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Straight Facts on Illegal Drugs

Legalization/Decriminalization, not only of marihuana but also of other illegal harmful substances, is being proposed by various groups within society. While these groups may have different agendas, the arguments are usually the same, and many people have been misinformed. We have endeavored to list some of these claims and provide our responses. We hope you will find this information useful.

Claim #1

Harm arises from the illegal status of drugs, not the effects of the drugs themselves.


Crime, violence and drug use go hand in hand. Legalization would reduce only the perception of risk associated with drug use. Fact is, legalization would not change the chemical makeup of drugs nor the impact they have on behavior.

One of the most serious drawbacks of legalization is its virtual irreversibility. Remember, preventing a bad habit is far easier than getting rid of one.

Claim #2

If drugs were legalized, crime and violence would decrease.


True, many drug-related crimes are money-related; however, there are also many crimes that are not; they are violent and destructive acts resulting from the effect of psychoactive drugs. Domestic violence, child abuse and impaired driving are some examples. If drugs were legal and easier to obtain, the number of these types of crimes would increase.

Claim #3

Turf wars, gang activity and drug-related crimes are the result of the illegal nature of the drug trade.


In reality, more drug-related crime is committed by people under the influence of drugs than by gangs in drug turf wars. These crimes will not stop simply because drugs are legal. Career criminals who currently benefit from the drug trade would simply seek new sources of revenue. For example, when the prohibition of alcohol was repealed, organized crime simply changed their focus to other crimes.

Claim #4

Users commit crimes to pay for drugs because they are not readily available. Legalization would solve this problem.


Legalization in itself would not change the fact that users would need money for drugs. Addicts commit crimes to generate revenue for a number of other desires. Many do not work and have no legal source of income; for this reason, they commit crime just to live.

Claim #5

The illegal "black market" nature of drug production, trafficking and use fuels crime and violence; if drugs were legal, enormous profits would evaporate and the black market would also be eliminated.


Unless we are willing to make all currently illegal drugs available to all persons, regardless of age or occupation, free of charge, in unlimited quantities and combinations upon demand, there will always be a “black market.” The furnished drug(s) would have to be of the highest purity because users would always seek the greatest effects.

Claim #6

Making illegal drugs legal would not cause more of these substances to be consumed, nor would addiction be increased.


There are many people who abstain from using illegal drugs because of the associated risks. Research by Harvard University shows that when the perceived risk of a drug drops, use increases, and vice-versa. Research has also revealed that addiction would increase with increased use. For instance, when marihuana was de-criminalized in Alaska and Oregon, use among adolescents increased (up to twice the national average) to the point that both states have now again made possession a crime. Also see Points 23, 24 & 25

Claim #7

Even if they were legalized, many people would still choose not to use drugs, just as many people forgo alcohol and tobacco.


Legalization sends a message that drug use is acceptable; this would encourage use among people who do not currently use, including our youth. For example, when social taboos about adolescence sex were removed, the illegitimate birthrate soared.

Claim #8

Legalizing drugs for adults will not increase drug use by minors.


Research supports the fact that if adults use drugs in the home, there is a substantially increased usage level by their children. Once legal, more readily available and socially acceptable, the lure of drugs will be even more difficult to counteract by education or prevention programs. Placing an age restriction, like with alcohol and tobacco, simply puts a "badge of honor" for those children using before they reach the legal age. Remember the average age of first use for tobacco is 10 and for alcohol is 12.

Claim #9

Many people can use drugs in moderation without becoming addicted.


True, not all users become addicts, but few individuals foresee their addiction when they start using. Moderate users may increase their intake when there are no legal or social restraints to deter them, developing tolerance to the drug with increased use. Many people use alcohol in moderation without becoming intoxicated. With drugs, however, the whole point is intoxication; therefore corresponding problems are increased. For example, only 10% of drinkers become alcoholics; 75% of regular drug users become addicts. 60% of children who are regular marihuana users before the age of 15, go on to use heroin and cocaine. Twelve to 17 year olds who smoke marihuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those who do not.

Claim #10

Social and financial costs of alcohol and tobacco problems are higher than illegal drug problems.


This is because there is a greater number of people using alcohol and tobacco because these are legal and readily available. Many illegal drugs are far more addictive; the financial and social costs associated with their use are correspondingly higher. These costs would increase dramatically with increased use.

Claim #11

Drug abuse is a disease, not a crime. The medical system can regulate addicts.

FACT: Although we agree drug addiction is also a health issue, research has shown that successful approaches to reducing drug abuse require an integration of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and social/legal pressure.

Claim #12

Alcohol and tobacco are legal; therefore other drugs should be legal.


We have two dangerous "legal" drugs that kill people; there is no reason to add more to the list. If we have learned nothing from our experiences with alcohol and tobacco, then we have learned nothing at all.

Claim #13

Tobacco and alcohol kill many more Canadians than do illegal drugs.


They kill more because they are legal and readily available, therefore more people have access to and use them. However, while we are well aware of the damage caused by these "legal" substances, consider: (1) There are 4 to 5 times the cancer causing agents in cannabis smoke than there are in tobacco smoke. (2) A 1996 Canadian study of blood samples from impaired drivers involved in serious or fatal motor vehicle accidents found drugs other than alcohol as follows: Cannabis, 47.6%; Stimulants, (ie. Cocaine)19.3%; Opiates, 15.2%.

Claim #14

Drug prohibition is akin to alcohol prohibition earlier this century.Prohibition of alcohol didn't work; prohibition of drugs won't work either.


Contrary to popular belief, alcohol prohibition had its benefits. People claim it did not work simply because it was repealed. Alcohol had been used for centuries and was considered harmless and widely accepted by society. During the short 14 years of prohibition, alcohol use declined by as much as 30% to 50%, and related problems were lowered significantly. When prohibition was lifted, use and related problems increased. Since the repeal of prohibition, alcohol consumption has tripled.

Illicit, addictive drugs, on the other hand, have never been socially accepted in Canada, therefore prohibition of drugs is different. There is still a respect for the law, and in recent surveys, illegality of drugs is still shown to be a deterrent. To remove that deterrent at this point would lead to increased usage of more drugs.

Claim #15

Human rights and personal freedom are paramount to social regulation.People should have the right to use drugs if they wish.


We must strike a balance between personal liberties and individual responsibility. Proponents lose sight of the moral implications of legalization. With lower prices and greater availability, drug use will increase, especially among the most vulnerable: youth, working poor, mentally ill, and chronically unemployed. With use comes addiction. Addicts are enslaved to the drug itself and are often constrained from holding meaningful employment, having stable productive relationships or exercising many of their own rights. Often they are compelled to act in ways that lead to a deprivation of their future liberty.

Claim #16

Drug use is a "victimless crime." What a person does with his/her body is no one else's business.


Drugs are dangerous and threaten the health, safety and well-being of not only the user but also that of all citizens.

If users don’t work, they become a financial burden on their family and/or society and often become involved in criminal activity. If they are employed, we pay in lost productivity, increased absenteeism, increased medical and health insurance costs and increased accidents, both on and off the job.

If a drug intoxicated driver kills someone, is that “victimless”? If they are abusive, violent or neglectful with their families, is that “victimless”?

Claim #17

Drug control policies have a disproportionately adverse effect in poor communities.


Certain neighborhoods and areas of the country remain infested with drugs and drug-related crime; these trouble spots draw media attention.

Laws are designed to protect all people. If they are disproportionately affecting one group, that should be dealt with in its proper context - not by legalization.

Drug use in the inner city is a manifestation of other problems in the inner city, which will not go away simply because drugs are legalized.

Claim #18

If marihuana is not made legal for the general public, at least ill people should benefit and use it to relieve suffering.


Not one Canadian or American health association accepts crude marihuana as medicine, and most have rejected it outright.

If reliable research, conducted under the proper scientific protocol, shows medical efficacy, then and only then should the “drug” be approved for prescription by physicians.

Currently, opinions of those in the medical field claim risks outweigh benefits. (See Summary at end.)

Claim #19

It is too costly to enforce drug laws.


It is more costly not to enforce them.

Health costs, crime, social welfare, lost productivity, accidents, drop-outs, fetal-drug syndrome, “crack-babies,” etc., are all huge costs to society.

While strict drug laws and criminal statutes are not likely to deter hardcore addicts, increased resources can be dedicated to treatment without legalizing drugs.

Also, if legalized for adults and not for our youth, costs for investigating trafficking and black market activity would have to continue, as youth would continue to be targeted.

Claim #20

Canada has spent millions of dollars trying to control drug production, trafficking and use, with few, if any, positive results.


Drug control spending is a relatively minor portion of the budget; compared to the costs of drug abuse, it is insignificant. As for results, drug use declined considerably between 1979 and 1993. Unfortunately, in 1993 drug use again began to increase, and there have been a number of changes since 1993 which have contributed to this trend.

We need to realize that advocates for legalization are spending much more; significantly, George Soros alone is investing in the millions. (Interestingly, Soros became involved in promoting legalization in 1993.)

Current investigations by police are hampered by delays resulting from disclosure laws and the Charter of Rights, which in turn result in additional costs.

And contrary to the opinions of many, drug education and prevention programs do work, especially for young people; we just haven’t implemented enough of them.

Claim #21

Money spent on drug control should be shifted to other endeavors. Money could be used for drug treatment and education.


There is no single answer to solving the drug problem.

Law enforcement works if the law is clear, consistently applied and supported by the people. Equally important are education and treatment; each must be funded over an extended period of time in order to succeed. None of the three is the “sole answer.”

We know that effective treatment prevents problems, is cost effective and will lead to fewer people entering the criminal justice system. We would not want these benefits erased by legislation.

Also, many people who need treatment will not ask for it on their own. The criminal justice system can be used to bring treatment to people dependent on drugs.

Claim #22

Society would benefit from the taxes that could be raised by legalizing drugs and then taxing them.


Revenues generated by taxing drugs would quickly evaporate in light of increased social costs. Erosion of the tax base, health costs, social decay, drug treatment costs, family violence, family disruption and increased accidents all have financial consequences.

Taxes would increase the cost of drugs and would be counter-productive. For instance, high cigarette taxes result in the smuggling of millions in cigarettes.

The taxes collected for the two presently legal substances tobacco and alcohol, do not come anywhere close to the estimated costs to society (tobacco, $9,000,000,000 per year; alcohol, $7,000,000,000 per year).

Claim #23

European countries provide areas where drug takers can obtain and use drugs.


"Needle Park" in Zurich, Switzerland, has been closed because of an influx of addicts and increased violence and death. The number of users in the park increased from a few hundred in 1987 to 20,000 in 1992. Heroin continues to be distributed to certain hard-core addicts under strict medical supervision. This is part of a comprehensive program which forces addicts back to their home towns where treatment is readily available.

Claim #24

Countries such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland are free and open societies where drug use is allowed with no adverse effects.


The British experiment did not work. Addiction levels rose, especially among teenagers. Many users boycotted the program and still obtained their drugs from pushers.Marihuana use is up 500% among 13 year-old girls and 400% among 13 year-old boys in the Netherlands. In Italy, where heroin use goes unpunished, drug-related deaths are the highest in Western Europe. Sweden also tried a more liberal approach, but noticed a sharp increase in drug use and related problems. A change to a new restrictive policy with mandatory treatment has seen a steady decline in this trend.

After seeing the result of tolerance, cities all over Europe have joined organizations against legalization (European Cities Against Drugs).

Claim #25

Coffee houses in Amsterdam are a model for a controlled successful environment in which young Europeans can enjoy marihuana.


Amsterdam is now one of Europe's street crime capitals and a haven for addicts. There is a rise in hard-core addicts attributable to a rise in supply, causing a drop in prices of as much as 75%. Organized crime has moved into the "coffee house" business and other illegal drugs are covertly made available to its patrons.

A recent vote in Hulst, a city in the Netherlands, showed that 96% of the population rejected the tolerant policy and want all "coffee houses" closed. Consequently, the mayor of Hulst has closed all coffee houses in his city and is now leading a movement to have other mayors do the same.

Claim #26

The "war against drugs" has not been won, and is, in fact, "un-winnable" - it is a lost cause.


There has never been a "war against drugs" in Canada. In fact, many would say we have yet to begin the fight. Prevention has been an elusive priority and is only beginning to be integrated into the school curriculum, communities and work sites.

We have not yet used all of our alternatives with source countries. Heavy sanctions and replacement crops are two examples of unused options.

In conclusion, we quote the concluding remarks of a paper entitled Marihuana and Medicine: A Summary, from an International Conference held at New York University School of Medicine, March 20/21, 1998:

"Marihuana is an addictive drug, and is more damaging to the lung than tobacco smoke. Marihuana smoke is not an acceptable therapeutic vehicle for THC. But THC, the active ingredient of marihuana which may be taken orally, has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of vomiting and as an appetite stimulant under the name of "Marinol." This drug may be prescribed by physicians; however, it is not as effective as other presently available medications.

Marihuana and THC have been proven to be damaging, in a time and dose-related fashion, to brain function, affecting consciousness, memory, and coordination, to the immune system and to male and female reproductive function. These substances are gametotoxic (toxic to germ cells) and fetotoxic (toxic to the fetus).

THC targets a universal and ubiquitous cellular receptor that regulates cellular functions, and plays a central role in intracellular signaling mechanisms. THC impairs this signaling mechanisms present in all cells of vital body organs: brain, heart, lung, kidney, immune cells, and the reproductive system, carrying the risk of impairing future generations before they are born."

For more detailed information regarding the latest drug research, drug abuse issues, and drug prevention initiatives, visit the links and resources section.

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