Phil 100A: Ethics F 10
Professor Aaron Zimmerman
The Morality of Drug Use and Prohibition
: Our moral evaluation or criticism of
would seem to depend on
These include the
used (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, Prozac, marijuana,
for which it is used (medication, recreation, work, suicide);
in which it is used (working, driving, relaxing, dancing, working out); and any
(parental, legal, or civic) the user might have.
For instance, it is perfectly consistent to believe that there is nothing wrong with a dying
man smoking marijuana to help relieve his stress, where, in contrast, a parent acts
immorally when shooting heroin in front of her kid. The same might be said of
Maybe it’s okay to prohibit or even criminalize the use of some drugs in
some contexts, whereas the prohibition or criminalization of other drugs is unjust.
1. Why You Shouldn’t Use Illegal (and many Legal) Drugs
In general, the drugs we’re going to discuss are sufficiently harmful to make their use
for most people in most contexts.
For this reason you shouldn’t smoke
anything, snort anything, or inject anything (unless you are a diabetic).
shouldn’t drink alcohol to excess.
The Imprudence of Drug Use
(1) In most cases, regularly using a prohibited drug significantly increases the probability
of disease, developmental deficits, lost opportunities, premature death and other bad
(2) In most cases, the long-term negative consequences whose probability is increased by
drug use are significantly greater in degree than the short-term benefits of drug use.
(3) You shouldn’t greatly increase your chances of experiencing significant negative
(long-term) consequences to secure significantly lesser (short-term) benefits.
(4) In most cases, you shouldn’t regularly use prohibited drugs.
Notice “in most cases.”
E.g., this argument says nothing about a dying person’s use of
2. From Imprudence to Immorality
What is imprudent or bad for you on the whole isn’t obviously immoral.
Is there a good
argument from the
of drug use to its
Suppose that John smokes
cigarettes or marijuana from the ages of 18-25 and this causes him to get lung cancer and
die prematurely and painfully at 45.
And suppose that if John hadn’t smoked at all he
would have lived to 80 in relative health. (25% of pack-a-day smokers die 10-15 years
earlier than they would have otherwise; Husak, p. 49.)