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John Stossel
John Stossel
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Legalize All Drugs


The other day, reading the New York Post's popular Page Six gossip page, I was surprised to find a picture of me, followed by the lines: "ABC'S John Stossel wants the government to stop interfering with your right to get high. The crowd went silent at his call to legalize hard drugs" (

I had attended a Marijuana Policy Project event ( celebrating the New York State Assembly's passage of a medical-marijuana bill. (The bill hasn't passed the Senate.) I told the audience I thought it pathetic that the mere half passage of a bill to allow sick people to try a possible remedy would merit such a celebration. Of course medical marijuana should be legal. For adults, everything should be legal. I'm amazed that the health police are so smug in their opposition.

After years of reporting on the drug war, I'm convinced that this "war" does more harm than any drug.

Independent of that harm, adults ought to own our own bodies, so it's not intellectually honest to argue that "only marijuana" should be legal — and only for certain sick people approved by the state. Every drug should be legal.

"How could you say such a ridiculous thing?" asked my assistant. "Heroin and cocaine have a permanent effect. If you do crack just once, you are automatically hooked. Legal hard drugs would create many more addicts. And that leads to more violence, homelessness, out-of-wedlock births, etc!"

Her diatribe is a good summary of the drug warriors' arguments. Most Americans probably agree with what she said.

But what most Americans believe is wrong (

Myth No. 1: Heroin and cocaine have a permanent effect.

Truth: There is no evidence of that.

In the 1980s, the press reported that "crack babies" were "permanently damaged." Rolling Stone, citing one study of just 23 babies, claimed that crack babies "were oblivious to affection, automatons."

It simply wasn't true ( There is no proof that crack babies do worse than anyone else in later life (

Myth No. 2: If you do crack once, you are hooked.

Truth: Look at the numbers — 15 percent of young adults have tried crack, but only 2 percent used it in the last month (

If crack is so addictive, why do most people who've tried it no longer use it?

People once said heroin was nearly impossible to quit, but during the Vietnam War, thousands of soldiers became addicted, and when they returned home, 85 percent quit within one year (

People have free will. Most who use drugs eventually wise up and stop.

And most people who use drugs habitually live perfectly responsible lives, as Jacob Sullum pointed out in "Saying Yes" (

Myth No. 3: Drugs cause crime.

Truth: The drug war causes the crime.

Few drug users hurt or rob people because they are high. Most of the crime occurs because the drugs are illegal and available only through a black market. Drug sellers arm themselves and form gangs because they cannot ask the police to protect their persons and property.

In turn, some buyers steal to pay the high black-market prices. The government says heroin, cocaine and nicotine are similarly addictive (, and about half the people who both smoke cigarettes and use cocaine say smoking is at least as strong an urge ( But no one robs convenience stores for Marlboros.

Alcohol prohibition created Al Capone and the Mafia. Drug prohibition is worse. It's corrupting whole countries ( and financing terrorism (

The Post wrote, "Stossel admitted his own 22-year-old daughter doesn't think [legalization] is a good idea."

But that's not what she said. My daughter argued that legal cocaine would probably lead to more cocaine use. And therefore probably abuse.

I'm not so sure.

Banning drugs certainly hasn't kept young people from getting them. We can't even keep these drugs out of prisons. How do we expect to keep them out of America?

But let's assume my daughter is right, that legalization would lead to more experimentation and more addiction. I still say: Legal is better.

While drugs harm many, the drug war's black market harms more.

And most importantly, in a free country, adults should have the right to harm themselves.

John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News' "20/20" and the author of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity," which is now out in paperback. To find out more about John Stossel and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Mr. Stossel,

do yourself a favor and check out a group by the name of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition).

I absolutley agree with you, but no one can have nearly as much cache as current and former Law Enforcement agents (involved in Drug Prohibition)who have come to the realization that our Drug Prohibition (really what it is, and strips the debacle of any foolish notions of a 'war', as no one really enters into a 'war' if they feel that victory is unatainable) is a sham and a cancer that destroys MANY more lives than the harmful effects of drugs do.

I've seen just as many lives destroyed by legal DRUGS (in caps cause many people are in denial that Tabacco and Alcohol are in fact Drugs) as I have by ellegal ones, but our society as a whole is being torn apart by are foolish policies, as are the societies of other countries.

Those who listen to the opinions of the DEA as awhole are being misled. Of course they are opposed to a change in our Drug Prohibition laws: they would be out of a job.

It's our duty to enlist in a new war, that of rationality VS the drug Probition machine of Lies and Hysteria.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Reynolds
Fri Jun 20, 2008 9:21 AM
Once again, John Stossel is a voice crying out in the wilderness for common sense and reason. The effects of drug prohibition, both for the individual and for society as a whole, are far worse that the effects of the drugs themselves. And the distinction between legal and illegal intoxicants is purely arbitrary, a matter of cultural prejudice. The criminalization of certain drugs is nothing more than an attempt to legislate taste. As comedian Bill Maher points out, marijuana is the one recreational drug that has never killed anyone. (Maher also emphasizes that, like Mr. Stossel, he believes drugs should be legal for ADULTS. You've got to know what reality is before you start mucking around with it!)
Comment: #2
Posted by: Scot Penslar
Fri Jun 20, 2008 6:27 PM
If only someone with as much common sense as you would run for President, America would be a free country again.
Comment: #3
Posted by: John David Galt
Sat Jun 21, 2008 4:00 PM
Jon, absolutely agree with you one hundred percent. America used to be about freedom and protecting those freedoms from tyranny and oppressive forces which would do harm to those freedoms. It has since become a country to scared to stand up for itself, too scared to believe anymore. I don't blame them either, growing up with America around me I have felt what the news at night has said to me, that this country is the greatest country on the planet. I have since learned that what they meant to say is this could be the greatest country on the planet. Could being the key word here because of all the money that goes into national defense and this ridiculous war on drugs could be helping the poor and homeless. It could be money spent on education or infrastructure but instead they build up our arms programs so that at the end of the day when we are starving and poor and our homes and loved ones lives have all been invaded we will have nothing left but to fight. This fantastic veil of terrorism is nothing compared to the complicit genius that designed it. I believe you are completely right in your stance though, this war on drugs has been throwing away tax payer money for much too long. When will they finally realize that it is something they cannot fight unless they fully acknowledge that this is no longer a free nation, in it's stead a fascist regime created through fear. It is only our freedoms that separate ourselves from the rest of the world.
Comment: #4
Posted by: HuyMoonOh
Sun Aug 10, 2008 7:17 PM
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