Would legalization of hard drugs lead to more deaths than the Drug War itself?
I agree with libertarians that there is no reason for marijuana to be illegal. But I think hard drugs, such as cocaine or meth, are different. Many people don’t recover from addiction to such substances, and legalization could be a disaster. You have said that about 7,000 people a year die from illegal drugs. Do you think that the fact that alcohol and cigarettes are legal contributes to the estimated 450,000 deaths per year these substances cause? Wouldn’t legalization of hard drugs lead to far more use and thus far more deaths?
According to my calculations, every person in the U.S. would have to take hard drugs once they were legal for the death toll to even come close to what the War on Drugs has created; that’s highly unlikely. About half of the U.S. population doesn’t even drink, so it’s doubtful that they’d ingest damaging drugs even if they were re-legalized. Many hard drugs were readily available (even to children) in drug stores in the early 1900s. Addiction, however, was less of a problem than it is now.
In the Netherlands, where hard drug users are not prosecuted and marijuana is legally available in coffee shops, addiction is declining. Even teen marijuana use is lower than in the U.S.
Alcohol prohibition didn’t keep people from drinking. In addition to alcohol-induced deaths, people also died from gang shoot-outs, bathtub gin poisonings, etc. — all consequences of prohibition. In the last 50 years, however, alcohol consumption has gone down — even though it’s legal — as people become educated about its dangers.
Cocaine and other hard drugs can be quite addicting and life-destroying, just as alcohol can be. However, prohibition of cocaine and other hard drugs is creating an even greater death toll. Shared needles are the #1 cause of the spread of AIDS in the U.S. About a third of the AIDS victims here can be directly attributed to drug prohibition. These casualties would plummet with drug re-legalization.
About 80% of the 7,000 annual deaths due to hard drugs can be attributed to contaminants; without black market manufacture, about 1400 people per year would die instead. Since about 50% of U.S. homicides are attributable to the War on Drugs, these would plummet too.
Overall, the War on Drugs kills more people than the drugs themselves. It’s a “cure” worse than the disease!