Ending the drug war and fixing recreational drug policy

I believe that in order to fix drug policy, we need to think about the issue a completely different way than we have up until now. The main issue is the basic one of sovereignty of the self; the ability to do whatever you want with your own body without imposing costs on others; it’s the very same idea underpinning the legalization of suicide. It’s bigger than this, but that’s for another post. The short version is that all laws should be guided, first and foremost, by the harm principle.

Keep in mind the one thing that is paramount with applying the harm principle: without imposing costs on others.

So what we should do is make smoking anything where others can inhale it without consent illegal and legalize everything else-whether snorted, injected, swallowed or absorbed of all drugs. The only places you should be allowed to smoke are designated private smoking facilities with air filtration systems or your own home if you install an air filtration system yourself. I cannot refuse or consent to inhaling smoke (and where I live, it’s a constant assault on your respiratory system. If the people using it ate, snorted, or injected it, there would be no problem). Otherwise, just legalize and regulate; you should have to go through a process to determine whether you’re fit to use certain types of (hard) drugs, sign consent forms, and agree that any costs incurred due to potential addiction are your own and will not be borne by the state (including things like alcohol — nothing would be exempt from the basic health indemnification. Addiction programs would be covered, though.) If you agree, you’re sold drugs by state-chartered companies that are tightly regulated, including pricing, to eliminate the black market. If you use them for medical purposes, you’d be able to bypass the process with a prescription (subject to the same regulations about methods of use.) Soft drugs, like marijuana, would be subject to far less regulation. Colorado has already shown a great way forward, but it’s clear tweaks will be necessary to improve the system, as things like edibles are already causing controversy.

We should also deign to move hardcore addicts into treatment programs, or, in the case of those who are incorrigible, to long-term “use and protection” facilities. Finally, we should have designated locations with medical personnel, security, and addiction counselors where addicts could use drugs without fear of personal harm and without being public nuisances.

With a harm reduction-based system, the entire apparatus surrounding the drug war crumbles. The income of smugglers and dealers disappears. The need for most costly state organizations to fight it goes away. The violence largely disappears (what’s the nominal level of violence surrounding nicotine and alcohol?) Regarding DEA funding. Under the system I outlined, this agency would actually get useful: to crack down on and prosecute black market (for those who want to go around the screening process) drug smugglers, importers/exporters, and sellers to the full extent of the law.

People are going to do drugs no matter what we do, so we should be talking about methods of use and harm reduction, not just “substances.” Don’t “legalize pot” or the like; protect sovereignty of the self, and reduce harm to individuals and society.


Is a full drug legalization policy feasible everywhere? In every country? I would have to give that an unqualified no. In order for a system like this to be feasible, many things are needed.

- A working system of justice that is generally trusted by the populace.

- A largely transparent system of governance.

- A government, justice system, and law enforcement personnel that are perceived to be (and actually are) to be largely free of corruption.

- A strong state that can actually enforce edicts against black market suppliers.

- A strong state, stable state that would be difficult to overthrow.

- A culture that truly accepts harm reduction, and does not simply regard using it as “defeat” or “moral midgetry” Most developed countries fit, or could fit this bill. There are places, however, that are so plagued by corruption, are already so violent, are so unstable, or are already basically run by drug organizations that legalizing drugs would be like legalizing murder (Mexico fits this definition, unfortunately. It appears to already be near to a full-fledged narco-state.) It’s already the rule, and would basically have no effect except to make these drug organizations laugh. In those places, some of which are bordering on failed states (or successful narco-states) cannot be fixed in this way. Those places need to re-establish order, trust, and strong states. They should not be thought of as drug wars, however. They should be thought of more like “reclamation missions.” Criminal organizations have gotten so powerful, that they are often their own nations inside of existing states, and those states need to “reclaim” their territory and power from said organizations. Those situations are far beyond the drugs. They’re fundamentally about power.

Moving beyond today’s current drug-related battles, we need to ask another question: why, in the face of so much effort to combat it, do so many people still want to use recreational drugs? 1) To escape crushing poverty, despair, depression. For these, only addressing the root causes are going to get us anywhere. Economic opportunities, physical security, better social safety nets, better mental health services, etc. 2) Pure enjoyment. For this, developing largely non-addictive, side-effect-free, cheap, legal alternatives to current recreational drugs. This could be anything from better drugs to computer-neural interfaces that allow more pleasurable/realistic experiences.

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