This will be the Cliff Notes version. The arguments in favor of drug legalization are based on two basic themes. The “Liberty” argument and the “Cut Out the Middle Man” argument.
The liberty argument is that since we all own our own bodies nobody, neither the government nor anyone else has the right to decide what we can and cannot ingest into our bodies. We own ourselves, we alone make the decision of what we eat, drink, smoke or inject into our body.
This argument can be attacked for inconsistency because those who make usually think it’s just fine for government to regulate what we put into our bodies so long as its something they don’t like, such as sugary drinks or gluten or tobacco or coffee, etc. etc. But forget that for the moment. Inconsistent though they are, using that fact to discredit their argument is not persuasive enough.
At least not compared to this much better counterargument: The liberty argument would have something going for it if it were easy to make people take the consequences of what they do to their bodies and their brains. But it isn’t easy. In fact, in modern society it is nearly impossible to hold anyone to account for behavior they claim only hurts them when it facts it imposes costs on everyone else. This is a case of the seen and the unseen. That which is readily seen, the destruction in the drug user’s life, overshadows what is not readily seen, the destruction of society in general and added costs and burdens that fall on others.
The middle-man argument claims that legalizing drugs eliminates the crime that is incentivized by drug prohibition and the associated social ills it brings. Those who make this argument seem to think that legalization will mean that a cornucopia of drugs from heroin to pot will be sold in drug stores and super markets like candy bars, and at low prices. It is claimed that the drug cartels and the street dealers will be put out of business.
Colorado is finding out that bringing the pot pushers out of the shadows where they can be regulated and taxed doesn’t really eliminate the social ills that are the side effect of criminal laws against drugs. More people are attracted to try using drugs after its legal, and the government is so voracious in its ability to tax that the former pot dealers begin to compete on price. The black market continues to thrive after legalization. If fact, Colorado has become a major player in black market drug activities because criminals are illegally buying pot from legal dealers in Colorado to illegally export and sell in other states. For every action there is a reaction, and the black marketeers are ingenious and inventive in their efforts to keep their business alive in new forms.
There is also a third counterargument that is the one overall argument against legalization. People in great numbers will never become less drug addled by legalization, in fact they will become more so when the last social stigma to mind-numbing and body-destroying drug addiction is removed.
Government is already plenty abusive of its citizens. It should not be allowed to extend its destructive nature into this new field of taxation and regulation. Political corruption in all its forms, including regulatory capture, is likely to result and be no less detrimental or even more so than criminalization.
See also: Going to Pot; why the rush to legalize marijuana is hurting America by William J. Bennett.