TWM: Should We Legalize Vices Like Prostitution, Drugs, Gambling?

It’s interesting how the country seems to be moving slowly but surely on a path towards greater toleration of the most common vices: Gambling, drug (mainly pot) use, and illicit sex (porn, but also prostitution).  Many states have relaxed their enforcement of what used to be called — somewhat inaccurately — “victimless crimes” and are now termed “transactional” crimes.  Why
is this?  Probably some combination of:

  1. Public morality is evolving to be more libertarian.  Perhaps the conservative “revolution” of the past 30 years is limited in what it can accomplish in areas of policy that affect a lot of (non-poor) people’s personal lives.
  2. Recognition of Internet reality.  On-line gambling, Craigslist-like escort services, and even drug services are ubiquitous and hard to stop at any reasonable law enforcement cost.
  3. Growing awareness of the high cost of incarcerating so many people for these (mainly drug-related) crimes.

Yet, de jure legalization does not appear to be imminent.  This is probably some mixture of:

  1. These crimes are often hardly victimless.
  2. Legalization would lead to more addiction and self-destructive behavior, probably including among minors.
  3. Much of the public is vehemently opposed to legalization on moral grounds.
  4. Politicians face little incentive for sticking their necks out on these issues.  Who’s going to work really hard to legalize cocaine or brothels?  What’s the electoral payoff?
  5. Federal laws and the international treaties they are based on limit legalizing these
    vices more than people realize.

Anyway, on Thursday I’ll start us off with a little information on what is legal/illegal now on the federal and state levels, notably in California.   Second, I’ll list some of the issues involved in legalization, like public health, use of criminal justice resources, effects on minors, etc.  A few specific proposals have been made to change the P, D, and G laws, and I’ll try to mention those, too.

That’s a big agenda to prepare in so little time and deliver on a hot night.  So, I’ll most likely focus on the first one – the state of current law, and probably leave the issue-oriented stuff to the discussion.


1. Why are G, D, and P still illegal in many/most places?

2. Who is harmed by these activities?
—  Users (women, addicts, etc.)
—  Society (public health, increased crime/police costs,  lost productivity, etc.)
—  Public morality?

3.  Are these “rights” among consenting adults?  Does outlawing them restrict “freedom” too much?

4.  Should decisions to legalize/decriminalize be state-level decisions?  Can they be, given our international commitments?

5.  What’s your favorite pro or con, the one that decides it for you?

6.  What do you think would happen if we legalized or decriminalized P, D, or G?

6.  How would changing these laws affect our relations with other countries, such as Mexico and the E.U.?


Drugs –  (these all address marijuana)

  • The cliff notes version for marijuana decriminalization: From NORML.  Remember them?
  • Even shorter pros/cons list:  Bullet points on pot legalization.
  • A 30-minute (long but fantastic!) public radio debate between marijuana legalization advocate and a criminal justice professor opponent I read all the time.
  • A great point about a potential big problem with legalizing pot.



  • FYI:  Federal law mostly lets the states decide what gambling they want to be legal/illegal.
  • Exception: On-line gambling is technically illegal, even though many people do it.  But that may change.

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