Response to John P. Walters’ article in politico magazine.

In response to ‘Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs’, by John P. Walters.

“Social conservatives are troubled by drug abuse, especially among the young, and believe that government regulation of certain substances is necessary to curb behavior seen not only as self-destructive but also incompatible with a strong and free community.”

So says the director of drug policy under George W. Bush, John P. Walters. Of course, what he fails to mention is that the unsophisticated concept of “drug abuse” held by the average conservative refers to the responsible or irresponsible use of any drug but alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine. He is right, after all, when he says that there is “ample experience that a drug user harms not only himself, but also many others,” but he’d never tell you that the chief among them is America’s favorite pastime, ethyl alcohol. The first transparent and repeatable attempt to rank the harms of various drugs, led by David Nutt, shows the comparative benignity of LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, and MDMA, for example. Is Mr. Walters suggesting we legalize these substances and ban alcohol instead? If so, does he remember what happened the first time?

And he would have the ghost of a point when he says that “the association between drug use and social and economic failure, domestic violence, pernicious parenting and criminal acts while under the influence is grounds for prohibition,” if it could be demonstrated that prohibition had a positive impact on these metrics. On the contrary, it has proven to exacerbate the problems associated with drug use on every count. Let’s turn his nonsense back on its head, then, shall we? The association between prohibition and social and economic failure, domestic and international terrorism, gang warfare, corruption, pernicious parenting and criminal acts is grounds for the repeal of prohibition, surely?

He goes on to ask who would control the supply if drugs were legalized, suggesting that whoever “controls the supply controls the population of addicts.” This is a troubling notion, indeed. But the answer is nonetheless obvious. The beauty of a free market is precisely that nobody in particular controls the supply. Allow a free market for drugs, and whoever drug users feel best serves their interests will control the supply – in all probability a diverse and dispersed multiplicity of individuals and groups. Given a truly free market, this diverse system of production and distribution will probably incorporate a large portion of the users themselves, thereby allowing them to regain control of their liberty.

We needn’t ask who controls the supply and, thus, the population of addicts under Mr. Walters’ scheme. We know who controls the supply under Walters’ scheme: violent criminal cartels, emboldened by the de facto monopoly his policy grants them.
He also rejects the dispensary model, as do I, wondering aloud if there would be corruption in the quest to acquire licenses. And of course there would, as there is corruption in all fields in which the government claims the right to issue licenses, a premise which the libertarians he’s criticizing don’t shy away from carrying to its logical conclusion. But again, one need only look at Mexico to gauge the corruption engendered by Mr Walters’ policies.

He also laments “political risks.” He points to “all these marijuana users that are reliable supporters of pro-legalization candidates in their state campaigns,” and recoils at the thought that heroin users might become similarly politically organized and support a candidate who they feel represents them.

He closes: “Even President Obama, whose administration has facilitated marijuana legalization, himself asked the logical follow-up question: ‘[What if] we’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we OK with that?’

Are we?”

First of all, we do have a calibrated dose of meth that’s not going to kill you. I give you my word: 15 milligrams of methamphetamine will not kill you or rot your teeth. And yes, I am okay with that. There is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure or productivity. We can acknowledge this while trying to further our understanding of addiction and our capacity to help addicted people. Only 3% of Americans who have tried methamphetamine had smoked it in the previous month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health which Walter’s cites himself.

This article is dishonest. It is not based on an accurate or scientific appraisal of the harms and benefits of various drugs, it is oblivious to the entire corpus of writing about the effects of prohibition, and it promotes a political agenda which is rapidly losing relevance. If he wishes to dispute the ends which libertarianism seeks, namely the liberation of drug users and the minimization of harm, that is a different matter. But at present, he is arguing that liberalization of drug policy would not achieve these ends; one wonders why he bothers when libertarians and non-libertarians alike have so voluminously demonstrated it that it would and, when it has been attempted, has.

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