Psychologists' responsibility to society: Public policy and the ethics of political action

Luke R. Allen, Cody G. Dodd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In the United States, prohibitionist policies are used as the primary approach to combat the negative effect of substance use on society. An extensive academic literature spanning the disciplines of economics, political science, and multiculturalism documents the great social costs of the United States' "War on Drugs" both nationally and internationally. These costs come with at best marginal effect on substance abuse and other crimes linked to the drug trade. In many cases, there is a reason to believe that these policies exacerbate the problems they aim to address. This article explores psychologists' ethical commitments to social change concerning such drug policy, given the field of psychology's expanding commitment to social justice. We examine arguments regarding the boundaries between psychologists' personal and professional ethics with regard to political participation. Using drug prohibition as an exemplar, we suggest that many psychologists' political actions and professional ethics may be misaligned. Ultimately, we conclude that the endorsement of prohibitionist drug policies is in direct conflict with the guiding ethical principles put forth by the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-53
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug prohibition
  • Ethics
  • Political action
  • Professional and personal values
  • Social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Psychology


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