Self-Sovereignty, Drugs, and Prostitution

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Portugal and the state of Oregon have decriminalized drugs, but they have not legalized them. There are no criminal penalties for using drugs or possessing small quantities, but there are criminal penalties for the commercial manufacture and sale of drugs. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have decriminalized prostitution, but they have not legalized it. There are no criminal penalties for the sale of sexual services by private individuals, but there are criminal penalties for operating a sex business such as a brothel or escort agency. This chapter defends one possible rationale for these policies: that laws that prohibit the use of drugs or the sale sex violate our right of self-sovereignty—the right we have to control our own minds and bodies—but laws that prohibit us from engaging in related commercial enterprises do not. The chapter presents a theory of self-sovereignty and explains why, given this theory and certain normative and empirical assumptions, it makes sense to hold that whereas criminalization violates our right of self-sovereignty, nonlegalization does not. For this reason, one cannot validly infer from the premise that criminalization violates our rights that nonlegalization does too.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Political Philosophy
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 9
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780198877639
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug legalization
  • Individual rights
  • Personal autonomy
  • Prostitution laws
  • Self-sovereignty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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