The Morality of the War on Drugs
EDITOR’S NOTE: A few years ago, I penned a first draft of a short book, “End The War On Drugs” I offer an updated version, in serial form, here on Substack, for my paid subscribers. Today’s chapter and next week’s conclude series, and I offer them without paywall.
CHAPTER 1: A Catastrophic Failure
CHAPTER 2: A Brief History
CHAPTER 3: A Society Rooted in Individual Liberty
CHAPTER 4: Use vs Abuse
CHAPTER 5: Societal Cost
CHAPTER 6: Use and Addiction
CHAPTER 7: Free To Choose
CHAPTER 8: Prohibitions Create Business Opportunities
CHAPTER 9: Inner City Youths and the Permanent Stigma of Drug Convictions
CHAPTER 10: Prisons and the Corrections Industry
CHAPTER 11: Law Enforcement and the Militarization of Police
CHAPTER 12: Asset Forfeiture
CHAPTER 13: Expatriation of Dollars and Destabilization of Foreign Governments
CHAPTER 14: Practical Aspects of Legalization
My argument for drug legalization began with the presumption of individual liberty, and it will end there. But the discussion won't be complete without a nod in the direction of those who argue the morality aspect of the drug war. An argument one might hear is that, since taking drugs is harmful, society is behooved by its moral compass to discourage and prohibit that action. There really isn't much I can say to disabuse those locked into that belief. Many if not most root their moral beliefs in the religion they choose to practice, and religious beliefs are dictated and decreed by religious texts, the scholars who interpret them, and/or the leaders of those religions. Short of getting into a major discussion about religion, faith and theology, there's not much that I can say to dissuade another's moral belief set.
The argument that can and should be made, on the other hand, is the practical one. If one's morality obligates one to embrace beliefs and political positions dedicated to helping and protecting others, especially the weakest, isn't all I've presented here a strong case that the best way to effect that help and protection is by ending the War on Drugs and all the harm that it has caused? Wouldn't it be easier to help those who need help if they weren't afraid of the law coming down on them should they come out of the shadows? It cannot be over-repeated that the addictions, the overdoses, and all the criminal activity that supplies users and addicts is going on today, full-bore, with purity and potency higher than ever, despite nearly a century of prohibition and over half a century of War.
If people struggling with addiction need help, what good do we do them by tossing them in prison, and stigmatizing them forever after as ex-convicts? If someone sins, do we not act more morally, per the teachings of the dominant religion in America today, by forgiving them their sins and helping them find the better path? Aren’t we all sinners, per those teachings, and aren’t we all redeemable?
Stepping aside from religion-sourced morality, for the secular among us - and I am among those that have concluded one does not need a religious framework to have a moral code. Morality, for those thus-minded, can be traced in part to the societies we’ve built (in the West’s case, ones where individuals are valued), and in part to the genetic encoding that makes us social. It has led us to build societies based on freedom and equality. In such, what pretext is there for debarring another adult’s voluntary act? As discussed herein, we can certainly claim a societal right to punish those who do harm to others or their stuff, but there’s as much morality in jailing someone for eating or drinking or smoking something you disapprove of as there is in locking others up for eating unhealthy foods, or getting fat, or smoking a cigar, or getting drunk on their back porch on a Friday night.
We mustn’t conflate morality with puritanism, just as we cannot presume we live in a free society if we accept some people’s distaste for certain behaviors are grounds for banning others from engaging in them. Were that the case, and were I a selfish autocrat who didn’t care for, much less allow, individuals’ rights, I’d prohibit coconut in all forms, no matter that most of you like it.
What harm is there in eating coconut, you might ask? Well, the stuff offends me in myriad ways. No matter that you might do so far away from me, the slight chance that I might come within sniffing distance of you is a risk that selfish, dictatorial alternate universe me might address via prohibition.
Does that sound silly and pointless and illiberal to you? Of course it does.
Coconut is not, of course, heroin. Heroin, or its high-octane cousin fentanyl, carry the potential to do great harm, but unless and until a heroin user violates your individual or property rights, it’s really none of your business. If such a violation occurs, by all means, punish the transgressor. But, if not, wouldn’t you, he, and society all be better served if he got help instead of jail?
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Final Thoughts.