The libertarian arguments for legalising drugs make sense, but it's not safety and freedom of will we need to battle against, it's the government's hypocritical stance on alcohol and tobacco...
Channel 4′s recent programming has proved a couple of things. The first is that drugs are undeniably interesting. The second is that the issue of drugs is important to many people (comment pieces on ‘Drugs Live’ were flooding the net last week). The fact that the programme achieved such popularity is a reflection of the general public’s attitude: over the last few years, the calls for legalisation have been getting louder, especially amongst young people, and they’re not just coming from those who like to get off their face every once in a while (or more frequently).
The most convincing argument for drug legalisation is the simplest, and it can be found radiating from the realms of libertarianism. Surely, this argument goes, if a person is to have domain over one thing in life it should be their own body, and this includes having control of the substances that they ingest. It seems only natural that an individual should be the one deciding what goes into their bodies, not the government.
It is a strong argument, and one that does not stand alone. Hauling illegal substances above board would go some way to starving criminals of cash, as they would no longer hold the monopoly on drugs. It would also make matters a lot safer for users: the government could enforce a quality control service to ensure that the product that is distributed to the product is safe for consumption. Taxation on drugs has the potential to raise a lot of money: money that politicians could spend on improving public services (and hopefully not on that decorative statue for their second home).
Don’t think that any of these points have the people who can actually do anything about it convinced. A poll conducted in early September may have revealed that 75% of MPs believe that the UK’s drugs policies are not working, but that doesn’t mean that the government is anywhere near ready to change it’s mind. In the same poll, only around 30% of MPs went as far as saying that possession of a small amount of drugs should be decriminalised. Legalisation is a long way off.
If a person is to have domain over one thing in life it should be their own body, and this includes having control of the substances that they ingest.
This is not particularly surprising. After all, there are good arguments against legalisation. Admittedly, most of them rely on the fact that legalisation would increase drug use (a contentious premise), but if this could be shown – through proper studies and stacks of evidence – then the issue would be far from clear cut. Yes, a person should have the right to cause harm to their own body, but not to – as will often happen with drugs – cause harm to others. This harm comes in various forms, from the blatant (violence and aggression caused by high doses of cocaine) to the more subtle (emotional distress for the family of an addict).
Unfortunately, we (meaning anyone who cares about this issue) are all jumping the gun. Because the battleground for this debate has not yet been cleared. It’s still littered with hypocrisy – something that we must look to be rid off before we can get a proper discussion off the ground. This hypocrisy comes from the government’s current laws on alcohol. A lot of us seem to forget that alcohol is an extremely dangerous drug. In fact, a recent study suggested that it is the most dangerous drug available, due in no small part to the plethora of negative impacts it has on our society.
Even if you don’t go that far, it is irrefutable that using and abusing alcohol greatly harms the individual, those immediately surrounding them and our nation at large, and this harm far surpasses any potential danger posed by many illegal drugs (just look at the studies on cannabis and you’ll see what I mean). How is it possible that we have laws that prohibit the use of certain substances and, at the same time, welcome the use of others that are as bad, if not worse, for everyone involved? The answer is that the government does not care for reason – it makes it’s own rules (and ours, unfortunately) based on whimsical, elusive strands of reasoning – strands that twist and turn however they please, thank you very much.
And thus, people on both sides of this perpetually spinning coin realise that they’re simply shooting the breeze when they voice their meticulously constructed thoughts. Those who want legalisation should realise that they’re banging their head against a brick wall. Yes, they are making valid points, but who cares? Not the government! Those opposing legalisation will quickly realise that their arguments, if applied to all drugs, would see the outlawing of alcohol (and probably cigarettes) in a instant. Knowing that there’s no a hope in hell of this happening, they too realise that what they are saying is irrelevant. Their voices, along with everyone else’s, will not be taken seriously when the matter lands in front of someone important.
If we want to engage in a transparent examination of an issue that is considered by many of us as very important – for varying reasons – then we must sweep this hypocrisy aside before we step up to our respective podiums. Before deciding the wording of our laws, our government must by hold all drugs to the same standard to make an outward sign of its belief in reasoned argument; because the current drug laws suggest that they are willing to believe in anything but.
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