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The question of whether or not to legalize certain drugs has been debated

for decades. Although opponents have thus far been successful in

preventing this, there are nonetheless a substantial number of people who

believe that legalization should be given a chance. Their arguments range

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from the seeming ineffectiveness of current drug laws to the simple

premise that the government has no right to prohibit its citizens from

using drugs if they choose to do so. This essay will address the issue

from the standpoint of John Stuart Mills Revised Harm Principle?, which

asserts that people should be free to do what they want unless they

threaten the vital interests (i.e., security or autonomy) of others.

Using Mills principle as a litmus test for this issue leads one to come

down on the side of legalization. Since Mills is concerned not with

individual rights, but with the consequences of ones actions on other

people, the question becomes Is drug use an action that, although

performed by an individual, threatens the vital interests of others?

Using the example of a casual, responsible drug user who is a contributing

(or non-detracting) member of society, it is clear that more harm is done

to others if the user must resort to illegal methods to obtain his drugs.

The very act of buying drugs is intrinsically illegal and carries the

threat of establishing a criminal record for the buyer. This can have a

devastating effect on his family, his lifestyle, and his career. The

effects on society as a whole include more crowded jail cells (prompting

politicians to demand more jails be built), higher taxes to support these

jails, and the loss, or at least diminution, of a productive citizen. In

order to buy drugs illegally, the user may be forced to expose himself to

the fringes of the criminal world--something he would never do under any

other circumstances. If drugs were legalized, the criminal stigma would

be removed from their purchase, possession, and use. The government would

collect taxes on drug sales and, conversely, would not be spending

millions of dollars to stem the flow of illegal drugs. This increase in

tax dollars could be put to use in drug education and treatment programs

for those individuals who are unable to moderate their intake and

subsequently become addicts. Then the government would be intervening

with its citizens lives in a benevolent manner (and only when asked)

rather than in a forceful, punitive way.

Many opponents to legalization point out that drug use leads to spousal

and child abuse, random criminal acts precipitated by the effects of drugs

on a users inhibitions, and crimes committed to support drug habits.

This argument is fundamentally defective because it addresses the abuse of

drugs, which is not the issue here. When an individuals use of drugs

leads him to harm others, it becomes a behavioral problem. That is, the

issue is no longer drugs, but the behavior of the individual. If that

behavior breaks a law, the individual should be punished for that specific

conduct--not for drug use. In its pure form, drug use affects only the

user, and the government is therefore acting paternally when it regulates

this behavior. This government regulation violates Mills Revised Harm

Principle? as blatantly as would regulations against sunbathing or

overeating or masturbation.

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