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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  1. Malcolm Kyle on February 4, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Nice article!

    “Evidence provides no indication that decriminalization leads to a measurable increase in marijuana use.”

    — Boston University Department of Economics

    “There is little evidence that decriminalization of marijuana use necessarily leads to a substantial increase in marijuana use.”

    — National Academy of Sciences

    “The preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people.”

    — The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research

    “The Dutch experience, together with those of a few other countries with more modest policy changes, provides a moderately good empirical case that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalization) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit drug; the argument for decriminalization is thus strong.”

    — British Journal of Psychiatry

  2. Malcolm Kyle on February 4, 2013 at 10:58 am


    The claim (usually forwarded by those invested in a continuation of the ‘War on Drugs’) that prohibition lowered alcohol consumption is totally false!

    Not only did alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s increase usage it also exacerbated all other related problems while bootleggers, just like many of our present day drug lords, became rich and powerful folk heroes as a result.

    “It has made potential drunkards of the youth of the land, not because intoxicating liquor appeals to their taste or disposition, but because it is a forbidden thing, and because it is forbidden makes an irresistible appeal to the unformed and immature.”

    — That was part of the testimony of Judge Alfred J Talley, given before the Senate Hearings on Alcohol Prohibition in 1926:

    And the following paragraphs are from WALTER E. EDGE’s testimony, a Senator from New Jersey:

    “Any law that brings in its wake such wide corruption in the public service, increased alcoholic insanity, and deaths, increased arrests for drunkenness, home barrooms, and development among young boys and young women of the use of the flask never heard of before prohibition can not be successfully defended.”.

    And here is Julien Codman’s testimony, who was a member of the Massachusetts bar.

    ” has been a pitiable failure; that it has failed to prevent drinking; that it has failed to decrease crime; that, as a matter of fact, it has increased both; that it has promoted bootlegging and smuggling to an extent never known before”.

  3. Malcolm Kyle on February 4, 2013 at 11:00 am

    The assertion that drug legalization/regulation would bring higher usage rates ignores what has occurred since the early 1970s. The percentage of Americans who have used an illegal drug has gone from less than 5% to about 40%. The cost of one dose of street heroin has gone from $6 to 80 cents while average purity has also increased. The only drug that has decreased in use during this time is tobacco, which has plummeted from about 65% during World War II to about 20% today. Tobacco, one of the most addictive substances known to man, has never been illegal but many Americans have quit using it for personal reasons that clearly have not been influenced by it’s legal availability. They will decide whether or not to use other drugs for the same reasons.

    Prohibition continues unabated for shameful political reasons. It cannot, and never will, reduce drug use or addiction.

    Here are the main paragraphs from the address of His Eminence, Cardinal Dougherty, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, to the Catholic societies of the Archdiocese on New Year’s Day 1931:

    “Having heard the report on behalf of the members of the Total Abstinence Society, it occurs to me to say that when the law prohibiting alcoholic drink was passed, many thought that there would be no further need for our temperance or total-abstinence societies. Hence the practice of giving a pledge against intoxicating liquors to boys and girls at Confirmation was discontinued. There seemed to be no need of it.”

    “But, unfortunately. Prohibition has not performed the miracles that were expected. According to experts, such as judges, public officials, social service workers, and others, there is as much, perhaps even more, drunkenness and intemperance today than before the passage of the Volstead Act.”

    “When in the past did we see young men and women of respectable families carrying a flask of liquor when going to social events? When did we see young girls, not yet of age, drinking in public, perhaps to excess, cocktails and the strongest kind of intoxicating liquors, and perhaps being overcome by them? That, today, is not an uncommon sight.”

  4. guest on October 31, 2013 at 8:37 am

    It may have reached the point where too many people prefer to keep it illegal because of the economics and power. Keeping drugs illegal creates a lot of demand for police, judges, lawyers, prison employees, and no doubt others in support roles, as well as those directly involved in the manufacture and distribution (a lot of people by the way), whose jobs would likely dry up or at least be changed dramatically.

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.