Editorials Call for End of Marijuana and Heroin Prohibitions

Editorials Call for End of Marijuana and Heroin Prohibitions

Editorials Call for End of Marijuana and Heroin Prohibitions

Editorials Call for End of Marijuana and Heroin ProhibitionsTwo recent editorials in the New York Times  and the Boston Globe called on the United States to end its prohibitions on marijuana and heroin, respectively. Both editorials expressed the view that federal bans on these drugs—both currently Schedule I banned substances—have criminalized a large portion of the U.S. population without effectively reducing drug use.

The New York Times editorial, written by the full Times editorial board, compared the 40-year ban on marijuana to the 13-year alcohol Prohibition that lasted from 1920 to 1933. It pointed out that while Prohibition did little to reduce the amount of alcohol that was consumed in the U.S., it did turn many people who had not previously been criminals into criminals. Furthermore, organized crime thrived during Prohibition.

The editorial argues that marijuana has more in common with legal substances like alcohol and tobacco than illegal drugs, and that it may even be safer in some ways than alcohol or tobacco. The board says that current evidence shows that the known risks of marijuana and the unanswered questions about the safety of marijuana are no greater than the risks and questions surrounding alcohol and tobacco. They also point out that current statistics show that “addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems” for marijuana users compared to those who drink or smoke.

Furthermore, The Times editorial points out that despite the evidence that marijuana is less dangerous than other banned drugs, the vast majority of arrests for drug possession involve marijuana. In 2012, Federal Bureau of Investigation records show 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession compared to 256,000 arrests for possession of cocaine or heroin.

End of Heroin Prohibition a Tougher Sell

Public support for legalizing marijuana has been on the rise, and nearly 75 percent of the states have legalized either medical or recreational marijuana, or reduced the penalties for marijuana possession.

However, Jack Cole, who wrote the Boston Globe editorial advocating the end of the ban on heroin, has a much tougher sell. Cole was a New Jersey State police officer for 26 years, and says that he saw first-hand how arresting and imprisoning heroin users crowded prisons without impacting the heroin epidemic.

However, there are significant differences between marijuana and heroin in terms of the public health risk they represent. Current research suggests that marijuana is no more dangerous and possibly less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. In contrast, the serious risks of heroin use are undisputed. The same is true of the potential for dependency and addiction, which is relatively minor for marijuana but extreme for heroin.

Nevertheless, Cole makes impassioned arguments based on his more than two decades in law enforcement. He points out that the ban on heroin means that supplies of the drug are coming from “the most unscrupulous and unregulated players among us.” As a result, heroin purchased on the street is entirely unregulated and potentially contaminated. It becomes easy for users to die from an overdose because they do not know what or how much they are putting into their bodies.

Cole also points out that the arrest and sentencing of users and dealers has not been effective at preventing heroin use. In fact, since the “war on drugs” began, “deaths from heroin overdose alone have increased nine-fold.”

In the editorial, Cole states that as a police officer he understands, “the instinct to mete out punishment, send a message, put somebody away for abusing drugs.” However, the ineffectiveness of this policy makes the deaths from impure heroin and the spreading of diseases like hepatitis and HIV from needle-sharing all the more impossible to continue ignoring.

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