The concept of controlling drugs is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one that has been met with limited success despite the billions of dollars spent. Some people argue that if drugs were legalized (as occurred with the repeal of Prohibition), drug trafficking and the violence it engenders would disappear. Some contend also that with government regulation dosages would be standardized and dangerous contaminants eliminated, making drugs safer. It has also been suggested that resulting lower prices for drugs would preclude the need for criminal activity to raise money for their purchase, and that billions of dollars saved from supply reduction programs could be put toward education and treatment. Nevertheless, a substantial majority of Americans polled have thought legalization a bad idea. Those opposed to legalization believe that removal of deterrents would encourage drug use, that people would still steal to buy drugs, and that many drugs are so inexpensive to produce that there would still be a black market.
Decriminalization is the elimination or reduction of criminal penalties for using or dealing in small amounts of certain drugs. Attitudes toward decriminalization change with the times and with actual and perceived dangers involved. Many localities decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s—and many reinstituted stricter laws in the 1980s.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.