Drug Legalization from the Utilitarian Perspective


Drug legalization is a highly controversial ethical problem, with a plethora of arguments for and against it. The controversy provokes debates about addiction, substance abuse, as well as the rate of a related criminal offense, medical benefits, and other topics. For this reason, it is appropriate to evaluate drug legalization from the utilitarian perspective to estimate the ratio between its possible negative and positive effects. The focus of the paper will be mainly on marijuana use, and such utilitarian principles as the principle of utility and the felicific calculus will be primarily applied.

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Principle of Utility: Effects of Drug Criminalization

In general, utilitarianism suggests that an action can be morally justified if it leads to a greater number of benefits than harms. As for John Stuart Mill’s principle of utility, it implies that an action is acceptable in case its results are as good as or better than of any other available alternative. Thus, there is a need to look at the consequences of marijuana criminalization first. According to Leyton, its main negative outcome is a high rate of arrested users (75). Even people who are not involved in illegal trafficking and other types of serious criminal offense and who use the drug merely for recreational purposes often face major problems. They include limited employment opportunities, social stigma, and other issues associated with the arrest for marijuana possession.

Principle of Utility: Effects of Drug Legalization

Decriminalization could eliminate the identified negative consequence, yet the main concern related to this solution is the drug’s detrimental effect on health. It is observed that long-term marijuana use can affect the volume of the brain, as well as the connectivity among its different parts, potentially resulting in reduced cognitive ability and psychological/mood disorders (Filbey et al. 16913). Therefore, high rates of marijuana use among teenagers may be particularly detrimental.

Still, it is not clear if decriminalization would be conducive to an even higher number of adolescent substance abuse cases. At the same time, decriminalization would allow designing a standard, scientific approach to marijuana cultivation, making it possible to regulate the number of psychoactive compounds in the plant. In this way, it would be possible to maximize the benefits, medical effects of marijuana, including reduced pain and anxiety (Behere et al. 263), while minimizing the negative ones. Based on this, it is possible to say that marijuana legalization is permissible consistently with the principle of utility because its public, economic, and social consequences are more favorable than drug criminalization.

Felicific Calculus

When analyzing the chosen moral controversy from the perspective of Jeremy Bentham’s felicific calculus, one should pay attention to the intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness, fecundity, purity, and extent of consequences. It is possible to say that the intensity of marijuana legalization effects is high. It can lead to a significant reduction in economic expenses for felony convictions and drug violations and will likely result in the more widespread use of cannabis for medical purposes, benefiting patients with various conditions. The identified effects will be long-lasting and certain because evidence shows that marijuana use reduces suffering in patients with chronic pain (Webb and Webb 111).

In contrast, it is not clear whether a larger number of younger individuals will suffer negative consequences of marijuana use after legalization because the rate is already significant with about 6.5% of high school students using it almost daily (Volkow et al. 2221). Additionally, the benefits will be attained instantly, sparing the funds attributable to drug prohibition and helping individuals access a safe and effective remedy. In this way, marijuana legalization could favorably affect society as a whole and, thus, it is permissible.


The analysis shows that the utilitarian perspective justifies marijuana legalization. Based on the principle of utility, legalization is more beneficial than drug criminalization. It can help reduce the rate of arrests due to marijuana possession, as well as relevant costs, and make cannabis use safer due to standardization and proper public education. The felicific calculus principle justifies it as well: the possible positive effects are rather certain, intense, durable, and of large scale. Of course, some risks associated with marijuana legalization remain, but it seems the benefits outweigh them significantly.

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Works Cited

Behere, Aniruddh P. et al. “Cannabis: Does It Have a Medicinal Value?” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 59, no. 3, 2017, pp. 262-263.

Filbey, Francesca M. et al. “Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use on the Brain.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111, no. 47, 2014, pp. 16913-16918.

Leyton, M. “Legalizing Marijuana.” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: JPN, vol. 41, no. 2, 2016, pp. 75-76.

Volkow, Nora. D. et al. “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use.” The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 370, no. 23, pp. 2219-2227.

Webb, Charles W., and Sandra M. Webb. “Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis: A Patient Survey.” Hawai’i Journal of Medicine & Public Health, vol. 73, no. 4, 2014, pp. 109-111.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 1). Drug Legalization from the Utilitarian Perspective. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/drug-legalization-from-the-utilitarian-perspective/

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1. StudyCorgi. "Drug Legalization from the Utilitarian Perspective." May 1, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/drug-legalization-from-the-utilitarian-perspective/.


StudyCorgi. "Drug Legalization from the Utilitarian Perspective." May 1, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/drug-legalization-from-the-utilitarian-perspective/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Drug Legalization from the Utilitarian Perspective." May 1, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/drug-legalization-from-the-utilitarian-perspective/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Drug Legalization from the Utilitarian Perspective'. 1 May.

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