Legalization of drugs has been a very controversial issue in the United States for many years. Drugs being legalized can have both advantages and disadvantages on society. On one hand, certain drugs, such as aspirin has long been used as a common medicine to many people, to cure diseases and help people with their personal problems such as headaches, toothaches, to name a few. Some people even take the drug daily as a therapy to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
On the other hand, legalization of all drugs could potentially lead to over use; putting the young generations at great risk due to their unawareness of the effects and damages some substances can cause. This issue becomes directly connected to the debate on whether or not the government should make drugs legal. The debate while rooted in concerns over public health, crime and violence, is also about values, a question of personal choice among individuals to use or abuse drugs. The book “Morality and Moral Controversies” (John Arhur) provides insight on topics related to drug addiction.
The article “Addiction and Drug Policy” written by Daniel Shapiro argues about the legalization of drugs. According to the author, an individual’s social and cultural environment and a person’s mindset are the things that influence and predict whether or not a person will abuse drugs. Shapiro also argues that what drugs are composed of and the effects drugs have on the brain does not directly lead to addiction or abuse. Author points out that “hospital patients that get continuous and massive doses of narcotics rarely get addicted or crave the drugs after release from the hospital” (Shapiro, 532).
Shapiro also brought out an example for using alcohol responsibly: “People learn to use alcohol responsibly by observing their parents. They see their parents drink at a ball game or to celebrate special occasions or with food at a meal, but rarely on an empty stomach; they learn it’s wrong to be drunk at work, to drink and drive; they learn that uncontrolled behavior with alcohol is generally frowned upon; they absorb certain norms and values such as ‘know your limit,’ ‘don’t drink alone,’ ‘don’t drink in the morning,’ and so forth” (Shapiro, 533).
I agree with Shapiro that the three components of addiction including drug, setting and set impact the nature of drug addiction. “Humans are social or cultural animals, not just products of their biochemistry, and this means, in part, that social norms or rules play a significant role in influencing behavior,” the author explains (Shapiro, 532). I think that if a person is in the environment that accepts drug use, that person will be more likely to use drugs by observing what is around and accepting it as a “norm.
” Likewise, in the environment where people are using drugs in moderation and with limitation, that behavior will likely carry over in the individual. Shapiro explains why it is much harder to quit smoking than to stop using other drugs. He states that smokers smoke for a variety of different reasons such as to relax, handle anxiety and stress, and also as a social lubricant. Because smoking becomes intertwined with so many activities and situations, quitting smoking turns out to be a difficult change in a person’s life. That is why the pharmacology of smoking cannot be separated from its social setting.
The same principle Shapiro applies to the addiction of cocaine or heroine. According to his view, the addictiveness of any drug depends on an aforementioned set, setting, and pharmacology. The highly addictiveness of cigarettes therefore is linked with the set and setting, and how easily it is integrated into peoples lives. The author concludes by saying that “the desire of most people to lead responsible and productive lives in a social setting that rewards such desires is what controls and limits most drug use” (Shapiro, 535).
Some of the claims that Shapiro makes seem to have logic. People who are admitted to the hospital and receive high doses of drugs very rarely become addicted. There are certainly some cases where patients do become dependent on drugs, but compared to the amount of people daily admitted to the hospitals and administered the drugs, that number of addicts is insignificant. However, I disagree with Shapiro that drug’s chemical composition is not a factor in determining drug addiction. I think it is a significant part of the reason why people become addicted to certain drugs.
If the drug is strong and highly addictive from the very first use such as heroin, the one use of the drug will inevitably lead to frequent consumption or addiction. For that reason I think that legalizing all drugs can have a harmful impact on society, but legalizing certain drugs can be profitable, allowing the government to collect more taxes and spend more money on improvements in fields such as education, research, transportation and so forth. Legalizing recreational drugs does not mean that they will be accessible to all people.
The drugs that are legal today such as alcohol and tobacco are not available to everyone; they are regulated. Only people of certain age are eligible to buy them. Just like with alcohol and tobacco, the government could regulate production and a price of any drug. Necessary warnings could be established. By legalizing certain drugs, the government could regulate the strength and content, which could result in a much safer drug use. Another author, Thomas Szasz, in his article “The Ethics of Addiction” supports the legalization of all drugs and points out a number of facts that support his opinion.
Szasz believes that our culture has a false idea about the nature of drug addiction. According to him, becoming addicted to something is a natural characteristic of human beings, in which case becoming addicted to drugs is no different. He claims, “one becomes habituated, or ‘addicted,’ not only to narcotics, but to cigarettes, cocktails before dinner, orange juice for breakfast, comic strips, and so forth” (Szasz, 516). There are many cases that indicate that people who take morphine live normal and productive lives.
The author argues, “instead of acknowledging that ‘addicts’ are unfit or unwilling to work and be ‘normal,’ we prefer to believe that they act as they do because of certain drugs” (Szasz, 517). He further says that, “to believe this is like believing that if an illiterate cigarette smoker would only stop smoking, he would become an Einstein” (Szasz, 517). Szasz believes that if a person is addicted and still can live an essentially normal life, it is his personal right and there is no need to break the habit.
He has a concrete point that people have a right over their own bodies and should be free to make choices that affect them and not other people. He claims: “In an open society, it is none of the government’s business what idea a man puts into his mind; likewise, it should be none of the government’s business what drug he puts into his body” (Szasz, 516). Szasz argues that drug laws do not respect the individual’s autonomy. According to his view, it is a moral decision of each individual to decide whether or not to take drugs, not a legal, or a pharmacological one.
Each person has a right to harm himself, as long as it does not involve hurting other people. Therefore, the government should not get involved in one’s personal choice, because every individual is the owner of his mind and body and should solely be responsible for either its use or abuse. There is no reason to believe that drugs are not dangerous. They are but so are guns, cars, swimming pools and so many of the activities people do every day including smoking, drinking, tanning … and this list goes on and on.
People are still free to do those things, notwithstanding the fact that they are all harmful, yet fully legitimate. Szasz maintains that just as people have a fundamental right to speak freely and practice any religion, they should also be given a right of self-medication. When debating whether or not drugs should be legalized, it is hard to determine what the correct course of action is. Some people believe that drugs should be legalized in order to preserve peoples right to autonomy, while others argue that legalization of all drugs will lead to an increase in drug use and therefore will harm the society.
It is for this reasons the drug legalization is a topic of controversy. In my opinion, addiction is powerful affecting one’s mental and physical processes. Therefore, I think that there must be put certain restrictions to different types of drugs. The government should be allowed to step in and set rules for certain drugs, making recreational drugs legal, and banning other drugs such as cocaine and heroine, which could cause death if taken a big amount at one time.