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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Criminalizing Certain Drugs, Regulating Alcohol and Tobacco

     In trying to confront crime and health problems caused by alcohol, tobacco and drugs, American legislatures over time have enacted various laws ranging from criminalization to regulation to revenue-raising. The governmental efforts to eliminate or at least control these quests for pleasure engender intense reactions of approval and disapproval, ideology and rhetoric, culture and religion, and in some cases, racial and ethnic effects.

     But for the past seventy years, the basic response structure has endured intact. Using alcohol and tobacco for pleasure is legal; using drugs for pleasure is illegal. To justify this radical contrast, government asserts a need to control crime and public health problems by criminalizing drug sale and use, with no need to control such problems through a criminal ban on the adult sale and use of tobacco. But when the government punishes Americans for engaging in conduct they want or feel a need to pursue, it needs to have a compelling reason or such action will eventually falter. The political failure of alcohol prohibition, for example, led to its repeal in 1933. [Since the above was written, several states have adopted medical marijuana. Two states have legalized it altogether.]

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003

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