"Drug Use Is Not a Victimless Crime"

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Tue, 2006-01-31 21:59

"Drug use is not a victimless crime" argued a friend recently. Drug users harm themselves and other people too, said my friend; they are all victims.

Well, as I've explained before, yes it is a victimless crime. Drug use may well make of the user a 'victim,' but as long as nobody initates force against another, no crime is involved. As I explain here, a crime is when somebody does initiates force, or its derivative fraud, against someone else:
Cue Card Libertarianism - Force

In fact, that's what moral governments are set up for: not to protect us against ourselves, but to offer protection for each of us against the initiation of force by others. This gives us the 'moral space' in which to live our own lives in our own chosen way, as I point out here:
Cue Card Libertarianism - Government

Being free gives no guarantee of success. Freedom means we are free to succeed, and also free to fuck up. 'Free to get it right' means you must also be free to make mistakes. And being free means we must take responsibility for our actions and our mistakes, as I argue here:
In Dreams Begins Responsibility

So if you want freedom for yourself to win or to fail, then you must accept that same freedom for others too, which means you must accept freedom right across the board. You may disagree with another person's choice of recreational activity, but you are not morally entitled to bring down the weight of government force against them just for that.

Freedom is not something that you can cherry-pick; not something from which you can pick or choose according to your own prejudices; freedom is indivisible: allow a government to take freedom over here, and you have given it the power to also take freedom over there. Pretty soon freedom becomes challenged and tied up in all directions, and big government gets biggerand better at tying us up. By athat standard, any man's battle for his own freedom is our own battle too.

So a 'victimless crime' is one in which no force has been initiated against anyone else. If you choose to inflict harm against yourself that's your business. ~If~ you do. Drug use is a victimless crime--the classic textbook example of a victimless crime-- as I say here:
Cue Card Libertarianism - Drugs

Further, in the present environment of prohibition, it's no accident that organised crime and petty crime is intertwined, nor that organised crime is heavily involved with providing something that is illegal.

It's interesting that people such as Eddie Ellison, former head of the Scotland Yard Drug Squad, says he and many other British policemen have now come to the conclusion that practical policing means that drugs should be made legal. Making them legal, says Eddie and other practical policemen like him, removes drug profits and the control of drug quality from criminals and corrupt policemen, and slashes the costs enormously -- removing the need to steal to pay for drugs, and removing the criminal connection between drug supply and drug use.

Removing drug laws from the books means police can concentrate on protecting you and me from real crimes that ~do~ involve the initiation of force, instead of spending time, energy and effort on people committing 'crimes' only against themselves -- 'crimes' which are never going to stop: If it's not possible to keep drugs out of prison, then how in hell are you going to keep them out of people's home?

Frankly, too many people have a blind spot on this subject. Admit it. You do. Arguing for legalisation of drugs is not an endorsement of using drugs, any more that arguing for freedom of religion is endorsing going to church. It's simply arguing for freedom.

People will still say, "don't expect me to be happy paying for other people's lifestyle choices." Neither should any of us be made to, and there perhaps is the nub. None of us should be paying for the lifestyle choices of drug users, but nor should we for the lifestyle choices of racing-car drivers, skydivers, alcoholics, left-wing academics, people who eat too many pies or church-goers. The problem here is not with drug use per se, nor with the misunderstanding of victimless crimes: the problem lies in the ethic and existence of the welfare state, which demands that you do pay for the lifestyle choices of others.

When I hear the objectors to drugs call for the demise of the welfare state, I'll know they've understood the issue.

Here's the crux of it all: As long as people are using drugs without initiating force against anyone else and they're taking responsibility for their actions, then what they do is entirely their business. It's not yours. It's not mine. And it's not the business of Jim Anderton or any other Drug Czar either.

If users or suppliers ~do~ initiate force, then they should be convicted for that, and without any bullshit about 'diminished responsibility' either. But convictions for crimes in which there is no physical coercion is a victimless crime. That ain't hypocrisy, that's the truth of it. Drug use is a victimless crime.

So now let's let's translate the objection that my friend really has to legalising drugs. She says "Drug use is not a victimless crime," but what she means is "I don't like drugs." Fine. Her business. I don't like Pink Floyd. But I don't demand that anyone write a law about it, nor do I ask for the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding Pink Floyd users. There are many objections one can make about Pink Floyd users, but making them criminals is not a valid action.

( categories: )

The Law

Ashley's picture

"Not having ever smoked "weed" before perhaps this is an ignorant question: but what's the difference between a kid seeing a parent smoke weed and seeing them drink alcohol?"

I think it is that marijuana is technically illegal, although more or less so depending on where you live. Of course, alcohol is also illegal for children, but my observation is made in terms of observing your parent engaged in illegal activity.

How about, what's the difference between a kid seeing a parent smoke weed and: seeing them break the speed limit, brag about cheating on their taxes, or lie about how many bundles of wood they paid for in the store? All illegal but with varying degrees of cringe-factor for different parents. I think more important than teaching blind obedience to legal authorities is teaching children what is *right* and what is *wrong* so they understand that smoking weed is not the same as stealing sneakers, even though both might carry similar legal penalties.

None at all

Jason Quintana's picture

There is simply a social taboo on pot. For some reason people have drawn an arbitrary distinction between the two.

- Jason

Drugs & Kids

sjw's picture

Not having ever smoked "weed" before perhaps this is an ignorant question: but what's the difference between a kid seeing a parent smoke weed and seeing them drink alcohol?

The word "drugs" encompasses a very wide range, where do alcohol and coffee--socially acceptable drugs--fit into this range?

“Drug use is a negative thing”

Mark Dow's picture

Drug users, evidently don’t agree with you Joe. And I personally don’t pretend to know what’s best for other people. Whether a person’s drug use is recreational, or destructive to themselves, or their children, is just something they have to deal with themselves. And when you make a categorical statement like “drug use is a negative thing” it seems to have a moral tone to it. Sorry! And why the concern for other peoples children, if not to show that you care about them.

“Oh, and since we are both checking our premises, do you mean to suggest that you could only think of one motivation of mine that would prompt me to comment on his post?”

I am not sure what you mean, if Peter acknowledged in his post that there “are” victims in drug use, than what was your motive, other than showing your concern for children? You will have to tell me what your motive was.

Drugs and Kids

Ashley's picture

Hi Joe:

I agree that drug use can harm children, in many ways. I also think that providing a bad diet can hurt them, letting them watch television and chat online all day can hurt them, and not paying the bills so that the electricity is shut off can hurt them. But none of the other things are illegal.

I think that there is a responsibility parents have to educate their children about how the world works. I think parents also have a right to continue enjoying their lives after they bring children into it. Just as young children shouldn't be allowed to see their parents having sex, they shouldn't be allowed to see them using drugs. At least until they are old enough to discuss it intelligently.

I have thought about whether or not I would let my children know that I smoke weed, or do other things. I guess part of me thinks if they saw me do it, maybe they would think it was ok and do it, too. And *then* I think - hey, I *do* think it's ok. Why should I mind if my kids do it, too? Just as parents have gotten more used to the idea that their kids might have sex as teenagers or have a drink at a party, I think that if parents think smoking weed is acceptable to them as adults they need to also feel that it an ok decision for their mature children, as well. I think I've turned out fine. Maybe sex, drugs, and rock-n-rock really aren't what determines how far you go in life, after all. There are plenty of people who end up being losers without having any of it, and plenty of kids who are successful after having partaken of most of what's available.

I am trying to write this too quickly as I have to get out of here, so forgive me if this is not a complete thought.

Reply to tones of Moral Superiority

Joe Idoni's picture

My point was that when you are raising a child, your actions are directly linked to the upbringing of that child. As such, drug use is a negative thing. I could go into all the effects of drugs as such in order to prove this point if you so require, but I hope that isn't necessary. As such, drug use around children that you are raising is effectively initiation of force. Granted, it is not physical force, but I hardly think that force or violence is something that is limited to the physical.

Secondly, I could provide evidence that there is a highed incidence of drug abuse when the parent is also a drug abuser, but that was not what I said. I did say that "there are the times when drugs affect a child before they are actually born". This is specifically in reference to crack-addicted babies but is not limited to such. There are a wide variety of addictive drugs that can cause the unborn child to have a deteriorated quality of life or even death.

Finally, if my tone was one of moral superiority, that was not the intent. I am fully in support of the decriminalization of drugs. My point was only to shed light on the idea that drug usage is not necessarily victimless. Also, it was not directed so much at Peter, but the idea. I have heard exactly what Peter had written many times before.

Oh, and since we are both checking our premises, do you mean to suggest that you could only think of one motivation of mine that would prompt me to comment on his post?


I have to ask you

Mark Dow's picture

But Peter, I have to ask you, would selling drugs to a minor constitute a victimless crime? I would guess you would say yes, because a child is not of age (age of consent), but would you still see it as a crime if the parents gave their consent?

I.e. do Objectivists consider children, as individuals (there own moral agents), or as the property of the parents? I don’t think they can be both. And if one says they are neither, than by default they are property of the state.

As I am new to this site, I realize this subject may have been beaten to death already, but I am curious.


Here's a point that I must

Mark Dow's picture


No where in Peter’s post can I find the word “victimless,” without the corresponding word “crime.” I could be wrong but where does he state that drug use is victimless in his post? In fact he states:

“Drug use may well make of the user a 'victim,' but as long as nobody initates force against another, no crime is involved.”

And what evidence do you have the children subjected to drug use prenatal have a higher incidence of teenage drinking and drug use? And even if true, why are you assuming causation.

And you seem to have a moral tone of superiority when you speak of “children,” as if you care more about them than Peter. Could this be true?

Here's a point that I must

Joe Idoni's picture

Here's a point that I must argue.

Yes, drug use is something that only directly affects the user. No, the government ought not have the right to stop people from using drugs as they feel fit.

But notice that I used the word 'directly'. In my case, and the case of many people that I have known throughout time, parents are the drug abusers. They do this around their children, sometimes hiding it, but other times not so much.

If you think for one minute that this doesn't count as a victimization, then perhaps you need to check your premises. The amount of psychological damage done to a child can be nearly irreversible depending on the circumstances of the parents abuse.

Then there are the times when drugs affect a child before they are actually born.

This is an isolated incident you say?

If you believe that, then maybe you should look at people you know who have children and see how often they take pills, drink a little too much, or get angry even.

No, drug usage is not victimless. And until that pathetic ideology is disabused, I will continue to say it. I don't really care how it affects adults, because when it comes down to children, they are the ones who shape the world to come.


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