Government is Addicted to Interfering

With Nick Clegg’s statement that we need to re-evaluate the United Kingdom’s drugs policy and the possible ban on smoking in cars in the news recently, some of my friends have expressed surprise that I support both the legalisation of some drugs and the extension of the ban on smoking. However, the two are not opposites: both increase public good.

With my open criticism of rules that force non-smokers to experience cigarette smoke it is easy to understand why some people expect me to be arguing for the criminalisation of smoking rather than the decriminalisation of drugs. However, I am not actually anti-smoking. As my suggestion of portable smoking rooms demonstrates, if someone wishes to use tobacco I have no objections; my objection is to social systems that privilege their choice to smoke over my choice not to.

If we look at other legal drugs, most of them are distinguished by a lack of direct impact on others; if I drink 6 pints of beer no one else in the room becomes drunk; if I take two aspirin no one else in the room has altered blood pressure. Smoking tobacco is almost unique in being both legal and able to affect innocent passers-by.

Looking at illegal drugs we see the same pattern: injecting heroin does not make others trip; taking ecstasy does not make others dehydrated; smoking marijuana does make others high, but eating it does not.

I believe it is this impact upon others that should determine illegality, not the substance itself.

Don’t do drugs because if you do drugs you’ll go to prison, and drugs are really expensive in prison.

John Hardwick

Some have argued that the consequences of drug use are such that a civilised society should ban them, even if they only directly harm the user. However, alcohol contributes to poor driving, but we have not banned that: instead we have passed laws against driving under the influence of alcohol.

There is no denying drug addicts are responsible for more crimes, both property and violence, than alcohol or tobacco addicts; but these crimes are fuelled by a need for money to obtain drugs, not the drugs themselves. By criminalising drugs we both inflate prices and deny people the freedom to seek help, reinforcing the need for drug users to commit crimes.

Surely a civilised society must be based on consent. Individuals banding together for mutual benefit, relying on society to provide a mechanism where individuals cannot resolve their differences. If there is a difference between losing a tooth playing rugby and losing a tooth in a mugging, it is that people chose to play rugby aware of the risk of injury but do not choose to be mugged.

The laws on drugs should be the same: informed consent. Certainly there should be protection of those who cannot consent; including both children and those from whom the risks have been concealed. But if everyone affected gives consent, the use should be legal.

Do you believe there should be fewer laws designed to avoid potential harm to others? Do you feel the state should do more to prevent people harming themselves?

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