America's War on Drugs Keeps It From Being the Freest Country on Earth

A war on drugs-on people, that is-is unworthy of a country that claims to be free.


Forty years ago, the United States locked up fewer than 200 of every 100,000 Americans. Then President Nixon declared war on drugs. Now we lock up more of our people than any other country—more even than the authoritarian regimes in Russia and China.

A war on drugs—on people, that is—is unworthy of a country that claims to be free.

Unfortunately, this outrage probably won't be discussed in Tampa or Charlotte.

The media (including Fox News) run frightening stories about Mexican cocaine cartels and marijuana gangs. Few of my colleagues stop to think that this is a consequence of the war, that decriminalization would end the violence. There are no wine "cartels" or beer "gangs." No one "smuggles" liquor. Liquor dealers are called "businesses," not gangs, and they "ship" products instead of "smuggling" them. They settle disputes with lawyers rather than guns.

Everything can be abused, but that doesn't mean government can stop it. Government runs amok when it tries to protect us from ourselves.

Drug-related crime occurs because the drugs are available only through the artificially expensive black market. Drug users steal not because drugs drive them to steal. Our government says heroin and nicotine are similarly addictive, but no one robs convenience stores to get Marlboros. (That could change with confiscatory tobacco taxes.)

Are defenders of the drug war aware of the consequences? I don't think so.

John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, indicts the drug war for "destroying black America." McWhorter, by the way, is black.

McWhorter sees prohibition as the saboteur of black families. "Enduring prison time is seen as a badge of strength. It's regarded (with some justification) as an unjust punishment for selling people something they want. The ex-con is a hero rather than someone who went the wrong way."

He enumerates the positive results from ending prohibition. "No more gang wars over turf, no more kids shooting each other….Men get jobs, as they did in the old days, even in the worst ghettos, because they have to."

Would cheaper and freely available drugs bring their own catastrophe? "Our discomfort with the idea of heroin available at drugstores is similar to that of a Prohibitionist shuddering at the thought of bourbon at the corner store. We'll get over it."

The media tell us that some drugs are so powerful that one "hit" or "snort" will hook the user forever. But the government's own statistics disprove that. The National Institutes of Health found that 36 million Americans have tried crack. But only 12 percent have used it in the previous year, and fewer than 6 percent have used it in the previous month. If crack is so addictive, how did 88 percent of the users quit?

If drugs were legal, I suppose that at first more people would try them. But most would give them up. Eventually, drug use would diminish, as it has in Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs, and the Netherlands, which allows legal marijuana. More young men would find real jobs; police could focus on real crime.

When the public is this divided about an issue, it's best left to voluntary social pressure instead of legal enforcement. That's how most Americans decide whether to drink alcohol or go to church every week. Private voluntary social networks have their own ways of punishing bad behavior and send more nuanced messages about what's unacceptable. Government's one-size-fits-all rules don't improve on that.

"Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness," economist Ludwig von Mises wrote, "why not prevent him from reading bad books and bad plays…? The mischief done by bad ideologies is more pernicious…than that done by narcotic drugs."

If we adults own our own bodies, we ought to get to control what we put in them. It's legitimate for government to protect me from reckless drivers and drunken airline pilots—but not to protect me from myself.


NEXT: Vladimir Putin Lives Like a Czar

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  1. If we adults own our own bodies, we ought to get to control what we put in them.

    I used the self ownership argument to successfully get an arch-conservative coworker of mine to rethink the whole war on drugs.
    He considered it a morality issue, then I posed the question of self ownership.
    Shut him right up.

    1. Surprised. Usually they just fall into the whole “poor people and kids don’t know what’s good for them and get tricked by advertizers and evil hobbit trickses so we have to protect them.”

      Oh and gateway drugs.

    2. If someone says “it’s about morality” just bring up the fact that many other people think it’s immoral to outlaw abortion and to prevent gay marriage and to cut income taxes. Then ask how much they enjoy morality being enforced by the government.

      1. just bring up the fact that many other people think it’s immoral to outlaw abortion and to prevent gay marriage and to cut income taxes

        To which they will simply reply “Those people are wrong.”

        Self ownership works better. Unless the person is a total fundy, in which case they’ll say that we don’t own our bodies, God does, and continue to justify the war on drug users as a moral crusade.

        1. Unless the person is a total fundy, in which case they’ll say that we don’t own our bodies, God does, and continue to justify the war on drug users as a moral crusade.

          To which I would retort: “Then what I do to God’s property is between me and God, not between me and government, which according to the first ammendment, ‘Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion’.” And if that doesn’t shut them up, a hearty “Fuck off slaver” would be in order.

        2. Unless the person is a total fundy, in which case they’ll say that we don’t own our bodies, God does,

          To which you should reply that God, then, has the responsibility to pay for my upkeep.

      2. If it is about morality then it is an issue of religion is it not?

        1. It never was about morality. That is just one of the excuses that were made up to justify the marijuana laws after people stopped believing mj will turn you into a bat. Loss of credibility with the public is the only reason for the modern “morality” excuse.

          That is the same as the lung cancer excuse, the brain damage excuse, the lowering of IQ in teenagers excuse, etc. Never mind the evidence on any of these points — they never had anything to do with the law in the first place.

      3. I would ask them what the drug laws ever had to do with morality. Opium smoking was originally outlawed because the fear that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens.

        Cocaine was outlawed because of the fear that superhuman Negro Cocaine Fiends would go on a violent rampage and rape white women and shoot white men. It was believed that cocaine made them better marksmen and impervious to bullets, causing police departments across the nation to switch to larger caliber pistols. Caffeine was almost outlawed at the same time, for the same reasons.

        Marijuana was outlawed for two major reasons. The first was because “All Mexicans are crazy and marijuana is what makes them crazy.” The second was the fear that heroin addiction would lead to the use of marijuana – exactly the opposite of the modern gateway idea.

        One “expert” testified in court, under oath, that marijuana would make your fangs grow six inches long and drip with blood. He also said that, when he tried it, it turned him into a bat. That guy served as US Official Expert on marijuana for 25 years.

        So I am confused. When was this ever about morality? When did we stop worrying about people turning into bats? Doesn’t the problem of wholesale numbers of people turning into bats seem like a lot bigger problem than this morality thing?

    3. It is pathetic that we consider ourselves land of the free when we do not even have property rights to our own bodies. The complete lack of justification for the drug war makes me wonder if it is going to end up being necessary to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the rights to our own bodies. . . truly pathetic.

  2. Why should the government protect you from drunken airline pilots? Are you sure the airline company itself isn’t capable of doing that?

    No one can protect you from reckless drivers. That’s ridiculous.

    1. But the Shining Light of Washington DC Obama can protect me from all harm, just with the brush of the hem from his brilliant garment.

      1. You mean his mom jeans?

    2. So true this. I almost got ran down in a parking garage 2 days ago by some asshole playing with his cell phone. Your only defense on the roads is constant awareness and vigilance.

      1. Or be in an MRAP or Abrams M1A3 tank.

  3. Leftists say “my body, my choice”, then proceed to tell us it’s For Our Own Good to tell us what to eat, what to drink, what to smoke, and what to drive.

    So-cons suck ass, too.

    1. Leftists say “my body, my choice”

      only when it comes to sodomy and killing unborn babies. Outside of that, your body is the governments domain.

    2. The argument I have been seeing a lot lately is, “But as long as we have socialized medicine, it hits me in the wallet if you get fat, or smoke, or drink too much, so that makes it my business!”

      It makes me want to cry, it really does.

  4. right, because penumbras and emanations mean – MY BODY MY CHOICE when it comes to aborting a fetus, even in the third trimester because i’m depressed

    but it’s not MY bloodstream if i want to use drugs.

    got it
    nice “logic” there

    1. Speaking of logic, I’m not sure that your post contained any. I can’t be sure because I can’t quite figure out what you’re saying. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone in that.

      1. What post? All I see is an empty space.

    2. It appears that some ingesting of confiscated substances may have contributed to the disjointed nature of this post.

    1. Well who isn’t?

    2. Also, something about not good at swimming.

    3. Memo to Dave: the mic is always hot.


      Something about peanuts and a cameraman,…..c-90008805

      and something about the “RonPaulites”.

      1. *Pardon me, “camerawoman”.

      2. I recently had a libbie at Fluffington Host to tell me that the reason he doesn’t like Paulbots is because they call him a sheep, and that hurts his feelins.

        1. We need his name so we can make fun of him more.

          1. I don’t remember it, just the comment. Hell, I mean the only time I ever go to the Fluff is when I am drunk and feeling a really onery urge to antagonize libtards. If I am sober, they just annoy me too much.

    5. I can’t believe Yahoo has a Washington Bureau.

      1. That was actually the most surprising part for me too.

  5. I was just checking to make sure there were people yammering on about abortion in a WOD thread. It’s good to see it’s being covered.

    1. Next thing you know, they’re going to make circumcision illegal.

      1. Over my cold, dead foreskin!

      2. Well, it *is* a gateway operation.

      3. nah, we’ll just make sleezebag lawyers richer by making it a reality to be able to sue your parents after you had one.

        1. Speaking of parents, I opted not to have my son snipped. My reasoning (and my wife’s) was if he decides when he is older that the burden of having too much skin is too much to bear, he can go get it done then.

          My mom argued with me forever over why it was a bad idea. She even asked “do you miss not having your foreskin?” To shut her up and end the awkward conversation, I made it more awkward by saying “I don’t know, I never got the chance to fuck with it.” If only I could have threatened her with a lawsuit instead!

      4. I’ll be protesting the DNC, wearing a giant foreskin costume.

        1. Be warned, there have been andrew Sullivan sightings in the area.

    2. *sigh* When will you learn SF that abortion is THE single most important issue in the history of organized civilization?

      1. It’s the only issue, damn you. The only issue.

        1. Isn’t it funny how women always bitch about men thinking with what’s between their legs?

          1. Yeah, and then they dress up as giant vaginas and go to the RNC convention. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t already know that most wimin folk are giant cunts.

            1. Most of the GOP are giant cunts. Maybe the women were dressed like that as part of an undercover operation.

              1. Stolen from Iowahawk:

                GOP is extreme, says person in vagina costume blowing vuvuzela

      2. I am but a vagina and nothing more.

    3. Miracle Whip is delicious.

      1. Miracle Whip and Peanut Butter sammich….mmmmm!

  6. The media tell us that some drugs are so powerful that one “hit” or “snort” will hook the user forever.

    Originally, the prohibition of marijuana (in the 30s) was justified with the assertion that it turned Mexican men into raving and raping lunatics. As if a drug was necessary for that, silly!

    If we adults own our own bodies, we ought to get to control what we put in them.

    But, Stossel, don’t you see? For most “conservatives” (and their brethren on the Left) they’re not “our” bodies. We belong to the State, and the State has the obligation to make us virtuous and, at the same time, free of want. Guess which side wants one thing and which the other?

    1. “For most “conservatives” (and their brethren on the Left) they’re not “our” bodies. We belong to the State, and the State has the obligation to make us virtuous”

      That statement is the exact sentiment behind all these Protect Religious Freedom signs I’m seeing all over this damn county.

      1. so is the war on religion over?…cept for the damn muslimes acourse.

        1. There’s a War on Religion now? When did that get started?

    2. For most “conservatives” our bodies do not belong to us, they belong to God.
      It is then the duty of the government to enforce good stewardship of these bodies through legislated morality.
      Since drugs are immoral they should be illegal.

      The left just wants to control everything for the sake of controlling it, because the alternative is Somalia.

  7. Another way to reach Christian fundies is to mention “free will”. Most (not all) Christian denominations have the concept of free will. That is, you can choose not to sin, that God gave us the ability to love Him of our own accord. That there’s no virtue without the choice to do wrong.

    So, for those who say the God owns our bodies and drug use a moral issue, ask them why it’s different that other moral choices that don’t involve victims. Many won’t get it, but I have reached some in this way.

    1. why it’s different that other moral choices that don’t involve victims

      But there are victims!

      Family, friends, coworkers… everyone around the addict suffers!

      Then there is the costs to society, the lost productivity, medical care, etc…!

      Of course by that logic alcohol should be outlawed, but we tried that. And what happened? But we don’t made that comparison. Alcohol is mentioned in the Bible, the devil’s weed is not. Thus it should be banned.

      1. It’s externalities all the way down.

      2. BTW, Jesus’ first miracle was a beer run.

        1. Beer nothing, he went for the higher alcohol stuff!
          I figure myself an average or so Methodist – thus I wonder if I am in do-do some day for teasing prohibitionist type Baptists about Christ’s first attested to public miracle… creating wine for a party, and top shelf wine at that!

          1. And, the waiter thought it was strange to serve such top-shelf wine since everybody was already drunk.

            It’s a pretty funny story whether you believe it was a supernatural event or not.

  8. As a physician, I would agree that legalizing marijuana is probably the right thing to do. Its effects, unless thoroughly abused, are relatively minor and decriminalizing it would eliminate some, but not all, crime associated with it’s use. Legalizing Heroin, Cocaine, and Meth would be poor choices because they are much more powerful drugs. An addiction to heroin is basically a death sentence, and addiction comes easily. There is a reason people with heroin addiction are offered methadone maintenance (meaning they are given a narcotic, methadone, in the form of a pill the rest of their lives by their insurance company) because we know they will never defeat their addiction and they will either create crime or be a victim of crime before their own death, which will come much faster than an average person.

  9. Well we are always at war in some way. Weather it be with another country or on drugs.. You never know what may happen now. I will say this. Rather than going to war for real I go to war on the airsoft field! It is an amazing rush and you can even do games such as DEA versus drug lords. So awesome Here check out these awesome airsoft guns.

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