End The War On Drugs - Chapter 1
A Catastrophic Failure
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, one chapter a week. I offer this introduction “free,” but each subsequent chapter will be paywalled (with preview). Thank you for your support!
On June 18th, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs. Or, more accurately, some drugs. Normally, when one speaks of an anniversary, the term “celebrate” comes forth, but there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate in this matter.
The War on Drugs has been raging for half a century. It has cost taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. It has been responsible for untold billions of dollars flowing into the underground economy and out of the country. Millions have had their career and life prospects permanently wrecked due to possession convictions. Our constitutional rights have been shredded. Privacy has become a joke. Our police departments have been militarized and now resemble armies. Our prisons have become industries and profit centers. Foreign governments have been destabilized. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, here and abroad. People who would otherwise seek help for their addictions don’t for fear of arrest. In inner cities, poor communities and many foreign lands, the drug trade is a career path that crowds out others, with gangs and organized crime groups dominating neighborhoods and keeping their residents in a perpetual state of fear.
Despite all the government’s best efforts and massive expenditures, anyone can with very little effort get any drug he or she desires, at higher potency than ever, and the more the government tries to clamp down, the stronger the product offered.
By any rational measure, the War on Drugs is a catastrophic failure, causing enormous harm and very little good. It is rooted in a callous disregard for individual liberty and dismissal of unintended adverse side effects. It ignores the obvious lessons from the alcohol Prohibition experiment, and it persists because of a combination of legislative inertia, willful ignorance, and an immoral and toxic mix of greed and lust for control. It is all veneered with varying forms of “protect people from themselves” and “we must help others” paternalism that mask people’s personal objections being deemed acceptable as coercive policy.
I’m a lifelong libertarian, and it should come as no surprise that a lifelong libertarian believes the War on Drugs, or as I noted, the War on Some Drugs, should be ended. I've had many arguments on this topic, and have heard occasional "partial" agreement i.e. marijuana may be OK but harder drugs are not. There is momentum on pot legalization, with 37 states having legalized it either recreationally or medically, but it remains under the Federal government’s most restrictive ban:
Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
That there remains Federal resistance to pot legalization when most of the states have come around to rationality - especially with a Democratic administration in power - is an oddity. Doubly so when we consider that they won’t even downgrade it from a Schedule I substance, given the widespread acceptance of its medicinal utility. Unless you recognize the lethal combination of inertia, cynicism, power-hunger, money-lust, and disregard for individual rights that is the true nature of government.
President Joe Biden promised to decriminalize pot and expunge convictions while campaigning, but he has apparently flipped on that promise, and stood against legalization even as the Democratically-controlled House voted for it.
This opposition might change at some point, especially since psychedelic drugs are becoming less taboo, with medical uses being explored and promising utility being verified. The tipping point won’t be rights-based, but rather a vote-getting gambit or a money-grubbing ploy. Unfortunate, but even so it’d be a step in the right direction.
Legalization at the federal level - if done right - would be a welcome reversal of an eighty-five year old mistake, but it’d be just one step of many needed to end this War.
The Drug War is often a major point of divergence between conservatives and libertarians, and it's common for conservatives to cast aspersions on libertarians over the drug war, claiming that our opposition to it is rooted in a self-serving desire to smoke weed without risk or repercussion. Ann Coulter, for one, is fond of belittling the libertarian movement in exactly this fashion. Even in this divergence, however, I see occasional positive signs, with self-professed conservatives and long-time drug warriors waking up to the reality that prohibition isn’t working.
It may strike some who know me personally as odd that I'd devote the time and effort to write thousands of words on drug legalization when I'm a "teetotaler" with regard to anything other than alcohol and caffeine. As unlikely as it may sound in today's world, I've never smoked anything (that includes tobacco) and have never tried any sort of recreational drug.
Nor do I have any interest in doing so.
Why, then, have I taken the time to write a book such as this? Why devote time and effort to a policy area that I’ve no personal interest in? Read on and find out.
CHAPTER TWO: A Brief History.