Issue Report: Legalization of drugs

Should governments legalise all drugs?

Current drugs policy in the UK and many other Western countries is loosely based on the principle that drugs are criminalised in proportion to their harmfulness. Typically, whilst alcohol and nicotine are legal, a wide variety of other stimulants and narcotics (e.g. heroin, cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines) are deemed illegal. Usually the penalty attached to possession of these drugs varies according to their perceived harmfulness – for example, a “hard” drug like heroin attracts harsher punishment than a “soft” drug like cannabis. Supplying others with a drug also usually attracts a harsher penalty than possessing a small amount for purely personal use. Some countries, such as the UK, attempt to codify harmfulness by operating a grading system for illegal drugs (‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’); in others assumptions about harmfulness are expressed through policing and sentencing policy.
Policy arguments often focus upon how relatively harmful particular drugs are in practice, and what category they should therefore be placed in. In the UK, for example, there has been controversy recently over the declassification of cannabis from class ‘B’ to class ‘C’, with some arguing that new varieties of cannabis are so strong, and medical evidence for psychological damage now so compelling that the tougher classification should be reapplied. In the United States reformers often point out that possession of crack cocaine attracts much longer prison sentences than cocaine powder, and that different racial consumption patterns mean that as a result black cocaine users are punished much more severely than white ones.

Advocates of decriminalising drug use step beyond these disputes about matters of degree, arguing that any attempt to distinguish in law between different types of drugs is doomed to inconsistency. They also claim that the widespread use of illegal drugs across society makes the law look ineffective and outdated, and has the result of criminalising a large minority of the population. Taking a libertarian viewpoint, it is argued that the government has no business attempting to regulate private behaviour, pointing out that in other areas, such as sexuality, the state has been stepping back from intrusions into private life.

Across the world, approaches to drugs vary, from liberal policies in the Netherlands where many “soft” drugs (e.g. cannabis) are in effect tolerated, to the harsh policies of Singapore which hands out the death penalty for certain drug-related crimes. However, “hard” drugs such as heroin and cocaine are pretty much universally illegal. In debating this topic, the proposition needs to be clear about the implications of their case – typically they need to argue for the legalisation of “hard” drugs as well as “soft” ones. They may also wish to present some kind of model or plan whereby the quality and marketing of drugs is regulated (for example, in ways similar to controls on tobacco and alcohol in many countries).

Individual rights: Does the individual have the right to consume drugs?

Individuals have the right to control their bodies and consume drugs

Individuals have sovereignty over their own bodies and should be free to make choices which affect them and not other individuals. Since the pleasure gained from drugs and the extent to which this weighs against potential risks is fundamentally subjective, it is not up to the state to legislate in this area. Rather than pouring wasted resources into attempting to suppress drug use, the state would be better off running information campaigns to educate people about the risks and consequences of taking different types of drugs.

Drug-use does not directly harm others, so it should be legalized

Indirect social harm is not a sufficient criteria for illegalizing something. By this logic, smoking would certainly be illegalized given the death-toll it has created. The only appropriate criteria for illegalization is whether drug-use directly violates the rights of other citizens. But it does not.

The state is justified in protecting individuals from their own drug-consumption.

The state has the authority vested in it by the people to protect individuals from doing harm to themselves and others. The need to assume this responsibility is especially heightened if the individual is not aware of the risks, or is addicted and thus not making informed choices.

The state is justified in protecting society from drug-users

Drug-use affects the user, their families, children, communities and society at large, and the state must legislate to protect these wider interests.

Cost-benefit analysis.

What is more important for the state, society, and individuals: Few pleasurable moments while an individual takes a drug, or months of suffering when his/her family fall apart, hours, during which are “innocent bystanders” in danger, seconds, during which another person dies in a car crash caused by a drug addict?

Drugs are not a free choice.

Doing drugs may be a free choice once, twice… but after a certain period the drug user is no longer to choose for himself/herself. Thus the state has the right to protect the individual’s freedoms in the long term. Besides, most drug users are under the age of 25, therefore are subject to peer pressure, media influence, etc. much more than elder people.

Moreover, the decision to do drugs is never rational: No drug user says to himself/herself: “Yes, there is a high probability I will become addicted, but I don’t care.” Their logic rather goes: “Drugs are addictive, but I am an exception.”

Morality: Is drug-use morally acceptable or tolerable?

Drugs can have a beneficial mind-expanding capacity

Many drugs are used by philosophically inclined individuals for the purpose of expanding their minds and better understanding and seeing the world around them. Hallucinogenic drugs such as peyote and psilocybin-containing mushrooms are commonly cited by users as deepening their understanding of the surrounding world. Given the complexity of the world humans live in, and the very limited ability of our natural senses to perceive this reality, it is not unreasonable to claim that drugs can have a beneficial effect in opening the eyes of humans to this greater reality. In any case, who is to claim that such drugs don’t have a beneficial effect in this way? It seems to be a subjective matter that makes it impossible for a government to claim that drug-consumption is always immoral. Rather, the morality of drug-use seems to depend largely on the intentions of the drug-user.

Many things are harmful to individuals, but aren't made illegal

The legal drugs tobacco and alcohol have a devastating consequence on society, and yet they are legal. How then can many other drugs be illegal on the basis that they are bad for society? This would appear to be an arbitrary application of this criterion, especially when the scientific evidence strongly suggests that some of the illegal drugs (e.g. cannabis, MDMA (‘ecstasy’) and psilocybin mushrooms) are actually less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol.

Legal drug consumption blurs the line drawn against illegal drug consumption

Psychoactive drugs are widely available and consumed in societies today. With powerful drugs such as Aderral, why should other drugs be deemed illegal? And, particularly with the emergence of “neuroenhancing” drugs to improve the brain activity of “healthy” individuals, it seems that the distinction being made against some currently-illegalized-drugs is subjective and blurry.

Prohibition also costs lives.

Because the chances of any given drug user getting caught are miniscule (which means that the deterrent effect of the law is also marginal), there is a lucrative market to be supplied, which organised crime is happy to fill. As a result, we have well-funded, well armed gangsters fighting for territory in our cities, and large sums of money going to terrorist groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, or FARC in Colombia. Anyone killed in the crossfire between drug dealer gangs, who only exist because of a drug’s illegality, or killed by terrorist groups funded by drug money, is a victim of our drug laws, rather than drugs per se. If you are going to talk about morality, you have to be able to answer the question: how many innocent people are you prepared to see killed in order to enforce your moral viewpoint?

Legalizing drugs is the least bad option

Attempting to alter with drug-use the God-given human state-of-mind is immoral.

Humans perceive the world how they do for a specific reason; God or nature determined it is the way human are supposed to perceive the world. To attempt to diverge from this natural, God-given perception of the world is to diverge from the intended course of human-perception. This divergence is morally repugnant. It is also symptomatic of a desire to pursue more than what God or nature has naturally given to us. This culture of “more, more, more” is morally wrong. We should be content with our natural mental state and have the discipline to eliminate eliminate any discontentment with that state-of-mind without resorting to drug-use.

Hedonistic drug-use is morally repugnant.

Drugs are typically used because the “high” feels good or is pleasurable in some way. Such hedonism is morally repugnant largely because it is so base and too easily obtained. Deeper satisfaction in life can only be attained through discipline, intellect, and hard-work. The hedonistic experience involved in drug-use exists at the polar opposite side of the spectrum from these historic moral principles. Recognizing this, governments have a legitimate cause to illegalize drug use.

The negative effects of drug-use make it morally wrong and appropriate for governments to ban.

The effects of marijuana-use include, dullness during the “high”, increased appetite, lower sex-drive, and impaired short-term memory. Putting one’s own body through this experience is morally wrong, and legitimizes state intervention against drug-use.

Legalization would send the wrong message that drug-use is acceptable.

Consumption is wrong and should never be authorized. Legalising drugs would only make them appear more acceptable. This would undermine health campaigns by suggesting that drugs are not too harmful or even harmless.

Consumption: Consumption

Drug prohibition does not correlate with decreased use

"How to stop the drug wars." The Economist. Mar 5th 2009

“fear [of legalisation] is based in large part on the presumption that more people would take drugs under a legal regime. That presumption may be wrong. There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer. Embarrassed drug warriors blame this on alleged cultural differences, but even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates.”

Legalization would change drug consumption from a criminal to a health issue

Drug consumption is principally an activity that is bad for the consumer’s health, like eating fatty foods. It is in the consumer’s health interests to cut-back or quite. Therefore, the state should be involved in helping individuals quite, opposed to punishing them with criminal convictions. If the state directs more resources to helping individuals break their addiction opposed to fighting the “war on drugs”, consumption can be more effectively reduced. If the state focuses on helping individuals quite as opposed to punishing them into quiting, the long-term effect on reducing consumption will be greater.

Legalization of drugs will remove the rebellious glamor of it

Teenagers are often attracted to rebellious activities as their freedoms as individuals are expanded and the as the control of parents recedes. Much research indicates that placing limitations on teenage activities may actually produce the unintended result, encouraging the teenager to rebelliously disobey and break the limitations. Similarly, placing legal limitations on the consumption of marijuana may actually motivate teenagers to consumer the drug as a glamorous act of rebellion. This is flushed out by statistics suggesting that cannabis use in the UK has actually declined since its classification was lowered from ‘B’ to ‘C’.

The state can tax the sale of legalized drugs and use the revenue for treatment programs

By taxing legal drug sales, governments could use the revenues to help improve treatment and lower consumption. This is currently done with cigarettes to good effect.

No matter what, deterrence does not work.

Drug users are not fully rational and do not study law before taking drugs. Moreover, most people who do drugs do so no matter whether they are legal or not.

Lower prices due to legalization of drugs will increase consumption

This will be the case among all groups – addicts, previously casual users, and those who were not previously users. Addicts will still steal to fund their habit, because they want all the drugs they can get, and because addiction means they find it hard to hold down regular jobs. If drug provision is strictly regulated, an illegal black market may remain.

The legalization of drugs will increase consumption

If a consumer can go to their local drug store around the corner to obtain drugs with greater ease, they are more likely to do so. Obtaining drugs illegally is much more difficult, albeit far too easy. Finding a drug dealer, arranging a time to meet in a secure area, and running all the various risks of dealing illegally are inconveniences that will be removed by legalization, with the likely result of increased consumption.

No deterrence.

Approximately 6-15% of people do not do drugs simply because they are illegal. If we scrap this deterrence, these people are likely to try drugs and – at least some of them – become addicted.

"Forbidden fruit" concept is nonsense

People do not do drugs because they are illegal, they do drugs because they are a quick and easy way out of problems.

To access the second half of this Issue Report or Buy Issue Report

To access the second half of all Issue Reports or