Jacobs asks “Should drugs be legalized?”

Published: March 15th, 2010

Category: Events, News

Professor James Jacobs

Professor James Jacobs

When Professor James Jacobs first started hearing about drug legalization, he was intrigued. But those advocating for it could not give him answers he was looking for.

James spoke for the Federalist Society on March 3 about the effects legalization would have.

“I started working on this when I heard people that I respected as very thoughtful and bright in general proclaiming proudly that they were for drug legalization and that got my antennae up,” said Jacobs, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the courts director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at the New York University School of Law. “I said, ‘Well what does that mean?’ Mostly the answer was, ‘I don’t know exactly what that means. It just means legalize and we’ll worry about the details later.’”

James was open to the idea of some legalization, but he wanted more information.

“I’m kind of a detail person, so I don’t want to sign on to the legalization plan without having some idea,” he said. “Before we embark on this as an experiment that no other country does or, to my knowledge, has ever done, I would like to have a better idea of what this is going to look like, how it’s going to work, and all the details to try to assess what would be the cost and benefits, what might go along with it.

He said drugs are an interesting topic for the Federalist Society because traditional conservatives are divided with libertarians on the issue.

James predicted that demand for psychotropic drugs would increase greatly and many problems would come from it. He argued that we would have more drug emergencies and addictions to deal with. He compared it to how alcohol and other drugs are regulated today, noting that there’s no reason to believe Americans would all be responsible users.

“Other kinds of drugs like valium and Prozac and Zoloft and so forth are widely used and we have lots of overuse and lots of abuse of those even prescription drugs,” James said. “So I don’t read the record as saying that Americans are strong and disciplined and knowledgeable, reluctant, careful users of psychotropic medication. I think that’s not at all the case.”

High school and college students would come to class high more and homework productivity would decrease, James said.

Another problem would come in trying to figure out what to do with the FDA. If illicit drugs were legalized, would we keep the FDA out of it completely?

“That would lead us to kind of a strange situation where if a person wanted a cold medication – codeine – they would have to get a prescription, but if they just wanted the cocaine, they could just go down to the 24-hour-a-day drugstore and purchase it, no questions asked,” James said. “I don’t know how long a system like that could be maintained before we just dropped the whole FDA process altogether. As bizarre as you might think that sounds, there are libertarians who would do that right now because that’s unnecessary government regulation.”

Further, James said drunk driving is a big enough problem that it merits considering how bad driving while on drugs would be.

“Importantly, will we see an increase in drug driving? Is that a big issue or a little issue?” James said. “Right now we assume that drunk drivers take about 15,000 lives in the United States a year. You’ve got to swallow hard to absorb that – 15,000 lives. What about an increase in drug driving?”

Overall, James seemed willing to consider legalization but would want more studies done about what would eventually happen. He admitted that legalizing marijuana is a different issue than the rest of drugs because its use is already significantly higher than the other drugs.