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Legalization of Narcotics: A Necessity or a step towards Destruction?

Aum Purohit, Student, Institute of Law, Nirma University


There is something unreal about giving so much play to a policy "debate" that rages only among the debaters themselves. In any event, the unreality of the "legalization debate" is nothing compared to the unreality of the argument for legalization. That argument is based on assertions that nave little connection to the facts and on forecasts grounded in an optimism rivalling that of the most starry-eyed and Utopian social engineer. In its original incarnation, the argument for legalization was academic and abstract. Among intellectuals on the left, legalization of narcotics is but another milepost on the road to self-realization and "authenticity." For these purposes, the left is willing to overlook the fact that the self-made authentic through narcotics injects/ingests/digests chemicals whose potencies and dangers greatly exceed those of the various residues and additives that the left urges us to remove from our food supplies.

Among right-wing intellectuals, legalization is a matter of free-market principles and economics the government should not interfere with consenting adults' personal choices and should not bar their freely negotiated exchanges. For these purposes, the right is willing to ignore the fact that the narcotics chosen and exchanged have properties that undermine the user’s capacities to make free choices and to participate in negotiated exchanges. In either of those original, abstract forms, the argument for legalization was a mere curiosity, safely confined to circles used to contemplating such curiosities as an end itself.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), counterfeit drugs could make up as much as half of the global pharmaceutical market, with the largest share of fake products circulating in the developing world where regulation and enforcement capacity is comparatively weak.[1] However, it is clear that counterfeit pharmaceuticals remain one of the world’s fastest-growing industries. Recent trends suggest that there has been a massive increase in counterfeit drug sales to over $70 billion globally in 2010. This is an increase of more than 90 per cent from 2005. Although the counterfeiting and trafficking of all types of products are on the rise globally including currency, documents, software, and electronics no other bogus product has the capacity to harm or even kill its consumers as do banned pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, most other counterfeits are not quite as lucrative. According to a recent report on counterfeit drugs by the global pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, profits from counterfeiting today surpass gains made from heroin and cocaine.[2] These alarming rates of growth are, in part, a result of the growing size and sophistication of drug counterfeiting rings, and the widening involvement of organized transnational criminals and even international terrorist groups are looking to fund their illegal and unrelated activities worldwide.

Economic Perspective

In the economists' language, legalization raises the question of the "elasticity" of the demand for narcotics. Here, the fighting sides pick their preferred model, for example, most dire outcome imaginable in nineteenth-century China, where millions got dependent on opium pushed by British profiteers. The ideal situation is purportedly the Nether Lands, where cannabis was decriminalized and apparently now bores the youth to the point that its use by 15- to 18-year-olds has declined about a third over the past 15 years. There is also much debate on this score over what Prohibition shows about the growth of demand upon decriminalization, one side discounting the significance the other side sees in the 350 per cent increase in alcohol consumption that followed upon repeal. Common sense cautions that Chinese or Dutch examples may not be relevant to the American situation and that the lessons we learned about alcohol criminalization and decriminalization may be irrelevant when we try to make predictions about what will happen if we decriminalize the use of substances which simply do not have, and have never had, the social status of alcohol among us. So let us turn to common sense and intuition. Narcotics obviously have a strong attraction for many psyches. Despite the trumpeted health dangers posed by dope; the risks of arrest, injury, or even death during the course of acquiring narcotics; and the general legal/moral opprobrium attached to narcotics use, many people use narcotics. (The exact numbers are debated. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, for instance, says we have 862,000 cocaine addicts, while the Senate Judiciary Committee puts the number at 2.2 million.) As a public policy matter, why this is so is not as important as that it is so.

National Security Threat

Beyond the widening public health, the challenge presented by this developing and progressively worthwhile wrongdoing, proof proposes that fake, dark, and unacceptable medications are likewise offering material help to lawbreakers and international terrorist associations attempting to sabotage national security. By giving unlawful pay to composed wrongdoing and other groups of hoodlums, and conclusion profiteering to worldwide dealers in illicit medications, weapons, and people, the unchecked progression of these pharmaceuticals into and inside Western markets helps support thriving wrongdoing coops in India and around the globe. Additionally, developing proof focuses on the immediate relationship between's the benefits gotten from these items and universal fear monger action. Shutting down these counterfeit and grey market producers, traffickers, and illicit salesmen in this country and around the globe must be a top public health and national security priority for our nation’s law enforcement, national security, and public health agencies.

The growth of trafficking networks around the globe has brought a convergence of threats, i.e. counterfeit pharmaceuticals, narcotics, human trafficking, markets dual-use nuclear black, small arms and conflict resources including diamonds and timber. Together, these challenges have become so widespread that they threaten to overwhelm the capabilities of even well-intentioned governments to mitigate their destructive effects. The national security community must be given an explicit mandate to address these challenges in order to ensure the adequate and coordinated resources necessary to ameliorate the threat. In short, like the prevention of drug and human trafficking, narcotics must become a mandate of government security apparatuses. Enhanced security over international purchasing and distribution: At present, the lion’s share of concern over the counterfeit pharmaceutical threat remains the developing world. As a large percentage of pharmaceutical products are distributed by international relief agencies and through government assistance programs, it is incumbent upon these actors to ensure that the products they are distributing are safe. At times, these agencies in pursuit of low-cost drugs have led them to deal with unapproved and unlicensed suppliers. This irresponsible practise should stop as it provides a clear platform for organized crime and terrorist organizations to capitalize and work upon well-meaning development assistance for nefarious purposes.

Conclusion: Probable Solution

For present purposes, suffice it to say that decriminalization of narcotics usage in India will surely lead to increased usage, and therefore to increased addiction and that the increase will probably be large enough to make a difference. The promise of the supporters that are best designed to play well is that legalization will reduce crime, especially the kind of "street crime" that frightens most citizens. Nevertheless, a little analysis shows that this promise is the snake oil of the supporters. Obviously, decriminalization will reduce many drug crimes by definition. All those presently illegal adult purchases, sales, and possessions will become legal overnight. However, in the same way, for instance, we could reduce domestic crime by legalizing spouse-beating, so it is obvious that this form of crime reduction is hardly a sufficient selling point for the supporters. Their real pitch is that crime related to drug usage, and drug trafficking will decrease with legalization.

The economic analysis version of this argument is that with legalization, the price of narcotics will drop, so that users will not need to rob or burglarize others, or to prostitute themselves, to obtain the kind of money necessary to buy drugs in today's criminal marketplace. However, remember that there is no chance that narcotics sales to minors will ever be legalized in America, so the main drug-using robbers, burglars, and prostitutes will not get the full benefits of the price reductions for dope upon decriminalization. No doubt, in the world of legalization for adults, the illicit minors market will have prices lower than today's, but how do we know that the price reduction will be sufficient to affect the young boy’s need for funds significantly? Furthermore, much more importantly, the supporters are dreaming if they think today's drug-using robbers, burglars, and prostitutes carefully calibrate their activities to their specific narcotics needs. The opposite is true. You steal (or charge) whatever you can get to buy dope, of course, but also to buy fancy Nikes and sports jackets and all the other things you "need" to have. To believe that a decrease in the price of dope will reduce the kind of violent street crime that most alarms the populace, one has to believe that the kind of unfettered desire that leads a young boy to assault an older woman to get to her purse is really not unfettered at all, but is simply and exclusively tied to the price level of narcotics. Numerous studies confirm that drug usage is much higher among criminals than among non-criminals.

We saw above that legalization will very likely increase drug usage, so at a minimum, legalization risks increasing an activity that seems to coincide all too frequently with criminal activity. Moreover, it appears that in some instances, narcotics use causes crime-note the crack user has reported propensity to engage in mindless violence. As to that type of crime, then, legalization promises to increase crime directly. Maybe the most plausible crime decrease that can be projected by the supporters is a decrease in crime associated with the existence of organized trafficking groups, violence among traffickers themselves and corruption of law enforcement officers. However, note that the promise of decrease here is entirely dependent on legalization actually eliminating the illicit market that gives rise to such organized trafficking groups, and remembers that such elimination is no sure thing where legalization in India will never apply to minors and where the country has limited power over the original suppliers of narcotics or over narcotics manufacturers.

All governments should be encouraged to ensure that they have relevant, up-to-date laws, as well as rigorous penalties consistent with the trafficking in illicit narcotics to ensure that traffickers can be prosecuted and/or sufficiently deterred. Governments should be more proactive in exercising early validation of manufacturing sites and formal registration and validation of all importers both from a public health perspective, as well as from a national security standpoint. This should include not only more rigorous enforcement of importers and at national borders, but also with domestic manufacturers whose standards and custody practices may not be consistent with either public health standards or national security interests.

[1] World Health Organization, “Combating counterfeit drugs: A concept paper for effective international cooperation,” 27 January 2006, p.3. [2] Pfizer Global Security, Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals: A Serious Threat to Patient safety, Pfizer Inc, 2007: http:// www.pfizer.com/files/products/CounterfeitBrochure.pdf


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