Legalization of cannabis and marijuana is becoming a major issue in the politics of some countries. Debate was opened a couple of years ago, with the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado states, in the US, and with similar policies in Uruguay, in South America. The severe defeat of Democrats in the last polls doesn´t seem that is going to change this politics. A reader of the New York Times may realize of the extent of the debate, when it is covering opinion articles, editor’s columns and passionate attacks and defenses from both sides of the problem. It seems, however, that defenders of a moderate legalization are getting more and more supporters to their policies, and for very different reasons.
In fact, the problem of legalization has very different sides and aspects. We could even talk of philosophical considerations, involving ethics and moral right for free choice by individuals in all that concern their private life and leisure. Why should I be punished because of having some drugs like cannabis, when there are another legal substances –like alcohol or tobacco- that are even more harmful for health and public safety? Why are they banned when I can become a responsible customer? The contra arguments are based on the belief that cannabis is gateway drug, and that legalization will bring more addiction to other dangerous drugs like cocaine and crack. Could you think, someone told me once, what could happen in the beatnick novel On the Road -where Kerouac tells a crazy trip by hitchhiking from the East Coast to Denver- if cannabis were legal in Colorado with such mad people around you? But this is an unsupported bias, and we haven´t too many experience about these consequences. Taking the example of Holland, where cannabis is legal since the eighties, it is true that consumption of drugs like ecstasis are higher than in other countries, but on the other side, cannabis addiction is lower than in countries like Spain, where cannabis trade is still illegal.
But, even more remarkable than this uncomfortable questions, is the utilitarian point of view of the problem, or if we want to say it in a less philosophical way, the political side of the legalization. US history gives us important lessons about what implies a prohibition. The 20s in the last century were the years of alcoholic ban. It didn’t solve anything. People kept on drinking, and worst of all, alcohol trade fell in the hands of mafias and underworld, provoking a dramatic rise in urban violence (because of rival gangs), health problems (alcohol were most of times adulterated in order to increase the profits of illegal traders), corruption, smuggling and blackmailing. This sad history is repeated nowadays in countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Central America, and some relevant opinions, from the fields of Economics, Politics and Culture are demanding a complete legalization of drugs, as the best way to improve their societies and bring back some hopes of recovering and economical and social progress.
And finally, we don’t have to miss a very important point of legalization, that concerns the revenues of states involved in these processes. Taxation over these products may bring an important resource of fresh money for the ever scarce state budgets of most of countries. And high taxation may become as well a good way to control an excess of consume of these substances. All this, will make that the balanced debate about these substances, will finally turn in favor of these moderates advocates of a free market for soft drugs.