Bad Trip

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Trip: How the War against Drugs Is Destroying America

by Joel Miller (Nashville: WorldNet Daily Books); 242 pages; $24.99.

The self-proclaimed toughest cop in America, Sheriff Joe Arpaio
of Maricopa County, Arizona, brandishes a badge and a gun, and drives
a custom-painted U.S. Army tank. "We are proud to have the
ultimate weapon in the war on drugs in our arsenal," Arpaio
says of the self-propelled "howitzer," which the sheriff
proudly parades before local citizens to "educate our children
of the dangers of drug abuse." (The lesson apparently being,
"If you use drugs, we will blow you up.")

The troubling reality that local law enforcement now enjoys access
to some of the same military weaponry as do America’s armed forces
is just one of the insidious outgrowths of the drug war profiled
in Bad
Trip: How the War against Drugs Is Destroying America
, by
World Net Daily senior editor Joel Miller.

Miller writes,

By its intervention in the drug market, the State sets in motion
an economic and political domino-collapse that exacerbates crime
and corruption, gnaws away at privacy and property rights, endangers
people’s well being, jails them, and sometimes takes their lives.
In Martin Luther’s parlance, it’s a case of stepping on the dish
while fetching the spoon, creating a big problem while trying
to solve a small one.

The "big problem" Miller speaks of includes more than
just the growing militarization of law enforcement, as exemplified
by General — ahem — Sheriff Arpaio’s private "howie."
It’s the exponential growth of government power to seize control
over Americans’ liberties, property, and even lives — all
in the name of fighting the war on drugs. "Far from a simple
attempt to rid the nation of crime and drugs, our policy against
narcotics — like any public policy — comes with strings
attached," the author writes. "And increasingly these
strings are constricting around the necks of Americans’ lives and

Readers of Freedom Daily are no doubt well aware of the numerous
government abuses and intrusions carried out under the guise of
America’s drug war, from the shredding of constitutional liberties
to the rise of the police state to the explosion of America’s 2.1-million-person
prison population. (Such striking models of modern democracy as
Belarus and Turkmenistan jail fewer of their citizens per capita
than the United States, Miller notes.) Nevertheless, Miller’s rapid-fire
recitation of facts and anecdotes illustrative of the drug war’s
ever rising collateral damage is still sobering. Seldom has an accounting
of the war on drugs’ real-world costs been so meticulous and conveniently
available all in one place.

Unfortunately, at a mere 242 pages (including footnotes), Bad
Trip has little room to be much more than a tally of the drug
war’s laundry list of casualties and abuses. Indeed, the sheer volume
of ways "the war against drugs is destroying America"
leaves Miller with few opportunities to probe many of the drug war’s
negative repercussions with the depth they deserve. As a result,
Bad Trip often reads like a Cliffs Notes guide to ending
the war on drugs. Yes, readers are presented the whole story, but
it’s an admittedly abridged version. (That said, for Miller to do
otherwise would conceivably limit the book’s potential audience,
many of whom are likely to be social conservatives who have rarely,
if ever before, questioned the government’s drug-war agenda.)

Solving the drug-war crisis

So what is Miller’s solution to "pull ourselves out of this
mess"? Simply put, "As prohibition is the root of all
these problems, the fix lies in repeal." In Miller’s opinion,
this conclusion demands that America adopt some form of drug legalization
that effectively removes government from the drug-control business,
and instead relies on a system of cultural controls, primarily faith
and family, to deter drug abuse. (The author is short on specifics,
writing, "There is little space to deal in details, but a few
broad strokes might help paint a useful picture.")

a general rule, what the State does, society quits doing,"
Miller asserts.

This is true for the poor (compare today’s stifling welfare to
the boisterous pre-New Deal and Great Society charity industry),
the elderly (think Social Security, which, pre-New Deal, somehow
the elderly got along without, thanks to family-care structures),
even substance abusers (who were, before prohibition, mainly dealt
with by physicians, church, and family)…. Seeing the resounding
failure of the State’s tactics, it’s time we get back to cultural

Of these, Miller sees the church and families — not federal
criminal controls — as the social institutions most likely
to discourage the misuse of drugs. "A more effective approach
to drug control and prohibition would be to allow [illicit] drugs
legal status and simply encourage parents to do as parents are supposed
to do — train a child up in the way that he should go,"
he maintains. "In some cases this will involve religious reasons
for abstention. In others, it will involve teaching regarding moderation.
Still in others, it will involve a mixture of the two. This is what
Europe has done with alcohol, and it works."

Will such a system eventually eliminate all drug abuse and associated
ills? Clearly not. But such a plan will halt the frightening and
unmitigated expansion of state power under a prohibitionist regimen
and restore many of the individual rights and liberties outlined
by the Founding Fathers back to the citizenry.

long as we are addicted to the drug-war mentality, we’ll be powerless
to stop the liberty-squelching growth of government," Miller

What we have to remember is that not everything is under our control.
If people are free in any meaningful sense of the word, that means
they are at liberty to foul up their lives as much as make something
grand of them. That’s a gamble we all take. That’s the risk of
liberty. Nobody wants others to screw up their lives, but each
must be free to do so for themselves.

This is the lesson that prohibition’s proponents have yet to learn,
laments Miller, and the rest of the nation suffers for it.

22, 2005

Paul Armentano [send him mail]
is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation
in Washington, DC. This article was originally published in the
November 2004 edition of Freedom

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