The Public Interest

This is your soul on drugs

Damon Linker

Spring 2002

OVER the past several years, a gap has opened up between common and elite opinion about drug policy. While the overwhelming majority of Americans (along with their representatives in Washington) continue to support a prohibitionary approach to drugs that is among the harshest in the Western world, a growing contingent of journalists and intellectuals on both sides of the ideological spectrum have begun to advocate a more liberal stance. Many, including such conservative writers as Richard Lowry, editor of National Review, and Andrew Sullivan, have come out in favor of legalizing marijuana, while a few, such as the hard-core libertarians at Reason magazine and the Cato Institute, go even further, advocating the legalization of virtually all drugs currently prohibited. For both groups of reformers the decisive consideration is the issue of relative harm. Whatever the negative consequences of drug use for individuals or society as a whole, the harms that supposedly result from prohibitionIharms that range from depriving individuals of their right to pursue pleasure as they see fit to fostering a black market and the criminal subculture it breeds—far outweigh them.

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