Scott Tibbs
blog post
January 29th, 2005

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The libertarian case against decriminalization?

Nick Blesch opens up an interesting discussion by presenting a libertarian argument that drugs (specifically, harder drugs like heroin or crack cocaine) should be illegal because they take away liberty. Slavery is illegal under most libertarian philosophical models because once you sell yourself into slavery, even voluntarily, you lose your ability to control your own life. With hard drugs, once someone becomes physically addicted, he loses the ability to control his own life because he is dependent on chemical stimulation.

The problem here is that once you use that justification, it can be expanded to almost anything. Not only addictions to "hard" drugs, but addiction to other things. Psychological addictions can be as strong as physical addition, so we will have to ban or strictly regulate things like shopping, caffeine, or even blogging.

But the idea of banning something because the consequences of a behavior can infringe on liberty goes farther. You will have to ban participation in risky activities like skydiving, or risky stunts on a skateboard. As Christopher Reeve learned, horseback riding can result in severe limitations on your liberty if a freak accident leaves you paralyzed.

I think that the key component to libertarian philosophy is for government to intervene when someone does something that causes harm to another person without his/her consent, harms someone of diminished mental capacity, or harms a minor. Slavery meets that definition, even if the servant willingly entered into slavery, because there is no escape clause. A slave is captive to another person; an addict (or someone who has been seriously injured) is captive to his own body.