Bill Bennett Explains Why Freedom Is Slavery

In a CNN opinion piece, former drug czar Bill Bennett criticizes "my friends at National Review" for suggesting that drug prohibition has "curtailed personal freedom." You should pay close attention to his argument, because Bennett (like fellow prohibitionist Newt Gingrich) has a Ph.D.—in political philosophy, no less:

The question is: "Whose freedom?" The drug dealers', sure—the drug consumers [sic], no.

As any parent with a child addicted to drugs will explain, as any visit to a drug rehab center will convey, those caught in the web of addiction are anything but free.

Bennett's reasoning is airtight, as long as you accept his premises that all drug users are addicts, that addiction is slavery, and that adults are children. Keeping in mind that there is no difference between drug use and drug abuse, it is indeed troubling that legalizing marijuana in California "would cut the price by as much as 80% and increase use from as little as 50% to as much as 100%." To be fair to Bennett and his ambiguous prose, I think he is suggesting that marijuana consumption might double, not that every man, woman, and child in California would start smoking pot. He cites a 2010 RAND Corporation study that said "researchers cannot rule out consumption increases of 50 percent to 100 percent," although it also cautioned that "there is considerable uncertainty about the impact of legalizing marijuana in California on public budgets and consumption, with even minor changes in assumptions leading to major differences in outcomes."

RAND's model estimated current consumption as 450 or so metric tons a year, so a doubling would make it around 900, which is alarming if the thought of people getting high and laughing at stupid movies terrifies you. Lest you think, based on your own direct or indirect experience with marijuana, that it's not that big a deal, Bennett is here to tell you that you don't know what you're talking about, because "marijuana is much more potent and causes much more damage than we used to know." More on that meme here.

In case Bennett's CNN essay does not satisfy your thirst for lame prohibitionist arguments, he and Joseph Califano, chairman of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, have an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal that asks, "Do We Really Want a 'Needle Park' on American Soil?" If you are unfamiliar with Needle Park, you are lucky, because it means you never had to endure the tedious talking points of drug warriors in the 1990s. Bennett and Califano explain:

Legalization in other countries has had disastrous results. In the 1990s, Switzerland experimented with what became known as Needle Park, a section of Zurich where addicts could buy and inject heroin without police interference. Policy makers saw it as a way to restrict a few hundred legal heroin users to a small area. It soon morphed into a grotesque tourist attraction of 20,000 addicts that had to be closed before it infected the entire city.

Suppose that, instead of repealing the 18th Amendment, the U.S. had continued to bust bootleggers and raid speakeasies while setting aside a Booze Zone in Central Park where people could openly buy alcohol and drink unmolested by the police. That area would have become pretty unpleasant pretty quickly. Would that have been a reasonable test of legalization?

Califano also trots out two of his favorite lines:

1. "A child who reaches 21 without using illegal drugs is virtually certain never to do so." Califano thinks this means that if the government could somehow stop all Americans from trying drugs until they turn 21, no one would ever use drugs. It does not mean that.

2. "Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous." That first part is halfway true: Drugs would be "dangerous" (what isn't?) even if they were legal, but they would be less dangerous because the hazards associated with the black market (unreliable quality, violence, arrest, etc.) would be eliminated. As for the second part, what can you say to someone who stubbornly insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the government classifies drugs based on a cool-headed, scientific assessment of the risks they pose? I take a stab at it here.

[Thanks to Joshua Rosenberg and Richard Cowan for the links.]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • jtuf||

    visit to a drug rehab center will convey

    Drug rehab at my local hospital consists of ending illegal drug use and creating a lifetime dependency on mind altering prescription drugs which the drug user can only get from said hospital.

  • ||

    I have a relative that went into rehab for smoking weed. She was mocked by both staff and clients because, "let me get this straight, you are only in here for weed?" She came out knowing a bunch of heroine and meth users. In rehab, she learned which drug mixtures were bad (like wellbutrin and calartra???). She learned how to avoid motion censors and sneak in and out of "controlled facilities." Some of the people in rehab also sold drugs to the clients. And these counselors with M.A.s must be pretty fucking clueless. Apparently the clients learned each counselor well enough to teach other clients how to approach that counselor either to get certain prescriptions or to generally manipulate the counselor to whatever end met their needs.

  • fish||

    Now that is the market in action! I'm beginning to think that we should give the Tony's of this world their way completely just to see reality thwarts their intentions at every turn!

  • Apogee||

    No need. If you want a larger scale version, just go to Cuba - the "socialist paradise" where everything is for sale.

  • fish||

    When can we expect this bloated leftover to have the fatal heart attack that will finally stop this nonsense from finding its way onto the pages of Reason?

    Jeez these douchebags make me tired!

  • ||

    I see bad gambling debts and a guy named Guido who doesn't have a neck being the root causes of Bennett's end.

  • ||

    Who do you think is making him stump for prohibition? Couldn't be the guys who we owes money, guys who also profit from the black market. Nah, not possible, nope, not at all.

  • ||

    those caught in the web of addiction are anything but free.

    What is the over/under on the volume of distilled spirits Bennett and Califano put away each week? I would say a minimum of a fifth each. Motherfucking assholes. Between the two of them they couldn't form a cogent thought on the issue with a thesaurus and a 6-hour head start.

  • ||

    IIRC he used to smoke--I think I read that at one point he quit. It would be funny if he's started back..

  • Old Mexican||

    Bennett's reasoning is airtight, as long as you accept his premises that all drug users are addicts, that addiction is slavery, and that adults are children.


    The problem is that HE accepts his premises as truisms.

    "Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous."


    If being dangerous was enough to prohibit a thing or activity, we would not have airplanes.

  • Brandon||

    Drugs are bad, because they are illegal, because they are bad.....

  • ||

    Drugs are dangerous!!! But no knock, swat team drugs raids and ruining someone's life and sending them to prison are healthful!!!

  • Bar Student||

    mmmmmmmkay

  • Joe M||

    Bill Bennett makes me puke.

    Let's try this:

    The question is: "Whose freedom?" The drug dealers' casinos', sure—the drug consumers [sic] gamblers', no.

    As any parent wife with a child husband addicted to drugs gambling will explain, as any visit to a drug gambling rehab center will convey, those caught in the web of addiction are anything but free.

    Which is why Bill Bennett should be locked up.

  • Professional Critic||

    Beat me to it. +1

  • Doctor Whom||

    But ... but ... it's completely different when he does it. It's always completey different when people like him do it.

  • alan||

    Catholic Jesus approves of gambling and therefore Caesar should get out of the way; Catholic Jesus thinks substances that trigger the very same endorphins that gambling does that are banned by Caesar are naughty. See, it's air tight.

  • Jason||

    Pope Leo XIII said that Catholic Jesus approved of cocaine infused wine.

  • Fluffy||

    You know what?

    Fuck the people at drug rehab centers.

    "Wah!" Bennett exclaims. "They aren't free!"

    Well, since researchers have spared no expense in "proving" that shopping and gambling produce the same brain reactions as so-called "addictive" drugs, those assholes at the rehab centers could stop using just as easily as I can walk out of a fucking mall or casino.

    So fuck them.

    They're perfectly free. They just don't want to quit. The entire "Wah, I'm addicted" shit is just a dodge.

    So Bennett can take his "Drug users aren't free" garbage and shove it up his ancient deteriorating fossilized ass.

  • ||

    And don't forget fluffy, Bennett, while he was lecturing America on morals, was himself a degenerate gambler. I dont' care that he was a gambler. That is his business. But how can a person be that duplicious?

    And you are right. Millions of people did coke in the 70s and didn't become addicts. Millions of people today try drugs or use them recreationally and don't turn into addicts. People quit smoking and drinking all the time even though those substances are just as "addictive" as drugs. Drug addiction is just an excuse to be a degenerate.

  • ||

    My brief coke habit ended when I actually had to pay for it.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But how can a person be that duplicious?

    You're joking...right?

  • ||

    Someone should tell Bennett that the war on drugs didn't do a thing to stop all those addicts in the rehab centers from using.

    Someone should also point out that most treatment programs (e.g. 12 step) do not work any better than no treatment at all.

    So maybe we need to try something different?

  • Mnemone Jones||

    Well, since researchers have spared no expense in "proving" that shopping and gambling produce the same brain reactions as so-called "addictive" drugs, those assholes at the rehab centers could stop using just as easily as I can walk out of a fucking mall or casino.

    So fuck them.

    While I'm totally sympathetic to the goal of demythologizing drugs (and Bennett can, seriously, go die in a fire), you're point here is laden with unbelievable amounts of horseshit.

    When it comes to those neurophysiology studies about dopamine response during activities, what you're leaving out is that the intensity of the reaction (and the reinforcement behavior) is orders of magnitude different between shooting heroin and shopping for shoes. Yes, even for rich, bored women.

    People who are addicted to shopping/videogames/coffee are actually experiencing a physical reaction, and do experience withdrawal, but the intensity of that reaction does not come close to the intensity of craving/withdrawal from opiates/sex/alcohol/nicotine. The one that, ironically in this case, is "not like the other ones" is gambling, which actually for some reason does generate as intense a reaction as your average opiate exposure. Nobody knows why.

  • Fluffy||

    Nope. Too bad. I'm calling bullshit on the entire scientific approach to proving addiction.

    If people can be "addicted" to shopping, then addiction is bullshit.

    "Wah, but it's so much more intense for drugs! And also gambling, but no one knows why!"

    Maybe because gambling is more fun than shopping.

    How about this for a new paradigm of looking at these activities:

    People like to do things that are enjoyable.

    Sometimes, you'll try to tell someone they should stop doing something they enjoy, and they - gasp! - won't stop.

    And when you back them into a corner over it, they'll try to weasel out of that corner by saying they "can't" stop.

    Here's a novel idea for a solution to this "problem": Stop asking.

  • goober1223||

    It wasn't called an addiction, but my catholic mother thought that satan was pulling me in when I told her that I wanted to go to a Magic: The Gathering (trading card game) tournament. So she burned my cards on the BBQ grill. When the plastic coating on the cards bubbled, she claimed that it was satan coming out of the cards. Addiction is all in the eyes of the nanny.

  • Sudden||

    That blows. You should have given her some shitty goblin deck to torch and hid any multi-lands, beta/unlimited/legends/arabian nights cards.

  • Progessive||

    Of course, if you just showed her a white deck, she might've thought it was the cat's ass and let you continue playing. Just hide the black deck with the sengirs and royal assassins and juzaam djinns and all that.

  • Sudden||

    stoopid joke handles.

  • Mnemone Jones||

    Nah, she might get confused and titillated by the Serra Angel. And the Hand of Justice just looks flat-out lazy; that's no way to be if you're a roll model for kids!

    (with due apologies for idly speculating about what white card might titillate goober's Catholic mother)

  • Sudden||

    (with due apologies for idly speculating about what white card might titillate goober's Catholic mother)

    I would wager the Northern Paladin would be highly seductive for a catholic mom. Big, handsome, clad in armor, and kills black creatures. That's like an Irish Catholic woman's dream man right there.

  • Bar Student||

    I guess you should have sold you cards and bought some pot.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    At least she didn't find your condoms.

  • Mnemone Jones||

    Well, Fluffy, I have loads of sympathy for your desire to have words mean what you want them to mean, and not what other people want them to mean.

    No, wait, no I don't. Because that's unbelievably stupid.

    Addiction is a habitual behavior reinforced by a physical process of sufficient strength that the behavior is continued despite escalating negative consequences from persisting. Addictions come in different strengths and are somewhat idiosyncratic given what the particular behavioral cause happens to be.

    One of the most interesting findings in neurobiology is that these disparate activities all cause a fundamentally similar physical response, in the form of a positive feedback loop, in the human brain. That's all it is; a scientific finding of interest.

    Now here you come, whining and bitching about the policy implications of the discovery that both "good" and "bad" things that people happen to like stimulate the human brain in a pretty consistent way. How inconvenient for you and your preferred policy outcomes.

    If you stopped whining for a few seconds you might note that the finding actually has very few policy implications, since it is just as easy to make a slippery slope argument the other way: if all pleasure-addiction responses are pretty much the same in kind, what business do policymakers have picking one vice over others to ban? Maybe you should be making the argument that vice is no business of the government in the first place, that to pick one over another ultimately involves arbitrary determinations of badness, that the negative consequences of punishing vice are almost uniformly worse than the negative effects that typify addiction in the first place.

    But no, you'd rather bitch that "addiction" means something other than what it actually means. Go sit in a corner.

  • ||

    gambling, which actually for some reason does generate as intense a reaction as your average opiate exposure. Nobody knows why.

    Because there's no risk in buying shoes (or at least, the biggest risk is getting a pair that doesn't match your dress).

  • Joe M||

    Well, one important distinction is the physical withdrawal from things like heroin versus the simple psychological desire to go back and buy m0ar stuff. Not that it matters. People should be allowed to do whatever they want and face the consequences. If some people think they need "help" in whatever form, and there are other people out there willing to "help" them, so be it. Just don't get in my business.

  • Zuo||

    And don't forget about them rascally minorities!

  • Face Eating Chimp||

    Who says there's no blue food?

  • ||

    I'm addicted to food! I'm enslaved by food being legal! Help me!

  • Paul||

  • ||

    Dude, it's the logical conclusion to this fucking retarded way of thinking. Read With Folded Hands by Jack Williamson.

  • PIRS||

    "As any parent with a child addicted to drugs will explain, as any visit to a drug rehab center will convey, those caught in the web of addiction are anything but free."

    I have heard this argument before. The way I often respond is this: the choice is made BEFORE the addiction. A good parallel might be someone who buys a house and then later argues he is not "free" because he now has to pay back the loan. Well, the choice was made BEFORE you signed the paperwork.

    But unlike the loan example, you have no moral obligation to keep snorting cocaine - people will help you quit if you are willing to seek that help. In a society where cocaine is legal you could not be arrested by the police. Legal ramifications would be one LESS barrier to seeking help for an addiction.

    http://mises.org/daily/3051

  • ||

    A good parallel might be someone who buys a house and then later argues he is not "free" because he now has to pay back the loan. Well, the choice was made BEFORE you signed the paperwork.

    For another example, marriage. Buyer's remorse is a pretty general concept.

  • ||

    I really really FEALLY hate this cocksucker. A hypocritical gluttonous vegas whale who can't reason his way out of a paper bag should not have anything to say to anyone about vice.

  • PIRS||

    The scarry part is he has a nationally syndicated morning radio program called "Bill Bennett's Morning in America". He thinks he is well educated.

  • ||

    Probably a radio show for people who have a flag pole in their front yard and fuck at the position of parade rest no doubt.

  • OO||

    whoa - what's wrong w doing it while standing? the double o luvs to jam her into the wall w her legs wrapped around.

  • sean||

    Bennett is well educated. He is also a dolt

  • Richard Daley||

    What's this hippie Sullum smoking?

  • I hate to admit it||

    I believed the drug warriors lies. Tried to get people to stop smoking pot in high school. Then I started reading on my own and discovered that they were lying - pot was pretty harmless and could be a lot of fun. I never smoked pot myself until I was 21 or so, so the prohibitionist dude's "virtual certainty" is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    He would probably retort that if I had only avoided the dissenting opinions I read then I could have lived my life drug free.

    Oh.
    Well.

  • Old Mexican||

    "The libertarian experiment promoted as a novel theory by some will only make things worse. More legalization equals more damage, waste, crime and abuse. Not less. That is why it is no time to surrender."


    As evidence for what Bill Bennett is saying just look at how the repeal of Prohibition brought an increase in criminal behavior and waste and abuse and damage.... or not.

  • Kristen||

    Say Bill Bennet, craps and cheeseburger addict.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Any man who plays craps in a casino deserves to lose his money.

  • Ted S.||

    In case Bennett's CNN essay does not satisfy your thirst for lame prohibitionist arguments, he and Joseph Califano, chairman of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, have an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal that asks, "Do We Really Want a 'Needle Park' on American Soil?" If you are unfamiliar with Needle Park, you are lucky, because it means you never had to endure the tedious talking points of drug warriors in the 1990s.

    And here I thought it was a 1970s reference. (SWAT teams will love the portrayal of a dog in this movie.)

  • ||

    Freedom isn't freedom. Limited government means unlimited government. Spending money you don't have is sound fiscal policy. War isn't war.

  • The State||

    You're cute! I wanna fuck you.

  • Mensan||

    Inactivity is activity. Anything that is not commerce is commerce.

  • guy in the back row||

    From the picture it appears Mr. Bennett has personally consumed many thousands of gallons of beer and liquor. So his buzz is OK, but other people's buzzes are not?

  • Fluffy||

    BTW, Needle Park doesn't sound like a failure to me.

    If I opened a restaurant expecting 200 patrons a day and got 20,000, I would call that "success".

  • Number 2||

    "He cites a 2010 RAND Corporation study that said "researchers cannot rule out consumption increases of 50 percent to 100 percent"

    Yep. And I cannot rule out that I will be named the next Pope.

    As for Califano... Well, if you do not have facts or logic on your side, keep repeating fatuous slogans.

  • Bar Student||

    I cannot rule out that Bill Bennett is 50-100% more likely to fuck a sheep.

  • Dave||

    I read the crappy essay in the WSJ. It's crammed full of unsubstantiated BS. There's absolutely no acknowledgement of the costs of prohibition. It's unfortunate that the WSJ (the only legitimate national newspaper) printed such poorly reasoned garbage.

  • Mnemone Jones||

    If they are so willing to print such poorly reasoned garbage, why again are they the "only legitimate national newspaper"?

  • Joe M||

    Drug policy is probably the WSJ's most glaring weakness.

  • Mnemone Jones||

    That's kind of a big weakness, dontcha think?

  • Joe M||

    Ya.

  • CE||

    The biggest flaw in the Prohibitionists' argument is their apparent inability to admit that all the problems of drug abuse that they warn about are already happening, with Prohibition in full effect. We get the crime associated with Prohibition, and we don't even get the benefit they are claiming.

  • Mnemone Jones||

    This!

  • ||

    Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children!!!

    BTW, in order to save children, we need to lock them (or their parents) in an 8x8 concrete and steel cage and give them a misdemeanor/felony conviction so that when they apply for a job in this wonderful economy, they can be highly successful and wonderful producers of tax revenue for the state.

    Brilliant!

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    I have no doubt that if I could buy a joint from the corner market, my marijuana consumption would jump by at least 5000%, from once a year to most likely 50 times a year.

    But saying that someone might have a joint once a week isn't nearly as scary as saying "drug use might jump 5000%!"

  • Fluffy||

    Exactly.

    The entire point is that we shouldn't give a damn if people smoke pot or not.

    Who cares how much it goes up?

  • OO||

    ive used ur screen name on other forums u dont know about mr marty

  • Cory Feldman's Eyes||

    I would use EVEN MOAR cocaine!!!1!1!1!!1

  • Mensan||

    5,000%, pshh, that's nothing. If marijuana were legalized my drug use has the potential to increase infinity. Actually, you couldn't calculate the increase in my usage of marijuana as a percentage of my current usage. No dividing by zero and whatnot.

  • ||

    "Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous."

    So how come these other things aren't illegal: driving, drinking, swimming, boating, being in public, skyscrapers, handling fuel, mowing the grass, camping, hiking, climbing, skiing, woodworking, forklifts, eating, bathing, using electricity, hang gliding, climbing trees, or rocks, cancer treatments, racing, horses, dogs, being near hills, stairs............

  • Progessive||

    Thanks for the ideas!

  • Mensan||

    Don't forget fishing.

  • Platypus||

    I know for a fact that his logic is absolutely AIR-TIGHT; 100% of the adults and teenagers in the US suffer from the slavery of alcohol addiction... though they all DENY it and say that I'm a crackpot.

    DENIALIST SLAVES!

  • ||

    The simple truth is that the Bill Bennetts of the world don't give a damn about addicts. He and other prohibitionists have a moral aversion to intoxicating one's self for pleasure (alcohol excepted, of course). Pointing to the problems of addicts is just a sleight-of-hand tactic to keep the uninformed from looking at the issue any further.

    As someone up-thread mentioned, not one word about the costs of prohibition in their op-ed. They also failed to point out that the "needle park" program that was ended was replaced with another program that supplied drugs to users and helped those in the program break their addiction. Funny how they left that out.

    Both these men are slime.

  • ||

    P.S. Evidently lying is a "virtue" in Bill Bennett's world.

  • Dr Smokey||

    One time I bought a calzone from Mellow Mushroom with the intention to only eat half of it. However, I vaped a bowl of cannabis, then I are the whole thing.

    The. Whole. Calzone.

    At. Once.

    Then I fell asleep.

  • fish||

    This makes you the worst person in the whole world.

  • Mnemone Jones||

    No, no. That crown goes to the guy that then passes the bowl to someone else, thus starting another innocent soul on the path to laughing at unfunny movies and eating lots of pizza.

  • Jason||

    I miss Mellow Mushroom. :-(

  • ||

    Without being silly or absolutist about it, the question comes down, in my opinion, to a question of degrees. If you ask the question; Can an average or reasonable person use or do it without obvious and significant damage to themselves or others?, and the answer is yes, it should be legal.

  • Bar Student||

    Poor, utility rather than liberty based argument.

  • ||

    Let me ask you this. Do you think "hate" is too strong a word for Bill Bennett and his ilk? Don't you think these people deserve to be hated in as much as they can not be reasoned with? What other option is left. Would someone like Bill Bennett EVER adopt, under any circumstance a pro-liberty perspective?

  • Bar Student||

    Don't waste your time and energy hating him.

  • Statist Slobs....||

    ....never tire of being themselves.

  • History||

    I am full of tired old hypocrites who won't admit they are wrong. The results of his schemes are extant. The world keeps turning. Time will place Bennett and his cronies next to astrologers and alchemists; still out there but not taken seriously.

  • ||

    I just want Bennett's home address so I can phone in anonymous tip about drug dealings to the nearest SWAT team.

  • West Texas||

    I am full of tired old hypocrites who won't admit they are wrong.

    I am full of tired old hypocrites who think they know what's best for people and devote themselves to using the power of the state to dictate to other people what they may and may not do.

    Myself, I tried pot a few times in college and didn't care for it and I don't anything stronger than scotch and cigars now. But why the fuck should I - or my government - care what other people do to their own bodies?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But why the fuck should I - or my government - care what other people do to their own bodies?

    You sir, ARE commerce. That means you must be regulated, regardless of your activity or inactivity so that you generate the maximum annual revenue for your government, which doesn't matter because the government will always spend more than you give them.

  • ||

    You know, when my mom was sick and dying many years ago the feeling I got was, just, please, let this happen and have it over with. Now I didn't want mother to die, I loved her, but it is torture to drag out the inevitable. This is precisely how I feel about America. I say, give the Bennetts and the Obamas and the Pelosis and the McCains and the Liebermans of the world free reign and let them complete the process of destroying this country so maybe we can start over.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement