Essay on Drug Legalization: What Does the Public Want?

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Drug Legalization: What Does the Public Want?
Amber Donges
PSYC4700 - Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences u10a2 Perspectives on Public Policy Decisions
Capella University
March, 2013

Drug Legalization: What Does the Public Want? The standard conception is that the American public is all for the war on drugs, but is that really the case? In “Punitiveness Towards Users of Illicit Drugs: A Disparity between Actual and Perceived Attitudes”, by M. B. Kugler and J. M. Darley how Americans really feel about punishment of drug users is studied and compared to what they think other Americans believe. This paper provides a summary of their methods and results as well as a critical evaluation of their statistical methods and the use of statistical analyses in the formation of public policy in general. To fully understand the arise of the discrepancy between the actual and perceived opinions of drug use among Americans one must first understand the background of the issues. A large amount of the issue stems from the image that media and the government has painted of the average drug user. With drug users shown to commit particularly harsh crime due to being under the influence at one point as much as 73% of the population feared a drug related crime would be committed against them or their family in 1988 (Kugler & Darley, 2012). With the media constantly painting fearful images of those that use drugs even once going on rampages during that time period it is not surprising that that statistic is so high. George Bush's method of dealing with the war on drugs included a large amount of punishment, even when the accused only had a very small amount of narcotics, with little funding for treatment. Deviating from this type of policy was seen as political suicide, Bill Clinton even distanced himself from the opinions expressed by his surgeon general, who supported the idea of researching drug legalization, so as not to be seen as going soft on drugs. It has even gotten to the point that bills prohibiting legalization research have been passed (Kugler & Darley, 2012). The safety of not causing waves may seem compelling, but it is assuredly not what is best for the country. It also does not seem very democratic to pass laws that cause the nation to be stuck in the morality of one particular time period. A look back at prohibition shows the folly in this. Unfortunately, it seems these outdated ideas have not kept up with modern viewpoints. Current attitudes towards the best method to deal with drug users have shifted away from the punishment model and more toward treatment. Now very few people thing that drug use is the national problem that the government should focus the most on, whereas in 1990 a third of the nation felt it was the most important problem that the country faced. Even back in 1990, however, punishment was only considered the third most effective method of dealing with drug users. Since then support for treatment and prevention plans for those who use drugs have continued to grow in support to the current statistics showing that only 30% of the population believe that solely arresting drug users is the best course of action (Kugler & Darley, 2012). With the advent of the internet it is now much easier for the population to research issues themselves, making it so they no longer have to rely solely on mass media's overly dramatized versions of events. Being able to see what these people really go through seems to have brought out the empathy in people now that they know that these offenders can be helped. Polls also show that there is a large increase in support for the legalization of marijuana, support for such a law was only 12% in 1969 but it is currently at 44% (Kugler & Darley, 2012). Again, the internet may have much to do with this as people discover how little danger marijuana causes, especially when compared to other already legal drugs such as alcohol. Still, it seems…