The Arguments For and Against Drug Prohibition

Updated on November 4, 2016

Prohibition of drugs is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history commonplace drugs such as alcohol, marijuana and even coffee have been banned in various places, with varying degrees of success.

In the twentieth century, while alcohol and coffee have been rehabilitated as mainstream drugs, there remain many new and old drugs which have been prohibited in their place. Despite prohibition, drug use remains high, fuelling an underground market which supports a vast network of organised criminals and petty crooks.

In the USA, 2006 figures estimate that 14.4% of the population aged over 12 used illicit drugs in the previous year, equivalent to over 35 million people. In the UK, the figure was slightly lower, at 10% of the population aged between 16-59, equivalent to almost 3.2 million people.

A high level of this illegal drug use is marijuana. However, cocaine use seems to be increasing in Europe and is highest in the USA. 16% of Americans report using cocaine over their lifetime compared with 4% for the next highest country, New Zealand. By way of comparison, the Netherlands, which is famous for the liberalism of its drug laws, reports only 1.9% of the population using cocaine. Equally, while 19.8% of Dutch citizens report marijuana use over their lifetime, this is dwarfed by the massive 42.4% of Americans who report the same.

The gap between the law and the underlying use of illicit drugs is cause for a great debate, with vocal arguments from both sides. In brief, here is the crux of both arguments:

The Argument for Drug Prohibition

- The fundamental reason for prohibition is to protect people. Illegal drugs are dangerous, both directly and as a result of the psychological effects that can result from their use. Perhaps more importantly, the danger of drug use is not limited to their users. Some drugs can make users more violent, erratic and unpredictable with corresponding results for non-users.

- Prohibition reduces drug use. If you accept that drugs are damaging to society and individuals then prohibition creates benefits by reducing these harmful effects. Conversely, if prohibition were removed then drug use would increase with correspondingly harmful effects. Moreover, people might be more encouraged to take more dangerous drugs. Children might become drug users at an earlier age with important health impacts.

- Drugs can be addictive. In the case of the most serious drugs the risk of addiction can be high. In the case of addition, it is arguable that drug use no longer becomes a matter of personal choice but a disease.

The Argument against Drug Prohibition

- The failure of prohibition to prevent consumption of illicit drugs shows that existing policies do not work. It would be preferable to use the money saved by ending prohibition to provide more drug rehabilitation centres and more drug education.

- More than this though, prohibition creates a powerful supply vacuum which can only be filled by criminals. The consequence of this is less safe drugs (from adulteration), violence and stronger organised crime elements.

- By criminalising drug users, prohibition needlessly removes people from potential employment and use to society and possibly creates criminals out of people who wouldn’t otherwise be so inclined.

- Some illegal drugs are no more dangerous than the legal drugs of alcohol and tobacco.

- Individuals should be able to choose what they do to their bodies as a fundamental principle of liberty.

Drawing Some Conclusions

I’ve written this hub not to push any particular argument but to explore the arguments, as I readily admit that this is a tough one. To provide some context, I enjoy a drink as much as the next person, but I don’t smoke and have never used any illegal drugs (honest), not through lack of opportunity but through choice.

One of the reasons I’m still sitting on the fence is that I can’t fully sympathise with either argument. In one way I’m more naturally inclined towards the liberalisation argument, but I also find the very concept of addiction – mental slavery to a substance – absolutely horrific.

I find some of the liberalisation arguments, which tend to be focussed on bashing alcohol, rather disingenuous. I think alcohol is different from other drugs as it’s possible to use without any major effects and can be enjoyed without serious intoxication.

Equally, I suspect that some of the prohibition propaganda as to the effects of drugs is purposely overblown. Possibly this is justified given some of the worst case scenarios, but it still undermines the case for prohibition. Most damning of all is the fact that prohibition seems to create crime as much if not more than it prevents crime. I suppose, though, if drugs were to be legalised then just as likely would be the creation of powerful interest lobbies. Given the damage done by the stooges of the tobacco industry, I don’t know how good it would be for there to be a powerful ‘cocaine lobby’ for instance.

Mainly I think that what public debate there is on the subject is flawed, because talking about all drugs in the same breath is misleading as they are very different in their effects. There is probably a case for marijuana legalisation and possibly a case for some form of ecstasy to be approved, but I’m not sure if that the risks don’t outweigh the benefits of, say, cocaine legalisation or heroin legalisation.

Lastly, I suppose it’s worth touching on the fact that this debate remains an academic one in many ways. I suspect that in America no politician could realistically argue for drug liberalisation, except in the most liberal of areas. In the UK the debate is similarly a non-starter, despite various insincere public ‘confessions’ by various politicians of their brief dalliances with drugs whilst at university. The end result is that I can’t see a serious push for liberalisation without a major change in the priorities of both the electorate and political elites.

Are you in favour of continued prohibition for illegal drugs?

See results

If you answered yes to the above question, why do you think this?

See results

If you answered no to the above question, why do you think this?

See results

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      10 years ago

      people will aways use drugs and have done so since the dawn of time even animals eat plants for recreation the mormons drink mormon tea witch is ethodrine witch is the base compound for speed so should there religion be prohibited for that

    • profile image

      Erin Holladay 

      10 years ago

      Good overview of the big debate. There is a lot to say on the topic and it varies state to state.

    • iskra1916 profile image


      10 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

      Excellent, well thought out hub !


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)