JS Mill, Drug Laws, & Free Speech

Yesterday on mass transit I spoke to a fellow who was 80 days out of county jail. He’d been arrested for selling drugs on Craigslist, and he sold to an undercover cop. He was a pretty friendly, reasonable, and well spoken (if not discheveled) guy. He observed that whilst selling drugs marijuana went to all classes of people. Rich and poor, white and black, educated and uneducated. Ecstacy went to lots of younger college students. On and on. But at the end of the day, very few of these people are charged and convicted of felonies. This fellow graduated from a pretty respected state university with a degree in political science. He had a hard time finding a job in the area he wanted, and made the pretty dumb mistake of falling in with a poor crowd and ultimately sold drugs. Should he have? Heck no. But this guy really wanted to make right his transgression. He fairly articulated why victimless crimes shouldn’t be illegal (those buying his drugs were doing so because they wanted to, not under diress). He’s in pretty deep shit for selling, but if he wasn’t selling other people would be. There’s pretty substantial demand for the drugs from a wide swathe of people. Our drug laws are pretty overly strict. They’re oftentimes unduly applied to those at the bottom of society. To those who make a living selling rather than those who spend their living on the consumption. And if drug usage is illegal, why is selling them more illegal than using them? Isn’t the consumption itself more dangerous than the selling. If consumption is illegal and people followed the law, those selling would have nobody to sell it to.

In any case, his argument reolved around the JS Mill, On Liberty based case that the government shouldn’t intrude into peoples actions that dont negatively effect others. Sure, selling drugs does, but a huge part of why it does is those who consume drugs are targeted by the law. Nations which have legalized drugs such as portugal seem to experience fewer of these externalities. I do acknowledge that ther eare other issues at play. It’s hard to test for ‘high driving’ using a chemical test. Such behavior would seemingly be more common if marijuana was legal. That being said, the drinking age rising doesn’t seem to be causative to the lower drunk driving rates we see today. Rather the tremendous PR campaign discouraging and stimatizing it did.

Most of those I know are strongly against such drug laws, arguing along these lines (or along other pragmatic lines) that more drugs should be legalized. Yet many of these same people would argue in favor of laws compelling speech. Laws which, if we argue along the lines of JS Mill, that those actions which do not harm others should not be illegal, pretty clearly should not exist. This is probably because the concept inciting speech (yelling fire in a crowded theater etc) did not exist when Mill was around. Regardless, those who wish to restrict free speech argue along the same lines as those who wish to reject drug use. Both are ‘bad’ and can certainly cause harm, but both are subjective judgments. Both those who argue for restricting speech and restricting drugs don’t do it out of malice, but both are making value judgments.

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