I have been arguing this topic for some time, and I have come to realize that it is an argument where the rational approach is unlikely to change minds. Because of the rather emotional overtones the fight has taken on, both sides have dug in their heels and won't budge. Those fighting for legalization will not budge an inch, convinced any restrictions will open the door to ever increasing regulations (and I am firmly in this camp), while those who want to continue fighting the war on drugs simply cannot accept "giving up".
So, perhaps it is time to try a new approach. Rather than argue the points I have been arguing for so long, I should try a new tack.
I once before argued that the logic of the war on drugs, that we can pass laws to keep people from "harming themselves" is the same foundation upon which every totalitarian law is based. I also argued that once we admit some concession tot eh view that people need to be protected by those who know better, we simply cannot draw the line, the logic will be followed to its final conclusion, going from drug prohibition to nanny state oversight to total regimentation.
When I made that argument before, many dismissed it, arguing that "line drawing" is required in all laws, and that the law can be made to go "this far and no farther". However, I think recent news makes that argument weaker than ever. As I argued when Boumedine was handed down, the end result would be treating all battle field captures as if they were arrests, and, lo and behold, the Obama administration does have CIA agents mirandizing those captured in Afghanistan, or at least some of them. They say it is just the continuation of a policy of the Bush administration, but that makes my point even more forcefully. Just a short time after Boumedine, Bush was already mirandizing prisoners in order to avoid future complications. Why? Because it is impossible to draw a line. As Griswold led to Roe v Wade through the operation of inexorable logic, so Boumedine leads to full criminal civil rights for prisoners of war and "unlawful combatants". Drawing lines is pointless, the law follows the logic behind the argument, not the lines we try to draw.
That being the case, then we have two choices. We can ban drugs, knowing that in doing so we are saying "people cannot be trusted to make their own decisions and in some cases the state may have to tell them what to do, and imprison them if they fail to obey." And in so doing we have set the stage for the state to enact whatever restrictions it may wish, as long as it can argue it is acting "for our own good". Or, we can say "people may make decisions we think wrong, but out fo respect for human dignity we will admit we may not know better than they do, and will allow them to choose whatever they want so long as they do not violate the rights of others." By so doing we would remove the government's most powerful argument for intruding into our lives and business. If we are competent and the merit of our decisions is left for each of us to decide for ourselves, then the state has no argument for passing laws about what we can eat, what pay we can accept, the sorts of contracts we can and can't sign and so on.
Now, there is a cost. However, it does not seem too steep. Even granting the worst assumptions of the drug warriors are true, and many people use drugs who previously would not have done so, the only people who suffer would be those who choose to use drugs. Admittedly, they will be worse off, but they chose to make themselves that way. On the other hand, the rest of us would be freed of government meddling. And that really is the choice. Do we allow those who chose to use drugs to suffer the consequences of those choices, or do we instead imprison them and open the door for a full fledged dictatorship over all of us? That is the only choice.
I actually deny that drug use would increase drastically. Many people may try drugs if they were legal, but even now the number of teens who tried drugs are pretty high, so I doubt usage would increase greatly. On the other hand, criminality would seriously decline, for two reasons. First, drug dealers would no longer be criminals required to settle disputes by force. Just as Bush and Budweiser do not act the way bootleggers did, legal drug merchants would not behave the way drug dealers do now. Second, because the risk premium added by smugglers and dealers would disappear, the cost of drugs would decline greatly, meaning addicts who choose to live a life of crime would need less money, and, as a result, would commit fewer crimes. (I know many find that logic somehow offensive, but if we must have crime, isn't it better to have the least crime possible? Being realistic about it is not immoral, it is simply recognizing that criminals will always be with us, and we should do what we can to minimize the harm they do.)
For those interested in my previous arguments (both on drug decriminalization and medical deregulation, as they are related), they can be found here:
Standing By My PrinciplesYou can also find quite a few articles in my recently neglected blog "Examining the War on Drugs".
For Your Own Good
It Is Time
Unintended Consequences I
Unintended Consequences II
Who Does It Harm?
Manipulating the Law
It Doesn't Matter to ME...
Medical Regulation II
We're From the Government and We're Here To Help You
Another Thought on Regulation
The Endless Cycle of Intervention
The Intellectual Elite
Government's Abusive Behavior
The Secret Behind the Rhetoric
A Great Article
Two Questions About Health Care
Cognitive Dissonance Part 2
Ideally, I would like to see the drug war simply stopped at the federal level, the individual states could then establish their own, individual policies, and we would have 50 samples to allow us to see how various approaches work. However, as the federal government seems determined to impose a single law upon the whole nation, I have to argue for blanket decriminalization.
My best writing on federalism (and limited government) can be found here:
A New RecordOf course, I mention federalism at least once a day, so a comprehensive list would be far too long. Though for those who don't mind mixing theology and politics, my post "The Triumph of Good" provides another take on limited government and its inherent benefits.
What we need
Why I Am Not A Libertarian
Standing By My Principles
A Simple Analogy
For Once A Concise Post
The Virtue of Humility
A Brief Update
One Final Brief Note
What I Want in a President
My Vision of Government
My Vision of Government Part II
The Benefits of Federalism
A Passing Thought
Majority Does Not Obviate the Rule of Law
I'm Fed Up
There is Some Sanity in the World
We're From the Government and We're Here To Help You
My Entire Philosophy
Below His Pay Grade
An Analogy For Government
Planning For Imperfection
Thoughts on Parliametary Systems
Transparency, Corruption and Reform
Why Term Limits Will Fail (And Should)
The Wrong People
Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism
The Case Against the 14th Amendment
Just to make clear something I have stated indirectly a number of times. A federalist system is not guaranteed to produce ideal results. However, by producing so many different systems, the odds of a single error taking over all fifty states is much lower than when a single solution is imposed at the federal level. In addition, you can always move in a federal system to live under laws you like, an option not possible under a monolithic federal system.
Last postscript. I promise.
I would also like to emphasize that, unlike the libertarian party, I think leading with drug decriminalization is a losing political proposition. As at least half my readers disagree with me on this topic, I know it is a sure way to alienate those who would otherwise support you. So, while I think it is an important question and one we will eventually need to address, it needs to remain low on the list of priorities. Once the government has been stripped of much of its excess power, authority returned to the states and citizens have had their rights restored, then we can address this question. of course, by that time it may be irrelevant, as the states themselves, with their powers restored, may have already resolved it locally.
Originally Posted in Examining the War on Drugs on 2009/09/29.