Direct Regulation Of Consumer Behavior

A decision to discourage nonmedical drug use— and to proscribe transactions outside medical channels in order to restrict availability for such use—does not necessarily entail a decision to proscribe and punish unauthorized consumption. Values of individual freedom weigh very differently in the two contexts.

From the perspective of libertarian philosophy, it has been argued that the criminalization of private use (and possession for such use) of drugs is categorically illegitimate, and the criminal prohibition should be limited to behavior that endangers others. This, also leads to a discussion of the ways in which drugs might affect others. Even if criminalization is not categorically objectionable, the costs of it may exceed the benefits. The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse relied on such a cost-benefit assessment in 1972 when it recommended the decriminalization of possession of marijuana for personal use. A few states have decriminalized the possession of marijuana, although they have usually substituted a civil fine. Some of the states that took this action subsequently recriminalized the possession. Aside from marijuana, possession of all other controlled substances is a criminal offense in all states as well as under federal law. In addition, the possession of alcohol by underage consumers is an offense in most states. Even if the possession or use of a substance is not categorically proscribed, prohibitions can be utilized to deter and punish socially harmful behavior or to provide leverage to coerce individuals into treatment. Public smoking laws and laws prohibiting driving while intoxicated (or while having a certain level of blood alcohol content) provide the prime examples.

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