War on Drugs; Or, Conservative Inconsistency

I originally intended to write some long-winded, footnote-heavy treatise on my opposition to the drug war. But then the thought occurred: I never bother reading anyone’s post that goes on forever, so why would anyone read mine?  I’m not going to cite statistics, but address the philosophy instead.  I’ll keep it short. 

Recently, Ann Coulter and John Stossel debated America’s War on Drugs. Stossel, the libertarian, has argued for years that restrictive drug laws are futile, wasteful, and lea…

  1. BrentB67

    I think the proper time to debate legalization is the day after every welfare program, tax credit gimmick, and transfer payment are repealed. If we want to ensure individual liberty we must first individualize consequences. I think the order these things happen matters. Get rid of welfare then start repealing or reforming drug prohibition.

    Byron – you lose me on your point #3. What does the 2nd Amendment have to do with U.S. incarceration rates?

  2. Byron Horatio

    A typo on my part. I was listening to Mark Steyn talk about guns on the radio.

  3. Simon Templar

    To repeat what I wrote on a previous thread, the War on Drugs is good at providing some interesting gigs for DEA agents and making a few ruthless thugs insanely rich, but not much more than that.  I spent most of the 90s conducting riverine counterdrug operations in Colombia and Peru, and we did make some significant impact on the supply side.  Politicians don’t want to seriously address the demand side because that could cause them to lose elections.  The War on Drugs is an irrelevant counterproductive talking point for unserious politicians.  End it now and save Mexico from our drug abuse problem.

  4. Franco

    Great post – and I read long posts.

    If we accept Coulter’s argument, then there is truly no limit to what we should ban over concern for “public health.”  Certainly alcohol abuse and even one-time use maims and murders thousands of people a year in horrific auto accidents.  And yet there are no calls to ban it.

    I’m seeing this more and more. This attitude feeds socialism. It may also be an indication that socialism has already won, since that is always the tipping point they seek. Once everything is everyone’s problem, well, there you have it…

     Republican dolts don’t even see that they 1)have lost and 2) are creating more socialism.

    Something has evolved between law and order conservatives and prissy nanny-state leftists and it has converged on drugs and a few other things. 

    There is real propaganda alive out there about drugs and it’s despicable. Personal responsibility should be emphasised not pre-emptive nannying. And you are right there is a double-standard re guns and drugs. Conservatives recognize that guns don’t kill,people do. They can’t bring themselves to understand that drugs daren’t “bad” drug abuse is.

  5. Franco

    Every time drugs are brought up around conservatives of the non-libertarian bent, the first thing they say is – Drugs are dangerous. Yes they are. So is alcohol. Guns are dangerous, automobiles are dangerous and fire is dangerous. So if the idea is to outlaw dangerous things, there is a long list of very dangerous things to outlaw. They will say,  they can’t outlaw these things because some factors trump public safety. They can’t outlaw these things because people will revolt. People will use alcohol anyway breaking the law. But that’s the case already with drugs.

    Then they say well, if drugs are legalized then more people will take them. Maybe. That is what happened with gambling (also bad for everyone). Did the world end?

    Tobacco is legal but only sold to those over a certain age. Somehow we now have a situation where a teenager can buy weed easier than tobacco. What does that tell you? 

  6. Byron Horatio

    @Franco, you said it better than I did. I can’t accept the Coulter argument in regards to the welfare state because it is an even further surrender to statism than what we have with the nanny state. When I debate this, I boil down the argument to this: hard drugs are a blight, yes. But their criminalization creates an even greater far-reaching cancer than merely broken families from drugs. The illicit drug trade and the endless money involved leads to murder, cartel terror, police corruption, property confiscation, massive incarceration, and destabilization of South American countries. I’m not naive enough to think that these criminal elements would disappear with legalization, but prices would fall rapidly and make the trade much less lucrative for teenagers. As a thought experiment, if alcohol or cigarettes were suddenly criminalized and enforced with as much vigor as marijuana, does anyone believe that we wouldn’t have a lucrative and yes, violent black market for these items?

  7. BrentB67

    Byron, you make sound points as usual, but eliminating the welfare state and other government over reach must be part of the equation. 

    If we legalize drugs, and I think there is a good case to do so, we have to isolate the consequences to the individuals as much as possible. DocJay makes some good points above.

    Does the state step in and say the employers can not perform pre-employment drug screens if drugs are legal? Do we want children riding to school on a bus driven by someone who wasn’t required to pass a drug test? Do you want truck drivers on the highway that aren’t subject to drug testing? Airline pilots?

    If we allow drug testing and a legal drug user fails and either loses their job or can’t get a job do the rest of us pony up 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, food stamps (sorry, SNAP), and medicaid?

    I think the two are inextricably linked.

  8. Franco

    Byron,

    You are right on. Here is something I wrote about this issue a while back.

    http://hypersanity.blogspot.com/2008/05/drug-policy-conditions-are.html

    It’s kinda long, but the concepts will be very familiar to you so it should be a breeze :)

    We are in agreement. The cure is worse than the disease. No more leeching!

  9. flownover

    You know, there is alot of distance between marijuana and heroin .

    And I am sure there is just as much “distance” between marijuana and crack or meth .

    If we can separate these two, then I am all for legalizing pot, but to deny that it is a gateway drug is simplistic. A kiss is a gateway drug to intercourse in a way . The kiss is innocent, the intercourse can buy you an STD or with the wrong person , an assault . 

    There is alot of decoding to do along the way . Canadian pharmacies sell oxycodone , hydrocodone, and a number of other addictive drugs . How to control that ? This is a very tough, Gordian knot of a problem.

    Good luck, waiting for the answer, but somehow the folks on tv aren’t likely to provide it. 

    Just don’t make something that tells my teenager that it’s okay to use drugs instead of living.

  10. Franco

    Flownover -

    If we can separate these two, then I am all for legalizing pot, but to deny that it is a gateway drug is simplistic. A kiss is a gateway drug to intercourse in a way . 

    Everything is a gateway “drug”. Any substance you put into your body to feel different or ‘better’ is a gateway drug.

    Ironically those who are afraid that pot is a gateway drug and therefore wish to keep it illegal are creating more of a problem. Because pot is relatively harmless, anyone crossing over into illegality for pot, discovers two things, 1) pot is Much ado about nothng, and  2)where to buy other illegal drugs. Double fail.

  11. Gretchen

    Color me undecided on this issue.

    Underlying the conservative opposition is that inevitably a society takes the legality of an action to affirm its morality. To decriminalize recreational drug use will necessarily mean it will become accepted. Much like abortion.

    I liked Charles Murray in What It Means to Be a Libertarian. If I recall correctly, in a true libertarian system, drugs would be allowed, and it would also be allowed to refuse to employ drug users or rent to them. That’s a system I could live with, but there seems to be no way to get there from here.

    I am afraid that where we would get to from here would be a place where drug users would just be another protected class of people.

  12. Simon Templar
    BrentB67: Byron, you make sound points as usual, but eliminating the welfare state and other government over reach must be part of the equation. 

    If we legalize drugs, and I think there is a good case to do so, we have to isolate the consequences to the individuals as much as possible. DocJay makes some good points above.

    Does the state step in and say the employers can not perform pre-employment drug screens if drugs are legal? Do we want children riding to school on a bus driven by someone who wasn’t required to pass a drug test? Do you want truck drivers on the highway that aren’t subject to drug testing? Airline pilots?

    If we allow drug testing and a legal drug user fails and either loses their job or can’t get a job do the rest of us pony up 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, food stamps (sorry, SNAP), and medicaid?

    I think the two are inextricably linked. · 

    BrentB has made my point about why politicians don’t want to address the demand side.  How about random drug testing for anyone with a state license?  Doctors, lawyers, teachers, realtors – everybody takes the piss test.

  13. DocJay
    Simon Templar: To repeat what I wrote on a previous thread, the War on Drugs is good at providing some interesting gigs for DEA agents and making a few ruthless thugs insanely rich, but not much more than that.  I spent most of the 90s conducting riverine counterdrug operations in Colombia and Peru, and we did make some significant impact on the supply side.  Politicians don’t want to seriously address the demand side because that could cause them to lose elections.  The War on Drugs is an irrelevant counterproductive talking point for unserious politicians.  End it now and save Mexico from our drug abuse problem. · 2 minutes ago

    But there’s so much to be gained by a police state, for our government that is.  

    We sure as heck cannot go on as we are.   It’s a failing disaster.

  14. DocJay
    BrentB67: I think the proper time to debate legalization is the day after every welfare program, tax credit gimmick, and transfer payment are repealed. If we want to ensure individual liberty we must first individualize consequences. I think the order these things happen matters. Get rid of welfare then start repealing or reforming drug prohibition.

    I’d be for a lack of voting rights and driving privileges to start.  We sure as heck need to worsen the suffering for users of drugs who live off the system by not providing them with much of anything.  

  15. Z in MT
    BrentB67: I think the proper time to debate legalization is the day after every welfare program, tax credit gimmick, and transfer payment are repealed. If we want to ensure individual liberty we must first individualize consequences. I think the order these things happen matters. Get rid of welfare then start repealing or reforming drug prohibition.

    Byron – you lose me on your point #3. What does the 2nd Amendment have to do with U.S. incarceration rates? · 21 minutes ago

    Thanks for making the point I was going to make. 

    Because it is difficult for central governments to distinguish between bad behavior and bad luck in determining who gets public assistance, negative consequences of individual behavior are almost always socialized (i.e. spread across all members).  The drug war started as an attempt to reduce individual bad behavior to reduce the socialized costs (both policing and welfare).  What we should really try to do is to decentralize and privatize (i.e. through churches and community organizations) public assistance so that the consequences of individual behavior is more likely to be born and corrected by the individual.

  16. James Lileks
    C

    If we’re going to go full Libertarian on this, wouldn’t the usual objections to regulation apply? No government inspection (recall the food-safety / restaurant argument from last month), no licensing, no zoning. Anyone can make meth and anyone can sell it anywhere. 

    If someone is stupid enough to do meth, by all means, say goodbye to your job, your  teeth,  and your life, in that order. But if my neighbor sells meth out of his garage, it’s a neighborhood problem. Same if Bob’s Meth & Croissants opens up in the local commercial node next to the knick-knack shop. 

    Of course, this won’t happen if they’re legalized; there will be zoning, state control, taxes, etc. The only places that get a Meth Shop or Crack Shack will be blighted neighborhoods with low civic involvement. So then we have the government abetting the establishment of drug-distribution centers in poor neighborhoods, and taking a cut. 

    I don’t see how that makes us a better society.

    Or, I’m wrong. How does the pro-legalizing side envision the practical aspects once the wand is waved and everything’s legit?

  17. Bryan G. Stephens

    I think one has to do more than say “Let’s legalize drugs”. We have to acknowledge that legalization would bring other problems with it than we have now. Maybe, on balance, we would be better off. Maybe not. The conversation never seems to get there.

    I see great value in some sort of power to force addicts into treatment. We don’t do that now very well, however, studies show that forced treatment can work for Substance Abuse. 

    This argument is so often presented as “Just make it legal and things will work out”.

    As is so often put by the legalization advocates, Alcohol causes the most problems and it is legal. If Crystal Meth is legal, it will cause additional problems. Then what?

  18. jetstream
    James Lileks:  … 

    I don’t see how that makes us a better society.

    Our Uncle Sam has been dealing Meth to the military, especially pilots, since WWII … even today he still deals Meth to pilots for extended missions …

  19. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C

    I’m on the legalization side, but there’s some important things that often get lost:

    1. The prohibitionists are almost certainly correct that drug use will increase after the ban is lifted.  How much so, how harmful it will be, and whether its ultimately worthwhile are debatable (e.g., I’ve never thought Amsterdam was a good example, as its unusual situation attracted drug users to relocate or visit).  

    2. Legalization ≠ rulelessness.  Every legalizer I have ever spoken to thinks anti-DUI should continue to include all drugs — regardless of their legality — and that prohibition should continue for minors.
    3. Not all drug use is harmful, though some drugs are easier to abuse than others.  Prohibitionists are correct to laugh at the idea that a teeth of meth and a glass of merlot are analogous; they are incorrect to allege that any use of any currently illegal drug is tantamount to abuse or indolence.  I’ve said it before, but some of the most productive people I know are regular pot smokers (and conservatives).
  20. Mike Visser

    As I understand the WOD (war on drugs), it allowed the US entry into Latin America during the Cold War.  In selling it to the public–on both continents–politicians pointed at the social ills and costs of the illegal drug trade to reaffirm the WOD’s legitimacy.  

    Police unions love the extra funds, the expensive toys, and special-forces style training; politicians love having a boogie-man to point at to glean votes and jobs programs in new detention facilities; prosecutors love having additional charges to hang over perps; Corrections Department Unions love having larger staffs and bloated budgets.  

    I agree with Lileks over the concerns of methsicles for sale at the corner store; yet, I also agree the WOD has lead to the justification of overtly militarized police forces.  

    I’m torn on this issue.  There’s a ton of money being burnt in the WOD.  I live in Northern California, ground zero for meth abuse, and it is ugly.  These people end up more animal than human and for the most part, I don’t mind warehousing them somewhere off the street.  There is a better way to address this; I just don’t know the details.  

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