Here in the Pacific Northwest, many people say that drug abuse is a medical problem, which leads them to oppose the criminalization of drug use. Their stances against criminalization can vary anywhere from fining people for possession (“high” standards), to providing users with needles and giving the addicts places to inject themselves (really really low standards). Either way, their argument is the same: they say the physical act of taking drugs doesn’t directly harm another person, and drug addicts have a medical problem relating to urges.
To be fair, those supporting de-criminalization are correct: when a person has an overwhelming urge to take a substance, they’re dealing with a set of chemical circumstances and urges that the general public doesn’t, and those urges are caused by the use of drugs. But legalizers forget a few very important things about drug addiction; most notably that once a substance is consumed, the substance alters the user’s set of urges to something very different than what they had before, while at the same time lessening inhibitions. This should lead us to wonder: do we have to excuse those urges, too? After all, if the urge to take a drug is only a medical problem, then the urges following drug abuse must also be medical, since the only difference between a sober person and a deranged addict is the chemical imbalance resulting from drug use.
Of course, most liberals and libertarians will argue that harmful behavior involving another party is worthy of state regulation. As soon as a drug user attacks someone or steals, the harm they inflict upon another person gives legitimacy to legal action. Without a secondary person being harmed, though, legalizers claim our moral imposition against drug abuse is nothing more than paternal. But their argument has two major problems, and still doesn’t address the problem of post-indulgence urges.
The first problem is that a behavior leading to a reasonable chance of harm is generally considered worthy of state persecution. This is the sort of law we have to support speeding tickets and traffic lights. If we’re to get rid of our anti-drug laws on the argument that not everyone who uses drugs is harmed, we have no basis for stopping people who want to drive somewhere, since not everyone who approaches an intersection without a traffic light will get into a car wreck.
And as you might have already guessed, getting rid of our laws for both drug abuse and traffic lights would be dangerous. According to a study done for the White House in 2000, drug users were 16 times more likely to be arrested for larceny or theft, 14 times more likely to be booked for driving under the influence, and most importantly, nine times more likely to be booked for assault. The White House also reports that the Bureau of Justice Statistics victimization study, in which victims report about crimes, stated that 31% of all victims were victimized by someone under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. In contrast, 30% of victims couldn’t tell.
Second, since “harm” is rarely defined by liberals and libertarians, we need to wonder whether child neglect or familial disintegration are worthy of curtailing alongside acts of physical assault and infringements of property rights. Although we have statistics about whether or not people are physically hurt due to a family member’s drug abuse, it becomes more difficult to determine the extent of relational damages caused by illicit drug use, even though most agree the effects are readily visible.
Slightly different than these last two, the problem relating to biological urges is more philosophical, but becomes a practical matter if discarded: if we ban drug use on the principle that an overwhelming urge leads to other overwhelming urges (or a decreased sense of responsibility), should we ban the set of post-indulgence urges on a principle of medical imbalance? To phrase this another way, if taking drugs is a result of a medical problem, aren’t your actions after taking the drugs also a medical problem?
If we were to adopt this ethic of weighing medical problems in our justice system, we would philosophically de-criminalize all behaviors, since medical explanations for urges cannot necessarily be weighted, nor should they be. It’s simply unjust to apply law after psychoanalysis, since judges and juries wouldn’t be determining fault based upon action, but rather upon how they feel about how the defendant feels. And unless you trust flawed, biased people to be psychic and impartial when your life is on the line, I think this kind of legal system is worth discarding.
Christians already know this kind of legal system is a major step backward in terms of liberty and equality for any country. The Bible states that God doesn’t really have an opinion regarding how you feel about your behavior: He considers intentional and unintentional wrongdoing to be wrong; and you may be able to explain your behavior, but your explanation never excuses it. He already understood perfectly well the human tendency to judge on superficial and subjective factors, which is why He takes this stance: to prevent a judicial system from being plagued by prejudices, perverting your God-given rights into a system of social hierarchies, emotional tendencies, and political correctnesses. Christians know that a good system doesn’t care whether you are poor or rich, citizen or foreigner, or–may I say it–loaded or sober: we have one law for one people, and we base our law only on action. Lady Justice keeps the blindfold.
And here’s the nail on legalization’s coffin. They enjoy arguing that using drugs is the result of addiction, but a person’s first encounter with drugs could not have been motivated by an addiction to that drug, which would make it criminal in the fairest sense possible. At some point, the addict must claim sober responsibility for their behavior.
So as libertarians gain ground in the Republican party and people begin to wonder if we really should decriminalize drugs, I ask you: consider what else has to go out the door with our drug laws. From what I can tell, it isn’t just over-crowded prisons. It’s our very system of justice.
Fun question: what do you think this implies about added penalties for hate crimes?
For more about proper justice: