A case to legalize drugs in America

Years from now, current drugs legislation will be seen as folly. Police resources are diverted from crimes with victims. Otherwise law-abiding citizens are criminalised. Addicts are locked up in places where drugs are more easily available than outside. Criminal gangs fatten on the profits of prohibition. We are denied freedom for inadequate reasons.

Drugs can do great damage. They frequently help wreck lives, families and communities. To various extents and in various ways, they can cause misery and death. Is that a good enough reason to keep them banned (with the incongruous exceptions of legal-because-traditional alcohol and tobacco)? If you believe it should be illegal for people to do anything that frequently causes them serious harm, you are probably a nice person. But I can only respect your position if it is consistent. You must argue then that rough sports should be illegal, speed limits halved and regular eaters of junk food caged. You must consider that anorexics, self-harmers and people who attempt suicide should be deterred by the threat of punishment.

Of course, drug-users often harm others as well as themselves. But it doesn’t follow that all drug-users harm others. Many live responsibly. There need to be deterrents against harming others. But what is so difficult about distinguishing a) a factor that often accompanies antisocial behaviour from b) the anti-social behaviour itself? Deal with drug-users who harm others or neglect their children etc accordingly; don’t prosecute drug-users who harm only themselves. Think of an equivalent to today’s absurd situation. People with certain personality disorders are thought to be potentially dangerous; many do end up in prison after committing crimes. But what if we prosecuted these people before they harmed anyone else, just because they were thought likely to? Would that be logical? Or fair?

Many pro-legalisation arguments are commonly heard. Police and prisons freed-up. Legal drugs de-glamorised, in defined quantities, without dangerous impurities. Huge amounts raised in taxation and spent on health education and rehabilitation programs. Money not going to those operating outside the law. These are all valid, pragmatic points. But I only need one reason: no government, however democratic, has moral jurisdiction over what adult individuals choose to put into their own bodies. This seems to me inherently true; ingestion is a private matter of conscience, although we remain responsible for our resulting conduct. I believe that a post-legalisation society would be more, not less, safe. But if that were not true, I would still believe basic individual freedom to be even more important than safety.