Why a High Society is a Free Society 

Why a High Society is a Free Society 
Posted by CN Staff on May 18, 2002 at 20:38:56 PT
By A C Grayling
Source: Observer UK
One measure of a good society is whether its individual members have the autonomy to do as they choose in respects that principally concern only them. The debate about heroin, cocaine and marijuana touches precisely on this. In my submission, a society in which such substances are legal and available is a good society not because drugs are in themselves good, but because the autonomy of those who wish to use them is respected. For other and broader reasons, many of them practical, such a society will be a better one. 
I have never taken drugs other than alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and medicinal drugs. Of these, I have for many years not taken the two former. I think it is inimical to a good life to be dependent for pleasure and personal fulfilment on substances which gloss or distort reality and interfere with rationality; and yet I believe that heroin, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and cognates of these should be legal and available in exactly the same way as nicotine and alcohol. In logic is no difference between legal and currently illegal drugs. Both are used for pleasure, relief from stress or anxiety, and 'holidaying' from normal life, and both are, in different degrees, dangerous to health. Given this, consistent policy must do one of two things: criminalise the use of nicotine and alcohol, in order to bring them in line with currently illegal substances; or legalise currently illegal substances under the same kinds of regime that govern nicotine and alcohol. On civil liberties grounds the latter policy is preferable because there is no justification in a good society for policing behaviour unless, in the form of rape, murder, theft, riot or fraud, it is intrinsically damaging to the social fabric, and involves harm to unwilling third parties. Good law protects in these respects; bad law tries to coerce people into behaving according to norms chosen by people who claim to know and to do better than those for whom they legislate. But the imposition of such norms is an injustice. By all means let the disapprovers argue and exhort; giving them the power to coerce and punish as well is unacceptable. Arguments to the effect that drugs should be kept illegal to protect children fall by the same token. On these grounds, nicotine and alcohol should be banned too. In fact there is greater danger to children from the illegality of drugs. Almost everyone who wishes to try drugs, does so; almost everyone who wishes to make use of drugs does it irrespective of their legal status. Opponents say legalisation will lead to unrestrained use and abuse. Yet the evidence is that where laws have been relaxed there is little variation in frequency or kind of use. The classic example is Prohibition in the USA during the 1920s. (The hysteria over alcohol extended to other drugs; heroin was made illegal in the USA in 1924, on the basis of poor research on its health risks and its alleged propensity to cause insanity and criminal behaviour.) Prohibition created a huge criminal industry. The end of Prohibition did not result in a frenzy of drinking, but did leave a much-enhanced crime problem, because the criminals turned to substances which remained illegal, and supplied them instead. Crime destabilises society. Gangland rivalry, the use of criminal organisations to launder money, to fund terrorism and gun-running, to finance the trafficking of women and to buy political and judicial influence all destabilise the conditions for a good society far beyond such problems as could be created by private individuals' use of drugs. If drugs were legally and safely available through chemist shops, and if their use was governed by the same provisions as govern alcohol purchase and consumption, the main platform for organised crime would be removed, and thereby one large obstacle to the welfare of society. It would also remove much petty crime, through which many users fund their habit. If addiction to drugs were treated as a medical rather than criminal matter, so that addicts could get safe, regular supplies on prescription, the crime rate would drop dramatically, as argued recently by certain police chiefs. The safety issue is a simple one. Paracetemol is more dangerous than heroin. Taking double the standard dose of paracetemol, a non-prescription analgesic, can be dangerous. Taking double the standard medical dose of heroin (diamorphine) causes sleepiness and no lasting effects. A good society should be able to accommodate practices which are not destructive of social bonds (in the way that theft, rape, murder and other serious crimes are), but mainly have to do with private behaviour. In fact, a good society should only interfere in private behaviour in extremis. Until a century ago, now-criminal substances were legal and freely available. Some (opium in the form of laudanum) were widely used. Just as some people are damaged by misuse of alcohol, so a few were adversely affected by misuses of other drugs. Society as a whole was not adversely affected by the use of drugs; but it was benefited by the fact that it did not burden itself with a misjudged, unworkable and paternalistic endeavour to interfere with those who chose to use drugs. The place of drugs in the good society is not about the drugs as such, but rather the freedom and the value to individuals and their society of openness to experimentation and alternative behaviours and lifestyles. The good society is permissive, seeking to protect third parties from harm but not presuming to order people to take this or that view about what is in their own good. Note: Drugs should be legalised - their prohibition is an intolerable intrusion into private behaviour. Drugs Uncovered: Observer Special --,11908,686419,00.htmlSource: Observer, The (UK)Author: A C GraylingPublished: Sunday, May 19, 2002Copyright: 2002 The ObserverContact: letters Articles & Web Site:Drugs Uncovered: Observer UK on The NHS for Addicts Britain's Drug Habit To Be Adult About Drugs
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Comment #8 posted by qqqq on May 20, 2002 at 03:22:54 PT
the comment I referred to in the previous post....
....was by Corvalis Eric.
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Comment #7 posted by qqqq on May 20, 2002 at 03:16:50 PT excellent article...
...someone posted a comment recently about school drug testing,,and they made the point that students who want to get high,will get high.If pot,or cocaine is too risky,they will get drunk,,,drop LSD,sniff gas ,,whatever it takes to safely achieve their goal of escape,and/or recreation...Prohibition makes the forbidden substances all that more exciting!'s a basic part of human nature,,,forbidden fruit is very intrigueing,,especially for children..... I'll never forget the first time I had sex with someone other than myself...I was 19 years old,(so was she),,..It was taboo, ,and it continues to haunt my fantasies to this day!....
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Comment #6 posted by Dan B on May 19, 2002 at 22:46:05 PT
It would help if I added the URL
Sorry . . . here's the site I referred to in the last comment: Dan B
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Comment #5 posted by Dan B on May 19, 2002 at 22:44:11 PT:
"12-Step" Groups
....but then we would have the spawning of 1,000 "twelve step" groups, if only by court dispotiion, that merely 'suggest' abstaining from all psychoactive drugs while they serve pot after pot of coffee at their meetings:)  (sexaholics)  (sexual compulsives)  (narcotics) (sex addicts)  (dual recovery)  (cocaine)  (survivors of incest)  (schizophrenics) (info junkies)  (lip balm anon!)  (all recoveries)  (emotional health)  (online anonymous) (dysfunctional childhood . . . everyone?) (cancer anonymous) (homosexuals) (co-dependents) (Internet addicts) (obsessive-compulsives)I left out dozens of others, most of which were actually fan sites (Buffy Addicts, Forever Knight Anonymous, Dirk Benedict Anonymous), hobby sites (Fishing Anonymous, Golfaholics Anonymous, Mac Computers Anonymous), or promotional sites (Mountain Dew Anonymous, Altoids Anonymous). Perhaps there aren't exactly a thousand, but isn't enough enough already?And just to add a bit of balance to this post, here's one sane voice on 12-step recovery groups and drug policies that promote harm reduction.Dan B
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on May 19, 2002 at 13:20:23 PT
I don't drink but do smoke and when articles compare drugs to smoking I really worry because they will jump on that and raise the cost and it's already out of site. They will make it worse on smokers instead of changing the laws in my opinion. 
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Comment #3 posted by el_toonces on May 19, 2002 at 13:10:54 PT:
Jose, that would work.....
....but then we would have the spawning of 1,000 "twelve step" groups, if only by court dispotiion, that merely 'suggest' abstaining from all psychoactive drugs while they serve pot after pot of coffee at their meetings:)
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Comment #2 posted by Jose Melendez on May 19, 2002 at 11:27:46 PT:
el toonces
Here is how to get their attention:
From: present there is a glaring double standard in place.  Alcohol and tobacco are by far the deadliest recreational drugs, yet the government does not go out of its way to destroy the lives of drinkers and smokers.  Imagine if every alcoholic were thrown in jail and given a permanent criminal record.  How many lives would be destroyed? How many families torn apart? How many tax dollars would be wasted turning potentially productive members of society into hardened criminals? 
Program Officer Drug Policy Alliance, Washington, D.C.  Let's show them they also get high, and make them consider what it would be like to be busted for a single Budweiser, Marlboro or Coca-Cola.
US TN: PUB LTE: Double Standard
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Comment #1 posted by el_toonces on May 19, 2002 at 09:40:39 PT:
Open Society.....
Thank God for the Open Society as put forward by Karl Popper, reformulated profitably by George Soros, and worked for tirelessly by Ethan Nadleman and colleagues. Now, if I could only convince my fellow practitioners in the law to think about drugs as an issue of cognitive liberty -- a way to frame it in first amendment terms, to be sure -- instead of one of "public health" -- the traditional legal way of framing it as a paternalistic 'police power' issue!
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