EDITORIAL ADVISORY -- December 5, 2007
If Heroin or Cocaine Were Legal, Would You Use Them?
Zogby Poll Suggests Prohibition Doesn't Reduce Hard Drug Use
Washington, DC -- Marking the 74th anniversary of the repeal of national Alcohol Prohibition, StoptheDrugWar.org
today released polling results suggesting that drug prohibition
's main supporting argument may be simply wrong. Drug policy reformers point to a wide range of demonstrated social harms created by the drug laws -- crime and violence, spread of infectious diseases, official corruption, easy funding for terrorist groups, to name a few -- while prohibitionists argue that use and addiction would explode if drugs were legalized. But is the prohibitionist assumption well-founded?
Zogby polling data released today asked 1,028 likely voters, "If hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine were legalized, would you be likely to use them?" Ninety-ninety percent of respondents answered, "No." Only 0.6 percent said "Yes." The remaining 0.4 percent weren't sure.
While some of the "no" respondents may have been overoptimistic about their future self-discipline -- current use rates under prohibition are slightly higher than that -- the survey nevertheless demonstrates that almost all Americans consider the use of certain drugs to be inadvisable, for reasons other than their legal status. It is therefore unclear that laws are needed to dissuade them from using "hard drugs" or that legalization would result in increased addiction rates. The social implosion predicted by some drug warriors seems especially unlikely.
The results are similar to usage rates occurring under today's "drug war," as measured by the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health (formerly the National Household Survey). The 2006 NSDUH
found 0.3 percent of the population had used heroin in the past month and 2.4 percent had used cocaine. Even for cocaine, the numbers are compatible, because Zogby surveyed persons aged 18 years and up, while NSDUH begins with age 12; and because of the poll's statistical margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
A comparison of drug use rates in countries with criminal penalties for drug use with the drug use rates of countries that have decriminalized personal use also suggests that policy may play only a secondary role in determining use rates. For example, in the Netherlands, where marijuana is sold openly in the famous "coffee shops," 12 percent of young adults age 15-24 reported using marijuana during 2005, as compared with 24 percent in neighboring France
, where marijuana is an arrestable offense, according to data compiled by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.In the United States, where police make nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests each year, young adults age 18-25 in the 2004-2005 survey year reported past-year marijuana use at the rate of 27.9 percent
, StoptheDrugWar.org's executive director, commented when releasing the Zogby data:
"Prohibition is sending hundreds of billions of dollars per year into the global criminal underground. That money fuels violence and disorder on the streets of our cities, while simultaneously helping to finance international terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted cocaine prices are a fifth of what they were 30 years ago, and any kid who wants to join the Mafia can sign up to deal it in his school. Addicts are harmed by the prohibition policy worst of all. It's time to stop shooting ourselves in the feet, and to control and regulate drugs through legalization."
The full Zogby poll results are available online at: http://stopthedrugwar.org/legalization
StoptheDrugWar.org (still known to many of our readers as DRCNet, the Drug Reform Coordination Network), is an international organization working for an end to drug prohibition worldwide and for reform of drug policy and the criminal justice system in the US. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle for the latest issue of our weekly, in-depth newsletter, Drug War Chronicle.
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prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC
(Library of Congress)