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Why Travelers Should Embrace Global Drug Legalization

by Matt Hershberger Sep 3, 2014

It didn’t take America quite as long to end the prohibition of alcohol as it’s taken to end our drug war. Prohibition lasted 13 years, while the “War on Drugs” has gone on for an incredibly destructive 43 years to date.

Fortunately, the tide finally seems to be turning. Over the past two years, Colorado and Washington have passed and implemented pretty successful pot legalization programs, Washington DC has decriminalized the drug, and The New York Times editorial board recently called for the federal government to legalize it.

These trends can only be good news for travelers, who — whether they smoke pot or not — are often negatively affected by the consequences of a drug war they may have never even realized was being waged.

A country without violent drug gangs is way better to travel in.

The prohibition of alcohol in the United States was followed by a massive increase in gang violence, as criminals realized they could make a ton of money off the lucrative, now-underground industry. The prohibition of pot and other drugs has done the same thing: empowered violent gangs, cartels, and political or terrorist groups looking to earn some quick cash. The FARC — which has terrorized Colombia for the past 50 years — and the Taliban are known narcotics traffickers, and Hamas and Hezbollah have profited from drug money as well.

Depriving these groups of their source of income by opening up markets to the drugs and allowing for government and public oversight on growth and production would take a lot of wind out of cartel sails. It’s not like the members of the extremely violent Sinaloa Cartel would suddenly all decide to become honest working stiffs, but it would take away a lot of their money and power.

Many countries in Central and South America, as well as parts of Asia, have been plagued by gang and cartel violence — violence which has forced many children to seek refuge in the US, causing a refugee crisis on the US-Mexico border. If those drug gangs no longer have drugs to sell, those countries will likely have a much easier time curbing some of that violence, making them safer places for their citizens and for travelers.

Travelers wouldn’t have to deal with sketchy dealers.

Inevitably, some travelers are going to partake in recreational drug use when abroad. The problem, of course, is how they obtain those drugs.

It’s easy and safe enough to get drunk in most countries: You pick a bar, walk in, and throw down some money for a beer or a cocktail. Because pot and other drugs are illegal in most foreign countries, you need to find a dealer. At home your dealer is probably someone you at least vaguely trust, but your dealer abroad is likely to be a total stranger, someone who may decide it’s more profitable to mug you than to sell you an ounce.

Bringing drug dealing into a legitimate marketplace — like a grocery store or a pharmacy — is going to make the process of purchasing drugs significantly safer for travelers who are going to be using them either way.

Travelers would be safer on the roads.

This one may be a pretty big “if,” but check it out. Since the legalization of pot in Colorado, traffic fatalities have gone down. You’ll see a lot of articles claiming the number of accidents involving pot has greatly increased since legalization, but that’s misleading, as the only thing that’s increased is the number of drivers who’ve tested positive for having marijuana metabolites in their blood. If you’ve ever failed a random drug test at work, you know you can test positive for drug use weeks after you’ve actually used the drug, and that you’re obviously not still high at the time of testing.

While the evidence is hardly conclusive just yet — there are many other factors at play — some people suggest marijuana use will actually make the roads safer because people will choose marijuana over booze. And drinking impairs your ability to drive way more than pot does. This could theoretically mean that worldwide legalization of marijuana equals fewer drunk drivers on the road.

There are plenty of reasons you, as a human being, should be in favor of legalization (that the War on Drugs is racist, expensive, and ineffective at treating drug addiction are good examples), but you should also be supporting it as a traveler. Because anyone who wants to take in as much of this beautiful planet as possible should also want to make it a safer, happier, less violent place.

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