High time for a change?
The philosophy behind the arguments for legalizing drugs
In The Washington Post, Peter Moskos and Neil Franklin argue for the legalization of all drugs, explaining that the consequences of keeping drugs illegal far outweigh the benefits. Any argument for the decriminalization of drugs, like the one presented in the aforementioned article, will appeal to at least one of two philosophical principles.
First, one could view the issue in terms of individual rights. I enjoy the feeling I get from taking drugs, and it is not someone else’s job to tell me what I can or cannot put in my body. Recreational drugs may not be good for me, but the government does not need to protect me from myself.
Though appealing, this line of thinking is, in many respects, overly simplistic. The choice of an individual to use drugs can have ramifications that affect others. For example, a pregnant drug user can cause damage to the fetus, and drugs can lead an individual to act violently towards his or her friends and family. On the other hand, supporters of the individual rights argument could respond that it is possible to legalize drugs while still strictly punishing crimes that people commit while under the influence of them.
Medical researcher and writer Mac Johnson offers a different response to the individual rights argument, stating that many drug users are not exercising free choice, but are at the mercy of highly addictive substances. When an addiction, drug use is arguably a loss of freedom.
The other philosophical argument for legalization appeals to the consequences of state interdiction. Drugs might have harmful effects, but making it into a legal issue does more harm than good. This is the approach that Moskos and Franklin take in their article:
Prescription drugs are regulated, and while there is a huge problem with abuse, at least a system of distribution involving doctors and pharmacists works without violence and high-volume incarceration. Regulating drugs would work similarly: not a cure-all, but a vast improvement on the status quo.
I would assume that if drugs laws are substantially reformed, it will be primarily because of arguments based on consequences, like that of Mr. Moskos and Mr. Franklin, as opposed to arguments based on individual freedom. People are more passionate about issues when they have a personal stake in the outcome; and so while most people might not feel inspired to promote someone else’s right to use cocaine, they might become more vocal if they felt drug laws were negatively impacting themselves and their community.