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Jordan Stella

Student,

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Should governments be allowed to criminalize victimless acts?

If a certain act causes no harm to others (be it social, economic, political, etc) should it be considered a crime? Modern governments have decided that certain acts (i.e. drug use, pornography, gambling, prostitution) are illegal, despite the fact that they are victimless crimes.

I believe the government has no right to criminalize conduct consensually agreed to between adults that cause no direct harm to others. I believe in people taking responsibility for their own lives and oppose paternalistic government. As a result, I support the immediate decriminalization of marijuana, prostitution, pornography, gambling and other victimless crimes.

I'd love to hear an argument that could persuade me to change my point of view.

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    Aug 10 2011: Hello Jordan,
    Drug use might be a victimless act, but we can't forget that drug users in America, for example, empower drug cartels in Mexico who slaughter thousands of people every year. And this story repeats itself with all the other examples you gave. The usage of those things can be victimless acts, but nonetheless represent victims and a death toll somewhere else in the world. If people are responsible to buy and use these products, than they are responsible for the clear consequences that underline their actions.
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      Aug 10 2011: without drug laws, drug money would go to legal businesses, and not criminal figures.
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        Aug 10 2011: A lot of Canada's upper crust made their money at a time when their 'drug' was illegal- during prohibition. These people are now the scions of society.

        However, I struggle with the concept of 'victimless' crime. As a guy gambles away his house, I think we could count his homeless kids as victims and if there is a social net- the whole of society pays for his inability to support his kids.

        With pornography there is good evidence of a negative spiral of thrill seeking that can lead to violence against women.

        If the drug user becomes addicted to drugs, they often resort to crime to support a habit and in societies with social networks, we bear the cost of helping them regain their lives when their addictions erode their health.
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          Aug 10 2011: Ahh you see though, I don't believe that we should have "social safety nets". One is not obligated to be his brother's keeper.

          If a man is gambling away his house, then it is his own responsibility to recognize that he has a problem and fix it. If he has a family, then it is not their responsibility to stop him, but it would be in their best interest to attempt to help him with his problem.

          Your claim that pornography leads to violence against women is actually completely outdated. Countless numbers of recent studied (done by reputable organizations, and published in reputable forms of media) have found that pornography actually DECREASES the amount of sexual violence. If you would like to see said studies, one must only search for it on the internet. You will find countless links from universities, private organizations, and government agencies that all say the same thing.

          If an individual chooses to use drugs, he should be allowed to do so; it is the government's duty to protect his rights, and so he should be allowed to do so legally. The moment he resorts to crime to fulfill his addiction, he should be punished. I believe that one has the right to live freely, but one does not ever have the right to commit a crime and violate the rights of others. Again, you argue for a social net, but I believe that this is wrong to even ask for. No one is entitled to help him regain his health. It was his choice to use drugs, it is his responsibility to deal with the consequences.

          One does not bear an obligation to anyone else. The only thing we have an obligation to is freedom.
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          Aug 11 2011: drug users "often" resort to crime? what kind of statistic is that? how many percent of drug users commit crimes? and how is it different than committing crime to get money for a cellphone or food? how many drugs are addicting in the first place? coffee for sure. why don't we ban coffee?

          so in short: i refuse to agree with that notion that certain chemicals or behaviors lead to crimes. many consumers of those things don't commit crimes, and thus should not be punished. the crime itself should be prevented or punished, no matter what led to it. give people some credit, and don't put leash on them.
        • Aug 11 2011: Hi Debra,

          I understand your point, but I would respond two-fold.

          1. Sadly, children will be victimized by any number of parental errors or weaknesses. This can stem from excessive drinking (perfectly legal) to verbal abuse (perfectly legal) to general neglect, hypocrisy, unrealistic standards and overall stupidity and selfishness. To select a few things, and make them illegal, is logcially inconsistent, especially in the context of a free society where each person has the right to their person, regardless of how poor their decisions are.

          2. The cost of the social safety net for the children of irresponsible parents is far lower that you would think. Really, it's a budgetary drop in the bucket. Although right wing media and talk radio would have you believe that welfare mom's are the bane of society, if we got rid of all of them, it would make no discernable difference. I believe this is a small price to pay for the vast majority of us who choose to use our liberty responsibly.
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        Aug 10 2011: I appreciate the correction on the pornography issue. As the issue is of little interest to me, I have not studied the research for years. I may check out your suggestions to update my knowledge base.

        I do believe in the social safety net so we come from different perspectives. Would you agree that in countries where it is in place, that the government then should have the right to criminalize behaviours that could work to the detriment of the group?
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          Aug 10 2011: I would not agree to that. In my opinion, the government has no right to criminalize said behaviors. If there is a group of individuals who choose to provide a social safety net for others, then that is fine by me, it is their right to do so. If a group of individuals have the means to create a charity to help the underprivileged, or the drug-addicted, or whomever, then I believe that is perfectly moral; however, the government should have no part in it.

          By putting a social safety net in place, the government has already overstepped its bounds, and has already violated the rights of the governed. Any action taken henceforth is only a further violation of said rights.
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      Aug 10 2011: I don't believe that you can blame the purchase of drugs in America to the drug problems in Mexico. By that same logical sequence, every time a business prints anything on paper they are directly responsible for the massive deforestation of the Amazon and so the government must enforce print quotas in office buildings.
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      Aug 11 2011: There wouldn't be cartels if drugs were legal. And if prostitution was taxed and cleaned up, there be no pimps or streetwalkers. Basically, if we allowed some or all of these victim-less crimes the crime wouldn't exist and our prisons wouldn't be so over-flooded
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        Aug 11 2011: I'm glad you thought to point this out. It is true that by outlawing certain activities, our government causes more problems for itself. I think you may be going a step far in saying that crime wouldn't exist. We will never be able to eradicate crime as I believe it is inherent to human nature, but it would ease the burden on America's prison system.
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          Aug 13 2011: Well not that crime wouldn't exist, I meant that crime specifically wouldn't exist i.e. if drugs were legal then no one would get charged with procession or MIC or any of those silly laws. Although I would not make meth legal, and cocaine I would put limitations on it like i believe Germany has. Meth would not be legal because people cannot take responsibility for their actions one bit.

          One problem specifically with American government, it that its too moral. Instead paying attention to scientific facts such as marijuana is not significantly unhealthy besides the smoking aspect, gays couples are natural to be in love, and other things i could get into, they think that God is their ruler. As we say in our pledge: I pledge allegiance to the flag... one nation under God..." :
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        Aug 13 2011: I absolutely agree. Modern culture has become too closely intertwined with "morality". People are much to busy worrying about morality, and not busy enough worried about the cold hard facts, about the objective reality.
    • Aug 11 2011: A crime by definition is a violation of another's person or property. If there has been no violation, there has been no crime. These are what we call legal "absurdities". It's ridiculous, and a complete violation of personal freedom.

      This is of course, not even to get into the economics of the issue, which in the case of drugs clearly shows that prohibition costs more both financially and socially than legallity.

      But this comes back to one of my core points I love to harp on. We live in a democracy, however our principles have been ignored. All laws should resonate clearly with the guiding principles of a just society. It is our responsibility to make noise, and demand better. We have to educate ourselves, and be proactive. Things like social networks are powerful forces in democracies as they allow ideas to spread virally to millions in a short period of time, and for those people to respond and voice their opinion without having to completely disrupt their lives.

      Look at what openmedia recently did using facebook when the oligopoly in Canadian telecom tried to stifle competiton by instituting usage based billing. The reaction they managed to capture must have made acutaries soil themselves. The minister of finance himself stepped up and struck down the CRTC's decision to allow it.
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        Aug 11 2011: I agree with you in that it is our responsibility to step up and fix the wrongs in government. A democratic society is based on the consent of the governed and nothing more. If the governed are unhappy, they must step up and fix the problems. It is as philosopher John Locke and our founding fathers believed.
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      Aug 11 2011: This is only true when illegal
    • Aug 11 2011: Great reply Fabio...and so very true...it is anything but victimless.
      • Aug 11 2011: Preposterous. If it weren't illegal how would drug cartels be empowered by it? Seriously people it isn't complicated. If you're argument were correct then Wineries would still be the equivalent of drug cartels as alcohol was a prohibited substance. I suppose Annheuser-Busch is an empowered drug cartel? A little common sense please. Drugs are victimless unless you don't believe in the power of people to choose for themselves and deal with the consequences of their actions.
        • Aug 11 2011: The drug cartels are the "big business of drugs." It makes no difference what the US does or doesn't do, the cartels will still exist and still terrorize people in other countries. Wineries were the equivalent during Prohibition actually.

          Just because you think something is right, does not make it right or moral or good. It is not true that everyone determines those categories for themselves. It does not mean our government should decriminalize it just because it would make some people very pleased. Societies derive norms and laws, not individuals.

          The US should spend dollar for dollar helping addicts to stop using, as much as it spends for "protecting" the border.
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          Aug 11 2011: guess what, they don't believe in that
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          Aug 11 2011: what exactly would the cartels do if it were all decriminalized? push used college textbooks, the next underground market?
        • Aug 11 2011: On this point I have to agree with Tim blackburn. Consumerism comes with responsibility that most people are not aware of.
          If all these businesses in Jordans (simplistic) example grew a conscience and decided to go paperless that would have a direct impact on deforrestation. Likewise- If no-one took cocaine there would be no drug cartels.
          That said, I fully agree that drugs should be decriminalized (...following far more in depth studys of their physiological and psychological side effects than have ever been carried out, and subsequent education of the population of the REAL dangers of drug taking) as this would be a far more satisfactory state of affairs.
          Appeal to change the laws by all means, but as it stands drug users have to bear some responsibility for drug cartels. To say otherwise is like dropping a hammer on someones head and then blaming their pain on the law of gravity.
          I guess my utopian society would have no need of drug laws as no-one would want to screw themselves up like that.
          However, if the US legalized drugs, prostitution, gambling etc. there would be hardly anyone in the prisons, as has been pointed out. Now I haven't done the maths but that destroys a BIG bussiness. How much American goods are produced by prisoners? It's legalized slavery! (without even considering that most of these inmates are young black men...)
      • Aug 11 2011: So Wineries are still criminal enterprises? Incredible. I guess Robert Mondavi had a shootout with the Behringer family recently? Maybe they decapitated a bunch of Gallo employees and dumped them in mass grave?

        Cartels would lose their market if it were decrminalized. While they struggled to launder their moneyt so they could opewn up legitimate businesses, legal money would swoop in and eat up the market creating jobs, tax revenue and awareness.

        Perhaps you guys forget, prohibition built the mafia. It always does. These things don't go away, so there's no point in fighting it.
        • Aug 12 2011: No wineries were criminal activity in Prohibition. Do you really think that the cartels that are gaining billions of dollars a year are just going to vanish somehow? Somehow that is a very simplistic world that just doesn't exist. All they will do is continue their illegal activities and some of that will be selling illegal drugs. But you will say but hey they will be legal. Not everyone will be willing to comply with whatever "legalization" laws might be passed.

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