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While prohibition never worked with alcohol, and legalization of soft drugs seeming more and more acceptable to the general public, there are clearly plenty of examples of cases in which prohibition works.

For example, it's illegal to steal and I don't think there is any strong support for the legalization of stealing... or to make a different and less extreme example, there is little support for the legalization of driving under the influence.

What is the difference between legalizing a drug and legalizing a different criminal behaviour? Why is the former considered better than prohibition but not so the second?

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    One it's a crime against someone, the other is a victimless crime. If you drive under the effect of alcohol or drug, you can harm someone other than you so it became a true crime. Victimless crimes are usually a way to impose a moral by the State. Some examples? Death penalty for homosexuals in Iran or immigration-related crimes. Here some libertarians points of view on the matter. – chirale Dec 24 '12 at 12:12
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    This seems like something of an opinion-based question to me – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Apr 22 '14 at 4:41
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    @SamIam I disagree, the question does not call for speculation: "what is the difference" is factual and "why is x considered better than y" is asking to report what are the political scientists' stances on the matter. Neither of them is asking for the personal opinion of the answerers. – Sklivvz Apr 22 '14 at 8:13
  • Many libertarian minded people view taxation (for purposes of wealth transfer) as nothing more than organized armed robbery/extortion; so stating that "there is [no] strong support for the legalization of stealing" is wrong if you take that point of view and popularity of wealth redistribution through taxes – user4012 Apr 22 '14 at 14:37
  • @Sklivvz Your question can be assumed to be not opinion based if it focused completely on the difference between drugs and another specific behavior. But that is not the case. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Apr 22 '14 at 15:29
19

There are four main reasons people support legalization of drugs but not other behavior:

  1. Many people feel that drugs are "victimless" behavior, and as such, are not a crime

    An interesting analogy would be that it's not a crime to gamble away one's money, if you are comparing stealing material property to drugs; state lotteries are legal even in places that supposedly prohibit gambling.

    Please note that there is a (smaller) group of people who are very nuanced about this: they wish to combine legalizing the consumption of drugs itself, BUT at the same time, strongly increase penalties for any other crimes or even misdemeanours that may endanger other people, such as DUI ( my own personal proposal would be to exchange legalizing drugs for declaring DUI to be fully legally treated as attempted murder and any victims resulting from DUI as premeditated actual/attempted murder).

  2. Second reason is purely practical.

    Prohibition Just Doesn't Work. Period. It doesn't matter why, but it's been proven repeatedly that it does not. Prohibiting a random crime X usually works to stop it from happening in most cases (e.g. stealing). Prohibiting addictive substance consumption does NOT.

    To quote an famous adage (I heard it attributed to Swedish King Gustav Adolf), "don't pass laws you can not enforce". In other words, it doesn't matter if the law has a good rationale - if you can not enforce it, you merely sabotage the legitimacy of the government, to no good end.

    The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this. – Albert Einstein

  3. It is well known that prohibition of addictive substances in practice usually leads to increased crime and strengthening of organized criminal organization, especially in democracies. Prohibition is what allowed American gangsters to flourish; drug laws is what allowed drug cartels AND gangs to flourish in the second half of 20th century.

    This is fairly obvious - when you prohibit something, you drive up the price, especially if it's an addictive substance which ensures unceasing demand. Since the substance is prohibited, you also dramatically decrease the pool of suppliers, providing those suppliers with a lot of funding. And, since it's illegal, your suppliers will not simply be criminals, but usually the worst ones (due to lucrativity) and the most ruthless and well organized ones.

    Ergo, you just took your worst criminal organization and handed them what is in essence an unlimited source of funding and unlimited reason to use violence to protect that source.

  4. This one is just a corollary of #1/#2/#3 - legalizing drugs brings fiscal and economic benefits to the state where prohibition does the opposite.

    The argument, on the surface, is fairly simple cost-benefit analysis:

    Prohibition: Your costs include the loss of taxes on an economic activity that is driven underground; the economic losses of extra-high costs going abroad; the costs of law enforcement/judiciary; the costs of incarceration; the economic losses on having productive population incarcerated; and the second effect costs of strengthened organized crime.

    Legalization: You have the economic costs of addicted people who can't participate in the economy and have to be treated (but many of those people are just as afflicted under Prohibition); you have economic costs of people hurting other people while under the influence such as DUI (but as noted above, that can be easily addressed by enhanced anti-DUI legislation).

7

DVK's answer is really great but too focused for this question, I think, so I'd like to add this more general statement, which I feel it better addresses the question itself.

You are comparing two completely different things.

Drinking alcohol or using drugs doesn't directly harm anyone other than yourself. It may cause you to commit other crimes, but those are things which already are crimes anyway.

Stealing, on the other hand, harms the original owner of the stolen object, since he doesn't have that object any more.

Hence, it is perfectly logic to never ban actions which don't directly damage other people, while keeping banning those who do.

  • But then the same can be said for cocaine. There's a moral question as well that's not being addressed. – Shahar Apr 21 '14 at 22:35
  • @Shahar yes, the same can be said for a lot of drugs...and often is. It's a somewhat arbitrary line between what we deem to be legal drugs vs. illegal drugs. The moral question tends to just make that line even more arbitrary. – user1530 Apr 22 '14 at 4:57
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    @Shahar and that's fine. As long as you only damage yourself, your loss. If you damage other people things, it's already a crime anyway. The only real issue with drugs is where you have public healthcare, so basically you would waste taxpayer money if you become addict. – o0'. Apr 22 '14 at 9:19
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"While prohibition never worked with alcohol.."

This is incorrect. During prohibition most people followed the law and did not drink alcohol. We know this because the death rate for alcohol poisoning sky rocketed when the ban was lifted. Did some people not follow the law? Of course. That is true of every law, though.

Why was alcohol illegal? To protect women and children. It was a movement among women who didn't have control over family finances to force their husbands to be better husbands and fathers. Alcohol costs a lot of money out of a family budget and causes domestic violence.

Why was it made legal? Because making it illegal caused serious crime. Making the mob very wealthy is more detrimental to society than having some bad fathers who drink too much. Also, alcohol was popular. Most people like to have a drink from time to time and they aren't abusing their families. This is a democracy, so if we like to do something, and its constitutional, it should be legal.

Why are drugs illegal? Same reasons. To protect other people from the actions of addicts. When someone becomes addicted, they don't take care of their families because they can't. People who are high all the time may not make sure their child has their homework finished or go to the grocery store as often or keep the house as clean. Rarely, they may even commit crimes against strangers, but mostly they are just bad friends and parents. There is no law against being a crummy friend or family member, but it still hurts other people. Addiction is very hard to treat, as well. So making the drugs illegal prevents people from even experimenting.

Why would legalizing it be better than legalizing theft or murder? The laws against murder and probably grand theft to a large degree, don't prevent these actions. They provide punishment to offenders so that those that are harmed will get justice. If these actions were not illegal, the victims or there families would seek justice outside the justice system and more people would be hurt. People don't feel the need to violently suppress consistent pot use, since as I said before the main effect is crummy personal relationships, so this is a false comparison.

Why would legalizing it be better than legalizing drunk driving? The laws against drunk driving are a form of regulation of drug use. The intention of the law is to allow alcohol to be legal, while mitigating its most negative effects. Most proponents of drug legalization, although not all and its difficult to generalize, think some regulation is beneficial. For example, laws that prohibit sale to children or laws regulating purity of the substances being sold, as is already the case with alcohol. Again, I think this asks the wrong question.

Why would we want to make drugs legal, especially pot? First, because they can be regulated and that works. People will follow a drug regulation law, such as one against drunk driving, so there is no need for it to be completely illegal. With regulation most of the harmful effects are mitigated and people can enjoy their favorite drug.

Two, as with alcohol, making it illegal caused serious crime and made serious criminals very rich. Pot is much less harmful than alcohol, but making it illegal caused just as much serious crime.

Three, pot is a popular drug. Most people try pot sometime in their life, even if they aren't consistent users. This means most people are committing a felony. It's simply bad jurisprudence to make a common offense a felony.

Four, crummy parents aren't made better parents by being in prison. Many children in the US grow up without one or both parents because they are in prison for a pot conviction. Having no parents is far worse than having ones that are relatively not ideal. Therefore the law does not actually improve the lives of children and is counterproductive in its intent.

TL; DR

There are other laws against "victimless crimes," such as prostitution, but these atleast don't harm the group they are intended to help (women), gambling (families), truancy and trespassing (property owners), ect. I think this is the main difference.

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From general points of view:

Basically more people are made better off by laws against stealing than by laws against drugs. In fact, it's surprising that we have strong laws against drugs because almost no body, except a few power hungry regulators, and drug cartels, and drug companies, are benefited by laws against drug usage.

  1. The market tend to take care of things when force or fraud is not involved. Basically laws against consensual acts are not necessary. That's because if drugs are really bad, consumers will automatically not use it. Okay this may need a bit of more explanation. If drugs is really harmful there is no serious need to outlaw it. People would use it less.
  2. Laws against stealing, however is necessary. That's because even though you are made worse off when someone steal from you, your consent is not needed. Hence, most potential thief victim would want laws against stealing. Stealing is harmful but you can't just choose not to be thief victim.
  3. Societies as a whole is benefited from laws against stealing. It's for the same reason why mafia have laws against snitching. The mafia as a whole will be better off if they have such laws than if they don't. Any analysis from prisoner dilemma can show this. When stealing is more profitable than producing, in the absent of laws against stealing, people would steal from each other, and everyone would tend to be worse off.
  4. Because many drugs that governments prohibit are safe drugs like MDMA. Very few people die due to MDMA per 1000 users compared to cigarettes. The reason why MDMA is prohibited is because regulators, unlike customers, do not have customers' best interests in mind.
  5. Most people are libertarian leaning. Drug sells do not necessarily implies forced.
  6. People that are hurt by stealing would prefer that resources spent on capturing drug users can be used to jail thieves instead. People that are hurt by drugs can simply choose not to do drugs.

That is at least 4 reasons why many reasonable people would support anti stealing laws instead of drug laws. Many of these are disputable. For example, some may argue that people will still use harmful drugs because they are addicted or because they do not know. However, that would at most justify total disclosure. In general, truly addictive drugs simply don't sell even if it were legal. https://silkroaddrugs.org/drug-listing-on-silk-road/

Detail:

Laws are there to serve someone's interests, namely interests of those who make laws. In democratic countries, large number of people must be profited before something can become laws.

Humans are selfish. You don't have to be libertarian to see this. Prohibiting consensual act is useless. Humans are selfish. Consumers, out of their self interests, have strong incentive to pick the best product.

When fraud or force is involved, humans' self interests do not protect individuals.

For example, if we have no laws for stealing, then we would steal from each other. That's because it may be more profitable to steal than to produce stuffs productively.

It is not toward the best interest of thief victim to get their stuff stolen. However, consent is not required for stealing. A thief victim will get his stuff stolen anyway whether the victim consent or not.

Hence laws against stealing serves the interests of all potential thieves victim. Obviously, such laws are popular.

Laws against stealing actually reduce some ways a person can pursue happiness. However, if I live in a country where stealing is okay, I may get my stuff stolen too. Which is sucks. At the end, everyone is stealing from each other like in Africa and everyone is worse off. So it make sense to support laws against stealing.

Laws against stealing not only benefits potential thieves victim, but also everyone. It's the same reason why mafia have laws to kill of snitches. The laws actually benefit the whole mafia groups because now they no longer need to worry about snitches and hence will not snitch with one another.

Analysis in prisoner dilemma games shows that both parties are better off if snitches are killed.

What about laws against drug usage?

It hurts the interests of drug users.

What does the laws benefit?

Non drug users? Most non drug users can simply choose not to use drugs.

Even if I am not a drug users, I do not think it's a good idea to have laws against drug users. What about if latter someone says that breathing is bad and criminalize consuming oxygen? I'll be death.

Allowing some people to decide that drugs are not okay will set dangerous precedents that some persons will decide that other things are not okay.

Some would argue that drug usage is harm (self harm). Well, I disagree. Many people know that drug users, as consumers, have their own self interests.

When something is harmful, drug users will simply choose not to use drugs.

For example, cigarettes is legal. Cigarettes are also addictive. Then what? I simply don't smoke cigarettes. Why would I want to try something so addictive if I KNOW before hand that it would be addictive?

In fact, most people wouldn't use the harmful cigarettes if non addictive MDMA is legal. Prohibition of MDMA have made far more harmful cigarettes sells. Yes. This is arguable. However, the question ask why someone would wants to decriminalize all drugs. Because they believe that MDMA is far safer than cigarettes. That is a reasonable belief that many scientists agree.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/08/is-ecstasy-really-that-dangerous-all-your-questions-answered

And that is actually proven in silk road. Only soft drugs like MDMA are sold well in silk road. The hard drugs, like heroin, are are not sold.

While consumers have self interests not to harm themselves, the same cannot be said about drug regulators.

Drug regulators may get kickback from drug companies. Many more harmful drugs are on the street because safer drugs are illegal.

Death due to illegal drugs are very low at portugal where drugs are criminalized.

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    As we repeatedly told you on your other account: Politics.SE is not a platform for posting personal opinions. – Philipp Mar 15 '18 at 11:56
  • What is wrong with this answer. It answers the question. Stealing utilizes force. So it should be illegal. Selling mdma does not involve force or fraud. So it should be legal. it's very simple. What's wrong? – Sharen Eayrs Mar 15 '18 at 12:19
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    it does not answer my question though. It's like saying "i'm a communist, I don't believe in private property, so stealing is not stealing and should not be condemned". I understand where you are coming from, but I'd like some objective argument, not one based on political faith. – Sklivvz Mar 15 '18 at 15:47
  • @sklivvz fair enough. This is political science explanation not ideological explanation. Basically more people have their interests served by laws against stealing than by laws against drug usage. – Sharen Eayrs Mar 18 '18 at 11:48
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    "When something is harmful, drug users will stop using drugs." -> tell that to the smokers. – Erik Mar 19 '18 at 6:31

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