Libertarians and Drugs
If you’ve spent any time reading the Libertarian Party Platform (do it!), you might’ve run smack into this:
1.2 Personal Privacy
Libertarians support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, and property. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure should include record held by third parties, such as email, medical, and library records. Only actions that infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes. We favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes. [My emphasis added]
If you’re anything like me, the first time you read that last sentence you might’ve laughed aloud and said something like, “Those morons! Recreational drugs! Legalized!” Yes, the mere thought of it probably caused you to spew a mouthful of beer all over your pack of cigarettes.
I’ll pause to let the irony catch up to you. Take a sip of your coffee if necessary…
It’s true: we already have legalized recreational drugs in this country. Nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine are all dangerous in their own ways, but we accept them almost without a second thought while marijuana and cocaine are frowned upon, albeit to vastly differing degrees. Why is that?
Before I continue, let me make the following abundantly clear: I do not and will not endorse drug use. This blog post has nothing whatsoever to do with advocating legal or illegal recreational drug use, period. I’m going to keep my personal views reasonably out of the equation here – which is to say I won’t argue the virtues of one drug over another from my viewpoint – and focus on the logic behind the Libertarian Party’s position on legalized drug use. Suffice to say I’m currently attending graduate school in order to apply for licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. In other words, my #1 goal is to help people overcome their addictions, chemical and otherwise. I hope that gives you a reasonable bit of clarity that this post is not based on downplaying any dangers of legal and illegal drug use in itself.
I can’t believe you’re even going to defend this.
It’s counter-intuitive for most people to consider legalizing drugs, because we often equate “legalization” with “it’s okay for people to do whatever the hell they want,” as if simple legalization magically creates a moral or societal permissiveness to get high and then commit violent crimes. This simply isn’t true; even though alcohol use is legal, it is not legal to drive drunk, rob a bank under the influence, beat your wife after one too many, or perform surgery while tanked. In other words, you have a right to drink as much as you please so long as your actions do no harm to others. Drunk or not, you’re still responsible for your actions. Why can’t we extend a similar outlook to currently illegal drugs?
Because they’re more dangerous than alcohol.
That’s a riot. Five times more people die annually due to alcohol versus illegal drugs, which sounds really terrible until you realize twenty-five times more die due to tobacco use. Incidentally, both tobacco use and alcohol use are in the top three most preventable causes of death in the United States. In other words, Coors Light makes heroin look safe – statistically speaking.
But just think how many more people would die if those drugs were legal!
You’re jumping back to the “legality = permissiveness” position. And just because something is legal doesn’t mean we all want to do it, after all. I’d direct your attention to everything Johnny Knoxville has ever done in front of a camera. Legal? Yes. But I don’t see people lining up to do it.
The best way to influence people in general is to educate or demonstrate the rewards and dangers of specific behaviors. For instance, if heroin was suddenly legal tomorrow, would you seriously want to run out and try it? Your knowledge of the inherent dangers is more effective in keeping you from doing a drug than the ludicrously small chance that you’d get caught for possessing it. But, as with a good cigar or a glass of scotch, if you choose for whatever reason to take that risk then that’s your decision you made concerning your own self. Even though the overwhelming majority of libertarians would view the decision of heroin use as a horrible and dangerous choice, consistent with our view of self-ownership – among other things soon to be mentioned – there should be no legal means of locking you up exclusively for that choice.
To any and all libertarians, it is never legal to do harm to others in any way, shape, form, or fashion, whether or not drug use is involved. The difference is that criminalizing someone’s private behavior – no matter how unappealing or stupid it might be – is fundamentally immoral and, practically speaking, a completely un-winnable battle, anyway.
So I say again, legalizing a substance does not legalize all behaviors a human being can engage in while under the influence of that substance, nor does it make substance use acceptable, attractive, or appealing. But, in the end, you still own you. You have the right to eat yourself to death, drink yourself to death, smoke yourself to death, snort yourself to death… you get the idea.
Okay, but do we really need more legal drugs out there? Aren’t we still ultimately safer by making some of these drugs illegal? Doesn’t that cut down on the actual crimes caused by drugs?
As someone who plans on being an addictions counselor, let me just say that it would be really, really, really nice if making drugs illegal actually set up a serious and lasting roadblock to drug use and drug abuse – let alone to the crimes caused by drugs in one way or another. I’d have addicts, essentially forced to get help, kicking down my door and paying me ludicrous amounts of money for my services. I mean, if Lexus built a helicopter, that’s what I’d be taking to work.
So, yeah, I wish I could just give you reams of evidence showing how useful and effective the War on Drugs has been over the years and decades. Unfortunately, there is no way to do that – it’s a completely doomed conflict between law enforcement, people who wish to do drugs, and the vast organized crime apparatus created by drug prohibition itself.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we thought making a drug illegal could actually stop or deter use, abuse, and crime. We might look at the dangers of drunk driving, and we might decide that just outlawing drunk driving wasn’t enough; after all, even though drunk driving carries stricter punishments seemingly by day, alcohol is still behind 31.7% of car accident fatalities nationwide. So ask yourself, would making the actual possession and use of alcohol illegal keep people from doing certain things – like drunk driving – that are already illegal anyway? Thanks to the alcohol Prohibition of 1920-1933 – and the resulting explosion of political corruption and the creation of organized crime in America that came directly from it – we know that the answer is “no.” Someone will gladly step in and meet the demand for a drug, and then an entirely new and vicious criminal element will come along with it.
Here’s the the point to remember about Prohibition: while the government ran around to proudly bust open a barrel of whiskey here and blow up a moonshine still there (always in front of cameras, just like today), and while it busied itself with arresting and prosecuting individuals who merely possessed alcohol, the vast and brutal criminal organizations behind the bootlegging remained untouched as they grew more and more powerful. And, worst of all, completely innocent people were caught in the crossfire among rival gangs as their neighborhoods, communities, and cities were turned into war zones.
You’re saying drug prohibition causes crime?!
What many people don’t realize is that Prohibition was the first serious drug prohibition. Alcohol, in every sense of the word, is a drug and, at one point, it was an illegal one. Prohibition failed completely; why do we expect this other drug prohibition to be any different?
There are unbelievable profits to be made in drugs while they’re illegal, which is where the real criminality comes from. Take a gander at Mexico if you don’t believe me.
Hasn’t Mexico decriminalized or legalized some drugs? According to your genius theory, shouldn’t the violence have stopped there?
The reason Mexico has called in their own army to deal with the drug lords, and has seen 28,000 innocent lives lost since 2006, isn’t because the cartels are competing for sales in Mexico – they’re competing for the market in the United States.
Why are illegal drugs so profitable, anyway?
Because they aren’t a part of the free market. For instance, there’s nothing terribly special about marijuana – it’s literally a weed. Anyone could grow it. So why does a mere eighth of an ounce of it routinely go for roughly $60-80? Simply because it’s illegal. The price reflects the unique risks and challenges somebody – typically some criminal organization – takes to produce and deliver the product. Why were the profits from rum running so gigantic 90 years ago? Again, simply because it was illegal. Gangs and cartels have always killed each other and anyone even remotely in their way in order to make money on drugs, and why? Because it’s a $400 billion a year industry – and that means 8% of the entire world’s commerce is made in the illegal drug market. That also means that because of the War on Drugs, 8% of the world’s commerce is funding the violence perpetrated by these gangs and cartels. In other words, this patently evil $400,000,000,000 industry and everything that comes with it exists solely because we’re pointlessly engaged in the embarrassingly futile attempt of trying to stop some end users from damaging their health with a certain set of chemicals, just so they legally can do it with another kind instead.
Libertarians don’t want addiction and don’t support drug abuse at all; we simply recognize that the drug war, on so many levels, is a proven and guaranteed loss. All of the money spent on the drug war – on incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, on bizarre tax subsidies to Colombia and Afghanistan to try and destroy their own drug crops, on fruitlessly catching the occasional drug stash and trumpeting the “success” – could be used to educate people on the risks of drugs instead. And couldn’t we use that money to give addicts treatment? Couldn’t we deny the worst and most sadistic criminals the ability to become rich off of human misery? Couldn’t we just accept the reality that people can and will harm themselves, legally or not, and that trying to prevent them ultimately puts innocent people, families and communities at risk?
Libertarians want to make the best of a bad situation. It’s just that simple.
Comments and questions are always welcome.