An argument against drug prohibition

In Can You Change Something If You Don’t Love It?, Seth Roberts wrote about how HIV prevention in the sex worker community failed in most countries. Except:

Pisani held up one country as an example of how to do it right: Brazil. Why Brazil? I asked. Funny thing: In Brazil, they respect sex workers. Unlike everywhere else. In this case, at least, Jacobs was right.

My reply (which Seth quoted in The Cost of Demonization and How to Avoid It):

This seems like a good argument for social freedom and harm reduction rather than criminalization, for things like prostitution, gambling, and drugs. If they are illegal, we tend to demonize them, and the people who do them are people willing to do illegal things, who tend to be sleazier. You get a feedback cycle of sleaziness. And then when there are problems (drugs that are bad for you, STDS among sex workers), they are hard to fix.

If instead you acknowledge that these things are going to happen anyway, make them legal and regulated, when problems come up it will be much easier to find smart, competent people who respect drug users, prostitutes, and Johns, and can provide good suggestions for fixing the problems.

This is a hidden benefit of libertarianism. People often say that a downside of drug legalization is that without the stigma of illegality (and with additional availability and lower prices), more people will use drugs. There is the obvious retort that sometimes things are cool *because* they are illegal, but now we can see an additional factor. Trying to fix the problems caused by illegal things is harder than legal things.

We don't respect the victims ("drug addicts"), and so research on how to help them is looked down on. Whereas if it is legal, drug addicts are just one more group of people with a problem, like the fat and the depressed. Heck, instead of being looked down on, they are a market!

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Furthermore, let me quote

Furthermore, let me quote Benjamin Constant in Principes de Politique (since the guy was mentioned recently)

What keeps most men from crime, is the feeling of never having crossed the line of innocence. The more this line is tightened, the more men are exposed to transgress it, as mild as the infringement might be. [...] To force men to abstain from what is not condemned by morality, or to impose on them duties that are not commanded by it, it is not only to make them suffer, but also to deprave them.

(my quick crappy translation)

edit: a good translation by an actual translator

Most men are kept from crime by the feeling of never having crossed the line of innocence. The more restrictedly that line is drawn, the more are men put at risk of transgressing it, however light the infraction. Just by overcoming their first scruples, they have lost their most reliable safeguard. To get around restrictions which seem to them pointless, they use means which they could use against the most sanctified of laws. They acquire thereby the habit of disobedience, and even when they want some end which is still innocent, they go astray because of the means they are forced to follow to achieve it. Forcing men to refrain from things which are not forbidden morally or imposing on them duties which morality does not require of them, is therefore not only to make them suffer, but to deprave them.

Russian Vodka

A number of years ago, the Russian government awarded a monopoly to they now essentially state-run organization. Because of this restriction, there was a dramatic decrease in quantity of the product (typical intro to microecon style effects took place) As a result, individuals began brewing their own vodka, and the quality went way down because of the utilization of fillers. Consequently you get a higher death rate and liver failure.


Whereas if it is legal, drug addicts are just one more group of people with a problem, like the fat and the depressed.

I doubt you've spent much time as a fat person if you don't think people look down on them (us, though I'm not fat enough to get treated as a circus freak or assumed to have zero self-control). Not saying this takes the piss out of your argument completely, but you're overstepping here in a way that if you had experience as a radically overweight person you would never say. Fat people are a market to be sure, but most people serving that market are not all that serious about helping anything.

Not so much experience on the depressed front, but I suspect it's not dissimilar. A lot of people think of it as a moral defect, and a lot of the popular treatments aren't much better than placebos and can have some pretty radical and unpleasant side effects. Long history of overprescription of anti-depressants (as well as ADD and similar brain/mental-health issues). It's very common for both fat and depressed people to be treated by medical providers as if they were misbehaving children.