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?