balancing personal liberty against the needs of society and people
Back in the day there was a saying: ‘Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.’ It was just a saying, but it did point to a basic problem with a live-and-let-live attitude towards recreational drugs: for more than just a few people, they could not learn whether they could ‘handle’ drugs — use them without becoming addicted or suffer some other harm from them, such as a seriously bad ‘trip’ — until it was too late. For some people, to use such drugs once was more than they could handle. [Please note that in this essay “drugs” definitely includes alcohol.]
Addiction to drugs — or anything else — is a devastating affliction. It not only destroys the life of the addicted person, but eats up the life of anyone who is close to and cares about the that person. It is a personal catastrophe and a social cancer. As such, it is for society as serious as a problem can be.
I favor having society provide housing for and treatment of addicted people precisely because it takes that burden from their families and other people who are in their lives. Addiction is an illness. While it is not itself a communicable disease, its effects are communicated to almost anyone who has any kind of relationship with an addicted person.
Moreover, people who are under the influence of drugs can be a social nuisance, if not a menace to society. People under the influence of drugs are sources of disturbance, if not mayhem, if not worse. No society needs to have people under the influence of recreational drugs out in public.
At the same time, as someone who has enjoyed his share of recreational drug use — though perhaps not more than average for members of m-m-my generation — I think those who can handle drugs should be free to do so. While, looking back, I was simply lucky not to have caused any harm to any other person in being out in public under the influence, the times I was indulging and not out in public were nothing but good (other than a bit of paranoia here and there — but that’s just part of the experience). It can be noted that I did not indulge in any use of recreational drugs until I was 18 — and in the state of Georgia (U.S.A.) it was legal for 18-year-olds to drink at that time. I was over twenty one before I did any drug stronger than pot.
So, I am in favor of allowing adult people to use recreational drugs as long as they are neither using them in public — and with no non-adults present — nor are out in public under the influence of drugs. Being inside in a public establishment that allowed people to use drugs would count as not being in public — as long as whatever was going on inside the establishment did not intrude upon people outside it, to include noise. Being a passenger in a taxi or other vehicle would also count as not being out in public — again, as long as anyone under the influence in a taxi, etc. was not being a disturbance to people outside it.
As I envision this policy, suspicion of being under the influence of drugs would not be carte blanche for officers of the peace to stop people out in public, much less go any further. They would have to have legitimate probable cause to stop and question anyone on that premise. To make ‘being hassled by the man’ more improbable, I would favor making being in public under the influence a crime only if some other actual crime — to include being a public nuisance — were being committed. Then it could be added to the charges.
As I see it, that is a drug policy that would do a reasonable job of balancing the needs of society against the liberty of the individual, as well as addressing the needs of individuals regarding the potential for personal harm that, it must be admitted, allowing even adult people to indulge in the recreational use of drugs will engender.