Libertarians often attack the war on drugs as a waste of tax dollars and an infringement on personal liberties. That is misguided thinking that comes from trying to apply unworkable theoretical concepts in the real world.
For example, you often hear advocates of drug legalization say that we’re never going to win the war on drugs and that it would free up space in our prisons if we simply legalized drugs. While it’s true that we may not ever win the war against drugs — i.e. never entirely eradicate the use of illegal drugs — we’re not ever going to win the war against murder, robbery and rape either. But our moral code rejects each of them, so none — including drugs — can be legalized if we still adhere to that code.
If we legalized drugs, we’d be able to tax them and bring in more revenue for the state. But, how is that working out with alcohol and cigarettes? In 2004 and 2005, 39% of all traffic-related deaths was related to alcohol consumption and 36% of convicted offenders “had been drinking alcohol when they committed their conviction offense.” When it comes to cigarettes, adult smokers “die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.” But, will we ever get rid of tobacco or alcohol? No, both products are too societally accepted for that and perhaps more importantly, the government makes enormous amounts of revenue from their sale. Do we really want to be sitting around 10 or 15 years from now saying, “Gee, we’d like to get rid of heroin, but how could we replace the revenue we make from taxing it at an exorbitant rate?”
Of course, the number of people using what are currently illegal drugs would skyrocket if they were legalized, so we’d see a new wave of drug-addled burglars if we “legalized it.” Now, maybe you think that’s not the case. Some people certainly argue that if illicit drugs were legalized, their usage would drop. However, the fact that drugs are illegal is certainly holding down their usage. Just look at what happened during prohibition. Per Ann Coulter in her book, “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)“:
“Prohibition resulted in startling reductions in alcohol consumption (over 50 percent), cirrhosis of the liver (63 percent), admissions to mental health clinics for alcohol psychosis (60 percent), and arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct (50 percent).” — p.311
That’s what happened when alcohol was made illegal. However, on the other hand, if we make drugs legal, safer, easier to obtain, more societally accepted, and some people say even cheaper as well, there would almost have to be an enormous spike in usage.
Certainly that’s what happened in the Netherlands where “consumption of marijuana…nearly tripled from 15 to 44% among 18-20 year olds” after the drug was legalized.
But, some people may say, “so what if drug usage does explode? They’re not hurting anyone but themselves.” That might be true in a purely capitalistic society, but in the sort of welfare state that we have in this country, the rest of us would end up paying a significant share of the bills of people who don’t hold jobs or end up strung out in the hospital without jobs — and that’s even if you forget about the thugs who’d end up robbing our houses to get things to pawn to buy more drugs. Even setting that aside, we make laws that prevent people from harming themselves all the time in our society. In many states there are helmet laws, laws that require us to wear seatbelts, laws against prostitution, and it’s even illegal to commit suicide. So banning harmful drugs is just par for the course.
And make no mistake about it, drugs do wreck a lot of lives. Of course, drugs aren’t the only things that wreck lives and not every person who does drugs ends up as a crackhead burglar or a dirty bum living in an alley. Heck, Barack Obama, a man some people would like to see as our next President has used cocaine — and doesn’t it seem like every few weeks we read about another celebrity who comes out of rehab and goes on to have a successful career?
Sure, that’s true. But, every person who plays Russian Roulette doesn’t end up with a bullet in his head either. Look at the flip side of the equation. How many homeless people are drug addicts? How many women have had crack babies? How many people are in jail today because they got high and committed a crime? How many lives have been wrecked in some form or fashion by drug use? There’s probably not a person reading this column who doesn’t know someone who has faced terrible consequences in his life because of drug use.
That’s why once, way back when William Bennett was the drug czar, he responded like so to a caller on the Larry King show who told him that he should “behead the damn drug dealers.”
“I mean what the caller suggests is morally plausible,” he said. “Legally, it’s difficult. But somebody selling drugs to a kid? Morally, I don’t have any problem with that at all.”
Bennett was right then, he’s right now, and my guess is that most parents, upon finding out that someone was peddling drugs to their kid, would agree with him. Since that’s the case, do we really want the federal government to take over the role of a pusher and get our kids hooked on drugs to make a profit? No, we don’t.