Are the reasons why people take illegal drugs relevant to sentencing decisions?

The laws that prohibit possession of certain drugs are ostensibly justified because they protect people from the health risks that are associated with uncontrolled or heavy use. Some have argued that criminalizing possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use is overly paternalistic (people should be free to make potentially risky choices as long as they don’t put others at risk) or even counterproductive (criminalizing drug use fuels a black market, many aspects of which present greater dangers to individual drug users and wider society). I find these arguments intuitively persuasive (although clear evidence would be needed to substantiate the claim that criminalization is in fact counterproductive).

So, if there is a justification for putting controls on personal drug use it seems that it ought to appeal solely to the physical and social harms that would result from a policy of drug liberalization. Such an approach is roughly reflected in the UK drug laws: the graded classification system, which determines the maximum penalty for possessing drugs in each class (A to C), considers only the harmfulness of the drug: punishment is linked to risk to health. Criminalization of drug use thus has nothing to do with a moral evaluation of this drug use.

However, a news story this month raises the question of whether moral considerations are sometimes playing a role in the sentencing of those convicted of possessing illegal drugs. Continue reading

World funds: implement free mitigations

The future is uncertain and far. That means, not only do we not know what will happen, but we don’t reason about it as if it were real: stories about the far future are morality tales, warnings or aspirations, not plausible theories about something that is going to actually happen.

Some of the best reasoning about the future assumes a specific model, and then goes on to explore the ramifications and consequences of that assumption. Assuming that property rights will be strictly respected in the future can lead to worrying consequences if artificial intelligence (AI) or uploads (AIs modelled on real human brains) are possible. These scenarios lead to stupidly huge economic growth combined with simultaneous obsolescence of humans as workers – unbelievable wealth for (some of) the investing class and penury for the rest.

This may sound implausible, but the interesting thing about it is that there are free mitigation strategies that could be implemented right now. Continue reading


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