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 lead to disastrous societal repercussions. Coulter took the rather absurd, if nuanced, view that if we're going accept a socialized welfare state in which everyone is responsible for each others' medical bills, then drug users should be restricted from their habits because ... we all have to pay for it.
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. Like Mayor Bloomberg, everything from trans-fats to soda portions to headphones can be legislated against with some fraudulent rationale about health. But Coulter's argument misses the larger point; the War on Drugs is ultimately a War Against Liberty. And the zealous waging of this war, be it by Ronald Regean or George W Bush, speaks to a curious inconsistency in mainstream conservative thought.
Free marketeers rightfully belittle liberals who believe that, by mere government fiat, society's ills can be legislated away. The favorite of gun nut mantras is "If we outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have them" or "Criminals don't care about what the law says." And this is true. Conservatives with a basic grasp of economics understand that when a product becomes more heavily regulated or banned, it does not cease to exist, but either becomes exorbitantly more expensive or continues to be sold on the black market.
Nowhere is this more evident than the drug war. And yet it is at this point where conservatives' appreciation of basic economics is simply left at the door. Conservative Republicans like Ann Coulter or Bill Bennett vigorously support the drug war and tell us that society is better off with these drugs off the streets. Of course, if pushed, I'm sure they would admit that mere legislation does not actually keep drugs off the street, but instead makes their sale the domain of criminals, increases the cost and risk involved, and gives gangs a profitable enterprise with no competition from legitimate businesses. And the same people who rightfully denounce gun laws for attaining no results are the first to tell us that society will be safer if we declare by government fiat that these bad drugs are illegal.
As a result, our moral crusade has created a number of greater blights on our culture than the drugs themselves:
1) With ever tougher drug laws, the price of illegal drugs has skyrocketed, making the drug trade all that more alluring to listless youths from the inner cities. Why work a job making 10 bucks an hour when you could make several thousand a week?
2) Not surprisingly, the black market and high dollars also creates an explosion in the crime rate. Drug cartels create havoc in Mexico and on our borders, and the violence spills into the streets of our major cities. It's a rhetorical question to ask why people will gun each other down over the sale of marijuana and and heroin, but not the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.
3) As a result of our drug laws, we have the highest incarceration rate of any first world country. Millions, if not billions of dollars, are spent each year locking up and caring for non-violent people whose crime was to either possess or grow and sell a plant.
4) Lastly, the drug war has vastly militarized our police forces. More and more warrants are executed by men with as much armor and firepower as an infantry platoon. And this escalation--or, more accurately, "police envy"--is not merely limited to the DEA anymore, but even run-of-the-mill bureaucracies like the Department of Education have their own skull-cracking macho SWAT teams.
This is one area where libertarians really have the high ground over traditional Republicans. They understand that, ultimately, the War on Drugs is a War on Liberty. If a man wishes to grow or use drugs to his heart's content in a private place, then it should be his right as a freeborn citizen. As with alcohol, if the man then becomes a danger to others, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for endangerment or whatever else he might do wrong. Libertarians understand the dangerous social and economic consequences of banning something as desired as drugs, and they realize that the futile, draconian enforcement of drug laws only adds to the violence and crime surrounding the trade.
So what say you Ricochetti? Is it time we rethink our decades-long war?