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Mill and Substance regulation

April 6, 2011

After reading about Mill’s interesting and relatively permissive ideal state of regulation, I have wondered how Mill would interpret the regulation of mind-altering substances. Drugs from marijuana to meth-amphetamine are currently illegal in the US both due to potential harm to one self and societal harm that can come from their sale and use. But from Mill’s standpoint harm to one self is a non-issue in the creation of state regulation. This leaves one variable in justifying the legislation: does keeping the tradition of making certain drugs illegal hurt society more than it helps it?

From this standpoint things get interesting, what about illegal drugs is so harmful to society? I ask this because many drug related issues arise from illegal trafficking and sale of the drugs, and the criminal rings that have arisen to do such things. We have to ask, do the crime rackets surrounding illicit drug trafficking really harm society less than the drugs themselves? Can people not learn from heroin addicts, or meth addicts, or any addict and see what they should simply avoid? It is not illegal for people prone to alcoholism or who are prone to violence to drink, and yet it is illegal for anyone to use heroine. Why? Alcohol is one of the most destructive drugs known to man! Drunk drivers alone kill thousands every year, how many other drugs cause a number of fatalities anywhere near that high? Specifically, consider the damage to other’s property, relationships, and loss of life due to alcohol.

Our friends at BBC seem to have considered it…

What we need to ask is if the “nuisance” (by Mill’s definition) of a greater number drug users from legalization is more dangerous than the nuisance of the illegal organizations that currently feed addictions. The fact of the matter is that Mill would likely not approve of prohibition because of the violence and crime that would then come from illegal alcohol trafficking. The same would apply to currently illegal drugs. Sure addicts cause social harm, degrade the quality of communities, and hurt relationships with people who love them. The fact of the matter is that the crime rings which are currently feeding their addictions are exponentially more dangerous than the drugs or the users themselves.

If we are to listen to Mill we should wholesale legalize and learn. We should find out what drugs are dangerous, see what effects they have, and take action on them case by case. It just doesn’t make sense to blindly follow the tradition of making certain drugs illegal without some kind of testing or proof of concept.

I will leave you with a wonderful study done by Canadian researchers:

We can all learn from the mistakes of the crack spider’s bitch

(Yes the study was fake)


Drug harm chart:

our book: Modern Political Thought (Edited by: David Wootton)

  1. jamescimina permalink
    April 6, 2011 11:09 PM

    I thought this was a very insightful post, you took on a hard topic and did a nice job of analyzing the facts. This in my opinion is a tricky situation, either way I see it as a lose lose because if we legalize drugs than we deal with the individual and social harm they would cause, as well as if we don’t legalize them, then we are still in our current situation. I think it is hard to say that Mill would agree with legalizing drugs and awaiting the possible consequences to learn from them. Although he doesn’t believe individual harm (from taking drugs) is a detriment to state regulation, drug trafficking would still be present due to the economy and prices that would be placed on such drugs. Thus, I think that there would be a great deal of social harm which would infringe upon state regulation. I commend you however on taking on a very interesting and “sticky” topic, nice job!

  2. garrett stephens permalink
    April 7, 2011 6:46 PM

    I absolutely believe you have chosen the most likely position Mill would have taken on the matter. Mill emphasizes thoroughly in his writings the difference between the rights of an individual and society’s political authority over the individual. He says there is no reason of considering the legality of one’s actions when they exclusively effect the person taking the action. Following this, though, I would also say that the question you raise would be irrelevant to Mill’s view: whether or not the drug enforcement laws are for the greater good of society. Mill states fundamentally that one person has a right to all free action until the person infringes on the safety or rights of another. Because of this, I doubt Mill would consider any law that infringes on the freedom of an individual just. The question raised is irrelevant to Mill because he would look at the issue you brought up, the drug-related violence, as an entirely separate problem. Seeing as this would not be directly related to whether one person may or may not use drugs, Mill would refute this argument entirely. The point you brought up about drug abuse seems to be more of an argument that Mill might consider a relevant idea to consider. But, although access to addictive drugs may affect more than just the individual who originally uses it, I absolutely agree with you that following Mill’s fundamental approach, he would be opposed to these laws. Nice work on the post overall and I’m digging the video.

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