Susanna Cornett has a longish post explaining why, even though the war on drugs hasn’t been particularly successful, we should continue to wage it. She points out the horrendous social costs of alcohol abuse and illegal drug use and argues that the incidence of these problems would assuredly increase with legalization.

I agree with this point, although think it somewhat overstated. My guess is that the percentage of society with a proclivity toward self-destructive behavior is essentially fixed as is the number prone to addiction. Still, we’d almost certainly have more people experimenting with “hard” drugs in a society where they’re legal than in one where it’s punishable by law.

Further, I wonder about directionality in the correlations Susanna and others point to between intoxication and other bad behavior. Is it the alcohol that makes people commit assualts, or is it just that jackasses are more likely to get drunk?

My inclination, nonetheless, is to increase liberty and to punish people for the actual consequences of their actions rather than merely the potential consequences.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rick DeMent says:

    But that would be balanced by then number of people who’s lives have been ruined simply because they have run afoul of the law because of their drug use and have never had any personal problems related to drugs. Hell without meth amphetamine the oil fields of east Texas would almost cease to run. The fact is that the number of illegal drug users (both consumers of banned drugs and mis use of prescription drugs) that are working useful members of society, far and away outnumber the addled addicts who cannot function or support themselves as even the most conservative estimates of drug consumption in this country would suggest.

    All of these people are in danger of having their lives ruined completely over a conviction by an over zealous anti-drug crusader. Look at Rush, gee he might not be able to come back and over what? Soething that no one would ever have known about had the stuff not been illegal to use on demand.

  2. markus says:

    as to the direction of causality:
    it is often taken to be from drug use to criminal behaviour, because a “drug user personality” has not been found yet and likely never will be. The anti-social personality disorder OTOH is well established.*
    Contrary to expectations based on these facts, the reasoning goes something like this: not all people with anti-social PD do drugs, hence anti-social behaviour is not the source of drug-use. On the other hand, drug users need a lot of money and at the same time loose their jobs, hence they turn criminal.
    This interpretation is also favoured by doctors, because addiction is something concrete for them, an illness, whose symptoms they then describe. Assuming a psychological reason behind both kinds of behaviour, drug use and crime just goes against their thought patterns, since it would to a certain extent remove drug addicts from their sphere of influence. (Naturally, the same goes for psychologists, just the other way round).
    AFAIK the current consensus among psychologists and even a lot of doctors is that of co-morbidity, that is both kinds of behaviour frequently occur together and mutually reinforce each other. Hence the correlation.

    * If you read a clinic description, like from the DSM-IV or the ICD-10 you’ll likely think this is pathologisation of criminal behaviour. To a certain extent it certainly is, but I’d encourage anyone to meet one of these people before passing judgement whether this is indeed a “real” form of mental illness. I had to see it to believe it.