Why You Should Care about Drug Policy

The trend toward the state-by-state legalization of marijuana in the U.S. and in countries like Uruguay will continue to be at the forefront of the debate for policy reform. While SmartDrugPolicy will assess the costs and benefits of these experiments, we aim to improve your understanding within the broader context of drug policy reform, particularly the trend favored by some Latin American countries and advocacy groups to legalize hard drugs.

Marijuana legalization will likely lead to more consumption of not just marijuana, but of hard drugs, as nearly all drug use starts with seemingly innocent marijuana. Eventually, some states may begin to consider the regulation of hard drugs. While this prospect seems remote today, the evolution of drug use over the past four decades suggests otherwise (see Drug Use & Control – A Brief History). Ultimately, SmartDrugPolicy advocates for serious drug policy reform without legalization.

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SmartDrugPolicy takes history as the basis for a long-term view in designing policies for the future. As Winston Churchill said, ‘the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see’. In the mid-1960s only 3% of all Americans had ever tried marijuana. Now, nearly half the adult population has tried it, 8.3% use it monthly, and 6% of college students smoke it daily. And while cocaine and heroin use were virtually non-existent 50 years ago, today 15% of Americans have tried cocaine and one million Americans use heroin daily. Led by heroin and prescription opiates, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S., more than car accidents.

At the same time, a growing movement of drug policy reform advocates in the U.S., Europe and Latin America believe that legalization will solve problems like the violence associated with trafficking in transit countries or the harms created by mass incarceration. Understanding the underlying problems first is vital before moving ahead with a one-size-fits-all approach such as the legalization or ‘regulation’ of drugs. This may imply the pursuit of policies where drug consumption is decriminalized but not legalized.

To some, such policies will mean relenting on a drug free society while to others they will not go far enough. Yet, to the vast majority they may strike the ideal balance between reducing the harms caused by the consumption and abuse of drugs and the costs incurred by producing and trafficking them. Learn More about Issues & Policies