The Compassionate Utilitarian: Reconciling the Competing Moral Values Behind Efforts to Regulate Cannabis Use

  • Matthew K. Wynia
Original Article


Arguments about whether or not to legalize and regulate the sale, possession, and use of cannabis for recreation can be framed as ethical debates. Typically, for example, an argument based on the four principles of biomedical ethics might note that this policy debate pits individual autonomy rights against the harms associated with increasing social acceptance of using cannabis. But these debates tend to rapidly devolve to arguments about data; what exactly are the benefits and harms associated with legalization? This makes it seem that people on either side of the legalization debate are mostly concerned about tangible benefits and harms associated with legalization. Yet, I argue, the legalization debate is actually a variation of long-running debates about harm reduction strategies in public health, which are about deeper concerns that won’t be resolved with more data. An alternative strategy for more productive ethical discussion is proposed.


Cannabis use Ethics Moral values Health policy Ethical principles 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


The author declares the article is in compliance with the protection of all human and animal rights.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of ColoradoAnschutz Medical CampusAuroraUSA

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