Drug use and abuse. A victimless harm?


“Cognitive liberty as the right of each individual to think independently and autonomously, to use the full spectrum of his or her mind, and to engage in multiple modes of thought.”

(CCLE – Centre for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics)

The concept of choice is an example of Cognitive Liberty and is often used by those who support the legalization of drugs. They state that ‘the capabilities of the human mind should not be limited as long as the person is not directly harming others’.

Authors such as Aldous Huxley and Terence McKenna agree that what persons do in private should not be regulated by the government. This view is also strongly supported by CognitiveLiberty.co.uk which affirms: “To believe in cognitive liberty is to believe that the individual is absolute sovereign over their own consciousness. It is an extension of the concepts of freedom of thought and self-ownership.”

It is argued that persons should be free to do what they want with their bodies, including the use of drugs, as long as they do not harm others. Such arguments are often based on the harm principle of philosopher John Stuart Mill who urged that ‘the state had no right to intervene to prevent individuals from doing something that harmed them, if no harm was done to the rest of society’.

But I wonder…is this really a victimless crime?

Portugal is the first European Country in which in 2001, criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine have been officially abolished.

I have visited Portugal in the summer of 2010 and I was not aware of any of this issues. Lisbon is a splendid city, but I constantly had the feeling of being in some sort of dirty and dangerous place. I saw more than once people lying at the corner of streets, people doing drugs or being under effects of drugs. It happened to go in the pub under our hostel and find a man with a needle in his arm. I let you imagine how the picture must be.


I do not state of being pro or cons the legalization of drugs. Yes, I do agree that people should be free to take their own decision especially when regarding their body and minds. But I wonder. Is it really as J. S. Mill affirms…that people are free to harm themselves as long as they do not harm the society? But living in a street, city, country, in which people are free to use drugs as they want…that harms the society indeed.

Where is the limit between somebody’s freedom to use drugs and somebody else’s freedom to decide not that he doesn’t to see, know, or be involved in any case in that situation? Where is the limit between you, being free to have drugs at the corner of the street, and me being free to walk on the same street and not wanting to see this unpleasant scene?



8 thoughts on “Drug use and abuse. A victimless harm?

  1. me says:

    how do you feel about smoking ?

  2. me says:

    what about homeless people ?

  3. People will argue that smoking is as bad as any other kind of drugs. It causes dependence and is harmful. Today we see it as a victimless crime even if is not like that. The passive smoke harms the others. This is why smoking is now banned in England and smoke-free regulations prevent smoking in all indoor work-places including bars, clubs and restaurants since 2007.

    However, today’s society tends to accept cigarettes more than other kind of drugs. BUT, keep in mind that somebody smoking a cigarette on a street is conscious of what he is doing; it can’t be considered a direct danger to you. Is not about people smoking or living on the street. Is their state of mind.

    Do you think that somebody under class A effects is conscious and responsible of his actions?


  4. me says:

    do you drink alcohol? and a person is responsible for his actions under any type of drug/alcohol because you are under no effect when taking it that makes you fully aware of the changes that are going to happen to you, the real problem is controlling it, what I’m really trying to say is that most problems come from addiction and that’s not a drug problem that’s a people problem and when it comes to people taking drugs on the street I don’t mind it but having a place (coffee shops-Amsterdam) where you could freely “medicate” doesn’t sound that bad anyway the short answer to your question is yes :>

  5. Thanks you for your comment and I accept your opinion but I find myself totally disagreeing. You are talking about use of marijuana and smoking a joint in a coffee shop. Cannabis can cause anxiety, paranoia and loss of motivation. You are aware of what is happening to you while under its effects. BUT Class A Drugs are not controllable as you think I am afraid. Yes, people are probably aware when they take the drug, but they cannot control its effects:
    .Ecstasy can cause panic attacks or psychotic states.
    .The side effects of hallucinogens, are random and occasionally very frightening, including flashbacks. They alter what we see and hear.
    .Amphetamines are very addictive, and the comedown can make the user feel depressed.
    I think this kind of drugs are more addictive and powerful that marijuana and people under those effects cannot control themselves.
    You will find this BBC article about drugs’ side effects quite interesting.

  6. Darren Wolfe says:

    While cognitive liberty is a valid concept since drug use is a physical act it therefore needs to be looked at from that perspective. I always start with the non-aggression principle, no one can morally initiate the use of force against another person. To enforce the drug prohibition means using force, in the form of police power, on people who aggress against no one. This is the moral basis on which to oppose the war on drugs.

  7. marco says:

    Every single man was born free to decide. We’re strong enough to say no and we’re weak enough to say yes. It’s up to the single man.

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