Ganja, LSD, Salvia, MDMA.

Those are not dangerous at all.

What about coffee? Why coffee is legal and MDMA isn't?

I suspected that it has a lot to do with the market value of those substance. The more enjoyable the substance the more people are willing to pay for it. That means some corrupt officials will make more money if the drugs are illegal.

If that's the case, it'll also explain why many expensive stuffs are "controlled substance", such as spices during colonization. Also beef importation in Indonesia to maintain high price of beef meat in Indonesia.

However, this doesn't fly in democratic countries. Why would so many voters support criminalization of safe drugs? Why don't they just let the market decide?

Even skydiving that's infinitely more dangerous than LSD is legal. Why people think it should be illegal? And who are profited out of that criminalization that it goes all the way to trick people to criminalize things?

  • 2
    There's no simple answer to this as each drug has a different history of legality and politics behind it.
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 22:52
  • 1
    Freakonomics podcast did an episode on this. Short answer: accident of history.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 19:25
  • 3
    Skydiving is actually pretty safe when done properly and responsibly (dangerous when done irresponsibly, but the same is true of all the drugs listed). But there are plenty of other examples that are objectively always dangerous - for example, boxing, high-altitude mountaineering, deep sea diving, wingsuit flying... And of course cigarette smoking is in a whole league of its own - believed to cause the deaths of half its long term users. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:23
  • 4
    "Those are not dangerous at all." No, Marijuana, LSD, and MDMA are serious drugs with significant side effects, much like many prescription drugs.
    – Colin
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 8:22
  • Possible duplicate of Why very few countries/states try taxing and legalizing safe soft drugs? Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 15:35

3 Answers 3



The state tries to protect its citizens from taking drugs because they don't want them to become addicted. Drug addiction can cause people to stop working efficiently, consume resources in form of rehabilitation programs, lose their jobs and if they can't pay for drugs turn to criminal activity. I am not claiming these are good reasons - I am pro legalization myself - but these are the reasons prohibition supporters have.

Then why are certain drugs like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine legal even though they have the same drawbacks?

Because they have been an integral part of our society for centuries. Taking them is socially acceptable, and in some cases even socially expected (like celebrating an event by drinking champagne together). This means you can not outlaw them over night. We have a really good question about why the government doesn't outlaw tobacco smoking over night. The same reasoning can be applied to caffeine and alcohol.

Other drugs like those you mentioned, have a rather small group of consumers which don't represent an important part of the society. That means suppressing them without facing considerable resistance is easier.

Our laws are supposed to mirror the standards of our society. They are supposed to codify what kind of behavior is acceptable in our society and what behavior is not. I am not claiming they are always doing a good job, but that's what they are supposed to be.

An interesting case is Cannabis. It used to be one of the fringe-drugs which were suppressed, but now that more and more people consume it, it starts to become one of the "socially accepted" drugs too. You can see that mirrored in legislation: More and more countries start to legalize it.

  • The thing is the drugs are not even addicting at all. LSD, xtc, is not addictive in anyway. What incentive do they have to criminalize it?
    – user4951
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 21:34
  • So does that mean when drug users improve then they will have more right?
    – user4951
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 14:15
  • 3
    @J.Chang What do you mean with "improve"? Dress better and eat healthier? If you mean "become more numerous": Drug users have votes too, so they are more likely to vote for parties and candidates with a pro-legalisation stance.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 14:52
  • Yes. That's precisely what I mean
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 20:54

Outlawing some commonplace or relatively innocuous object or habit can be a subterfuge used to weaken groups that might eventually pose a threat to an unscrupulous administration.

Harper's Dan Baum reports that he'd heard the following confession from John Ehrlichman:

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.

  • This is certainly true with regards to the US. However, the US is not the only country to ban drugs, and the question seemed to be taking a larger view with a focus on Indonesia, where I doubt hippies and black people were the motivation behind anti-drug laws (though other societally disfavored groups could have been). Could you expand a bit on the broader or specifically Indonesian context that the question seems to mainly be about?
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 18:41
  • In Indonesia, corruption is behind anti drug laws. Drugs are easily available at higher prices due to criminalization
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 20:55
  • @Obie2.0, I wouldn't say "societally disfavored" groups so much as large popular groups with substantial potential power, should they learn to wield it. If the unscrupulous antidemocratic administration were not in the minority, they'd have little reason fear these groups, or need resort to painting demoralizing phantasms. But I don't know enough about Indonesia to generalize, a first guess would be it might have something to do with supply chains and trade routes.
    – agc
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 1:13

I am going to make a guess.

My guess is drugs are illegal (controlled) now for the same reasons spices nutmeg uses to be controlled.

When something is precious, politicians want to control it. It's the nature of politicians to want to control anything people want, drugs, sex, alcohol, fun, movies, etc.

Spices weren't exactly illegal. But the effect is the same. A powerful organization (VOC/government) try to control the trade of lucrative substance (nutmeg/drugs). The organization punishes those who disagree with massacre/jail. VOC mass murdered 14k banda residents for selling spices.


When we have something that people are willing to pay a lot and can be produced very cheaply, whoever control the distribution will make tons of money.

So such items attract thugs.

Alcohol, for example, used to be legal anywhere. The high price of alcohol keeps most people from drinking too much of it. The price of alcohol drops because the industrial economy is able to produce alcohol at very cheap price. Then alcohol is prohibited.

The same way with narcotic. The production cost is just too cheap and people are willing to pay a lot.

In fact, similar issues can be seen in almost every other product with trade restrictions. The difference is that in other products people are more explicit.

For example, many countries restrict car import. Why? So the politicians get money from car lobbyists. We know that the issue is not the safety of the imported cars. The real issue is the imported cars are simply cheaper and better than local cars and they restrict trades.

If some lobbyist can ban oxygen, I bet they will. It's just not politically correct enough.

  • 5
    So you are claiming governments don't legalize drugs because they like the drug cartels so much and want them to stay in business? There might be a few corrupt narco-states where this is actually the case, but in the general case this borders on conspiracy theory. Can you name a proven real-world example for this?
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 9:09
  • Re "nutmeg ... illegal": Please include a citation or source URL stating were and when nutmeg was outlawed.
    – agc
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 11:24
  • VOC massacre banda population to maintain price of Nutmeg. Search for VOC banda masacre. And for governments liking drug cartels. The pharmacy in US lobby heavily against ganja.
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 12:46
  • Not exactly illegal. But the effect is the same. A powerful organization (VOC/government) try to control trade of lucrative substance (nutmeg/drugs). The organization punish those who disagree with masacre/jail en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_conquest_of_the_Banda_Islands
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 21:36
  • The VOC did not make nutmeg illegal, they outlawed the sale to foreigners. Completely different thing.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 9:12

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