The Law and Drugs

The ‘Freedom’ Argument for Legalising Drugs

Many people think that the criminalisation of some drugs is an unjust infringement of their freedom and that the government has no business interfering in their private lives. For example, if a person were to smoke cannabis in the privacy of their own home it does no direct harm to other people and so it ought not to be illegal. The argument runs something like this:

  • Governments exist to protect the rights and freedoms of their people.
  • Therefore laws should protect rights and freedoms of all.
  • Laws against drugs stop me from being free but have no benefit to others.
  • So, drugs (which do no direct harm to others) should not be illegal.

However, the argument is not so straightforward. The Government responds that:

  • Many drugs which are illegal do harm other people, even if you don’t realise it.
  • It is therefore the Government’s job to make them illegal in order to stop us (unknowingly) harming others.

For example, I might think that smoking cannabis in my own home does not harm others but it does create a demand for cannabis, which feeds an illegal drug trade and might lead to violence and suffering in the support of that trade.

The Economic Argument

Many others, like the economist Milton Friedman, argues that we should legalise drugs as we could make more money for the economy through the legal regulation of drugs than we currently do through their being illegal. If you think about the massive amounts of tax raised on cigarettes or alcohol (about 80% of the cost of a packet of cigarettes is tax!) then we could raise similar amounts by legalising and taxing drugs. In the case of cigarettes the revenue (tax money) raised more than pays for the bill to the NHS for Smoking related illnesses, the same could be true for recreational drugs.

The counter argument is that some things are not about money. Use of these drugs is damaging in more than an economic way and thus banning them might cost us money but there are more important things – see the religious responses to drug use on this.

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