Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Stanton Peele Headshot

Is Government Dictating What People Put in Their Bodies a Violation of Personal Liberty?

Posted: Updated:

Everybody in America is for the burgeoning democratic movement in the Middle East: "Hands off the human urge to express yourself politically," we all agree.

But paradoxically, everyone in America is for controlling drugs: "You can't let people decide for themselves whether to take drugs -- they're addictive, for God's sake!" we say.

And so, anti-drug forces are aghast at Florida's conservative Republican governor Rick Scott's slashing of the funding for tracking pill mills that supply dangerous pharmaceutical on a pay-as-you-go basis.

But, you know, human beings used to be on their own when it came to consuming substances. I know we didn't have Oxycontin back in the old days, but we did have a dizzying array of opiates in the 19th century, until they were effectively banned by the Harrison Act early in the 20th. People had to decide for themselves what to put in their bodies -- you know, like people do with cigarettes and alcohol today.

Of course, we decided for more than a decade that we couldn't really leave that decision to people in the case of alcohol -- look how dangerous it is, and how many people become alcoholics! But, after 13 years of Prohibition, we relented.

On the one hand, you might say we decided to be a libertarian nation. On the other hand, no other Western country banned beverage alcohol for such a length of time, so we are fairly unique in deciding to prohibit people from harming themselves with a substance many seemed to want to consume.

In other words, we are an unusually repressive nation in some ways.

Where on Earth does alcohol continue to be banned? In the same Middle Eastern countries whose governments are fighting democracy tooth and nail.

In the case of democracy, we often say, "How long can you suppress people's desire to rule themselves?" Actually, a similar sentiment applies to substance use. How possible is it to find, fight, and prohibit every psychoactive substance humans are bent on inventing and distributing -- along with the many old standbys?

If people can't regulate their chemical intake for themselves, what hope is there for them in the modern universe?

Register To Vote