Drug Policy

'Minor Disagreement': You Say Arrest 2 Million Americans a Year for Fake 'Crimes'; I Say Don't

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I gather from Dave Weigel's interview with former Republican congressman Bob Barr that his views on drug policy have not changed much, if at all, even though he has taken on a leadership role in  the Libertarian Party, which steadfastly opposes the war on drugs. As I've said before, even when the L.P. was pretty plausibly identifying him as "the worst drug warrior in Congress," I admired Barr as a libertarian-leaning conservative who was not afraid to buck his party and mainstream opinion to defend constitutional rights. But it's hard for me to see how a libertarian (or Libertarian) can support drug prohibition. Contrary to what he says in the interview, this is no "minor disagreement." Not only does the war on drugs directly violate the basic right to control one's body and mind; it leads to exactly the sort of wide-ranging civil liberties violations, especially in connection with Fourth Amendment rights, that so concern Barr when it comes to the war on terrorism—and at least protecting us from hijackers and suicide bombers, unlike maintaining the purity of our bodily fluids, is a legitimate function of government. Barr's stance is especially puzzling given that a number of prominent conservatives, including the National Review crowd, have turned against the war on drugs even without switching their party registrations.

As I argue in my book Saying Yes, the one way to reconcile libertarian principles with drug prohibition is to buy into voodoo pharmacology—the idea that (some) drugs take control of people and compel them to behave badly. If that were true, the war on drugs would be a literal battle against the evil forces residing in certain chemicals, aimed at preventing their aggression against drug users. Does Barr, who left the Republican Party because it was insufficiently dedicated to individual liberty and too accepting of overweening government, believe something along these lines? If  so, is there no one at the L.P. who can set him straight?