This is a little chestnut I found with a google search and found interesting. (sorry for the paragraphs it didn't paste well to the forum software it seems) To most observers of the drug policy debates, all drug legalizers are alike. The reality, however, is that legalizers come in two distinct flavors. Most legalizers are liberals, and their views on drug policy are consistent with liberal views on other issues. A minority of legalizers are libertarians, however, and their views on drug policy reflect libertarian perspectives on policy generally. There is ample overlap in the views espoused by these two camps. But there are also substantial differences in their views on legalization and related matters. In this piece I compare the liberal and libertarian views on drug legalization. Most advocacy on behalf of legalization comes from liberal supporters of this policy, so most persons familiar with the issue have been exposed mainly to this perspective. My goal here is to outline the libertarian defense of drug legalization and explain how it differs from the more usual approach. The discussion does not suggest that the libertarian defense is —better“ or —more correct“ than the liberal perspective; instead, it clarifies the implicit assumptions underlying both views. In addition, the analysis suggests that some aspects of the libertarian perspective can make legalization appealing to a segment of the population that finds the liberal defense unpersuasive; thus, incorporating components of the libertarian perspective potentially strengthens the case for legalization. In presenting this analysis, I have oversimplified both liberal and libertarian views on legalization. There is enormous diversity within both camps, so many of the generalizations offered here are —unfair.“ But I believe the characterizations presented capture the essential elements in the two perspectives and thus allow easy discussion of the differences. Overview The fundamental tenet of the libertarian perspective on drug legalization is that individuals, not governments, should decide who consumes drugs. This stems in part from the libertarian assumption that most individuals make reasonable choices about drug use. It also reflects the libertarian view that, even when individuals make bad decisions about drug use, government attempts to —improve“ these decisions create more problems than they solve. Thus, libertarians accept that some drug use seems irrational and self-destructive, but they believe prohibition creates far more harm than drug use itself. Moreover, they do not think reducing drug use is an appropriate goal for government policy except in situations where such use has direct and substantial costs to innocent third parties. In both these senses, the libertarian view on drug policy is consistent with the libertarian attitude toward prohibitions generally. The liberal view on drug legalization stems from somewhat different considerations. Liberals do not generally trust individuals to make reasonable choices about drug use, and they think government should adopt policies that attempt to discourage drug use. But liberal legalizers do not like using police power to achieve this goal, especially when that power is directed at drug users as opposed to drug sellers. Thus, although liberal legalizers want government to reduce the harms from drug abuse, they prefer approaches other than prohibition. The liberal view on legalization reflects an assessment of the relative harms of drug use versus drug prohibition, and in that sense is similar to the libertarian calculus. But liberals put less weight on consumer sovereignty, and they are not as fundamentally suspicious of government prohibitions as are libertarians. Thus, for commodities viewed as substantially harmful (e.g., tobacco), liberals are willing to consider prohibition, but for commodities viewed as relatively benign (e.g., marijuana), they find prohibition excessive. Liberals and libertarians are in close agreement on the fact that prohibition has many undesired consequences. These include the infringements on civil liberties that are an inevitable consequence of attempts to sanction victimless crimes; the corruption and violence fostered in foreign countries by U.S. attempts to enforce prohibition; the increased frequency of overdoses and accidental poisonings that results from the poor quality control in black markets; the increased property crime that results from elevated drug prices; and the violence that results because participants in black markets settle disagreements with guns rather than lawyers. Liberal and libertarian legalizers agree, therefore, that the arrest and prosecution of drug users is ill-advised and that current enforcement of prohibition against drug suppliers is excessive. On the question of whether drug should be outright legalized, however, and on a broad range of other drug policy issues, they disagree considerably. In the remainder of this piece, I outline the main areas of disagreement. Legalization or Decriminalization Perhaps the most fundamental difference between libertarian and liberal legalizers is that libertarians favor outright legalization, while liberals prefer decriminalization or other partial measures. Under full legalization, the production, distribution, sale and possession of drugs are all legal; the law treats drugs like any other commodity. Under decriminalization, the possession of drugs is not subject to criminal sanctions, but penalties against production, distribution and sale remain in place. Thus, drugs are not legal commodities. This liberal preference for decriminalization derives from several sources. Liberals regard freedoms practiced by individuals as more important than freedoms practiced by businesses; thus, they defend the right to consume drugs more ardently than the right to sell drugs. Liberals also regard the pursuit of profits with skepticism, which makes them more hostile toward drug sellers than toward drug users. And focus on decriminalization is consistent with the liberal view that the main negative of prohibition is its adverse treatment of drug users. Many liberal legalizers do advocate more than just decriminalizing possession. The specific proposals, however, involve substantial government control over the production, distribution and sale of drugs. Some proposals, for example, permit the sale of drugs only through government-owned stores, as occurs for liquor in certain places. Other proposals require consumers to have special government IDs in order to buy drugs. Still other proposals retain much of the current legal regime while allowing freer distribution of drugs through medical channels, as in the British system of narcotic maintenance, or via clinics, as in methadone maintenance. Libertarians regard the decriminalization approach as odd. They note that for every buyer there must be a seller, so it makes little sense to criminalize one side of the market but not the other. And libertarians have no objection to the vigorous pursuit of profits, so long as this occurs within the law. Even more importantly, libertarians emphasize that decriminalization does little to reduce prohibition-generated ills other than those directly related to the adverse legal treatment of drug users. Decriminalization maintains the illegal status of production, distribution and sale of drugs, so the industry still operates underground. This means the negatives side effects of prohibition (crime, corruption, infringements on civil liberties, poor quality control, wealth transfers to criminals, disruption of other countries) all continue under decriminalization. The only benefit of decriminalization relative to prohibition is that drug users face limited legal penalties from drug use. Liberals might respond to this perspective by suggesting that several European countries have minimized the harms from drugs and drug prohibition by decriminalizing without legalizing. This conclusion is unwarranted, however, because it confounds the prohibition of drugs with the degree to which prohibition is enforced. Countries that have decriminalized are, by and large, countries with minimal enforcement of their drug laws generally, including those directed at the supply side. This low level of enforcement mitigates the effects of prohibition on crime, corruption, and other prohibition-generated ills, even though drugs are still prohibited. Thus, libertarians advocate outright legalization rather than decriminalization, although they agree that decriminalization is preferable to current practice. They also agree that expanded medical provision of drugs, or the supply of drugs via government stores, diminishes many prohibition-induced ills by bringing some or all of the drug market above ground. Libertarians nevertheless regard these partial approaches as less desirable than full legalization. Legalization of Marijuana Only versus Legalization of All Drugs A second important difference between liberal and libertarian positions on legalization is whether to legalize all drugs or just marijuana. For libertarians, the answer is all drugs. Libertarians view individuals as competent to make reasonable decisions about commodities that have modest risks, such as marijuana, and about commodities that have more serious risks, such as cocaine or heroin. They view the evils of prohibition as arising from the nature of prohibition itself, independent of the qualities of the product being prohibited. For many liberals, the answer is to legalize marijuana only. Since liberals are not convinced individuals make reasonable decisions on their own, their views on which drugs to legalize reflect their views on which drugs are relatively benign and which drugs are relatively harmful. Most observers regard marijuana as far less dangerous than cocaine, heroin, or other illegal drugs, which means liberals see legalization as obvious for marijuana but less compelling with respect to other drugs. The libertarian versus liberal perspective on addiction leads to the same conclusion about legalizing marijuana versus legalizing other drugs. By all reasonable accounts, marijuana is far less addictive than cocaine, heroin, and other prohibited drugs. To liberals, this is an important factor in determining the appropriate legal status, since liberals view addiction as a disease that invalidates users‘ ability to make rational choices about drug consumption. Libertarians do not accept this perspective. They agree that some commodities are reasonably characterized as habit-forming, but they do not regard addiction as a problem per se. Moreover, they believe those addicted to drugs bear responsibility for their actions, whatever the pharmacological properties of drugs. Thus again, they prefer legalization of all drugs. Subsidizing Drug Abuse Treatment A different issue that separates liberal and libertarian views on drug policy is government-funded treatment for drug abuse. The typical liberal view is that government expenditure on interdiction should be scaled back or eliminated, with these funds transferred to the budget for drug-abuse treatment. The libertarian view is that interdicting drugs and subsidizing treatment are, at a minimum, separate issues. Governments can scale back interdiction without necessarily increasing treatment budgets, and the question of whether to subsidize treatment arises with or without legalization. In addition, libertarians doubt that expenditure for drug-abuse treatment is a good expenditure of government funds. This perspective again derives from the view that most individuals make informed, voluntary decisions to use drugs and that reducing drug use is not an appropriate goal for government policy. This is not a criticism of treatment for persons who wish to curtail their drug use; rather, it is a view that treatment should be paid for by those obtaining the treatment. Moreover, libertarians believe government subsidy for drug-abuse treatment has several negatives. Perhaps most importantly, subsidizing treatment implicitly accepts the view that drug use is wrong; libertarians are agnostic on whether other persons‘ drug use is good or bad so long as that use does not substantially harm innocent third parties. A different negative is that accepting a government role in subsidizing treatment is the first step down a slippery slope toward coercing treatment, which has alarming implications for civil liberties. On top of these concerns, libertarians note that treatment is expensive, and there is little evidence that subsidized treatment produces long-term reductions in drug use. Plus, the demand for treatment would likely fall substantially under legalization, both because there would be less government coercion and because there would be less social pressure to abstain from drug use. Thus, whatever the case for subsidy, the appropriate amount would be far smaller under legalization. The liberal support for government-funded drug-abuse treatment partly reflects the view that drug use should be reduced, although by means other than police power. It also reflects the view that drug addiction is a treatable disease that is not controllable by individuals. Although support for subsidized treatment is widespread among liberal legalizers, this view is not uniform. Some liberals advocate legalization because they enjoy drug use and wish to do so without being hassled by the law. Many persons in this category view treatment as a waste of money that is perpetuated by the puritanical streak in U.S. society. And there is considerably more agreement between liberal and libertarian legalizers about the value of drug treatment, subsidized or not, in the case of marijuana. Many liberals share the libertarian perspective that treatment for marijuana reflects coercion by the state, with few users deriving any benefit from such treatment. There is agreement on this point because liberal legalizers view marijuana as relatively benign and thus see no point in treatment, regardless of who pays. The Regulation and Taxation of Legal Drugs In addition to disagreement about how far to go in legalizing drugs, liberal and libertarian legalizers disagree about the parameters of a legalized regime for drugs, given that one occurs. Libertarians would treat legalized drugs like all other goods. Liberal legalizers assume that, even if legal, drugs should be subject to substantially more regulation and taxation than applies to most other commodities. Sin Taxes: Liberal legalizers typically advocate heavy taxes for legalized drugs, as currently occurs for alcohol and tobacco. There are two main rationales. One is that drug useimposes negative effects on innocent third parties (e.g., by causing traffic accidents), so government policy should discourage use. The other is that many users make irrational decisions to consume drugs, so policy should again discourage use by imposing substantial taxes. Libertarians are suspicious of using the tax code in this manner. Libertarians do not, contrary to some assertions, oppose all taxation. Libertarians are not anarchists, simply persons who believe government should be far smaller than it is today. But libertarians oppose sin taxation and related tinkering because it is frequently manipulated for political reasons. They suggest it is hard to know which goods generate the biggest externalities, and given the perspective that individuals should make reasonable decisions about drug use or bear the consequences of their actions, libertarians do not endorse policies that discourage drug consumption. Plus, libertarians worry that sin taxation can increase to the point where it drives the drug market underground, which generates the same negatives as prohibition. Libertarians agree that legalization combined with moderate sin taxation is a far better approach than prohibition. But their preference is to have drugs taxed at whatever rate applies to all other goods. Age Restrictions on the Purchase of Legalized Drugs: Liberal legalizers typically assume that age restrictions similar to those currently in effect for alcohol and tobacco would apply to legalized drugs. They view current age restrictions as beneficial, assuming that these both restrict access by minors and send an appropriate message about consuming —adult“ goods. Libertarians suspect that age restrictions do more harm than good. They believe minors often evade these restrictions, which breeds contempt for the law by the minors who purchase the goods and by the merchants who sell them. They also note that legislating minimum purchase ages can encourage parents to supervise their children less diligently, under the (oft-mistaken) assumption that the law has addressed the problem. Again, libertarians would regard a legalized regime with age restrictions as an enormous improvement over total prohibition; and they would not object strongly to mild age restrictions for purchase of drugs. But their first choice would be no age restrictions whatsoever. Advertising Restrictions on Legalized Drugs: Libertarians would impose few if any restrictions on advertising of legalized drugs. In part this reflects respect for the First Amendment; in part it reflects the view that advertising does not persuade people to consume goods but merely shifts preferences across brands. It also stems from the view that advertising can be beneficial: it provides consumers with information about different products, and it gives producers a way to attract business when they develop products that have good ratios of benefits to risks. Libertarians accept that legalization combined with advertising restrictions is preferable to prohibition; but their first choice is to avoid advertising restrictions as well. Liberals view consumers as far more impressionable and manipulable than do libertarians. They do not think consumers consistently take available information and make reasonable choices. Thus, liberal legalizers fear advertising would persuade many persons to consume drugs who would not otherwise do so, and they implicitly assume this is undesirable. They would therefore ban most or all advertising of legalized drugs, as currently occurs for tobacco products. Needle Exchange Programs Liberals legalizers often suggest that governments should operate needle exchange programs that provide clean syringes to drug users in order to reduce the spread of HIV. Libertarians do not think this is an appropriate function of government. Rather, they believe drug users should determine and accept the risks associated with drug use, and they assume the private sector can supply drugs with the degree of risk that consumers demand. Although needle exchange programs again raise differences between liberal and libertarian legalizers, this disagreement becomes moot under legalization. A critical reason for these programs is prohibition-inspired restrictions on the sale of clean needles. Under legalization, such restrictions would soften or disappear, so drug users who wished to purchase and use syringes would find them both legal and inexpensive. In addition, legalization would produce substantial declines in drug prices. This means users would have less incentive to seek the elevated —bang-for-the-buck“ provided by injection. No doubt some users would still inject, but a substantial fraction would choose less risky consumption methods. And the range of such methods would increase under legalization. For example, drugs like heroin might be packaged with inexpensive, disposable syringes that would reduce the incidence of shared needles and thus diminish the spread of disease. Drug-Testing Another critical difference between liberal and libertarian perspectives on drug policy concerns drug-testing of job applicants and employees. Liberals generally regard such testing with suspicion, believing it an inappropriate invasion of privacy conducted by untrustworthy firms who hound their employees in the pursuit of profits. Libertarians take a more nuanced view. They regard government policies that mandate drug-testing as unwarranted intrusions in the marketplace. But they believe private employers have the right to use drug-testing if they wish. Some employers might adopt testing because they believe drug use reduces productivity; others might adopt testing because they believe it identifies responsible employees. In the libertarian view, employers get to make this call, whether or not objective evidence substantiates their concerns. Implications This essay has discussed the differences between liberal and libertarian perspectives on drug legalization and related policies. The discussion makes clear that liberal and libertarian legalizers differ on a huge range of issues; indeed, they agree fully only on the relatively limited questions of whether prohibition should be applied to individual drug users and whether current enforcement against suppliers is excessive. What are the lessons from considering the libertarian justification for drug legalization? In my view, there are two. First, examination of the libertarian view helps indicate that some aspects of the drug policy debate are logically separable from the question of legalization. The main examples are subsidizing treatment and government promotion of, or restrictions on, drug-testing. Whatever the merits of these policies, they are logically separate from the issue of legalization versus prohibition. This is not to say their effects are the same under the two regimes. But the view that prohibition is a bad idea does not mean subsidized treatment is a good idea nor that drug testing is a bad idea. These policies require a separate analysis. Second, the libertarian perspective provides a defense of legalization that is potentially appealing to some citizens who find the liberal defense unpersuasive. In particular, the liberal perspective strikes some observers as —indulging“ drug users, via subsidized treatment, government-funded needle exchanges, protection from drug tests, and the like. The libertarian view suggests instead that people should be free to use drugs, or abuse drugs, if they like, but that drug users must bear the consequences. For some persons, this is a more convincing rationale than the standard liberal perspective. This is not to suggest the libertarian defense of drug legalization is an easy sell. Among liberal legalizers, it runs into difficulties because liberals do not accept the key libertarian assumption that most drug use is rational. And the libertarian view has difficulty even with —soft“ libertarians because, in its pure form, it puts the entire onus for responsible drug use on individuals. In particular, most persons other than hard-core libertarians will, at least initially, prefer modifications in drug policy that focus on marijuana and incorporate auxiliary regulation such as sin taxes, minimum purchase ages, and advertising restrictions. Nevertheless, some persons who find drug use distasteful, and who thus regard the liberal defense of legalization as too tolerant, might still accept legalization under certain conditions: that tax dollars are not spent on subsidized treatment or needle exchanges; that employers are free to use drug-testing, if they wish; and that drug users are held accountable for their actions. The overall message, then, is that the libertarian defense of legalization has a potentially important role to play in the policy debates. This does not mean liberal and libertarian legalizers cannot agree on key arguments for legalization. But the analysis here suggests that a modest rethinking of the standard defense can broaden the impact of this message.