An article in the Daily Mail this week reported that tragically five young people have died after taking contaminated ecstasy tablets. I'm certainly not going to suggest that ecstasy is a safe drug under any circumstances, but the fact that it's criminalised undoubtedly makes it a whole lot more dangerous. There seems to be a parallel here with the prohibition of alcohol in the United States during the twenties and thirties, the following quote from Johann Hari illustrates the point:
“Once a product is controlled only by criminals, all safety controls vanish and the drug becomes far more deadly. After 1921, it became common to dilute and relabel poisonous industrial alcohol, which could still legally be bought, and sell it by the pint glass. This "rotgut" caused epidemics of paralysis and poisoning. For example, one single batch of bad booze permanently crippled 500 people in Wichita, Kan., in early 1927—a usual event. That year, 760 people were poisoned to death by bad booze in New York City alone. Wayne Wheeler persuaded the government not to remove fatal toxins from industrial alcohol, saying it was good to keep this "disincentive" in place.”
People taking substances to alter their perception of the world is a practice that has gone on since before the time we lived in caves and will still be going on when we're colonising Mars. How moral is it for one group in society (the government) to use violence to restrict this practice, when the consequence of doing so is the endangerment of the lives of all who engage in it?
The full article by Johann Hari is available at the link above. Hari draws many parallels between alcohol prohibition and the modern day prohibition of drugs, including the power it hands to criminals, the inherent racism of policies and criminalisation of vast numbers of otherwise law abiding citizens.