Philosophers are good at clarifying issues. The initial issue I propose to debate is whether drugs should be criminalized or decriminalized. This issue needs to be clarified. In principle, the ideas of drug criminalization and drug decriminalization are straightforward. Anyone who proposes that a given drug should be criminalized means simply that the use of that drug should be a criminal offense. By contrast, those who favor decriminalization mean simply that the use of that drug should not be a criminal offense.
As the issue is so defined, it is fairly easy to understand why some citizens are for drug decriminalization and others are against it. What is harder to fathom is why the idea of decriminalization itself is so difficult to grasp. Admittedly, commentators on both sides of this debate have contributed to the confusion by using terms like criminalize and decriminalize in different and inconsistent ways. Sometimes, they have used the term decriminalize interchangeably with legalize. Of course, people are free to use these words however they like, as long as they are careful to explain what they mean. Here, I use the term drug legalization to refer to a system in which the production and sale of drugs are not criminal offenses. In my judgment, decriminalization is a much more basic issue than legalization. We should not try to decide what the law should say about drug production and sale unless we are clear about what the law should say about drug use.
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