Marijuana and Mill’s Harm Principle

Marijuana is a very sensitive and controversial topic nowadays. At the opposite ends of the spectrum, people argue against each other about the legalization of the drug. For the supporters of the legalization, there are people arguing for the job creations and economic opportunities by comparing Marijuana to alcohol and tobacco. On the other hand, people argue against the drug because of its negative effects on the health and the fact that it is usually considered as a “gateway” drug to other more addictive drugs such as cocaine, heroine, etc. In the recent lectures, we learned a very interesting idea about the “Harm Principle” discussed by John Stuart Mill in his “On Liberty” Chapter IV. In this blog post, I will try to use this principle to explain whether or not Marijuana should be legalized.

Medial Marijuana Legalized States (Apr 2014) (link)

After talking about the importance of “Individuality” and “Experiment of Living” in Chapter III, Mill goes on to discuss what are the situations that an action should be allowed or prohibited. The theory is actually quite straight-forward and really makes sense. First, a “Good” act, which is considered as “Good” by both the “actor” himself and others, is always an act that is encouraged to be tried out. When it comes to the case of a “Bad” act, as long as such “Bad” act doesn’t negatively affect others, people have no right to stop someone from conducting such acts.


“Bad” Act in the “Harm Principle” (slide from 11/20 PolSci 101) (link)

Now we have a very clear direction – to decide whether or not Marijuana should be legalized, we only need to see if Marijuana is “Bad” to the user him/herself and other people. If it is only “Bad” to the user, but not the society; then there is no reason to prohibit the use of Marijuana under Mill’s “Harm Principle”.

First, let’s see if the use of Marijuana is “Bad” to the user him/herself. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Marijuana can cause “euphoria”, “relaxation”, “heightened sensory perception”, “altered perception of time”; it can “impair a person’s ability to form new memories”; large doses may cause “hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity”. Plus with the claim that Marijuana is a “gateway” drug that I discussed before, it seems that the drug is in fact “Bad” to the user him/herself in terms of its negative effects on the user’s health.

Negative Effects of Marijuana (Cannabis) on the health of the user. (links)

However, as we have already discussed, we also need to see if Marijuana is “Bad” to “other people”, or the society, before we make the decision of legalization. In fact, this is same as asking if Marijuana should be categorized under “Drugs” such as cocaine, or under addictive but legal products such as Alcohol and Tobaccos, since the former ones are “harmful” to the society as they increase crime rates significantly, while the latter ones have no immediate effect on the society (drunk driving is controlled and smoking usually doesn’t cause hallucinations and crimes).

At this point of discussion, the only question we need to investigate is the harmful effects of Marijuana on the society. It seems to be an easy question. However, it is exactly why the legalization of Marijuana is so controversial – people simply cannot come up an agreement on whether or not Marijuana would negatively affect the society. For example, Colorado legalized recreational use of Marijuana more than one year ago, but there is no positive correlation between the use of the drug and the crime rate of the state. In fact, according to another news coverage, “homicides in Denver fell by more than 60 percent” “in the first six months since Colorado legalized marijuana.” In addition to that, there are even some people arguing for the positive effects of Marijuana on our society by showing an increase in profits of cash crop, increased employments and decreased crime rate after Colorado legalizing Marijuana. On the other hand, there are people arguing about the social impacts of Marijuana such as the worsen relationships in user’s families and the long-run social issues which cannot be immediately observed. Since there is no way to actually calculate a “net” influence of Marijuana on the society, people cannot really come up a conclusion of whether Marijuana is harming our society or not.  Because of all these different perspectives and evidences, the controversy will still remain.

Labeling Marijuana by putting its name along with heroine and cocaine, by certain medias, without properly investigating the pros and cons of the drug, is biased and irresponsible. (link)

Unfortunately, till this point, we still cannot give an exact answer for the legalization of Marijuana. However, using Mill’s “Harm Principle”, we observe the complexity of the issues relating to Marijuana. Even though the concept of “Harm Principle” is relatively easy to understand, the real-world application of the concept is still challenging and problematic. By discussing this brief example of Marijuana, I hope we can have a deeper understanding on not only the Mill’s “Harm Principle” itself, but also the fact that the complexity of the situations and issues in our real world.

2 thoughts on “Marijuana and Mill’s Harm Principle

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog! The legalization of marijuana is a very debatable topic nowadays. I liked how you provided both positive and negative facts about marijuana, some of which I was unaware of. I also didn’t know that marijuana has not been classified as a drug. I feel as if marijuana is a good thing for medical purposes, but it could also have a huge impact on our society which is why its legalization is still up for debate.


  2. I enjoyed how you didn’t come to a definitive conclusion, and provided multiple points of view on the topic. Regarding this debate, I feel as though it’s an all or nothing scenario in regards to tobacco and alcohol. They are all “harmful” to ourselves but not to “others”. I think it’s also important to see what we should define as “harmful to others”. But this post really exemplifies the debates going on in the court systems right now.


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