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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paternalism and the Drug War

by Jacob G. Hornberger

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared a California law banning the sale of violent videos unconstitutional. That?s fine, but how about going further and declaring laws banning the possession and distribution of illicit drugs by adults to be unconstitutional too? After all, if we?re going to treat minors like adults, what would be wrong with treating adults as adults too?

Don?t drug laws treat American adults as little children? ?Don?t put that into your mouth or I?ll send you to your room.? In this case, the person issuing the order is some 35 year-old government bureaucrat, the person to whom he?s issuing his order is 45 years old, the substance is marijuana or cocaine or some other illegal drug, and the room is located in some federal penitentiary.

In fact, the drug war is the ultimate of the paternalistic state. The government serves as everyone?s daddy, one who sets the rules on what his adult-children are permitted to ingest and who sets the punishments for those who violate his rules.

Can drugs harm a person? Of course they can. So can lots of other things, such as fatty foods, sugar, and even such terribly damaging drugs as alcohol and tobacco.

But simply because a substance is harmful, is that sufficient justification for the government?s wielding the power to punish a person for ingesting it? Is there any moral, legal, or constitutional justification for the government to serve as a daddy for American grown-ups, regulating what they choose to put into their mouths?

What about the concept of freedom? When the government wields the power to punish a person for ingesting a non-approved substance, how in the world can anyone rationally consider that person to be free? Doesn?t freedom entail the right to make one?s own choices in life, so long as they don?t involve the initiation of force or fraud against others?

Sure, the choices that people make might be considered irresponsible, dangerous, unhealthy, or immoral by others, but isn?t the right to make such choices the essence of individual liberty? If a person is ?free? to do only those things that the authorities consider are responsible, safe, healthy, and moral, then how is that a free society? By that measure, aren?t people in China, North Korea, and Burma ?free??


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"If we're going to treat minors like adults, what would be wrong with treating adults as adults too?". Well, then, why does the article also speak of "the possession and distribution of illicit drugs by adults" rather than, "the possession and distribution of illicit drugs by ANYONE", adult or minor? On another note, why are minors held responsible for what they do criminally, but not what they do sexually?

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