Personal choice or state control? Drugs – who should decide?

Richard Branson recently came to blows with the UN after it made claims that it would launch a global policy for the decriminalisation of all drugs. Branson posted the controversial statement in his personal blog which appears on the Virgin Media website, and was subsequently picked up by the popular press.

While many students choose not to take drugs, encountering and hearing about people who do is almost unavoidable. The question of whether drugs should be legalised is arguably only too relevant. But it’s also an age old debate. Perhaps the question we should be asking is: who, in fact, has the right to dictate our drug consumption?

It’s up to us what we put in our own bodies:

The decriminalisation of drugs is a policy that is consistently gaining support. There are hundreds of reasons why making it a criminal offence to possess small quantities of drugs for personal use is a bad idea. But one of the most compelling arguments for legalisation is the libertarian position which suggests that the government has absolutely zero right to tell you what you can and can’t do with your body. It really is quite straightforward. If a person wants to consume drugs and is fully aware of the risks associated with doing so, we should accept that decision rather than legislate against it. Obviously different drugs do different levels of damage to our health and some like cannabis do almost none (at least in the short term, the long term effects are debated). But we should trust people to make informed decisions based on the known risks associated with most recreational drugs.

“The government has absolutely zero right to tell you what you can and can’t do with your body”

As students it is almost certain we will encounter drugs at some point in our university lives and we are surely capable of deciding whether or not we want to partake. Of course, nobody should be peer pressured into taking drugs against their will, but neither should those that do be at risk of prosecution. For those who do develop addictions, compassion should be our response rather than criminalisation. Take Portugal as an example, which in 2001 decided that possession of drugs would no longer be considered a criminal matter, but one of public health. It now has the second lowest number of deaths from overdoses per million people of any country in Europe. Some feared that the policy would lead to massive increases in drug use, but that has not happened.

“For those who develop addictions, compassion should be our response rather than criminalisation”

People are going to use drugs whether they are legal or not, so with legislation not being a deterrent it’s time we follow Portugal’s lead and stop spending ridiculous sums of money policing drugs and imprisoning users. We should let people make their own decisions and create a situation where those who want to take drugs are free to do so and those that are become addicted can seek treatment without risking arrest.

Jack Langslow

It is the government’s prerogative and it is our duty as a citizen to abide by the law:

The government dictates several parts of our life on a daily basis, deciding on matters such as which side of the road we drive on, which currency we use to shop with, and the minimum education each citizen should receive. These laws are enacted to ensure order is upheld and anarchy is avoided, and they work alongside laws warranting safety and protection, such as those against murder or robbery. The decriminalisation of drugs would completely contradict what the law attempts to maintain: it would represent the slippery slope of a descent into a chaotic society whereby individuals simply do as they please, whilst also risking the welfare and endangering the lives of many.

“So long as substance usage remains a highly social issue the government reserve their right to keep it illegal”

It is invalid to argue that nobody has the right to dictate what substances we put into our own bodies because this suggests that drug consumption is a wholly personal matter and will have no adverse effect upon another. Yet this is simply untrue. So long as substance usage remains a highly social issue the government reserve their right to keep it illegal. The truth is that drug consumption will never only affect the self, and the government have a responsibility to protect its citizens. They have a responsibility to protect the children whose parent becomes abusive under the influence of drugs. They have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable teenager who succumbs to peer pressure having been stripped of the illegality excuse. They have a responsibility to protect the families torn apart by rocketing debts resulting from trying to fund a severe drug addiction.

“Legalisation gives the thwarted message that drug consumption is okay”

Decriminalisation increases availability, which increases usage, which increases addiction and abuse. It will lead to more people driving under the influence than the 9.9 million reported to already do so by the National Institute of Drug Abuse in 2012. This, in turn, will mean more lives are put in danger, or tragically lost. Legalisation gives the thwarted message that drug consumption is okay, but it neglects to think of the lives destroyed by an addiction, or an arrest, or an accident. The government have the right to dictate on whether we should or should not consume these intoxicating substances because it has a fundamental, undeniable responsibility to protect its people.

Laura Hanton

Image by Garry Owen

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