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liberal, liberalism, neutral, drug, criminalization, prohibition, policy, harm, mill


Ethics and Political Philosophy


America’s conviction of nonviolent drug offenders has become rote. Outside of academics, there are few people asking where the state derives such a power. This essay questions whether a neutral liberal state can criminally punish a consenting adult for his drug use without violating its respect for individual autonomy. A liberal state which is neutral holds that there is a wide range of activities that different people derive satisfaction from, and that given this diversity, recreational behavior which is reasonable should not be criminalized. To determine what is reasonable, this paper consults Mill’s Principle of Harm and applies it to nonviolent drug use/possession. For a liberal, the burden of proof lies on the state to demonstrate that a particular action, irrespective of its popularity, cannot be permitted because it infringes the health or safety of others. After refuting justifications for criminalization, this essay concludes that the proscription of drug use is incompatible with the values of a neutral liberal society.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.