Lists, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Can Someone Please Explain To Me Why Illegal Drugs Are, Well, Illegal?

As a person who attempted to smoke weed twice, never felt anything from it, and was never compelled to do it again has somehow managed to go through high school, college, and adulthood without once even trying an illegal drug, I should have had no dog in Colorado’s fight for the non-criminalization of recreational marijuana. Yet, on Election Day, aside from Obama’s victory and the hours moments I spent on right-leaning websites and blogs that night and the following morning, gleefully reading the distressed comments, there was nothing that made me happier than learning that Amendment 64 had passed.

I even surprised myself by how interested I was in that story, catching myself saying “Oh shit!” aloud when first hearing about it like I had a jet to Denver, a pound of haze, and a Wiz Khalifa CD — not to listen to (God, heavens no), but to chop the weed on — waiting on stand-by.

My investment is based on a simple principle. It just never made sense to me why some drugs (alcohol, nicotine, etc) are legal as hell (and deadly as hell) while others remained illegal.  I’ve heard every possible “legitimate” argument about this, but none of them have ever been able to make me say “You know what? You’re right.” The more I think about it, the more I think that some drugs are illegal because, well, some drugs are just illegal and that’s just the way it is.

What exactly are these legitimate arguments? Well, I’ve heard several, but three seem to pop up more than others

1. “Wait a second. Have you actually seen the effect drugs like meth, crack, and heroin have on people? You actually want to make that legal?

Look, I’m a Black American, which means I have (at most) a 1.5 degree of separation between myself and at least a couple dozen crackheads. I also live a half mile away from a methadone clinic, and driving past there while some of the meth addicts are hanging around, smoking cigarettes makes me feel like I’m driving through a scene from “28 Days Later.” There are some drugs that will f*ck your shit up. They will f*ck your shit up so badly that you can be alive and not really look all that human.

You know what else would f*ck your shit up? If you licked a hot frying pan. Or if you decided to snort a line of dried up bleach. Or if you ate a bowl of cat litter every morning for three months straight. Or if you injected a pint of Grey Poupon into your veins. Or if you f*cked a stink bug.

Yet, despite the fact that each of these things would f*ck your shit up, it’s perfectly legal to do each of them. Perfectly stupid? Definitely! But, stupid doesn’t necessarily mean illegal.

My point in bringing this up is that I just don’t get the rationale in someone telling me what I can and can’t do with my own body. It just doesn’t make sense to arbitrarily decide which stupid shit is legal and what stupid shit is illegal. The government’s role should be to protect me from Russians, aliens, and malaria and shit, but not my own stupidity.

2. “If you make it legal, everyone will start using.”

Out of all the pro-drug prohibition statements, this is the one that annoys me the most. It assumes that illegalness of crack or smack or whatever is what’s causing people not to use, not the fact that most people just don’t want to turn into Bubbles from “The Wire.” I might be wrong, but if crack was sold in Target tomorrow, I just can’t envision cats waiting in line for the store to open like it was Black Friday. I’m not saying that 99.9% of the people who want to do crack are probably already doing crack, but 99.9% of the people who want to do crack and probably already doing crack, legality be damned.

3. “So, lets say you legalize hardcore drugs. Are you going to be okay with a getting on a bus with a high bus driver or sending your kids to school to be taught by someone who does meth in the teacher’s lounge?”

Ok. Let’s pretend that we live in a utopian society where shit like this doesn’t already happen. If you can’t come to work drunk now, and if you can’t actually smoke a cigarette anywhere but Mars now, whar makes people think that we’d allow people to come to work while high? I mean, just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean that companies can’t enact policies where drug use while at work or being under the influence while at the job is grounds for termination.

Sure, you can smoke all the crack you want at home, but try coming to work high and see if you don’t lose your job.

With all this being said, I concede it’s likely I haven’t grasped the full complexity of this argument. There are people much smarter than me who have devoted their entire lives to solving America’s drug problem, and I’m sure some of these people may be able to provide me a convincing answer.

But, from where I stand right now, all I see are some very clear benefits — legalizing drugs could put a severe dent in much of the gang related crime going on in our cities, and for a country deep in debt, making drugs a federal business could add a multi-billion dollar yearly revenue stream — and no real drawbacks. Until someone can provides me with a compelling (and legitimate) argument, I’ll continue to believe Chris Rock (paraphrasing)

“They’re illegal cause the best shit aint grown here”

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***Check out “Making (and Keeping) Time For My Mom” — my latest at***

Filed Under:
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • I’ve never done a solitary drug in my life (honest – i’m allergic to smoke and scared of needles) I’ll give you the answer – money (and historically, racism)

    The latter point – you may know that cotton ain’t sh*t for the soil and completely depletes it of its nutrients. Colonialists saw there farms get effed up by cotton, while the Native Americans/Native Mexicans were chillin wearing hemp*. So you got to ban their isht to stop their money/trade flow. For money, well there’s the money to be made off prisons and pharmaceutical drugs.

    *The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, which is why it hasn’t disintegrated

    • Sweet GA Brown

      I learn something new everyday.

      • Rewind

        As did I. Odd that no one has tried to smoke that yet. That would be smoking history!

        • Around the Way Girl

          Fcuking bad @ss idea!!!

          My friend and I have dreams of rolling up a 100 dollar bill & smoking ganja out of it. We’re not rich enough for that sh!t yet, but one day.

          • I STILl wouldn’t do it. Why not take that money and go buy more ganja?

            Or some junk food for the onsetting munchies…

            • Around the Way Girl

              It’s symbolic, that’s all. Represents our feelings about money and all the BS that comes along with it.

          • LeonieUK

            You won’t burn the paper only the alcohol on the paper, so go ahead…

            • Around the Way Girl

              What’s with the snark dude

          • Rewind

            Nah don’t do that. Money as rolling paper would mess with the weed, just use the money to light the spliff

            • Around the Way Girl

              Good call. If I remember correctly, that’s what our conversation actually entailed…I just like the visual of someone smoking an actual 100 dollar bill, it makes me warm inside lol.

              • Rewind

                lmao when we become rich arrogrant pricks, we can glaldy do that twice a day.

          • A Woman’s Eyes

            American dollars are filthy. They have feces on it and traces of cocaine.

            • Around the Way Girl

              “American dollars are filthy.”
              Yes they are.

  • Taxes. You can’t currently track and tax the illegal drugs.

    • Rewind

      That’s the same excuse for prostitutes. But you could tax illegal drugs if they turned legal. The problem is, too many politicians are well vested with companies, crime families, and underground institutions that have way more power than any of us realize make too much money off the current standard. They do not want that to change.

      It is similiar to the war economy. A regular person would love to stop seeing the creation of nuclear arms and the bombings of countries filled with brown people. And yet the money it creates is astounding, so those involved would never value human life as high as the money those lives create.

      • T.Q. Fuego

        Exactly Rewind. Well said.

  • Toria

    They’re illegal because they can’t be regulated yet, and therefore can’t be profitable to the government. Underground production/trade is already established. That cuts into whatever trade they could have. Wanna talk about craziness– every single drug approved by the FDA is studied only because the maker paid for every penny (+ more money to get it pushed through faster, + more money to have aftermarket studies to get it approved for other things so they can extend their patent and keep it from going generic.)

    Some of the medications you see commercials for everyday are sometimes more harmful than recreational drugs, weed in particular.

    • After Washington and Colorado voted to approve recreational weed, Anil Dash joked on Twitter that now Big Weed was going to produce GMO weed.
      I just want to know what their lobbyists will be like. And will Wal-Weed put all your cousins out of business?

      • Toria

        That’s gonna be interesting. I’d love to see what their lobbyists would be like too. If they’re anything close to pharm lobbyists it’s going to be an epic fight.

      • Anastasia!!!

        Girl that Monsanto Weed would be FRIGHTENING.

        • Montsano weed? We’re going to have stoners with autism out this piece

          • Rewind

            Austim? Try Stage 4 Cancer off the first pull. And then offer you the cure to the cancer that probably causes Alzhemiers. That’s how evil Monsanto is.

        • So weed is going to have to be fair trade and locally sourced too? F*ck outta here with the BS.

      • Toria

        GMO weed— that opens a whole new set of doors for actual pharm treatment, especially with glaucoma and cancer associated GI problems. A friend of mine is working on GMO sweet potatoes but he says the work he’s doing now could easily be transferred to weed research.

        Won’t happen until/unless they can make money off it though. And nobody will fund it.

        • Anastasia!!!

          He is working on GMO sweet potatoes????


          • Toria

            Yeah. He’s creating plant based medications and splicing the sweet potato genes.

            I had the same look on my face when he first told me.

          • Um…there’s GMO errthang girl. Trust me, that research is boring. That’s why I did my time and got the heck back to working with people. It’s much more fun, though working in a greenhouse in the winter is cool. :)

      • Yoles

        big tobacco is actually very pro marijuana.. stating they have the space to grow it and the means to distribute it.. quickly and efficiently…

        • I’m wondering if they’re going to grow the good stuff or that bullsh*t. We don’t need people getting high off of crap.

          • Rewind

            the good shyte? You know it’s not going to be good at all.

            • I’m just imagining the 1st of the Month, when you’d have people stocking up on Sam’s Choice Marijuana. That stuff will have all sorts of seeds, and will make you itch.

              • Rewind

                I would imagine it would be similiar to the weed you can currently find in most bodegas that is genetically altered. Probably with even more chemicals though.

      • Um, GMO weed is already here. If you’ve smoked some high-quality product in the last 10-15 years, you’ve already smoked that stuff. The Medical Marijuana laws gave breeders enough space to start playing in that yard. It’s an open secret among the breeder set.

    • Around the Way Girl

      Thank y’all for this education I’m getting today…maybe we don’t want it legal…

      I remember watching this movie that made the point that right now, the “fun” drugs are cheap and easy to get, so we better hope they stay illegal. I didn’t fully get that until reading these first couple comments. But now I agree. Ignore my initial comment, don’t legalize it!

  • Angel Baby

    Wow. That’s how you really feel Champ? lol

  • naturalista88

    I’ve never felt compelled to smoke/shoot up anything; drinking is an expensive enough habit, sh*t. Plus, my mom was a heroin addict while my aunt (her sister) was/might still be a crackhead. The sh*t they would do just to score their next high was enough to convince me that all of that crap sucks & needs to be illegal. Also, violence would still exist in some form cause it ain’t how it used to be; your best friend is now your enemy when it comes to making a come up and it’s every n*gga for himself.

    • Anastasia!!!

      I AGREE! Chile, I know some former druggies and I am NOT about that life at all.

    • Justmetheguy

      Sooooo them being illegal stopped ur relatives from doing them?

      • Anastasia!!!

        Clearly not, however it stopped her from picking that ish up.

      • naturalista88

        Apparently not, but those two were all about doing whatever the f*ck they wanted & following the trends of their time.

        • So the fact your mama was a selfish B who didn’t care about her kids means that 250 million adults should have their lives controlled by the government? Yeah…

          • T.Q. Fuego

            +1 Todd. I’m just not following that logic

          • Aly

            Surely there was a better way of getting your point across without insulting someone’s dead mother. I think we all sometimes forget that there are actual people behind the words on the screen.

            • T.Q. Fuego

              Yeah Todd, even though I agree with you, you should probably apologize for insulting her deceased mother. That was a low blow

            • Anastasia!!!

              thank u….

          • Sweet GA Brown

            Todd are you okay today???

            • I just have a severe problem with people using their personal experiences to effect public policy. A lot of bad policy, not to mention lost freedoms and even lives, are a product of people making personal appeals. The government cannot, and should not, be in the business of righting wrongs that take place within families.

              I get that naturalista is sad about how her mom messed up her life chasing after drugs. That said, child abuse and neglect are illegal, and a grand total of no one (at least I know of) is trying to legalize that. Restricting the freedoms of millions of Americans because she was abused and neglected is abusive to me. To be fair, it’s not just the War on Drugs that causes such poor decisions. A lot of paternalistic decisions are the result of someone screaming “Someone, think of the children!”

              In terms of her mother’s actual worth, welp…we see what she did. I have zero sympathy for someone who would freely neglect their child for any reason, whether it’s drugs or cheeseburgers. No country for bad parents.

          • naturalista88

            I’ve heard worse about her (mainly from her own mother), so it’s cool. Regardless of what she did, she was still my mom & when she wasn’t busy doing that, she tried her best to be a mother. I still stand by what I stated though, so yeah.

    • So basically we should be a slave to the fact your mama was worthless. Yeah…no. I had an uncle who passed because even after he got clean, messing with heroin took a toll on his health. I’ll be damned if I let my pain control others.

      • Joyful

        Wow! ‘That your Mama was worthless…’ that comment was waaaay f*kin harsh. Wow….just wow.

        • That’s harsh, but choosing a drug over your own child deserves harshness. I wouldn’t dare do that to my own.

      • StillSuga

        Did you really just tell someone their parent was worthless?? Regardless of what each person’s issues are we all have value, and that statement was just thoughtless… SMH

      • well, that’s a jacked up way of looking at it..

        but since it’s you, i guess it’s par for the course…

        better way might be saying if someone takes an Uzi and shoots up a school like a Eminem verse,

        MAYYYYYYBE, we should not make uzis legal?

        • Last I checked, Uzis don’t get up and shoot themselves. We spend way too much time focused on the tools of bad people that we give bad people too much of a pass. Maybe some people are just horrible, and we as people need to find a way to fix that, instead of looking for easy scapegoats.

          And how is what I say jacked up normal? Where did you get that from.

      • Asiyah

        Todd! That wasn’t nice.

      • Rewind

        You remind me of my girl when she gets reckless about people and the choices they make.

        I get your frustration. What you said wasn’t necessary but I get your point.

        People are the problem, not guns, or drugs or any of the other stuff. Yes, we do make excuses for people as to why they do the things they do, because it is way too hard to lay blame on society for their fawkups, despite it being the truth.

        • Exactly. While I’ll apologize for my language, I definitely won’t apologize for my larger point. People are so busy looking for something, anything, to blame that they won’t face up with larger societal issues that need change.

          • Rewind

            Well we are all taught to blame everything but ourselves for any sort of problem since childhood. And then as an adult, while we are told that we are responsibile for own actions..that’s only on an individual basis. As a group, people are actually given too much leenway for problems they create, because no government is truly ready to mandate to adults how to grow the hell up, which is why they accept issues people force on them when they don’t have to.

          • naturalista88

            Apology accepted; you feel how you feel, I feel how I feel. No need to censor yourself on my behalf.

    • Rewind

      I understand what you’re saying and that story is sad as hell, since it is shared by millions of people. But by the effect, gambling has caused the same damage as drugs to a lot of people, and that won’t be illegal.

      It is not about the availability of a drug, it’s about the cost to keep using it. Same as gambling. Gambling is easy to do if you have money. Once you lose it all, what would you be willing to do to get some more money and gamble again? Isn’t that the main question people have for Las Vegas and Atlantic City once you step away from the Strip & Boardwalk?

      • Asiyah

        Gambling should be illegal actually.

        • Rewind

          No it shouldn’t. What should be illegal is the way casinos are run, since they do alter the probability of winners. What should be illegal is the determination of the government to decide if casinos should be built in a state yet they hold state wide lottos which is essentially a huge Ponzi scheme disgused as a gambling set up.

          But it doesn’t matter, because as long as Uncle Sam can take a cut without it looking too shady, what’s done is done.

  • Val

    Those drugs are not legal because the government and private companies are already making a fortune off of the ‘War on Drugs’. Imagine how much money the Prison Industrial Complex, law enforcement (local, State and Federal), local and Federal courts would lose if controlled substances and illegal narcotics became legal. Billions, that’s how much. So, don’t look for any of those drugs to become legal anytime soon.

    • And all the reason they should be legal. All the War On Drugs is about is a front for Red-State, macho welfare. It’s amazing how Republicans are worried about LaQuesha in the projects getting a welfare check when we have whole counties that vote Republican on the dole.

      • Rewind

        Especially when LaQuesha aint shyte to the food stamps and subsidized housing cost compared to Ellie May and her 5 meth head kids.

        • Val


          And that’s why the Republicans lost. Too many people know they are full of it.

    • esa

      YES !

      also the military industrial complex. after we entered Afghanistan in 2002, the nation was flooded with cheap heroin coming from the deals the US cut with warlords in order to fight the Taliban. how did all that heroin get into this country ? mHMM. biggest drug traffickers are the government ..

      • Legalize it and get the Feds to get their check in the open. But then, that would mean a lot of Red America wouldn’t get welfar…I mean, government contracts to make weapons the military doesn’t need. Oh, and economic opportunities for their young men and women to be soldiers. Yeah, that’s it. It’s all about the free market.

        What a bunch of studio capitalist idiots. At least be honest enough to admit that you’re on the dole.

        • T.Q. Fuego

          Todd, between the War on Drugs (read, war on poor Negroes and Latinos) and the War on Terror (ie excuse to bomb the sh*t outta brown and black ppl while gettin cheap oil and heroin) that’s what made me go Libertarian. Too many Democrats are playing checkers while these Republicans are playing chess. The average person doesn’t realize who’s really cashing out off of drugs being illegal.

          Val, you spittin that truth today. Much respect. And I already knew Esa was the sh*t, but today it’s becoming waaaay more obvious.

          • Well, I started my libertarian journey before the War on Terror started tearing ish up, but I see your point. I think the problem is that a lot of people in the Democratic party have both an incredible fear born of ignorance and an incredible respect for Big Business. Think about who makes up the party now. How many of them are even comfy with them?

            However, if you speak to them, they speak of Big Business as these incredibly efficient monoliths than can do whatever they want. Trust me when after turns in Fortune 500 companies and small startups alike that it’s a miracle that the lights get turned on a lot. They couldn’t pull off a conspiracy to order pizza for the employees half the time, forget about world domination.

          • Val


            The Dems and Republicans are just opposite sides of the same coin. They both just do what lobbyists tell them to do.

          • A Woman’s Eyes

            Raises my fist to Justmetheguy on the Libertarian party affiliation.

            • Justmetheguy


        • Val


          Yep, Red State folks are great at ignoring all of the farm subsidies and government contracts they get. It’s much easier to focus on welfare.

      • Eps

        You are wrong about the heroin. Most Afghan opium actually goes to Iran, not the US.

        • She’s right, but it’s more complicated than one would think. Some Afghan heroin does make it to the US. More importantly, the money that Afghan cartels make off of heroin helps fun efforts to grow opium in Colombia, where they have a joint venture with a number of the cartels in South America to smuggle it into the US.

      • Val


        Yep, you’re right. And the military also gets funding for taking part in the ‘War on Drugs’ in South America too.

  • Tes

    I think the main thing holding back the legalization of everything is money and the ability to track the drug. I think if it were possible to track everything, it would’ve been done already and the taxes on it would be sky high. No pun intended.

    Legalization of something isn’t going to make me miraculously look at it and be like “You know what? Yeah!” Drugs still scare me so if I were to pass by “The Family Company” brand Cocaine I still wouldn’t partake. My concern would be the people who would. Like, if cocaine were on the shelves, would theft go up? Would burglary go up? I worry about the ramifications of the hard stuff more than the ramifications of marijuana.

    • My concern would be the people who would. Like, if cocaine were on the shelves, would theft go up?

      There’s already real isht going down with pharmacies being robbed for legal drugs. i don’t know anything about how cocaine is made, but you don’t have to worry about weed robberies since you can grow it yourself

      • Tes

        “…you don’t have to worry about weed robberies since you can grow it yourself.”

        Agreed. I think marijuana/hemp should be the most legal drug out there.

        • Juiciest Mango

          +a milli!

      • Cocaine is an extract of the coca plant that’s dried down and either sold as the salt (aka that white powder) or as freebase. The actual plant can only be grown in the Andes in Colombia, Peru, Brasil and a few other nearby spots.

        By the way, if you’re feeling REALLY froggy (or just need something to do after visiting the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus), the only legal spot where coke is cooked up is in Maywood NJ. It’s where Coca-Cola gets their cocaine-free flavor extract, and where the pharmaceutical industry gets cocaine for medical use. Believe it or not, it’s used in extreme situations as an oral anesthetic and given as an IV solution in trauma centers.

        • Tes

          O_O …
          Learn something new every day…

          I’m curious how you know that Todd… :)

        • Rewind

          Well we know cocaine used to be used in the past before anesthesia existed. And of course cocaine was used in all sorts of medical & psychological experimentation. Without it, some of the medical breakthroughs we have today wouldn’t exist, despite how grievous getting those results are. And yet for all that, cocaine will always be known as the drug Coca-Cola used in their soda and the rich man’s nose candy.

          What are we if we can’t figure out the right way to do things?

  • Here’s one major legal complication I can think of with the legalization of legal weed – if you’re in a car/industrial accident, they take a drug an alcohol test. Alcohol is water soluble and burns off relatively quickly, so if your BAC is 0.0, you pass the sobriety (and liabilty) test. But with weed, you fail a drug test 2-6 months after smoking (and have trace amounts in your system for life), meaning you fail a drug test without actually being high, since you last smoked weeks ago. So in that case, how do you deal with liability in an accident?

    • One of the things they were talking about was re-working sobriety tests (i assume to address this very issue) but i haven’t heard/read any specifics yet.

    • Well, there are levels of tests they can use. Without getting too technical, they can tell the difference between you just getting high and you smoking a blunt a month ago. Unless you have a habit of smoking like a gallon Ziploc bag full of that oh sh*t m*thaf*cka every month, you’ll be fine.

  • eazy253

    Drugs are illegal because for every street drug there is a synthetic big pharma version. Meth for adhd and obesity. Oxy for heroin. Cocaine and lsd for psychotherapy.

    • Kandi

      And there you have it folks. they currently have a cannabinoid agonist that is supposed to stimulate appetite without the “high” effects. Im like whats the point!!. Anyways the addiction biz is lucrative a psychiatrist that is approved to administer Suboxone (revamped Methadone) can easily add 100-150K per year to their income.

  • Not to get totally conspiracy theorist on y’all, but why is it that marijuana is illegal d*mn near everywhere worldwide? I think of it like the DeBeers monopoly on diamonds: diamonds are common. If you were to find diamonds in your backyard, you can only sell the mine to them. Want to start your own and sell them yourself? NO ONE will buy from you. DeBeers really perpetuated the idea of wedding rings (and now, the idea of right hand rings for single women) to guarantee customers worldwide for life.

    So I see marijuana the same way – is there some major cabal keeping this isht illegal? Are there some big timers getting rich off this stuff being underground? Since, like diamonds, it’s cheap.

    • Anastasia!!!

      huh. This makes sense.

    • chameleonic

      maybe governments dont wanna be responsible for coked out, potheaded millions and forbid everyone to do drugs.

    • Rewind

      It’s simple. Weed makes people mellow. The world economy is always looking for new markets, but in order to do so, they need people to be robots that are programmed to do their job with as little interference as possible.

      Countries like Jamaica don’t necessarily matter on the world’s economical scale, so the idea that people can lesiurely smoke weed there is nothing. A country like The Netherlands definitely has power but is not ranked so high that weed for recreational use would be a huge problem, and it makes the country a viable attraction, just like Jamaica. However, a country like the US is only interested in money, ergo they do not want to continously allow drugs that SLOW DOWN progress. They need people up and charged…hence why pharmaceuticals are so powerful here.

      Weed is not the problem. The desire to turn employees into slaves is the problem.

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