An Argument for the Legalization of Drugs, Based on John Stuart Mills' "Revised Harm Principle"
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 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 Principle²," 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 one's 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....
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