Should Christians consider legalising drugs?

There has been some discussion on drug laws over at New Zealand Conservative, with Lucyna referring to an article called “Don’t legalize drugs” by Theodore Dalrymple, which I shall refer to below.

This is a very polarising issue, with most people either saying “Drugs are bad – ban them” or “You have no right to legislate what people put in their own bodies – legalise them all”. Those in favour of legalising them argue that this will reduce the price, reducing crimes committed by people trying to fund their drug habits, and increase the quality (less people dying from dodgy concoctions). They generally assume that if drugs were legal usage would not increase much, as most people are sensible and won’t take them. I highly doubt this, it is logical to expect that usage would increase somewhat, people are more likely to use something if they can do it on a whim (pop into a shop and buy it) than if it is more difficult and expensive to obtain.

We don’t know what exactly would happen if all drugs were legalised – we haven’t done it yet. As Theodore Dalrymple states:

“But a certain modesty in the face of an inherently unknowable future is surely advisable. That is why prudence is a political virtue: what stands to reason should happen does not necessarily happen in practice. As Goethe said, all theory (even of the monetarist or free-market variety) is gray, but green springs the golden tree of life. If drugs were legalized, I suspect that the golden tree of life might spring some unpleasant surprises.”

I am certainly no fan of the legalisation of all drugs. It is a stupid idea to take drugs, I don’t even drink. However, many Christians rightly see drugs are bad and as a result go completely in the opposite direction – “ban them all”. Many seem to believe for some reason that Christianity requires drugs be illegal, and won’t entertain any discussion about adjusting the drug laws. But nowhere in the Bible is there ANY example of a drug being illegal.

Currently alcohol and tobacco are legal in NZ, most other stuff is illegal. The decision which drugs should be legal and which ones restricted is not based on Christianity at all. Rather, it is a purely pragmatic decision based on the costs and benefits to society of having a substance legal or illegal. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable for us, whether Christian or not, to entertain discussion on the costs and benefits of whether possession of certain substances (such as BZP, or cannabis) should be legal, illegal but not criminal (e.g. you get fined but don’t end up in court, just like a driving offence), or a criminal offence.

Dalyrmple also states:

“Analogies with the Prohibition era, often drawn by those who would legalize drugs, are false and inexact: it is one thing to attempt to ban a substance that has been in customary use for centuries by at least nine-tenths of the adult population, and quite another to retain a ban on substances that are still not in customary use, in an attempt to ensure that they never do become customary.”

Which is also an excellent point. The social acceptability of a drug makes a big difference in whether it is practical to restrict it or not. If enough people find something socially acceptable, it will be impossible to police. You can never control a substance without public support.

But where does this leave socially acceptable illegal drugs like cannabis? Whatever its status in the past, and despite research showing how harmful it is, cannabis is now socially acceptable in many circles. If you doubt that, just think – do you know someone who you strongly suspect uses cannabis? Most people know users, it is so widespread. Have you reported them to the cops yet? If not, why not? Why don’t you respect the law? Do you too find cannabis socially acceptable?

If even you find cannabis socially acceptable and won’t report it, how do you expect the police to control it?

What our drug laws should be is something I am as yet undecided on. And I am strongly aware that changing one small thing can be the start down a “slippery slope” towards more stuff that would be undesirable. However we must be willing to entertain pragmatic discussion on these issues. Christianity has a lot to say about the rights and wrongs of many different things – we can conclusively say abortion is wrong for example. But it has little to say about drugs, so we must be careful not to jump on one end of the dispute (either “ban it all” or “complete freedom”) and hold this as the “Christian” position, rejecting all practical considerations to the contrary.