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Liberal versus Libertarian Views on Drug Legalization, by Jeffrey A. Miron

Liberal versus Libertarian Views on Drug Legalization,
by Jeffrey A. Miron
Published in
The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War,
Bill Masters, ed., Accurate Press, 2004.
To most observers of the drug policy debates, all drug legalizers are alike. The reality,
however, is that legalizers come in two distinct flavors. Most legalizers are liberals, and their
views on drug policy are consistent with liberal views on other issues. A minority of legalizers
are libertarians, however, and their views on drug policy reflect libertarian perspectives on policy
generally. There is ample overlap in the views espoused by these two camps. But there are also
substantial differences in their views on legalization and related matters.
In this piece I compare the liberal and libertarian views on drug legalization. Most
advocacy on behalf of legalization comes from liberal supporters of this policy, so most persons
familiar with the issue have been exposed mainly to this perspective. My goal here is to outline
the libertarian defense of drug legalization and explain how it differs from the more usual
The discussion does not suggest that the libertarian defense is ìbetterî or ìmore correctî
than the liberal perspective; instead, it clarifies the implicit assumptions underlying both views.
In addition, the analysis suggests that some aspects of the libertarian perspective can make
legalization appealing to a segment of the population that finds the liberal defense unpersuasive;
thus, incorporating components of the libertarian perspective potentially strengthens the case for
In presenting this analysis, I have oversimplified both liberal and libertarian views on
legalization. There is enormous diversity within both camps, so many of the generalizations
offered here are ìunfair.î But I believe the characterizations presented capture the essential
elements in the two perspectives and thus allow easy discussion of the differences.
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