The “War on Drugs” is hard to understand. We have been at it for generations and people still do drugs of all kinds. Do we think Mexican drug lords are using force to make Americans take drugs? Do Colombians threaten the life of American citizens if they refuse their Cocain? Of course not. Americans, like people throughout history, take drugs for a variety of reasons. Americans have a hunger for mood altering substances. There are even drug addicts who think they don’t use drugs; like those in my family on Prozac or other Doctor prescribed “medicine”.
One of the greatest economists that the 20th century saw and one of the last great Classical Liberals was Ludwig von Mises. He explained in his masterpiece book, Human Action, why the principle of the government not outlawing drugs was so important:
The problems involved in direct government interference with consumption. . . concern the fundamental issues of human life and social organization. If it is true that government derives its authority from God and is entrusted by Providence to act as the guardian of the ignorant and stupid populace, then it is certainly its task to regiment every aspect of the subject’s conduct. The God-sent ruler knows better what is good for his wards than they do themselves. It is his duty to guard them against the harm they would inflict upon themselves if left alone.
Self-styled “realistic” people fail to recognize the immense importance of the principles implied. They contend that they do not want to deal with the matter from what, they say, is a philosophic and academic point of view. Their approach is, they argue, exclusively guided by practical considerations. . . .
However, the case is not so simple as that. Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.
These fears are not merely imaginary specters terrifying secluded doctrinaires. It is a fact that no paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from regimenting its subjects’ minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away. The naïve advocates of government interference with consumption delude themselves when they neglect what they disdainfully call the philosophical aspect of the problem. They unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters.
It is often claimed that government regulation of drugs is an issue that dates from the 60s but Mises published Human Action in the late 40s well before the Nixon administration declared war on non-approved drugs. Laws or regulations concerning drugs dates back to the early part of the 20th century.
The federal “war on drugs” can be said to have begun in the 1960s in the past century. So what have we accomplished? You can bet that any school kid in America (user or not) knows where to get any drug you want or can find out in a few minutes by calling her friends. In our cities crack is as common as traffic lights, and is for the blue collar types since the upper class tends to prefer white powder cocain. But as tastes change over time the black market provides for the demand. The younger set gets into all sorts of weird things like Nitrous that we never heard of back in the 60s — the market provides what people want.
It seems that all we have done is to keep the price of drugs high, the prisons full, and shredded constitutional rights.
Some people say that we need to protect our school children from the terrible menace of illegal drugs, but schools seem to promote drugs. The DARE program sends police officers into the schools to show them what drugs look like and what they do. This often just intrigues kids. And what do we think we are doing anyway — the kid’s parents are doing drugs at home. All parents? No, of course not; but enough do so that it has become socially acceptable to use drugs. Unfortunately it is not acceptable to get caught. What utter hypocrisy.
Some people talk about legalization of drugs, but the government loves to use the threat of selective prosecution to people in line. They can’t arrest the middle class, the upper class, the lower class, and the school kids. We would need a whole state, Texas say, to be the prison if they arrested everyone doing drugs in our society. Besides, the illegal drug industry is a big part of our economy.
The enforcement of the drug laws is highly selective. We don’t raid the local high school for the gifted and haul all those kids off to jail. We jail mostly blacks and people in the lower economic class. It would be foolish to arrest the productive middle class that provides the taxes to fund the local government.
Who opposes ending the drug war? Drug dealers of course; and everyone that they pay off to look the other way. That is police, DAs, judges, and all sorts of politicians. Other than that, we have hard-line conservatives, the right-wing Christians, and people who believe that the country would be overrun by drug crazed madmen if drugs were legalized.
Marijuana has been used for five thousand years in China. The Turks, Indians and Assyrians all began using it more than two thousand years ago. Ancient Greeks like Homer, Herodotus, and Theocritus wrote about its medical benefits. It serves very well as an anti-emetic, muscle relaxant, glaucoma treatment and sedative and is used for migraines, menstrual cramps, seizures, asthma and nausea. 50% or so of oncologists report giving it to cancer patients. …
Heroin is perhaps the quintessential “hard drug,” but it is closely related to morphine and codeine. Perhaps it would be used in hospitals to this day if it were not completely illegal. Notably, there is no death from chemical withdrawal from heroin, and most people who abuse it eventually get over it. So much of the damage done by it is exacerbated by prohibition. Overdoses and lack of impurity arise because people do not know how much they are using, and no one bothered to inform them seriously of the risks. The legal barriers to syringe availability have famously led to a rise in HIV transmission. …
When they started cracking down on coca leaves, powder cocaine became more popular. When they leaned heavier on that, crack cocaine got on the streets — perhaps with a little direct help from the government. The more the government cracks down, the purer the drug tends to get, as it is easier to transport. Liquor became big under Prohibition and then subsided afterwards. We could probably expect a similar response from ending the prohibition of cocaine.
The “War on Drugs” and the “Global War on Terror” are two things that are allowing the government to strip away the rights of Americans and make the constitution look like a work of fiction. It is well past time to end the whole charade.