Dealing With Substance Abuse
The recreational use of illegal drugs and other controlled substances and the laws designed to curb such behavior constitute a major problem in this country. The so-called war on drugs has been a dismal failure, resulting in the incarceration of tens of thousands of people for nonviolent drug offenses without significantly reducing the use of illegal drugs. It’s time to consider a different approach.
Legalize All Drugs
Laws, by their very nature, restrict human behavior and are therefore inherently undesirable and thus can be justified only if and to the extent that they prevent a greater harm. Put another way, a person should be allowed to do as he (or she) pleases, so long as he doesn’t harm anyone else. I would add the clause “or put others at risk of harm” in order to prohibit activities such as reckless driving and add the clause “without their informed consent,” namely, the informed consent of those that you put at risk of harm, to allow activities such as surgery with the informed consent of the patient.
What harm are the laws prohibiting the use of certain drugs and controlled substances designed to prevent? Clearly, the use of certain drugs can put the users at risk of becoming addicted or having their health otherwise impaired. However, the fact that an activity puts the one engaging in it at risk is not sufficient justification for making that activity illegal. For example, mountain climbing, skydiving, and skiing put those engaging in those activities at risk of injury or death, but those activities are not illegal.
To satisfy the requirement of informed consent, all drugs sold should be unadulterated and properly labeled, and all harmful side effects, such as the possibility of being addictive, disclosed, similar to the requirements in effect for drugs that are currently legal.
If all drugs were legal, what effect would that have on doctors prescribing medications? Doctors will still be permitted to prescribe drugs, but you wouldn’t need a prescription to obtain such drugs. While self-medication may be unwise, particularly when potentially dangerous drugs are involved, it shouldn’t be illegal, since the user of potentially dangerous drugs puts only himself at risk.
What about children using drugs? Children lack the mental maturity to provide informed consent, so their access to drugs should be controlled by their parents or guardians. There is no need for the government to act in loco parentis in this matter.
Don’t drug addicts put others at risk of harm when they steal money or property in order to support their addiction? I would argue that legalizing all drugs would greatly reduce if not eliminate such theft. For example, some have claimed that nicotine addiction is even more difficult to overcome than heroin addiction, yet there are few if any instances of people stealing money to buy cigarettes because cigarettes are readily available at an affordable price. Legalizing currently illegal drugs would greatly reduce their price.
If drug users become addicted or otherwise have their health impaired to the point where they are unable to work and require medical treatment, doesn’t this place a burden on society to take care of them? It’s true that under the current system, such persons would be provided for at public (i.e., taxpayer) expense. However, as discussed in my article Dealing With Entitlement Cost Escalation, I advocate the complete elimination of all entitlements and the dismantling of the so-called social safety net. Those people who act responsibly should not be required to bear the burden of taking care of those who don’t.
Legalizing drug use as well as other so-called victimless crimes would result in a number of benefits. First, it would increase the opportunities for people to pursue happiness in the manner of their choosing. Second, it would result in the savings of tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise go toward the apprehension, prosecution, and incarceration of those who committed these “crimes.” Third, it would free law enforcement resources to combat true crimes, i.e., those activities that result in harming other people or putting others at risk of harm. Fourth, it would greatly reduce if not eliminate the overcrowding in prisons. Finally, it would deprive organized crime of a source of revenue that it now obtains from the sale of goods and services that are currently illegal, mainly, drugs, gambling, and prostitution.