Just as XUP is pointing out how it makes sense to legalize and regulate prostitution, The Economist is making that case for gambling. Of course, the argument works for drugs too – better to have their production and distribution legal and regulated by the state than criminalized, marginalized, and ultimately more harmful. All of these activities will inevitably cause some level of suffering, but their treatment as criminal offences simply serves to increase how much of that arises. This is unescapable, since those involved in criminal activities have no recourse to police protection and assistance, safety and quality control will always be poor, and criminalizing ‘vices’ puts an unsustainable and inappropriate burden on the justice system.
One further measure I would suggest is that producers of drugs – and purveyers of sex and gambling – should have to pay taxes on their revenues that are devoted specifically to helping people who are addicted to their wares. The treatment options provided should be based on the best available medical evidence, and be run by organizations at arms length from both the companies and the government (to avoid the kind of political bickering threatening Vancouver’s InSite harm reduction project). The taxes should be set at a level that ensures that anybody who wants to get treatment is able to do so for as long as they need it.
Humans have many weaknesses, with addictions among the most serious. By legalizing and regulating drugs, gambling, and prostitution, the harm associated with these activities can be minimized. At the same time, the reality that many people cannot overcome addictions on their own must be recognized through the provision of effective and accessible treatment.