If Using Drugs Is Not a Crime, Neither Is Helping People Use Drugs


Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has reiterated her support for decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use. Her rationale features the traditional distinction between drug users, who are equated with addicts and described as victims, and drug suppliers, who are treated as predators deserving harsh punishment:

"I don't like it when people easily condemn someone who has an addiction as if he were a criminal, as if he were a person who should be persecuted," she told a meeting of the National Investigation into the Consumption of Alcohol, Tobacco, Psychopharmaceuticals and Illegal Drugs.

"Those who should be persecuted are those who sell the substances, those who give it away, those who traffic in it."…

"Decriminalization of the consumer should include what are called second-generation human rights, but at the same time there should be a strong policy of prevention, so that no one falls in the situation of consuming any substance," said Anibal Fernandez, the minister of security and justice.

"Falls into the situation"? Is that how drug use typically occurs? Drug markets exist because people like to use drugs. If the government insists on treating use of certain arbitrarily chosen intoxicants as a crime, drug dealers are properly viewed as aiders and abettors. Once the government no longer treats drug use as a crime, the rationale for treating drug selling as a crime should disappear.

Although the policy De Kirchner proposes certainly sounds better than the status quo, her reasoning closes the door to further reform. I prefer the way Barney Frank explained his marijuana decriminalization bill at a press conference last week:

The vast amount of human activity ought to be none of the government's business. I don't think it is the government's business to tell you how to spend your leisure time.

Last April I addressed the user/dealer distinction in a Los Angeles Times debate with the Heritage Foundation's Charles Stimson.

[Thanks to Tony Newman at the Drug Policy Alliance for the tip.]