This is a cross post. It was originally posted on Harry’s Place on January 10th 2014, 3:00 pm.
James Bloodworth has an interesting article on Left Foot Forward making the case for the legalisation of cannabis. His major points are utilitarian and libertarian. His utilitarian argument is this: “The illegality of drugs (and the criminal activity which is funded by drugs) causes vastly more misery than the use of drugs.” His libertarian argument is a rhetorical question: “If someone wants to put a substance into their system, then why should it be any of the government’s concern?” He clearly wants his readers to infer from the question that the government should not be concerned with what people do with their own bodies. This libertarian position was expressed eloquently by Michael Huemer last year. He argued that drug laws are unjust because “they violate a substantive moral right, the right to control one’s own body, that individuals possess regardless of the decisions of the state.” (Michael Huemer, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey, [Palgrave Macmillan, 2013], p.172.)
The general libertarian argument about controlling one’s own body does not just work for cannabis use, it also works for the use of any other drug including crack cocaine and heroin. Depending on the services the state provides it is not at all clear that the government should not be concerned with what people do with their own body. In the UK we have a government (tax payer) funded National Health Service. If someone wishes to start injecting themselves with heroin then it does become the concern of government if that person gets addicted and wants to avail themselves of government funded support services such as rehabilitation, withdrawal programmes, prescription methadone and any other services.
The National Health Service is funded by the tax payer which is a payment extracted from people with coercion. If James has the view that people should be able to do what they want with their own body, does he accept that this should be universally applied and not selectively applied? If so, then how can he justify taxing person A to pay for the drug treatment of person B? If James wishes to make the libertarian argument then he should really consider Robert Nozick’s point that “Taxation of earnings is on a par with forced labour.” He explains it thus: “taking the earnings of n hours labour is like taking n hours from the person; it is like forcing a person to work n hours for another’s purpose.” (Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, [Basic Books, 1974], p.169.) In order to be consistent with his argument, James should be of the opinion that someone who started using crack cocaine and became addicted has no right to use the tax payer funded National Health Service for addiction treatment. If this is not his position then his position is that a drug user can control their own body and they can also force others to work for their benefit if that benefit is required. This means that others cannot control their own body as they find themselves having to work extra hours to pay for the treatment of the addict. It is a logical contradiction as it means not everyone can control their own body.