1. I think the correct position is that we are (I am) opposed to the law being used to prohibit people (adults) from buying, selling and taking drugs. This does not at all mean that the activity is encouraged, or seen as harmless, healthy or moral. It is merely that, as long as the non-aggression principle is not broken, then the law should not intervene.



    1. I disagree. There is nothing contradictory in calling for the end of the legal prohibition and denouncing the practice of taking drugs. This is not much different from the Voltaire position on free speech.



      1. The question of whether something should be prohibited by the law can be considered by itself. As libertarians, the answer would depend on whether the principle of non-aggression is violated. If it is not, then it should not be prohibited by the law.

        This does not imply any measure of approval on the act itself. It only says that the perpetrator should not be prosecuted for doing whatever it is under consideration. This may be taking drugs or it may be making foul and offensive jokes.

        A libertarian is under no obligation to tolerate such behaviour in their friends, family, neighbours, employees, under their roof etc. The only thing they must not do is violate the principle of non-aggression.

        A distinction between use and abuse can be made, although the line which separates the two is not hard and fast, and will be seen differently by different people. Any attempt to establish it will be arbitrary – such as is the case with the recommended number of alcohol units one may imbibe ‘safely’. In any case, the distinction does not effect the question of legality, if decided upon using the libertarian approach as noted above, because if smoking crack all day every day (abuse/vice) is not legally prohibited, then neither will be the occasional spliff (arguably not abuse or vice).

        The arguments for legalising cannabis based on the idea that cannabis is not particularly harmful, or less harmful than alcohol are totally separate to the question of whether the non-aggression principle is being violated. A libertarian is free to use them, in order to argue for decriminalisation, and many do so, but this is then faced with the counter argument made by Peter Hitchens that actually it is very harmful to many people. It then becomes a debate about the link to mental illness, the damage of smoking anything etc etc.


      2. There are a couple of separate issues. As you say, the legality can be separated-out provided you are a natural rights libertarian; the calculation would be different for a consequentialist.

        The issue of whether it makes sense to argue for drug legalisation when you personally don’t think people should take them is a little different. Legalisation is likely to increase drug use*. So why in the bejesus are you personally spending time arguing for legalisation? If drugs are so bad, why are you arguing to legalise more of them, why not spend your time evangelising for abstinence? Why are you arguing for something (legalisation) that you think will have bad consequences? This is the problem you will be faced with, and I’d struggle to think of another example of where natural rights arguments can so clearly lead to “bad” consequences.

        Now on the other hand, if you admit that drugs are good for some people sometimes, even the illegal ones. Then there’s no apparent or actual contradiction. Instead of moralising and sounding vaguely like an old-fashioned Tory, you get to say “whatever works for you”.

        There’s another analogy to be had here: some libertarians use the same kind of argument to say that a) gay sex should be legal, and b) gay sex is bad for you and I disapprove of it. It makes no sense: obviously some people like gay sex and it does them no harm, so it is good for them; some people like drugs and it does them no harm, so it is good for them. Sometimes gay sex is bad, sometimes drugs are bad, neither are objectively bad.

        If you want to argue that drugs are objectively bad you have the further problem of which drugs, and then in what context; many “recreational” drugs have or could have medical uses, even the hard ones: Sigmund Freud swore by cocaine, as medicine and for pleasure.

        It’s just not an objective issue, it makes no sense to be pro- or anti- drugs (even specific hard drugs) at all times for everyone.

        And you just said as much yourself:
        A distinction between use and abuse can be made, although the line which separates the two is not hard and fast, and will be seen differently by different people. Any attempt to establish it will be arbitrary.
        …that’s the same distinction as between good and bad. Not objective, context-specific. Something that one shouldn’t talk about in sweeping terms like pro- or anti-, especially without context.

        *Note I say legalisation, not decriminalisation; and use, not necessarily abuse.


  1. @ Right-Wing Hippy,

    ” As you say, the legality can be separated-out provided you are a natural rights libertarian;”

    You got me. It’s a fair cop! I am indeed a natural rights libertarian. Therefore, I try to put forward that viewpoint, and leave others to put forward other viewpoints. In various states in America there are votes being held on changing the state laws. People who vote in favour of such propositions will have diverse opinions for doing so.

    With regard to the other thread, one of the things i was trying to address was the issue of morality and the law, which I think is very important and certainly relevant to the case Peter Hitchens makes in favour of tough drug laws. He also argues strongly that cannabis is a dangerous drug, but if the natural rights argument holds, then this becomes irrelevant. On the subject of cannabis and its harmfulness, I did address this in the original post

    BTW, even if I disapprove of drug-taking (and I’m not saying I do or i don’t), I may still argue for ending prohibition, if I think the harm done by prohibition is greater than the harm that would occur under legalisation, There is nothing to stop someone campaigning for ending prohibition, whilst simultaneously campaigning to discourage drug-taking, although one is of course limited by one’s time and energy.



    1. “I am indeed a natural rights libertarian.”

      It’d be much better sport having this argument with someone who holds just about any other libertarian position. 🙂

      I think the point I’m really trying to get at is the broader moral one, and whatever your position on the law, I don’t think blanket disapproval of “drugs” is rational. Typically the view is influenced by what is currently legal or illegal which makes it even more ridiculous; IE: “drugs” means illegal drugs: paradox ensues. Even if you just want drugs legalised, I think it’s important to confront the impression that “drugs” are bad; most people cannot separate this from what should or shouldn’t be legal. Often people think that drugs are bad simply because they can’t stand the idea that somebody somewhere is having fun. We ought to be able to demand legalisation because recreational drugs are fun, or performance enhancing, or whatever; not just because they might be medicine.



      1. Sorry to provide such poor sport. My personal view is not that drug-taking is wholly immoral, but I’ve only been trying to separate the issue of morality from the issue of law. For that reason, i’ve been conceding the point, for argument’s sake, that it is a vice.

        My view of vice, is that a) Vice is no crime (as Lysander Spooner wrote) and b) that vice provides its own punishment, and it is usually proportionate, i.e. the more you indulge, the more you will suffer. There will be many people who have taken drugs, for whom the positive experience outweighs the negative. If it wasn’t the case that people enjoyed taking them, no one would bother in the first place! This was eloquently expressed by Bill Hicks many times, and I am happy for the argument to be made, and loudly. It does not contradict or undermine the argument I am making, but rather attacks the same enemy from a different angle. Or perhaps one could say the two arguments work like belt and braces – if one fails, the other takes the strain.


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