Is selling drugs really worse than buying drugs?

Ethically speaking, is the act of selling drugs worse than buying them? Based solely on the acts themselves and not the stereotypes of ruthless unfeeling drug kingpins, and hopelessly addicted fiends destroyed by drugs. What makes one worse than the other?

Well, there’s that whole “profiting from the misery of others” thing.

Which would be true if most people using drugs got addicted to them. Lookng at that chart, should alcohol dealing be treated the same?

No. Buying and selling are two sides of the same act. If it’s ethical for one person to buy something, it’s ethical for the other person to sell it to him.

If two people have sex, and one of them’s 13 years old while the other’s 33, or if one of them doesn’t really know what they’re doing due to being drunk or on drugs or mentally retarded while the other’s perfectly sober, we don’t judge the two people equally. In the case of a drug deal, there might be a similar issue of one party’s being less than fully able to give informed consent (or some equivalent notion) to the transaction, due to being underage, or naive, or addicted, or some such. This wouldn’t be an issue in all deals, but when it was, I imagine it would be the seller who usually bore the greater responsibility.

“It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.” -Homer Simpson

Ethically, we judge actions that risk another person’s life, safety, or health more harshly than those that risk one’s own. Since drugs are more likely to harm the person who buys them than the person who sells them, is the seller risking harm to someone else?

What about with legal-but-dangerous items, like prescription drugs, firearms, explosives, rat poison, etc. How much responsibility do we place on the seller to be sure they’re not selling to the wrong people, and how much on the buyer to insure the purchases are used responsibly. (Answer: I think it varies from situation to situation, but buyer and seller are not necessarily equally culpable.)

I’m not sure you can separate the sale of drugs from the reality of how drugs are trafficked. When you consider that both buying and selling drugs supports the economic system that is involved in selling drugs, then both parties are equally culpable. If I buy drugs from a local dealer who is tied up with gangs as his distribution channel, then I am just as guilty as he for supporting that system. If, on the other hand, I buy weed from a friend who grows it in his backyard & only sells to adults who he knows, then neither of us are guilty of supporting that system.

If person A is weak and person B exploits that weakness, we tend to judge person B more harshly.

As someone pointed out, if two people are engaging in a transaction that is theoretically ethical (commerce, sex), but one person takes advantage of the other’s reduced competence (due to addiction, youth, ignorance, whatever) we would tend to judge that person harshly. They are, after all, profiting off of the misfortune/disability of the other, as well as not acting in a responsible manner in the transaction.

Therefore, if a drug dealer sells to addicted customers, I would consider it unethical. I realise that not all customers of drug dealers are addicted, and I further recognise there are lots of transactions that would meet this definition of unethical that are perfectly legal (bartender, tobbaconist, etc.) but I would still frown on those transactions.

If you look at it from an addiction standpoint prescription drugs, hell , even nose spray dealing should be treated the same.

Also, for almost any kind of transaction, legal or illegal, sellers have a lot more transactions than buyers. How many books did you buy last month? And how many did Amazon sell? The same principle holds true with drug transactions.

So even if both sides of a drug transaction were morally equivalent (I’d disagree, for the reasons Thudlow mentioned), it seems appropriate to set the penalties higher for the seller with that in mind.

Possibly, but ethically, I don’t think it makes any difference. It’s a voluntary transaction; the buyer is taking responsibility for whatever risk there might be. The seller has some responsibility not to sell to a person who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing, but since the buyer is seeking him out, I’d say he can presume the buyer does know, until proven otherwise.

Same as above. If someone comes to you looking to buy a product, you can assume they know the dangers and accept those dangers voluntarily, until they give you some reason to believe they don’t.

Well, first, that logic only works if you believe there’s something inherently wrong with drug transactions, such that having a lot of them is worse than having only a few. (We don’t impose high penalties on Amazon for selling a lot of books, after all.)

But let’s suppose there is. Why would we need to set the penalties higher for each transaction when there are so many transactions to penalize? Someone who has twice as many transactions is committing twice as many crimes, and can therefore expect to receive twice the penalty anyway. Imposing higher penalties per transaction seems like nothing more than a sneaky way to punish dealers for crimes you suppose they may have committed but don’t actually have enough evidence to prosecute.

If your goal is to prevent drug use the users should be punished as much as the sellers. There is so much profit in selling drugs that you can not eliminate sellers, as soon as one is eliminated market forces will have another pop up in its place. Users, on the other hand, don’t benefit as much from their acts, and should be more easily deterred.