An Intriguing Possibility – Legalize All Drugs

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published February 4, 2013

A few years ago, a popular motion picture, American Gangster starring Denzel Washington, was released to both critical and box office acclaim.

It told the story of the rise and fall of an African-American drug king.  What intrigued me so much about this movie, as a student and teacher of marketing, was the ingenious way this drug king so successfully used the basic principles of marketing to establish his drug empire.  His sourcing, distribution, branding was right out of marketing 101 and deftly applied the principles of Phillip Kotler or the late Theodore Levitt.

In the January 5, 2013, Wall Street Journal, two academic giants, Nobel Prize Winner (in economics) Gary Becker of the University of Chicago and Kevin W. Murphy another U. of Chicago economics professor, wrote a piece entitled, “Have We Lost the War on Drugs?”

 The article uses as its starting point the “War on Drugs” decreed by President Richard Nixon in 1971.  The conclusion was that we have, indeed, lost the war on drugs. Moreover, a continuation of the war on drugs is a losing battle that only strengthens the criminal enemies of society.  Look at the crime in Mexico and Latin America due to the American drug trade.  We are talking of tens of thousands of people being killed.

The fact is that if this “war” had as its goal the elimination of drugs, it has been as big a failure as Prohibition was in the 1920s and 1930s.  People who intend to use drugs continue to do so.  The only tangible result of the continued war on drugs is to unleash the supply-demand forces in the marketplace.  As drugs become more scarce, prices rise and these higher prices make it more attractive for criminals to get into the drug trade.

The prisons are over-loaded with drug users and dealers and this is exacting a big price from society.  Becker and Murphy report that approximately 50% of the U.S. prison population is drug-related.

So look at the facts:

  • The war on drugs is a loser.
  • Criminals are becoming richer.
  • Addicts continue to use drugs and find illegal ways to pay for them.
  • Society is suffering because we have to imprison users and dealers.

Becker and Murphy estimate it cost $40 billion a year to fight the war on drugs.

There is a solution.  Before Prohibition, the evils of society were blamed on “demon rum.”   Alcohol is a drug just like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and the host of other illegal and synthetic drugs.  Does it mean that by making these drugs available, that there will be more addicts?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Did Prohibition reduce the number of alcoholics?  Don’t people continue to kill themselves by smoking?

Most Americans would probably not use drugs if there were legal.  Anybody who wants to use illegal drugs today can find them anywhere anyhow.  Many experts say the most addictive drug is nicotine.

What would happen if the U.S. legalized drugs:

  1. It would deal a huge blow to organized crime.
  2. Governments would save money because they wouldn’t have to fight illegal drugs.
  3. Prisons would save money because they wouldn’t have to lock up users and dealers.
  4. The IRS and state and local taxing bodies would receive a revenue windfall.
  5. Drug addicts might obtain help through government aid or through AA-type organizations.

Let’s face it.  Government earns lots of revenue from “unsavory” activities such as taxes on alcohol, tobacco, casino gambling and state-sponsored lotteries.  When is America going to get smart and realize if you can’t beat them, tax them.

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About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.