Guest Columnists

Solving America's drug problem

Recently, Iowa Democrats added “legalizing all drugs” to its official party platform. In March, a team of medical experts from Johns Hopkins University called for the decriminalization of all drugs stating that current laws “contribute to lethal violence, disease, discrimination, forced displacement, injustice and the undermining of people’s right to health.” [2] These injustices and racial disparities were intentional. In an interview with Harper’s Magazine, John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon aide, stated:

The Nixon campaign … had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. [3]

The sad truth is that this war on drugs created many problems that go beyond racial inequalities because we’ve been intentionally misinformed about the drugs themselves.

Our poor understanding of drugs is responsible for creating America’s current drug culture.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. This categorization alongside heroin creates a culture that incorrectly demonizes the drug, its users, and its advocates — leading many to associate pot with violence and addiction.

In addition, many wonder if marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads people to harder, more addictive substances — the truth is that it can. To those who enjoy marijuana, its foolish categorization diminishes the perceived danger of the hard drugs that it is classified with. Furthermore, when users buy marijuana from the same people selling heroin and cocaine, they are much more likely to try those as well. Legalizing marijuana would take this business away from drug-dealers — shutting the gateway behind it.

In a few states, marijuana has already been legalized for medicinal and recreational purposes and about 61 percent of Americans support this movement. [4] Recent changes came after years of research — in the lab and at home — as many Americans found marijuana to be safe and recognized its medicinal and stress-relieving properties.

The truth is that some drugs are very dangerous, but we face a bigger problem when individuals need help and we don’t provide it. As it stands our current programs are unaffordable and ineffective. We must do better research and establish facilities with trained professionals; we must look to Portugal who has decriminalized all drugs, established single-payer health care, and developed effective drug abuse rehabilitation programs — we need experts who know the drugs and the most effective addiction treatments.


Arguably the biggest problem that addicts face is due to our culture — the fear of arrest and ridicule keeps many from seeking help. Drug addicts are treated like criminals, by the law and by their peers, rather than humans who need support. By clumping addicts with violent criminals, those who need the help simply have little to no incentive, motivation, or care to seek it. It is time to change our drug culture by providing effective and affordable rehabilitation and by decriminalizing all drugs.

• Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz of Sioux City, Iowa is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. Comments: | Twitter: @Alyhandr0

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