A Lame Defense Of The Drug Warby Doug Mataconis
John Hawkins writes in a column at Human Events and a post at his blog Right Wing News in defense of the War On Drugs. As is typical with defenders of the drug war, it doesn’t really amount to much of anything.
Just take a look at his opening paragraphs:
Libertarians often attack the war on drugs as a waste of tax dollars and an infringement on personal liberties. That is misguided thinking that comes from trying to apply unworkable theoretical concepts in the real world.
For example, you often hear advocates of drug legalization say that we’re never going to win the war on drugs and that it would free up space in our prisons if we simply legalized drugs. While it’s true that we may not ever win the war against drugs — i.e. never entirely eradicate the use of illegal drugs — we’re not ever going to win the war against murder, robbery and rape either. But our moral code rejects each of them, so none — including drugs — can be legalized if we still adhere to that code.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen this one from the drug warriors…..well, I’d have a heck of a lot of nickels.
There is a distinct difference, of course, between murder, robbery, and rape on the one hand, and using a currently illegal substance like marijuana or cocaine. Murder involves violating the right to life of another human being. Robbery is an intrusion on property rights. And rape is an assault, also a violation of another individuals rights. You can’t say the same thing, though, about an individuals use of (currently) illegal drugs. If my neighbor is smoking marijuana in the privacy of his own home, he has done nothing to harm me, my property, or my family. That being the case, the state has no business telling him he can’t do it.
Hawkins doesn’t end there though. The rest of his argument is addressed below the fold. Hawkins responds to the argument that individual drug use doesn’t harm anyone but the user (accepting for the moment the argument that all use of currently illegal substances is per se harmful) thusly:
But, some people may say, “so what if drug usage does explode? They’re not hurting anyone but themselves.” That might be true in a purely capitalistic society, but in the sort of welfare state that we have in this country, the rest of us would end up paying a significant share of the bills of people who don’t hold jobs or end up strung out in the hospital without jobs — and that’s even if you forget about the thugs who’d end up robbing our houses to get things to pawn to buy more drugs. Even setting that aside, we make laws that prevent people from harming themselves all the time in our society. In many states there are helmet laws, laws that require us to wear seatbelts, laws against prostitution, and it’s even illegal to commit suicide. So banning harmful drugs is just par for the course.
In other words, Hawkins is basically arguing that since we already violate individual rights in a whole host of ways, what’s one more intrusion into personal autonomy ? Hardly a ringing defense of freedom is it ?
And if we’re going to ban something because it’s “harmful” then why stop at drugs, what about alcohol and tobacco. Well, Hawkins has this to say about that:
In 2004 and 2005, 39% of all traffic-related deaths was related to alcohol consumption and 36% of convicted offenders “had been drinking alcohol when they committed their conviction offense.” When it comes to cigarettes, adult smokers “die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.” But, will we ever get rid of tobacco or alcohol? No, both products are too societally accepted for that and perhaps more importantly, the government makes enormous amounts of revenue from their sale.
Think about that. Alcohol and tobacco are, if Hawkins is right, more harmful than illegal drugs, but we should ban them because it’s too hard. If Hawkins was truly in favor of protecting the American public by banning supposedly harmful substances, then he wouldn’t let societal acceptance or tax revenue stand in his way.
Of course, the number of people using what are currently illegal drugs would skyrocket if they were legalized, so we’d see a new wave of drug-addled burglars if we “legalized it.” Now, maybe you think that’s not the case. Some people certainly argue that if illicit drugs were legalized, their usage would drop. However, the fact that drugs are illegal is certainly holding down their usage.
Hawkins’ source for this last assertion ? Ann Coulter, who argues that the Prohibition Era resulted in “startling” decreases in alcohol consumption and diseases associated with alcoholism. Considering that most of the alcohol consumption that occurred during Prohibition occurred underground, it’s hard to see how any official statstics about consumption during that era could be considered reliable.
Moreover, what Coulter and Hawkins both fail to recognize about Prohibition is the fact that it did little more than turn most Americans into lawbreakers, and led to the accelerated rise of organized crime:
Prohibition did not spawn organized crime, but accelerated the pace of evolution for an emerging criminal society and it elevated the Italian and Sicilian gangster to the top of that society. In the days of Prohibition, the axiom “crime doesn’t pay” became downright ridiculous. Crime paid and paid well. And the hoodlums with any degree of sense at all realized that there was plenty of cash to go around. Gangsters no longer needed to compete for protection rackets or other sources of income. In fact, it was in their best interest to cooperate, as the public could fund their activities without feeling remorse over involvement in murder and chaos.
That’s exactly what has happenied with the War on Drugs. Thirty years of enforcement has not eradicated marijuana, cocaine, or heroin from the landscape, and another thirty years won’t either. Instead, it’s led to the creation of drug cartels that control entire regions of South American countries and American street gangs that have financed their rise to power through the sale of currently illegal drugs.
That is the price we’ve paid for the War on Drugs. Hawkins, though, clearly doesn’t recognize it.
H/T: Hit & Run