Drugs are wrong? Really? How can you be so sure?

I was reading VK Narayanan’s post advocating the criminalization of drugs last week. The post was a rebuttal of Jug Suraiya’s argument for legalization of drugs. It was an interesting exercise in analytical deconstruction insofar as it did NOT yield itself to such a deconstruction. It reminds me of Richard Bach’s quote from ‘Running from safety’ — “Compelling reason will never convince blinding emotion.”

Morality vs. Legality

The corner stone of Narayanan’s argument is the following: “The point is that drug consumption is NOT right”, and hence has to be illegal. My understanding of the argument is that recreational drugs are immoral, and hence have to be illegal, regardless of unfavorable economics. While that line of reasoning sound, its application for this case, in my opinion, is not. I question the premise that recreational drugs is immoral. I do not base this on the victimless crime argument, nor on the personal freedom argument. It is based on something entirely different.

During world war II, American farmers were encouraged to grow hemp for the war, and after world-war hemp was banned because it has the same psychoactive ingredient as marijuana (a fact which was known for a long time). So growing hemp was legal (and moral) before the end of world war II, and after it was made illegal, it has suddenly become immoral. This is just one example of how (im)morality of drugs actually follows its (il)legality, and is not the other way ’round.

Going back Narayanan’s post, it can be argued that drugs are considered ‘NOT right’ simply because they have been made illegal. That also explains why Hindu have been sadhus using marijuana for hundreds of years now, and that hasn’t been considered immoral (until now). In fact, the same argument holds for practices like sati. Up until the time sati was banned, only a minority considered it immoral. After it was banned, the immorality of sati was a universal opinion. So this opens up the possibility that legalizing drugs might make its use moral after all.

All drugs are not the same

Another argument Narayanan makes is that drugs are more injurious (than cigarette and alcohol), and hence should be illegal. The critical failure in this argument is that all recreation drugs are assumes to be equally harmful, and hence should be made illegal. Unfortunately, its far from the truth. Recreational drugs can be loosely categorized as hard drugs, and soft drugs. In general terms (at the risk of oversimplification), hard drugs are more harmful than soft drugs. In fact, soft drugs like Marijuana, Hashish, and opiates were found to be less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol. Even surprising that coffee was found to be more addictive than marijuana, hashish, and psychoactive mushrooms! So the argument that drugs all bad just doesn’t hold water. If we talking about hard drugs, then its a different debate altogether (so lets not go there, not in this post).

Economic Viability

Narayanan makes an argument that the economic viability of drug laws cannot be a reason for legalizing it. A legitimate statement, but a misapplied argument. This argument was supposed to be a rebuttal of Jug Suraiya’s argument that drugs are not a moral issue, but an economic issue. But Jug Suraiya’s point was that recreational drugs are illegal (despite its widespread use) is that the large demand for drugs has driven the trade into the hands of underworld mafia. The nexus among law enforcement personnel, politicians, and mafia makes it profitable for law enforcement and law making officials to maintain the status quo of criminalizing drugs. Note the subtlety in the argument. The argument does NOT say that drugs should be legalized because it is too expensive to enforce existing laws and that there is money to be paid. The argument is that the reason why drugs are still illegal is that law enforcement agencies and law makers have a lot to gain (economically) by keeping drugs illegal. An entirely different argument which hasn’t been rebutted at all!

So from what I can make of it, Narayanan’s arguments are more an attempt at justifying one’s prejudice against drugs, and not than an exercise in interrogating Jug Suraiya’s arguments.

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