Drug War Death Toll

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Give it up, drug warriors.

You will never stop the production and consumption of marijuana, cocaine, or any other substance that people want to grow and repackage for others who want to buy. The attempt to do so vastly increases the price and thereby benefits some producers at the expense of others, breeds crime and corruption in public agencies, and violates people’s civil liberties.

The drug war leads people to believe that the federal government, not the people who can actually do something about drug use, is taking care of the problem. It breeds parental dereliction of duty. Meanwhile, the government’s constant message of "Say No to Drugs" has the opposite effect on young people always willing to bite the forbidden fruit that government doesn’t want them to touch.

For bureaucratic reasons, the drug warriors are unwilling to make distinctions about the severity of drugs, so that pot and heroin are considered equally bad. This is so absurd that it discredits the entire message. Meanwhile, other forms of drugs such as alcohol and tobacco enjoy legal approval, even as the government has programs to make drugs by prescription as cheap as possible.

The hypocrisy is flagrant and outrageous, and the effects deeply corrupting of the culture and the political process. The drug warriors first federalized drug control, on grounds that state-level interdiction had too many leaks. Then the federal government, always glad for more power, made it a foreign-policy issue, brow-beating governments all over the world to run roughshod over their citizens in an attempt to stamp out drugs.

Today, Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old adopted daughter Charity are dead. They were killed by military bullets raining in on a small civilian aircraft flying to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Indians of Peru. The CIA and the Peruvian military mistook a plane of missionaries for drug dealers. There were no warning shots.

Drug lords, for all their malice, are careful to keep non-combatants out of the line of fire. Governments don’t care. We are all in the line of fire so far as they are concerned, so the blood of civilian missionaries is the price we pay for keeping cocaine away from those who will find some way to get it anyway.

It was a mistake, the US says. Sorry. But where is the accountability? Who is going to fry for this murderous act? The sub commander whose irresponsible behavior led to the death of Japanese high-school students was "punished" with an early retirement so he can continue to live off the taxpayers while doing nothing.

Does anyone believe that those responsible for the death of the missionaries will receive any worse treatment? So far no one has been willing to accept responsibility. Who investigates the investigators? Who prosecutes the prosecutors? Isn’t it time the Christian Right begin to rethink the drug war, which has now taken two of their own?

In a drug war, the government treats us all as suspects. Our bank accounts are investigated, we are harassed at the airport, and we are spied on at every turn. Recreational users, who pose no threat to anyone but themselves, are treated as worse than felons and given mandatory sentences that ruin their lives. Meanwhile, murderers can’t be kept in prison because prisons are overcrowded with small-time tokers.

After decades of experience, we know the drug war can’t work. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool. We also know that the costs are huge, to our liberty and our tax dollars. The drug lords don’t entirely mind; they will continue to earn monopoly profits so long as their competition is kept at bay. It is the rest of us who should protest.

But can we really make drugs legal at the federal level? There is no constitutional basis for doing otherwise. Nothing in that founding document permits government bureaucrats to control what we smoke, inhale, or inject. By letting them attempt to do so, we invite every form of tyranny. And no amount of increased power by the feds will do the job. Consider that one of the worst drug problems exists in federal prisons. Prisons can’t keep them out! A free society shouldn’t even try.

If we make illicit drugs legal, people warn, they will be available for anyone who wants them. But that is precisely the situation we are in now. Can it get worse? What happens if people take more drugs after legalization than before?

So be it. People do lots of things that are bad for them. They eat too many cheeseburgers and they skydive. They watch tacky movies and listen to rap. They wear sloppy clothes and forget to floss their teeth. They get too fat and pick their noses. And they ingest, sniff, and smoke mind-altering drugs. A free society deals with these problems at the level of the family, the church, and community norms, not through the leviathan state.

Ludwig von Mises, in 1949, said:

The problems involved in direct government interference with consumption are not catallactic problems. They go far beyond the scope of catallactics and concern the fundamental issues of human life and social organization. If it is true that government derives its authority from God and is entrusted by Providence to act as the guardian of the ignorant and stupid populace, then it is certainly its task to regiment every aspect of the subject’s conduct. The God-sent ruler knows better what is good for his wards than they do themselves. It is his duty to guard them against the harm they would inflict upon themselves if left alone.

Self-styled "realistic" people fail to recognize the immense importance of the principles implied. They contend that they do not want to deal with the matter from what, they say, is a philosophic and academic point of view. Their approach is, they argue, exclusively guided by practical considerations. It is a fact, they say, that some people harm themselves and their innocent families by consuming narcotic drugs. Only doctrinaires could be so dogmatic as to object to the government’s regulation of the drug traffic. Its beneficent effects cannot be contested.

However, the case is not so simple as that. Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.

These fears are not merely imaginary specters terrifying secluded doctrinaires. It is a fact that no paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from regimenting its subjects’ minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away. The naive advocates of government interference with consumption delude themselves when they neglect what they disdainfully call the philosophical aspect of the problem. They unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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