No one in their right mind would say that it’s a good idea to use heroin or crack. But there’s a world of difference between opposing the use of something and outlawing it all together. Indeed, most of us oppose adultery, but should we really make that illegal? The same could be said for countless other vices.
And of course, we tried prohibition before with alcohol in the 1920’s. And to put it mildly, the “experiment” failed in every way imaginable.
Now we’ve tried it again with drugs and once again, it has failed in every way imaginable.
Indeed, if we’re going to ban drugs like heroin and cocaine, we should do the same with alcohol and tobacco, which kill many more people than any other drug. The whole thing is incoherent right from the get-go.
Freedom is one of the core principles of our society and that includes the freedom to make mistakes. Drugs are readily available even with prohibition, so it’s not like all of sudden non-users would just up and start using. Honestly, would you go and shoot up heroin if it became legal?
Yes, drug users often hurt those around them. But the actual act of using drugs harms only the drug user. If the government can “prevent” us from hurting ourselves with drugs, why not with food? Perhaps the government should put us all on a diet. It is what drug users do (usually because of the drugs of course) that hurts those around them. But even if prohibition reduced drug use (which it doesn’t), people should be held responsible for what they do, and not what they do that might lead them to do something else. Punishing them for the ladder would require a massively invasive police state.
Which is what we have.
Today, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And a huge number of American inmates are incarcerated for nothing other than drug offenses. Furthermore, a disproportionate number of those inmates are minorities, despite having similar rates of drug use.
And when it comes to “victimless crimes,” they’re not particularly easy to spot. Most drug use is done in private and none of the participants want to get the police involved for reasons to obvious to mention.
So the government has to barge its way in. The ACLU notes that every day, there are “124 violent SWAT raids.” Only 7 percent are for hostage situations and the vast majorities are for drugs. Sometimes, these raids result in tragic consequences. For example, David Hooks was killed on one such raid when he was shot in the head and back while face down on the ground.
But it gets worse. The War on Drugs has all but turned Mexico into a narco state. Drug cartels gain so much power from the profits the War on Drugs has enabled them that they have arguably become the most powerful institutions south of the Rio Grande.
Just as Prohibition gave rise to the Mafia, drug prohibition gave rise to the Latin American drug cartels. Al Capone and Pablo Escobar might as well have been the same person.
Or put more simply, the War of Drugs creates crime, it doesn’t solve it.
Indeed, how many young kids in poor neighborhoods have turned to selling drugs as a way to make money for themselves or their families? Many of these kids have an entrepreneurial spirit that could be put to good use, but is instead wasted on the illicit drug trade and all the violence that comes with it.
But doesn’t the War on Drugs at least decrease drug use? Well, the short answer is no. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse,
“Illicit drug use in America has been increasing. In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older — or 9.2 percent of the population — had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month. This is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.”
As should be apparent, it is utopian nonsense to believe we can stop people from buying and using drugs that are so easily accessible. Instead, drug prohibition just creates a massive black market, which criminal gangs control and profit from.
Furthermore, the evidence strongly suggests that legalization works. The best example is Portugal. As a recent headline in Forbes noted, “Ten Years After Decriminalization, Drug Abuse Down by Half in Portugal.” And, a report by the Brookings Institute finds that marijuana legalization in Colorado has been “largely successful.”
Prohibition simply doesn’t work, be it of alcohol or drugs. The War on Drugs has been lost; in fact it was unwinnable in the first place. It’s time to declare a ceasefire.