Debunking The "War On Drugs" Libertarian Style

Book Title: 
The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War
Bill Masters
Book Publisher: 
Clay Evans
The Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado)

Reading his contribution to the new book, “The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War,” I was intrigued to learn that San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters once was an avid drug warrior. It was, he indicates, simply part of what it meant to be a Republican law enforcement official. But after several years of approaching drug use as a criminal problem, especially in free-spirited Telluride, he was frustrated by “the increasing drug problems in the county.” In other words, arresting and jailing drug users, which he had accepted without question, simply didn’t work. “One day I was out politicking, talking to an old boy that I assumed would agree with me,” Masters writes. “... After listening to my tirade in silence for a few minutes, he slowly turned to me and drawled, ‘You know, Sheriff, I don’t want to tell you your business, but it sounds to me like you’ve been shovelling hay into the wrong end of the horse.’” To his credit, Masters drew the only sensible conclusion: “Obviously, if we were handling the problem the correct way we would have a stronger, safer, and healthier horse, but we aren’t and we don’t.” That’s a compact summary of this volume of sensible, mostly libertarian argument against the damaging, wasteful, unwinnable “war on drugs.” And no, it’s not a “pro-drug” argument; most of the writers proclaim their abhorrence for drugs, but they think the “drug war” is doing more harm than good. And they make a strong case. Written by police, a judge, a congressman, a mayor, and various think-tank-types, with an introduction from former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, this collection offers a sharp, detailed critique of the money-sucking drug war. There’s nothing particularly new here for those inclined to agree, but it’s nice to have all these facts, figures and a few new alternative approaches between two covers. The essays reveal in stark, practical terms how the government has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on the drug war only to drive up prices — which then attracts new, profit-seeking daredevils to the business. Supply and demand, remember? They show that the war’s ammunition falls disproportionately on minorities, and how prisons rife with drugs may actually make addicts worse. Meanwhile, write Mike Krause and Dave Kopel of Golden’s Independence Institute, the drug war has made a mess of US foreign policy, especially in Latin America. “Before the United States government militarized the ‘drug war’ in the Andes, a majority of coca was cultivated in neighboring Bolivia and Peru. ... (T)he success of the US ‘Airbridge Denial’ program — the shooting down of suspected drug flights ... — prompted traffickers to simply move their growing operations into Colombia. ... Already the largest producer of cocaine, Colombia became the largest coca-growing country as well,” they write. An essay by Fatema Gunja of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts describes how government officials have tried to conflate drugs — even teenage pot smoking — and terrorism in the post-9/11 world. “From television ads aired during the Super Bowl to full-page ads in The New York Times, the government’s campaign on the drug war has found a new niche, one that rests on manipulating existing fear and anxiety over national security matters to advance the drug war agenda,” she writes. In the closing section of the book, writers propose various approaches to drugs that do not involve self-defeating, money-wasting, feel-good campaigns, from “medicalizing” drug use and abuse to turning the whole issue back to the states. The book isn’t identified as written by libertarians (and in some cases, Libertarians), but their mark is charmingly unmistakable: “(T)he US Constitution grants Congress no authority to establish any kind of criminal code, other than to punish treason and counterfeiting and crimes committed at sea or on federal property.” Of course, on this issue, libertarians have a virtual corner on common sense. Democrats and Republicans alike (with a few brave exceptions like former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson) are terrified to question the drug war and risk being labelled as “soft on drugs” by an opponent, then punished by a mindless electorate. Strangely, President Bush got this backward. He sounded the right notes on the campaign trail, calling for a treatment-based approach to drug addiction, but once inaugurated appointed a drug czar, John Walters, and attorney general, John Ashcroft, who ramped up the anti-drug rhetoric immediately. Issued by such a small press, it’s unlikely that this fact-filled, persuasive volume will find it into the hands of the majority of Americans who remain stoned by the propaganda that “we’re winning the drug war.” But every little bit helps.