Drug War

When Will Obama Evolve on the Drug War?

Much is made of how Obama's position on same-sex marriage has "evolved." One hopes his position on the "war on drugs" is also evolving.


Much is made of how President Obama's position on same-sex marriage has "evolved" to an endorsement of legalization. One hopes his position on the atrocity called the "war on drugs" is evolving.

It's not really a war on drugs. It's a war on people, most of whom have committed no violence or other aggression against person or property. Those who do commit violence are encouraged to do so by the very "war on drugs" that Obama and other enlightened leaders so enthusiastically support. Black markets often feature violence — precisely because they are illegal. Decriminalize the activity, and the violence goes away.

America had a natural experiment in this principle: Prohibition. When the manufacture and sale of alcohol were made illegal by constitutional amendment in 1920, booze didn't disappear from society. It simply went underground to be dominated by those with a comparative advantage in thuggery. Ending prohibition brought alcohol into the legitimate market (although unfortunately regulated and licensed). The violence related to the manufacture and sale of alcohol went away.

Thus the violence perpetrated by Latin American drug cartels and gangs in the United States is not an argument against decriminalization. It's an argument for it.

It's well known that an unconscionably high percentage of the American population is in prison. We can thank the government's persecution of drug commerce for that shameful fact. It is also increasingly understood that militarized police drug raids terrorize people every day, often killing individuals who were not even intended as targets. The American people should demand that this systematic oppression be stopped. The police have become the enemy of Americans, mostly but not exclusively members of minority communities.

The raids that end in death at least make the headlines and perhaps upset people for a short while. But another part of the war on drug commerce gets less attention. When consenting people buy and sell drugs, there is no victim to complain. So to make arrests, police need to trap people — many of them young — in drug transactions and then threaten them with long jail terms unless they become informants. Many take these deals — against their deepest beliefs — for fear of having their lives destroyed by felony convictions and time in the hell holes we call prisons. They proceed to set up drug deals with friends and family members just so they can produce cases for the cops and leniency for themselves.

Can there be a worse indictment of the sadistic government crusade against drugs? What possible good is done by police blackmailing the most vulnerable, even helpless, people into informing on others? Cooperation with the police under these circumstances, despite the duress, is morally wrong — but we mustfirst condemn the police — and politicians who back them — for putting people in this situation. What kind of society is this? It does not deserve to be called humane.

But drugs are dangerous, people say. It's about time this empty slogan was thrown on the trash heap. Illegal drugs are not illegal because they are dangerous. Other substances that can be used in harmful ways — most obviously alcohol — are legal. Many legal activities that people love to engage in are highly dangerous. Certain drugs have been singled out for prohibition historically not because they are especially dangerous but because they were associated with minority communities. The story of the "drug war" is not of a humane effort to create a healthy, safe society. It's a story of persecution and control — and of tax-funded largess for law enforcement and the "drug-rehabilitation" industry.

Politicians in Latin America are beginning to understand that the drug wars tearing their countries apart would end overnight if the drug industry were decriminalized. No one would be more opposed to decriminalization than the drug lords, because they'd lose their de facto monoplies.

But who patronizingly insists that Latin America stay with its destructive policy? President Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. They would rather see the violence continue and spill over into the United States than admit they are wrong.

No drug could do even a tiny fraction of the damage that the drug war does. Mr. Obama, when will your position evolve?

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.

NEXT: Another Exhibit Against Florida's Self-Defense Law Disintegrates

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. It’s a war on people, most of whom have committed no violence or other aggression against person or property.

    It’s a moral issue. Drugs are bad. Why are they bad? Because authority says so.

    Using drugs is a disrespect to authority, and authority does not like to be disrespected.
    Not only that, but authority has more guns than you, so they will be obeyed.

    Besides that, if drugs were made legal there wouldn’t be enough crime to justify the police state.

    The War on Drug Users is here to stay.

    1. It’s a moral issue.

      The worst sort of aggression one person can commit against another.

    2. I totally read “Using drugs is a disrespect to authority, and authority does not like to be disrespected.” in a mobster voice.

    3. Drugs are not bad, illegal drugs are bad. Why are illegal drugs bad because they are illegal and the harm that the illegality causes.
      So the problem is not drugs, the problem is the arbitrary illegality of drugs and the insanity of, we had to save them from drugs by sending them to prison for the rest of the lives.
      Think on the insanity of that, to save people from drugs they send them to prison along with the rapist and, murders because ‘er’ they never really bothered to explain why prison is better for people than drugs apart from mumbling something about drug dealers.
      Speaking of drug dealers I wonder how much money they spend corrupting politics in order to ensure drugs remain illegal and the crime organisations they represent can continue to make money.

  2. a drug war story. On Reason. Haven’t seen that before.

    Oh, by the way: when will his (or any other president’s) position evolve? Never. The drug war is big business for govt, from DC down to your local cop shop.

    1. You could say that about virtually any libertarian-ish topic.

      “A story about how much Obamacare sucks…haven’t seen that before”

      “A story about the deficit…haven’t seen that before”

      etc. etc.

      1. A story about a story, now that would be a story!

      2. You mean like this, G?

        a piece of shit bitching. On HR. Haven’t seen that before

        1. Not sure if you’re talking about me or Wareagle.

          If you’re talking about me, fuck you!

          If you’re talking about him, fuck yeah!


          1. Your bitching grows tiresome, Jim. I think you tucked it too tight.:-D

      3. Another video game thread would be awesome. Or if someone could manage to hijack another thread with a Skyrim like tangent, that would work. Sadly, nothing has happened like that since Skyrim got old and no one has released anything else that great. What is a bored Reason poster to do?

        1. What is a bored Reason poster to do?

          Teh Pr0n?

          1. Posting on Reason is more acceptable than porn during work hours. At least until the congress critters finally push through one of their internet freedom acts. Then posting on Reason will get you disappeared based on NDAA.

            1. I used to hijack threads like you, until I took an arrow to the knee.

              1. You look like a man who knows how to highjack a thread. I like that.

                1. You commented six months ago that Skyrim was the best deal in terms of dollars per hours of entertainment. Do you stand by that statement?

                  My vote for best value of all time is The Orange Box. Just in the last month, I have played Team Fortress 2, Portal (which I beat again), and Half-Life 2.

                  1. The Orange Box? I have never heard of it.

                    Yes, I pretty much still stand by that statement. But I prefer Two Worlds 2 to Skyrim. Playing Risen 2 now when time allows, but it is not as impressive as I had hoped for.

                    1. Were you joking about The Orange Box? It’s a compilation pack that includes all three of the games I mentioned above, plus the two expansion packs for HL2.

                  2. Actually that comment was by RC, not me, but I agree with it. I thought you were replying to me.

              2. Stop being a wuss, unless it was a flaming arrow to the knee, it was only a scratch, (:

  3. Obama has evolved into a total jackass. Further evolution on his part is doubtful and not even desirable.

    Obama is pro WOD and that is not going to change.

    And what the fuck is this guy always looking up towards the sky at? Is he looking up in anticipation of his new fleet of anti-citizen predator drones? This doofus gets more ridiculous with each passing day and the media are still fawning over him. Did anyone say *BARF*?

    1. I didn’t say *BARF*- it was an actual barf.

  4. I said it in the other pot thread from today: no politician is in fear of losing their job because of their support for the WoD. So even if every single last person and their dog in the U.S. thinks pot should be legal, it won’t make a whit of difference unless and until people start voting based on drug policy (in other words: don’t hold your breath)

  5. Eh, Obama won’t challenge the WoD. There’s too much money to be made on both sides.

    I’m more interested in hearing about Warty’s evolving position on rape.

    1. “I’m more interested in hearing about Warty’s evolving position on rape.”

      Has he progressed from monkeys?

      1. Yeah, I believe he is in STEVE SMITH’S accelerated RAPE program. They’re working on hikers now.


  6. Only when he’ll gain more votes than he loses.

    1. ^this right here.

      When I first read the headline I thought, “Why would we? It isn’t as if the electorate really gives a damn.”

    2. Indeed. My thought was “When he has a political need to do so, and not an hour before.”

  7. If drugs were legalized, or even decriminalized, the sheeple might start getting other ideas about how their own body belongs to them and not to the state. That would be bad, especially for the childins.

    1. It will be a stepping stone to all sorts of evil behavior. Next people will start drinking unpasteurized milk, or sending the children to school with cookies to share with their friends. It will be anarchy!!!!!

      1. Anarchy!

  8. Well if they ever do stop arresting people for pot, they’ll just switch to arresting them for potato salad. Hey Cheif there’s a picnic at the church this weekend. Oh goody, gas up the Blackhawk and load up the M60. We’ll show those fat ass church ladies what’s up. Please tell me they’ll be dogs.

    1. If that “potato salad” was not made in a facility licensed for food production by people with the proper permits, nobody can know for sure what’s in it.
      Therefore it is the duty of law enforcement to show up, guns drawn, and confiscate the alleged “potato salad” while arresting everyone involved in its preparation.
      Gotta keep the public safe.

      1. god help them if they dared to use Raw Celery.

        1. god help them if they dared to use Raw Celery.

          Or raw milk. SWAT will definately get them for that.

          1. Raw milk and raw celery in tandem will definitely get anything on the premises with 4 legs shot dead, and grandma tased.

    2. Please tell me they’ll be dogs.

      RC’z Law?

      1. 🙂

    3. Close but not quite right JB. They will start arresting people for pirated video games and movies.

      1. Some day everyone will be a prison guard or a prisoner.

        1. No. The point of making everyone a criminal is not to lock everyone up. The point is to have the power to arbitrarily lock anyone up. People think tyranny is systematic. It is the opposite. The point of tyranny is to be unpredictable and arbitrary.

          1. I don’t know about you, but I like my totalitarian overlords to be completely insane and unpredictable. Anything less just feels like they aren’t trying.

  9. Everyone knows children develop far more optimally under circumstances where mom or dad languish in a rape house for not obeying the plant laws.


  10. Depends on how many votes it gets.

  11. Yeah Obama is going to evolve in a position that will incur the wrath of the public sector unions real soon.

  12. Obama is evolving on drug decriminalization…away from it.

  13. I don’t understand why everyone made a big deal about Obama’s “evolution” on Gay marriage since the end result from a legislative standpoint is a big fat zero. He didn’t propose any federal law that would change anything, and in fact he instead supported the rights of states to decide the issue.

    Oh, and the DNC Presidential Convention is being held in a state that just voted to keep gays from marrying legally in their state. So he couldn’t even stand up to farking North Carolina, and we’re supposed to care about how he’s evolved?

    What the fuck is wrong with everyone?

    1. He had two years of an overwelmingly Democratic Congress and he did nothing. He also had a lame duck session where they could have passed anything. And he did nothing.

      Now that there is a Republican House and zero chance of anything changing, he comes out for gay marriage. And that only after his gay donors threatened to cut him off. It is about as sad and cynical of a political move as you will see.

    2. What the fuck is wrong with everyone progressives?

      Now that I have fixed the question. Answer: they are stupid fucktards.

      Next question.

    3. The president got elected as a symbol of change, thus any symbolic (read: superficial) deviations he makes from the status quo are taken as a fulfillment of His great promise.

    4. To be fair, at the margins there may be a few people who had no strong opinion on the issue and, seeing the President come out in favor of gay marriage, will allow their opinion to move in the same direction. Like it or not, there are people who look up to the President (any president)who may have their opinion changed based on where a president stands on the matter.

      1. Like they told me as a child: “Respect the Office even if you can’t respect the Man.”

        Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

      2. Like it or not, there are people who look up to the President (any president)who may have their opinion changed based on where a president stands on the matter.

        Whether or not that’s true (and I believe you are right) it still amounts to nothing from a “rights” perspective. If California can’t pass gay marriage there is NO CHANCE it will ever become any type of federal statute.

        What annoys me about this -and by extension the inevitable “evolution” Obama will have in regards to the drug war- is that he knows that his words amount to nothing from results standpoint, and he just milks away more adulation from his base.

        It’s like the ridiculous “race speech” he had where he called out his grandma for being racist and everyone acted like he was the second coming of Martin Luther King Jr. Can anyone realistically argue that racial relations have changed at all for the better during his tenure?

        The level of worship that this guy extracts from the left is just mind boggling. Even days after 9/11 Bush didn’t get this type of mindless worship from the right.

        It’s downright scary.

        1. racist!

          I mean, it’s Republicans’ fault. Because they’re racist.

  14. The WoD is a pretty cool guy. Eh imprisons people and doesn’t afraid of anything.

  15. I do some criminal defense work. Had a 19 year old client this morning sentenced to a year probation ($35 per month supervisory fee), drug and alcohol assessment ($400), follow up treatment, (at least $500 for a few weeks of outpatient classes) plus costs ($700-$1,000.00) all for possession of three joints. And he was lucky to get it because they charged him with PWID and they just about had him dead to rights because the dummy was texting friends on his cell phone that they’d meet up and share some joints in a Perkins parking lot and he asked them to contribute $10 to the cost. Fortunately I was able to negotiate the charges down, for a fee ($1,200).

    So that’s at least $3,220 it cost him and was given to the system. Yeah, I see things changing real soon.

    Thanks to Obama! Thanks for continuing to ignore people’s inherent dignity and decision making ability to consume whatever they wish and instead ensuring that myself and many others continue to receive a nice paycheck.

    1. The whole “friend distro” thing drives me nuts. As a prosecutor, that was my one act of moral courage regarding the drug war. I would never charge it. My bosses let me get away with it, but they were never happy. Sharing a joint with someone, even going in halfs on it, is not distribution.

  16. I’ll be the heretic here. If Obama has a Road to Damascus conversion on ending the drug war, I will consider voting for him. I will vote for him unless Romney matches him on the issue, otherwise I’m voting for Johnson.

    As transparently shitty as his motives would be in such a conversion, anything that gets this war on puppies, plants, and people at home to end is worth it. Once its over I’ll go back to voting on economic issues.

    1. And you’d believe him? Don’t be an idiot.

      1. No, I wouldn’t believe him until he actually issues an executive order to disband the DEA and the ONDCP. But Romney sure as hell isn’t going to do it, and the best that Johnson can hope for is a higher profile LP, which is still worth jack shit because winner-take-all voting is what gives us a two-party system. If he fails to deliver the point will be made that someone who does deliver/promise to can count on public support.

    2. From Obama’s Berlin speech, prior to the 2008 election “This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets.”

      Got that? Selling a quarter ounce of weed to an adult is the moral equivalent of mass murder. Evolve that.

  17. This is yet another question to which the answer is no.


    (Stop your bitching and just cut and paste.)

    1. “Was Shakespeare a Jewish Woman?”

      (that headline was actually misleading; it was a Jewish group asking if Shakespeare was a woman)

  18. It was automatic. Who knew?

  19. I think recent events are hopeful on this. For about $250M, Obama will take a less popular position with voters. Get a coalition together.

    1. I agree – the Obama will take a less popular (or less weasel-like) position for enough $.
      But will he DO anything for that money? Or a better question; how much will we have to “contribute” to get him to do something concrete?

      1. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

  20. Clinton ate hash. Bush smoked pot. Obama smoked pot.

    But if you want to do it? Fines, jail time, and possibly lose your kids.

    One set of laws for poor people, one set of laws for kids at Yale. Who do you think smokes more pot? Where do you think the street sweeps happen?

    1. Oh my sweet living Jesus! I agree completely with your post Josh. I can assure you based on the continuous stream of nonsensical rubbish that usually comprises your posts, that this is a rare event and should be cherished!

      1. On the bright side, it’s not a personal liberty issue for Josh as much as it is a racial/class issue, so you can still take heart in the face that you agree on the issue, but for utterly unrelated reasons.

  21. Stumbled upon your blog today and instantly loved it. Great writing well researched.

  22. Question: my understanding is that no country can act unilaterally re drug legalisation. There are international laws. While Sheldon Richman’s arguments are well-rehearsed and largely unarguable, can he clarify America’s ability to act alone? If it is possible, that would be a great signal to the rest of the world.

    1. The “international laws” AFAIK, are from the UN and other international bodies. They are in large part a result of US pressure. Only a few Asian and Muslim states have drug laws as draconian as the US.

      1. What about Australia? They made Kratom illegal. We didn’t even do that. They have even banned video games. When you start banning things that aren’t even banned in the USSA, you have really went off the tyranny cliff.

    2. America can pretty much do whatever America wants to do re: international law. Sure some other country can follow all the procedures with whatever organisation is responsible for the issue but in the end enforcement is a problem. See also: China

    3. WGAF about international law? We follow it when it’s convenient and ignore it when it isn’t.

  23. I believe (and I haven’t researched this) that Congress isn’t supposed to pass laws that are inconsistent with duly ratified treaties.

    Would such a law be stricken down by SCOTUS? Has one? I don’t know.

    But we enter into all kinds of international agreements that are not duly ratified treaties. Those impose no restraints whatsoever on Congress. The only questions in my mind are

    (1) Is there a ratified treaty that requires the US to criminalize drugs?

    (2) If there is, can Congress pass a law that decriminalizes drugs anyway?

    1. If the treaty requires congress to pass laws which would exercise a power not specifically enumerated in the constitution, then it’s null and void. And this is not a legal argument, it is a moral one.

      1. (2) If there is, can Congress pass a law that decriminalizes drugs anyway?

        No. Not unless we abrogate the treaties.It is my understanding that no signatory has actually “decriminalized” drugs. They just adopt a selective non-enforcement policy while the criminal laws remain on the books.

        1. International drug control treaties predate prohibition in the United States.
          I believe Teddy Roosevelt was instrumental in getting the ball rolling.

  24. But drugs are dangerous, people say. It’s about time this empty slogan was thrown on the trash heap…. Other substances that can be used in harmful ways ? most obviously alcohol ? are legal.

    I love when we can trot out this bullshit argument every time the subject of drug legalization is raised. Crack and heroine dangerous? Poppycock! 99% of users are responsible family men bringing in big dollars with the law firm. And didn’t you know marijuana is on the verge of curing cancer, AIDS, erectile dysfunction, h1n1 and diabetes?

    For Reason, it’s never enough to be for legalization. No, you must also be an advocate for the efficacy and safety of every type and manner of illicit drug. What would be so horrifying about putting it across truthfully: “This shit is unbelievably horrible, and if you’re like most people who use it, will leave you a broke, strung out, worthless piece of shit giving handjobs in the park for 5 bucks to get your next fix. But that having been said, it’s your body and your life, so do what you want.” I think people would be a lot more receptive to an honest argument. They already know how destructive alcohol abuse is and they don’t have a problem with it being legal. But nobody had to tell them alcohol was safer than their municipal drinking water, that it was efficacious in the treatment of illness, or that it was the lesser of other evils in order to persuade them.

    1. No, you must also be an advocate for the efficacy and safety of every type and manner of illicit drug.

      Got a citation for that?

  25. Experienced Cougar Ladies seeking and dating younger Men Toy Boys.(please check CougarLure.C?M !! out).Every_sexy_cougar_is_welcome_here !if_you_ interested_in_meeting_Younger_Men !

  26. Experienced Cougar Ladies seeking and dating younger Men Toy Boys.(please check CougarLure.C?M !! out).Every_sexy_cougar_is_welcome_here !if_you_ interested_in_meeting_Younger_Men !

  27. They would rather see the violence continue and spill over into the http://www.nikewinkel.com/scho…..-c-46.html United States than admit they are wrong.

  28. There’s a difference between evolving (I read to mean learning about something and being able to change course on how you proceed and deal with that issue) and speaking out of both sides of your mouth, like almost every politician, to placate an audience. With the attitudes of a large portion of people changing on the drug war it’s still “unsafe” to speak your mind in public. A politician would rather double-down on a bad policy instead of saying that it was wrong. It’s easier to pile on bad policy with more of the same than to undo it. The old gaurd must die off.

  29. He couldn’t even make up his mind on what policy he wanted from his “Drug Czar,” Kerlikowski.
    -The Card Czar, http://www.czards.biz

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.