Most everyone is familiar with the disastrous consequences of the war on drugs: drug gangs, drug lords, drug suppliers, gang wars, muggings, robberies, thefts, corruption of judges, prosecutors, and law-enforcement officials, murders, assassinations, overcrowded jails, asset forfeiture, and on and on. The fact is that nothing good is produced by the war on drugs. All the results are bad. If you have any doubts, just ask the people of Mexico, who have experienced the unbelievable number of 30,000 drug war deaths in the last 3 years alone.
Making drugs illegal causes the price to increase, which motivates suppliers to enter the black market to make money. The state gets angry over this economic phenomenon, imposing harsher penalties and more brutally enforcing the laws. That causes prices to go up even more, which motivates more people to enter into the market as suppliers. Ultimately, the black market price gets so high that ordinary citizens are lured into the market in the hopes of scoring big financially.
All the bad consequences of the drug war, however, are not the primary reason for why we should legalize drugs. Freedom is the primary reason to legalize drugs. When the state has the power to put people into jail for ingesting a non-approved substance, there is no way that people in that society can be considered free.
A person is sitting in the privacy of his own living room. He decides to smoke marijuana, snort cocaine, or inject himself with heroin. The state — e.g., the members of Congress, the president, the DEA, the Justice Department — claim the authority to punish the person for doing that.
But it’s that person’s mouth, it’s his body, it’s his health.
Alas, not under terms of the drug war. The state says: We own you, we control you, we regulate you. You do as we say with respect to what you put into your mouth, or else.
How can that possibly be reconciled with fundamental principles of freedom? A society in which freedom is genuine is one in which people are free to engage in any activity, so long as it is peaceful and non-fraudulent. That includes, at a minimum, conduct that could be considered self-destructive.
You want to smoke? That’s your decision. You want to drink? That’s your decision. You want to ingest other drugs, no matter how harmful? That’s your decision. That’s what freedom is all about — the right to live your life the way you want, so long as you don’t initiate force or fraud against others.
Unfortunately, statists take an opposite approach. They say that every person ultimately belongs to society and, therefore, can be controlled and regulated by the state for the benefit of society. Since a person taking drugs is harming society, the collectivist argument goes, the state can send him to his room when he is caught violating drug laws, as much as a parent can do so to a child who violates rules on what he should and shouldn’t put into his mouth.
Most everyone now realizes that government officials benefit tremendously from the drug war, just as drug lords and drug gangs do. There is the ever-burgeoning business of asset forfeiture, including against innocent people, which is a way that the state helps fills its coffers without going through the legislative process of raising taxes. There are the bribes of public officials. And there are simply the jobs that the drug war produces — drug war agents, prosecutors, judges, clerks, and so forth. Thus, it isn’t surprising that among the people who still favor the drug war, government officials and drug lords are at the top of the list. Both groups would be put out of work immediately with drug legalization.
We live in a universe in which bad means beget bad ends. It is not surprising that the drug war produces nothing but bad consequences. Violating a fundamental principle of freedom — what a person chooses to ingest — brings about death, destruction, crisis, chaos, violence, corruption, and other bad consequences. Legalizing drugs would be a major step toward restoring the freedoms of the American people, while also bringing an immediate end to the bad consequences that the drug war produces.
January 21, 2011
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at The Foundation for Economic Education. In 1989, Mr. Hornberger founded The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a regular writer for The Foundation’s publication, Freedom Daily. He is a co-editor or contributor to the eight books that have been published by the Foundation.