Earlier I wrote about the argument that drugs should be banned because they have health costs that society must pay. Usually when I bring up such arguments, comparing the risk and health costs of drugs to other legal activities, and even arguing that making drugs illegal is an infringement upon rights, someone will argue "but you don't NEED to take drugs." And, more often than not, many listeners will silently agree.
The problem with this argument is that it takes the speaker's personal preferenc3es and assumes they are universal. However, that is a dangerous way to define rights. For example, there are people who will never say anything that would offend anyone, to them the right to free speech is irrelevant, and they see no need for it. Likewise, for many atheists, the freedom of religion is unimportant, so long as religion is not imposed upon them. And there are others who would have no problem with eliminating the right to privacy, as they would have no worries if the government chose to listen to every phone call made.
Would you want to turn to these people to define your rights? But many are willing to use the same argument concerning drugs. They see no need for people to sue drugs, so they don't think it is a right.
Now, I'll start with the obvious, not all drug use is recreational. My life would be much easier if I could buy my pain medication in the quantity I need, rather than remaining in pain for months while I convince my doctor I need a higher dosage, and he tries various inadequate doses to make sure I get only the minimum I need. And make no mistake, I NEED drugs. When a previous doctor decided I was a drug seeker and cut me off, after the withdrawal symptoms ended all I could do was lie on a sofa and moan. Without drugs I cannot function.
But even if we discount people such as me, who would be spared immense amounts of suffering by removing the medical gatekeepers from the drugs they need, there is still a question of recreational users. Just because you cannot imagine that it is important for them to have drugs does not mean it is not important to them. Many people can't imagine why others want to listen to certain music or see certain televisions shows or go to church or read certain books or look at certain art or visit certain places. Should these activities be banned as unimportant because some can't see how much they matter to you? Just because drugs are not essential to life does not mean they are unimportant. Short of food and water and shelter, nothing is essential to life, yet that is no reason to allow the state to ban it.
So, next time someone tells you that drugs are not essential, please point out how little actual is essential and ask if you could ban everything else. It probably won't change minds, but it may bring a bit of perspective and sanity back to this argument.
Originally Posted in Examining the War on Drugs on 2008/07/19.