Prohibition, economic liberalism and legal moralism

Philip Bean

in Legalising drugs

Published by Policy Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9781847423757
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447302698 | DOI:
Prohibition, economic liberalism and legal moralism

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This chapter examines radical proposals on the debate on legalising drugs. First, it determines what is meant by prohibition, which is the major policy of choice in the UK, and in almost all other countries. Second, the chapter contrasts this with economic liberalism, and sets both against a rights-based argument from the legal moralists, the central feature being that adults have a moral right to use recreational drugs, and it is no business of governments to take that away. Prohibition has remained a resolute government position, irrespective of its political hue. Economic liberalism applies to that small but eloquent group of economists who define liberalism in terms of a libertarian position arising from a free market. Mark Thornton offers a forceful version of economic liberalism in the US; he calls it ‘perfect legalization’ where ‘perfect’ means elimination of government intervention in the market. Legal moralist are those who regard the intrusion of the law as a violation of the fundamental rights to use recreational drugs, and as such means an unjustified intrusion of the state in the personal lives of its citizens. Legal moralists are not advocating the use of drugs; they simply assert that an individual has the right to use them if they want to.

Keywords: drug; prohibition; economic liberalism; legal moralism; policy; government

Chapter.  6270 words. 

Subjects: Health, Illness, and Medicine

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