Many factors influence whether or not a drug is legal, but most of these factors deal with protecting the public from danger.
Reasons Why the Government Outlaws Some Drugs
The strongest force behind the legal status of a drugs is consumer protection. The public demands that medications be safe, reliable and truthfully labelled. Laws, procedures and organizations created to serve this demand put drugs under tight restrictions.
Other laws address drug abuse, or using drugs outside of medicinal guidelines. Prohibiting people from taking drugs just to get high seeks to protect people from the damage they can cause themselves. These laws also protect society from the damage that drug users may cause, like unruly behavior or reckless endangerment, like driving drunk.
Additionally, drug laws accomplish the following advantages:
- Suppress crime – People who would live peaceably may commit crime to feed addiction
- Protect public health – Chronic drug use leads to health problems. Direct and indirect costs for these problems are often passed on to the public through taxes.
- Support families – Drug addicts who neglect their children create problems for their kids and the whole community
- Boost workplace productivity – Intoxicated workers do comparatively poor work, so many jurisdictions prohibit alcohol sales on Sundays to prevent Monday morning hangovers
Although many dangerous drugs have been outlawed, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 created a unified federal drug policy. A classification system was created so that drugs with the greatest potential for abuse and harm are the most tightly controlled. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was created soon afterwards to enforce these laws.
Values and Tradition
The DEA’s drug classifications are often accepted without controversy, especially because drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin are demonstrably dangerous. However, many people oppose the legal status of a few drugs due to traditions and culture. For instance, alcohol’s status as a legal product owes more to tradition than its safety profile.
The costs of drinking, both for individuals and society, are tremendous, and alcohol has little to no medicinal or nutritional value. Alcohol was outlawed during the 1920s in America, but because many people still accepted alcohol, the laws prohibiting alcohol were eventually abolished.
Also, marijuana’s legal status has drawn questions in recent years. Many people believe that restricting marijuana use unnecessarily limits individual freedom, so local laws against marijuana are being repealed or minimally enforced where this idea has gained footing.