Drug Policies the Legacy of Outdated Moral Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Drug Policies the Legacy of Outdated Moral Values and Moral Panics

A disinterested alien observer who came down to the planet Earth and saw the difference in how legal drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes were treated under the law when compared to illegal drugs would be hard pressed to explain the differential treatment. After all, alcohol and cigarettes cause or contribute to far more deaths, injuries, health problems, and social problems than illegal drugs. In fact, some illegal drugs, such as cannabis, are relatively free of side-effects when compared to those two legal substances. Furthermore, even some of the highly villianized hard drugs, such as heroin, are considered less addictive than nicotine. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why some substances are illegal and others are not. The reasons are not scientific or social; therefore, one must look at the history of drug policy in the Western world and how that has led to the creation of a drug policy that is based on value judgments about the types of people who do certain drugs rather than the real-life impact of the use or abuse of certain drugs when compared to other substances.

In order to understand why drugs are criminalized at such disproportionate rates, one has to understand the history behind drug usage, both legal and illegal. For the vast span of history, the usage of most drugs was legal. However, while it was legal, it was not a significant problem because drugs, other than alcohol, were not widely available. Other drugs that were commonly used in other locations became increasingly available as immigration and globalization increased, and those drugs became associated with the ethnicities with which their use seemed to originate. Therefore, while opium addicts may not have posed any greater danger to society than alcoholics, and, in fact, may have posed less of a danger to society, they were an easily identified other that could be blamed for societal ills. Therefore, the dangers associated with the use of opium were magnified when compared to the dangers of drugs that had traditionally been used, such as alcohol. The treatment of the people as lesser led to the treatment of the drug as worse, a bifurcation that continues to exist in the nation's attitudes towards legal and illegal substances.

Another problem is that the very tough on drug position that remains part of policy was formulated before the United Kingdom had a serious drug problem. Therefore, the success of the policy, which kept illegal drug use suppressed from the 1930s to the 1950s may not have been due to the program itself, but due to the fact that the United Kingdom had not yet developed a significant drug culture at that time. However, because that program is often cited as successful, many people are reluctant to change it for fear that any new program that is adapted will not have the same results. Their fears are well founded, since the modern drug problem almost guarantees that a new program will show less success in preventing drug abuse than programs in the 1930s-1950s.…

Sources Used in Document:


Maguire, M., Morgan, R., & Reiner, R. (Eds.). (2007). The Oxford handbook of criminology.

Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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