Liberal Views on Drug Legalization

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There has been a debate on legalizing drug use for quite some time now. Most legalizers are liberals, and their views on drug policy are consistent with liberal views on other issues. This paper will outline the liberal view of legalizing drugs. Liberals do not generally trust individuals to make reasonable choices about drug use, and they think government should adopt policies that attempt to discourage drug use. But liberal legalizers do not like using police power to achieve this goal, especially when that power is directed at drug users as opposed to drug sellers. Thus, although liberal legalizers want government to reduce the harms from drug abuse, they prefer approaches other than prohibition. The liberal view on legalization reflects an assessment of the relative harms of drug use versus drug prohibition, and in that sense is similar to the libertarian calculus. But liberals put less weight on consumer sovereignty, and they are not as fundamentally suspicious of government prohibitions as are libertarians. Thus, for commodities viewed as substantially harmful (e.g., tobacco), liberals are willing to consider prohibition, but for commodities viewed as relatively benign (e.g., marijuana), they find prohibition excessive (Boyd 1998). Liberals agree on the fact that prohibition has many undesired consequences. These include the infringements on civil liberties that are an inevitable consequence of attempts to sanction victimless crimes; the corruption and violence fostered in foreign countries by U.S. attempts to enforce prohibition; the increased frequency of overdoses and accidental poisonings that results from the poor quality control in black markets; the increased property crime that results from elevated drug prices; and the violence that results because participants in black markets settle disagreements with guns rather than lawyers. Liberal legalizers argue, therefore, that the arrest and prosecution of drug users is ill-advised and that current...
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