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America's Unjust Drug War

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Mark Thorsby

on 1 December 2014

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Transcript of America's Unjust Drug War

America's Unjust Drug War
The War on Drugs
America's Unjust Drug War
Michael Huemer
University of Colorado, Boulder
Drugs and Harm to Users
Here is the Basic Argument
Drugs and Harm to Others.
Reminder - JS Mill's "Principle of Harm"
The Injustice of Drug Prohibition
Philosopher Douglas Husak - drug prohibition is the greatest injustice perpetrates in the United States since slavery.

Michael Huemer
1914 - Harrison Nacotics Tax Act
1937 - Marijuana Tax Act
1954 - Eisenhower begins "new war on narcotic addiction"
1970 - Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act
Roughly 55% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug related crime
20% of state prisoners are incarcerated for drug related crime
The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world
Should Drugs be Banned?
The Prohibition Camp
Things that are extremely harmful for users and individuals should be prohibited.

Drug use is extremely harmful to users and society in general.

Therefore drug use should be prohibited.

The Legalization Camp
1. Drug use is not as harmeful as the prohibitionists believe.

2. Drug prohibition does not result in a prevention of social and individual harm.

3. Drug prohibition is unjust and violates civil rights.
1. Drug use is very harmful to users.
2. The government should prohibit people from doing things that harm themselves.
3. Therefore, the government should prohibit drug use.
The Second premise is essential
But in isolation, the second premise is too implausible.
What sorts of harmful things do people do?
smoking tobacco
drinking alcohol
over eating
drinking soda
unprotected sex
riding motorcycles
abusive relationships
financial debt
dropping out of college
moving to New Jersey
At what point exactly does a risk of harm require a legal prohibition?
Perhaps the government should not regulate any?
Kant 1784 - An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment
The Prohibitionist could argue that certain types of activities should be prohibited because they harm people in a certain way.
What ways are drugs harmful?
1. Drug use harms people other than the user

2. Drug use is generally more harmful than other activities listed.

3. Drug use has different sorts of harms
Death? No.
Relationships? No.
Financial? No.
Moral Character? No.
Example) Drunk Driving
Prohibited because it represents an unacceptable harm to others
Drug Driving should be illegal for the same reason.
Example) Howard is a Bad Person (no drugs)
does not value freedom
is not responsible
totalitarian political ideolog
denies free will
terrible worker and student
no pride whatsoever
inattentive person, friend, family member, parent
uninvolved in his community
curses the world for his problems
Since drug use only has a chance of causing one to behave in each of these ways, it is absurd to suppose that we should arrest and jail people for drug use on the grounds that drug use has these potential effects
Why are the drug laws unjust?
It is unjust for the state to punish people without having a good reason for doing so.
Huemer's Second Thesis:

"We are punishing people for exercising their natural rights."
What is a Natural Right?
Individuals have a natural right to their own bodies
Drugs affect the body
Individuals have a natural right to use drugs
The right to take drugs is not absolute (imagine - crazy pill)
The Principle of Having Control of one's Body is central for
right not to be phsycially assaulted
right not to have your body used for other people's purposes
right not to be kidnapped
right not to be involuntarily subject to medical experimentation
A Prohibition Response
1. Drug use not only harms the individual, it harms others.

> But we harm others without criminalizing the activity. What makes a harm worth criminalizing?

> No one should operate machinery and take drugs or be pregnant and take drugs.

2. Drug use is not a right over one's body because the individual is not acting freely in deciding to take drugs.

> If users do not freely chose to take drugs, then it is unjust to punish them for using drugs.
The Drug War is morally outrageous in its very conception.
If we are to call our society a free society, we cannot deploy force to deprive people of their liberty and property without just cause.

Prohibitionists cannot answer the argument that individuals have a right to use drugs.

553,000 people are currently unjustly imprisoned.
The harm of being unjustly imprisoned is qualitatively comparable to being enslaved
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