on money landering
Jun 7, 2013 3:34PM
Legalizing all drugs.....hmmmmm.  The advantage I can see is multi purpose.  Let those who want to do the dangerous and most addictive drugs do them, they will eventually take themselves out of the equation therefor lessening the impact on the rest of us.  It will also eliminate the cost of feeding and housing them.  Those who say we shouldn't do it for the good of all are typical left leaning "I know what's best for you better than you do" self centered flower children who want us all to live by their rules.  Hell, most can't tell me the difference between your or you're and their, they're or there.  Why would I want to listen to them?  But they still tell ME not to do this or that when it's none of their or your business if it doesn't affect you directly.  Just go away.  Too many laws now aren't being enforced.
Jun 7, 2013 2:55PM

All drugs? Hell no!


Pot? Of course.

Jun 7, 2013 3:23PM

This is your brain.


This is your brain on drugs - WEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Jun 7, 2013 4:56PM

As adults, shouldn't we be able to put in our bodies what we want.

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