Reasons to End the War on Drugs. Now.

Lynne Kiesling

Today in Forbes Art Carden has an essay arguing that we should end the War on Drugs and make marijuana legal, now. He’s right. Here’s why.

  • As Art argues, the War on Drugs is a policy poster child for unintended consequences, because the inelastic demand for the regulated good means that stronger enforcement leads to more profits from selling the good. The War on Drugs increases drug dealer profits.
  • Because of those profits relative to other alternatives, the War on Drugs just doesn’t work. An example: here in Chicago we had a recent spate of unusual gun violence, and even though new police chief Garry McCarthy said last year that he thought the War on Drugs was ineffective, after this violent weekend he joined mayor Rahm Emanuel in promising more vigorous and aggressive enforcement and targeting of drug transactions. Note at the head of the lede that Mick Dumke says “The first time I heard a police officer argue that the war on drugs wasn’t working was in 1994.” Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has been saying it since 2002.
  • The War on Drugs violates the fundamental individual right that humans have of self-ownership; individuals have the right to choose their own actions without interference as long as their actions do not violate the fundamental individual rights of others.
  • The War on Drugs has created horrific law enforcement violations of individual rights: police brutality, increased police militarization, no-knock raids resulting in property destruction and death of innocent citizens when they get the wrong addresses, civil asset forfeiture rules that police departments have incentives to exaggerate so they can sell assets to raise revenue. The actions that the police rationalize using the War on Drugs increasingly are the actions of a police state.
  • The War on Drugs has virtually eliminated the constitutional protection of individual rights against unreasonable search and seizure, and is seriously eroding judicial due process rights.
  • The War on Drugs has costly and socially corrosive blowback in other areas. If you think that the invasive actions of the TSA are solely related to the War on Terror, you haven’t been paying attention. When the TSA crows about its “successes” in airport security, they are often items of “contraband”. The War on Terror is in part a red herring for the War on Drugs, and the two combine to give law enforcement officials substantial discretion in the militarization, unreasonable search, etc. mentioned above.
  • The War on Drugs has destroyed the fabric of urban families and communities much more than drug use would, through the disproportionate incarceration of young African American men (see above point about how regulation increases the profits from the drug trade).
  • In addition to the immorality of the War on Drugs described above, as a matter of public policy it fails benefit-cost analysis. Jeffrey Miron estimates the net effect annually of reducing enforcement, legalization, and taxation of marijuana to be $15 billion — an increase in tax revenue of almost $7 billion and a reduction in enforcement costs of $8 billion. The net social savings from extending legalization to other drugs is even larger. Think about the other uses of those resources — revenue for deficit reduction, reallocation of law enforcement activity to some other area where it may actually have meaningful beneficial impacts (like, say, intelligence gathering, community development, cops walking the beat).
  • The beneficial budgetary effects and reduced social corrosion that Miron suggests have actually happened recently in Portugal, which has liberalized its drug trade and consumption, with net beneficial financial and social effect.
  • The hypocrisy of the War on Drugs is astounding, particularly the president’s recent heavy-handed opposition to legalization after his admission in 2004 that the War on Drugs is a failed policy. In the face of the fact that the health effects of alcohol are more negative than of marijuana and the fact that general social mores have moved so that more than half of the U.S. population believes that marijuana should be legal, this hypocrisy is downright absurd.

Nick Gillespie says it well in this video:

We cannot afford the War on Drugs, either morally or economically. End this costly, ineffective, corrosive policy. Now.


3 thoughts on “Reasons to End the War on Drugs. Now.

  1. The reasons having to do with bad things being done in the name of the War on Drugs aren’t good arguments. They just need to stop doing those bad things. Would we stop enforcing the laws against murder because some policeman violated the Constitution when enforcing them?

    This statement says it all, “the fact that general social mores have moved so that more than half of the U.S. population believes that marijuana should be legal”. The reason so many people want drug legalization is because of the decline of morality in our country. Eventually (if not turned around), the moral decline will destroy us, as it did so many other nations.

  2. Lance,

    Should alcohol be illegal again? It’s well established that alcohol is much worse for your body than marijuana.

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