Drug Policy

David Boaz Schools Former Bushie on Drug Law Reform


Shortly after the May GOP debate in South Carolina, former Bush official Michael Gerson wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post attacking Rep. Ron Paul and other drug-legalization advocates for "mocking" addicts and declaring decriminalization in D.C. (where drugs are actually still totally illegal) a failure. I blogged Gerson's column when it was published, but David Boaz has written a response in the forthcoming issue of The Freeman that's probably more convincing to the dwindling number of people who believe as Gerson does: 

[Gerson's] May 27 column quoted this very passage and concluded, "[I]t is absurd and outrageous to treat [prisoners] like animals while hoping they return to us as responsible citizens."

Gerson contrasted the "arrogance" of Paul's libertarian approach to the approach of "a Republican presidential candidate [who] visited a rural drug treatment center outside Des Moines. Moved by the stories of recovering young addicts, Texas Gov. George W. Bush talked of his own struggles with alcohol. 'I'm on a walk. And it's a never-ending walk as far as I'm concerned… . I want you to know that your life's walk is shared by a lot of other people, even some who wear suits.'"

Gerson seems to have missed the point of his anecdote. Neither Bush nor the teenagers in a Christian rehab center were sent to jail. They overcame their substance problems through faith and personal responsibility. But Gerson and Bush support the drug laws under which more than 1.5 million people a year are arrested and some 500,000 people are currently in jail.

Our last three presidents have all acknowledged they used illegal drugs in their youth. Yet they don't seem to think — nor does Gerson suggest — that their lives would have been made better by arrest, conviction, and incarceration. If libertarianism is a second-rate value, where does hypocrisy rank?

What Gerson correctly observes is communities wracked by crime, corruption, social breakdown, and widespread drug use. But that is a result of the failure of prohibition, not decriminalization. This is an old story. The murder rate rose with the start of alcohol Prohibition, remained high during Prohibition, and then declined for 11 consecutive years when Prohibition ended. And corruption of law enforcement became notorious.

Drug prohibition itself creates high levels of crime. Addicts commit crimes to pay for a habit that would be easily affordable if it were legal. Police sources have estimated that as much as half the property crime in some major cities is committed by drug users. More dramatically, because drugs are illegal, participants in the drug trade cannot go to court to settle disputes, whether between buyer and seller or between rival sellers. When black-market contracts are breached, the result is often some form of violent sanction.

When Gerson writes that "responsible, self-governing citizens … are cultivated in institutions — families, religious communities and decent, orderly neighborhoods," he should reflect on what happens to poor communities under prohibition. Drug prohibition has created a criminal subculture in our inner cities. The immense profits to be had from a black-market business make drug dealing the most lucrative endeavor for many people, especially those who care least about getting on the wrong side of the law. Drug dealers become the most visibly successful people in inner-city communities, the ones with money and clothes and cars. Social order is turned upside down when the most successful people in a community are criminals. The drug war makes peace and prosperity virtually impossible in inner cities.

More here. Insofar 

NEXT: Reason.tv: A Conversation with Author Vernor Vinge

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.

  1. “Gerson seems to have missed the point of his anecdote.”

    Missed the point, eh?

    Is Michael Gerson stupid? Bad faith can never, ever be the explanation.

    1. Exactly right. +1

  2. When Gerson writes that “responsible, self-governing citizens … are cultivated in institutions ? families, religious communities and decent, orderly neighborhoods,” he should reflect on what happens to poor communities under prohibition.

    Hey, sometimes you have to destroy a village to save it.

    1. “Hey, sometimes you have to destroy a village to save it.”

      You just described Obama’s Libya policy and Bush’s Iraq policy.

      1. And Obama’s AMERICAN policy.

  3. Just want to let everyone know if you see me quoted as saying something really stupid or outrageous, and it didn’t come from the [New York] Times or some other verifiable site, you should probably assume it was a fake.


    The normal stupid and outrageous stuff I say really is me as long as it is at those sites.

    Thank you.

    1. Oh, and no one died in the Great Virginia Earthquake of 2011. Obama saved or created everybody.

      Never gets old.

      1. Nope. Like chimps in suits and Tom Friedman wanting a Chinese style dictatorship.

  4. the drug war is no more about drugs than the war on poverty was about eradicating poverty. They are both money grabs and mechanisms for holding onto power. How many toys do local law enforcement agencies buy with “drug money”? And, how many lives do they control through welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc?

    In some ways, govt is no different than the myriad do-gooder non-profits that purport to want to solve some social ill. If that problem were to truly be solved, what would those folks do the next day….

  5. Social order is turned upside down when the most successful people in a community are criminals.

    That does go a long way to explaining the high rate at which incumbent congresspersons are re-elected.

  6. Recreational drug use destroys the very fabric of society. The science on this is settled. We need to move forward on finding solutions. I suggest more real estate be set aside for additional correctional institutions.

    1. I’ll take a loan on some of that real estate.

    2. We need to tax dopamine levels in the brain, so that people will seek less ways to be happy.

  7. Because I said so!

  8. The right is pathetic – they champion ‘limited gov’t’, while claiming jurisdiction over our bloodstreams. Maybe they meant ‘limitless gov’t’.

    1. Don’t worry citizen! We patrol your bloodstream!

  9. More here. Insofar


    Minimalist Typo-Poetry?

    Mike Riggs was murdered mid-blog-post?

    1. “Look, if he was dying he wouldn’t have bothered to carve aaarrrggghhh, he’d just say it.”

      “Perhaps he was dictating.”

      1. First thing that popped into my head.

  10. But what of all the jobs we’d lose?

    Prisons need to be built and staffed. Same with courts.

    Without drug laws crime would plummet and we could get by with a fraction of our current police force. They have families to feed just like anyone else (actually cops reproduce by fission like all other bacteria, but I digress).
    What about the people who manufacture the expensive equipment used by the paramilitary police squads that would no longer be needed, or the people who build and maintain the helicopters used to look for illicit farms?

    How would drug counselors get clients if not for the state giving users a choice between counseling and being locked in a cage?

    What about border agents and people who train drug sniffing dogs?

    I thought we wanted to create jobs, not destroy them.

    1. You forgot about America’s hard working, longsuffering lawyers.

      Please don’t forget about the lawyers who depend upon the WOD for their livelihoods.

      1. Ah yes. The most vile of human parasites. The lawyer.

        I lumped them in as court staff.

  11. Pass the Bushie on the left hand side…

  12. I am honestly not sure that we could have fucked inner city people black and white more if we had tried.

    1. Put as many of them as possible on the dole and create financial incentives to engage in destructive behavior like single motherhood

    2. Mandate an obscenely high minimum wage so those with low skills have a difficult time finding employment.

    3. Import a huge new class of illegal Mexicans to take what low wages jobs there are

    4. Make drugs illegal thus creating a huge and tempting black market

    5. Launch a “war on drugs” where you lock up as many people you have just tempted into the drug trade as possible for as long a time as possible.

    1. My thoughts exactly. They’re doing the work of the KKK.

    2. 1. Why don’t you want single mothers to have access to any help?

      2. Why don’t you want single mothers to have access to a living wage?

      3. Why do you hate brown people?

      4. Why do you want people to use drugs?

      5. Why do you want drug pushers selling drugs to children?

      1. Thus sarcasmic proves the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

    3. You might have added:

      6) Have the CIA and other agents of US national security encourage 3rd world anticommunist and anti-Islamist insurgents to cultivate, process, and traffic narcotics to fund their insurgencies.

      I know that the evidence for this is not as ironclad as points 1-5, but it’s pretty persuasive.

      1. 6)Why do you hate the men and women who fight the enemies of freedom around the world, thus keeping us free at home?

      2. I was reading the Keith Richards’ biography this summer. It is an interesting book for a lot of reasons. But in addition to all of the sensational stuff, he makes some interesting observations about drugs and the drug culture.

        Apparently, in the 1960s, you never bought street cocaine or heroine. You bought the pharmaceutical grade stuff. And the reason for this was that the rules governing doctors and drug stores were really lax. Rich people just bought whole drug stores and wrote themselves prescriptions. And there were tons of “Dr. Feelgood” doctors who wrote prescriptions for virtually anything. As a result, the drugs people used in the late 1960s were not, at least according to Richards and if anyone would know he would, purchase from street gangs but instead skimmed off the pharmaceutical industry.

        Of course that became impossible in the 1970s because the DEA clamped down on doctors and pharmacies. So, everyone started buying it from the drug gangs. And shockingly, drug gangs exploded and all of the harms with them.

        If you are a real conspiracy theorist, you could probably find a link to the CIA getting the DEA and DOJ to crack down on doctors and pharmacies so that their insurgents would get more customers.

        1. Why do you want doctors prescribing cocaine and heroin to children?

          1. At the Ohio Historical Village there is a pharmacy, circa 1850. In the glass cases are bottles marked Opium, Cocaine, etc., no prescription necessary. People were adults back then.

            1. Used to mix opium into baby bottles to get them to sleep. Later they had things called “babytinis” where you gave the little tyke some bourbon to calm him down. Clearly society existed in some kind of dark age until the nanny staters and prohibitionists saved us.

              1. Dark Age indeed, with toddlers hopped up on goof balls, running amok…

  13. Whenever I read anything by Gerson, I think that American conservatives are just as bat-shit crazy as American liberals.

    The one real accomplishment of the conservatives like Gerson is to draw a sharp line between conservatives and libertarians. It’s a really dumb strategy for Republicans to alienate a voting segment that comprises 14% of the electorate and has historically voted for Republicans 3:1. There’s a reason that Republicans are called the Stupid Party, but bat-shit crazy only goes back to 2000.

    1. Gerson is crazy. And conservatives are often crazy I hate to admit. The only difference is that conservatives tend to be crazy about things that don’t personally affect me quite as much as the things liberals are crazy over.

  14. Unfortunately, far more people read the Post than the Freeman; infinitely more.

    Boaz might as well piss into the wind. He’d get more notice.

  15. The next person who uses “Person X schools Person Y” needs to be schooled!!!! Anyone who uses this saying should be outed as a lazy hack writer. Is this some bit of common phraseology taught in journalism schools? I suppose it’s minimally better than when a journalist uses “OWNS” or “PWNS” to show how in touch with Internet culture they are. Here are some worthwhile options to use in place of “schools”:

    1. tears a new asshole
    2. absolutely fucking destroys
    3. hammers the shit out of
    4. nut-punches

    Anyone else have more suggestions?

    1. wipes the floor with..

    2. “refutes” will do.

      In general, attacking a Bush administration official intellectually is like nuking an Ethiopian village.

    3. I like “fuck-starts”.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.