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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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