Vice Squad
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Regulating Vice: Chapter 1, "The Harm Principle" (2)

What if John Stuart Mill were the Drug Czar? What are the strictest drug policies that we could have that would be consistent with Mill's "Harm Principle" and the precepts of On Liberty? Interpretations of Mill can vary, of course, but in what I think are the most plausible interpretations, the libertarian-style philosopher would allow quite strict controls over drugs. What would be ruled out by Mill would be the criminalization of adult drug possession, as well as a medicalization-type regime in which drugs are available legally only via a prescription. Among the controls that would not run afoul of Czar Mill are bans on sales of those drugs, such as marijuana, for which sales are not really requisite for consumption; bans on advertising of drugs; high taxes on drugs; and buyer and seller licensing. While Mill would not allow a policy to be adopted if its purpose were to limit adult vice consumption, he would permit many policies that have other aims, but have the side effect of limiting adult consumption. Thus the high taxes, for instance, are OK (Mill goes further -- they are all but required) if their purpose is to raise necessary government revenue, even though high taxes will discourage drug consumption. And while I don't state it explicitly in Regulating Vice, I think that you could have a fairly restrictive, and quite adequate, drug control regime while staying within the bounds proposed by J. S. Mill.

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