Friday, October 23, 2009

Should Drugs Be Legalized?

Having laid out all the arguments in this debate, the Gadson Review will now evaluate them.

1. Will more people use drugs?

Verdict: This one goes to drug legalization opponents, at least in the short term. Drugs will be cheaper and possibly advertised. Plus, all those people who wanted to try drugs, but didn’t because there were stiff penalties in place, might now try them. On the other hand, in the long term, perhaps people will react rationally to drugs as they have to alcohol.

2. Which side best rehabilitates addicts?

Verdict: This one goes to drug legalization supporters. As I wrote earlier, I think that more people will use drugs, at least after they’re first legalized. But these people can get help. More importantly, all the people who want help, but don’t seek it for fear of getting turned into the authorities can come out of the shadows and be rehabilitated. Contrast that with what the current drug war does. It sends people to prison who are then exposed to dangerous criminal elements. They come out into society after 5 or 10 years with a chip on their shoulder, no ability to vote or receive financial aid for college, or get a job.

3. Will drug legalization cost more society money?

Verdict: This one is tough to evaluate. The Office of National Drug Control Policy found that drug use costs $110 billion a year in healthcare costs, lost earnings, and other impacts. That’s a lot. But that’s with drugs being illegal. We currently spend around $44 billion a year on the drug wars. And that doesn’t count potential tax revenue. That means that increased drug use would have to cost society around $50 billion more a year for it to be worthwhile to continue the drug wars. What do you think?

4. Can government paternalism be justified here?

Verdict: Yes, but that depends greatly on your view of government. If you think that the government should play a very limited role in private lives, then paternalism probably isn’t justified. But you need to believe that society shouldn’t also be able to make us wear seat belts, or impose similar restrictions to be logically consistent.

On the other hand if you believe government should play a more robust role in protecting people from themselves, and promoting the general health of society, you could support paternalism here. But that is to endorse a much bigger role for government than many who support drug prohibition likely want. On abortion for example, the slogan, “my body, my rights” is heard over and over again. But to put people in jail for snorting crack, one has to believe that government can stop people from doing whatever they want with their bodies. But that logic easily leads us to prohibiting abortions or strip clubs. While you may be ok with those examples, there is surely something that you do that someone might find objectionable; nonetheless, you wouldn’t want government to put you in jail for doing it.

5. Is there a moral case to be made for prohibiting drugs?

Verdict: That depends as well. You can make the argument that we should protect people from having their lives ruined by doing drugs. We also want to prohibit young people from being corrupted. But then you’d also be inconsistent if you didn’t also ban Big Macs, French fries, cigarettes, motorcycle riding, and alcohol, all of which can be harmful to a person’s health. Also, how are you helping people by locking them down in jail cells 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 years?

If you think there’s something wrong from deontological perspective, then the burden is on you to show why we should allow your personal preferences to put other people in jail. There’s plenty of behavior including abortion, cohabitation, looking at porn, drinking alcohol, and even driving SUVs that someone finds immoral. Yet none of those are illegal. And I’m guessing that many of you readers don’t want people going to jail for these actions.

To justify putting people in jail then, you must find a utilitarian justification. IE, drug use causes violence, and hurts society. So does alcohol. And besides, then the question to be asked, is whether society should continue spending money to prevent those costs. In other words, you’re left doing a cost-benefit analysis.

So here’s the score card:

One for drug legalization supporters, one for opponents, and 3 that are up in the air. So take my poll. Do you think drugs should remain illegal?

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