What Every Libertarian Needs To Know About Two
Books on the Drug War
by Laurence M. Vance: No,
I Have Never Been in the Military
Mark A. R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angela Hawken,
and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2011), xxi + 234 pgs., paperback, $16.95; and
Jonathan P. Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark A. R.
Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2012), xx + 266 pgs., paperback, $16.95.
These two books
are part of a series by Oxford University Press called What Everyone
Needs to Know. There are currently twenty-six books in this series.
The books are written in a question-and-answer format. Obviously,
with titles like Invasive Species, Pandemics, and
Overfishing, not every book in the series is of interest
to libertarians. But aside from Libertarianism:
What Everyone Needs to Know (reviewed by David Gordon here),
these two books on the drug war are the two titles that libertarians
would be the most interested in.
The three common
authors of these books are all academics at major universities.
Beau Kilmer is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.
The marijuana book also includes an additional author, Christina
Farber, for one chapter.
Drug Policy contains 10 chapters with between 9 and 23 questions
per chapter. The book also contains acknowledgments, an introduction,
a conclusion on "what is to be done?" that is not in a
question-and-answer format, an appendix on "how drugs work
in the brain" with eight questions and answers, a bibliography,
and an index. Each chapter concludes with recommendations for additional
reading. There are no footnotes.
Drug Policy "includes facts about drugs and drug-related
behavior, pharmacology, prohibitions, regulations, and taxes, and
how drug enforcement, drug prevention, and drug treatment work,
along with their characteristic problems and limitations."
Legalization is divided into 2 parts with a total of 16 chapters
with between 5 and 17 questions per chapter. The book contains acknowledgments,
an introduction, a concluding chapter not in a question-and-answer
format that gives the authorís opinions about marijuana legalization,
a bibliography, and an index. Each chapter except the last concludes
with recommendations for additional reading. There are no footnotes.
Legalization is "not intended to persuade" the reader
of any particular answers to questions about marijuana legalization
and use. The authors "hope to provide both sets of advocates
with material for an honest and logically coherent debate, and give
people who have not yet made up their minds the raw material needed
to develop informed opinions."
Due to their
question-and-answer format and skillful manner of explaining technical
information, both books are extremely readable. And in spite of
the brevity (in a good way) of the answers, the books are very thorough.
Although I disagree with the authorsí conclusions, I recommend both
books for the information they provide about drugs and the drug
What I want
to focus on are those parts of these books that relate to drug legalization,
drug decriminalization, and drug freedom.
and Drug Policy, that would mainly be chapter 2, "Why Have
Drug Laws?" and the conclusion, "What Is to Be Done?"
In Marijuana Legalization, that would mainly be most of the
chapters in part 2, "Legalization and Its Consequences,"
and the concluding chapter, "What Do the Authors Think about
and Drug Policy, the authors point out that alcohol and tobacco
"far exceed all the illicit drugs combined in the number of
problem users and the resulting ill health and death." But
instead of pointing out the hypocrisy of the war on drugs and calling
for full drug legalization, they recommend tripling the tax on alcohol
because it would "improve the health and longevity of heavy
drinkers" and "protect nondrinkers from drinking-related
accidents and violence" and "banning additives and the
pre-rolled cigarette" and "requiring that all smoking
products be made from strains of tobacco that do not produce the
tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNs) that create most of the cancer
risk." They reject John Stuart Millís "harm principle":
only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over
any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent
harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not
sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or
forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it
will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do
so would be wise, or even right.
"the case for protecting people from themselves Ė when it can
be done at acceptable cost in terms of intrusive enforcement Ė seems
attractive." The authors are utilitarian nanny statists.
In their conclusion,
the authors present three lists of policies: a "consensus"
list of eleven items they "think might command widespread support,"
a "pragmatist" list of six items "that could appeal
to those prepared to think about drug abuse as a more or less straightforwardly
practical problem," and a "political-bridge-too-far"
list of six changes "that make good sense to some drug-policy
wonks, but that involve departures from current practice and more
radical thinking than a prudent politician would endorse."
the third list is the most radical. But aside from calling for higher
alcohol and cigarette taxes, the authors propose "allowing
users to grow their own cannabis, or to form small consumer-owned
cooperatives to grow it for them." But "alas," they
say, "this approach would yield no tax revenue, which greatly
reduces its political appeal."
Legalization, the authors again point out how much more dangerous
alcohol and tobacco are than marijuana. They even say:
If we were
making laws for a planet whose population had never experienced
either marijuana or alcohol, and we had to choose one of the two
drugs to make available, there would be a strong case for choosing
marijuana, which has lower organic toxicity, lower addictive risk,
and a much weaker link with accidents and violence.
But since "thatís
not the planet we inhabit," and "alcohol has been an ingrained
part of many cultures since the Neolithic revolution," the
authors reject treating marijuana as alcohol. "History matters.
Custom matters. Practicality matters," say the authors. I guess
freedom doesnít matter.
In the bookís
final chapter, "What Do the Authors Think about Marijuana Legalization?,"
drug freedom is not in their thoughts.
says: "Existing policies suit me well." But then she goes
on to say that she thinks "itís pretty clear that the cost-benefit
balance is in favor of loosening the reins on marijuana." She
deems it "worthwhile to experiment with legalization"
of marijuana, although she is "concerned with the exploitation
of medical-marijuana laws." Hawken also calls for raising taxes
on alcohol and restricting its advertising.
says he would "vote against legalizing marijuana." He
prefers reforms and "middle path" options. He is worried
about "the children of dependent users." He claims to
"generally agree with libertarian notions of letting people
harm themselves if thatís what they choose," but "only
to a point."
posits six options: current policy, decriminalization of use but
not production and distribution, permission to use, grow, and give
away marijuana, but not to grow or sell it professionally, legalization
without commercialization that allows home production and small
cooperatives, commercialization with high taxes and tight restrictions,
and commercialization on the alcohol model. Missing, of course,
is the drug freedom option. Kleimanís first choice of what he would
like to see happen is "permission for production and use through
small not-for-profit cooperatives, with a ban on commerce."
doesnít "see much difference between alcohol and marijuana
when adults use either in moderation." He has "serious
concerns about our current marijuana policies." Although his
"thoughts about marijuana policy continue to evolve,"
if he were "approached for advice by a policymaker who represented
a constituency seeking significant changes in their marijuana policies,"
he advises the incorporation of a "sunset provision" to
whatever is decided and rejects legalization because "it is
risky to implement the most extreme alternative to prohibition."
and Drug Policy and Marijuana Legalization suffer from
the same problems.
There is little
attention paid to the views of principled libertarians who argue
for absolute drug freedom for freedomís sake.
There are no
references to important works such as Our
Right to Drugs: The Case for a Free Market, by psychiatrist
Thomas Szasz, or
The Economics of Prohibition, by economist Mark Thornton.
take it for granted that the federal government should have a drug
policy. Churches may want to have a drug policy. Families may want
to have a drug policy. Businesses may want to have a drug policy.
Sports teams may want to have a drug policy. Fraternal organizations
may want to have a drug policy. But it is not the concern of the
federal government to solve drug use problems or ensure that there
arenít any drug abuse problems.
take it for granted that the federal government has the authority
to ban substances it deems to be harmful, dangerous, or immoral.
But as anyone who has read the Constitution even once can see, the
federal government has no such authority.
The main problem,
of course, is that real and absolute drug freedom isnít even presented
as a viable option.
So, as I said
earlier, although I disagree with the authorsí conclusions, I recommend
both books for the information they provide about drugs and the
And that, in
this reviewerís opinion, is what every libertarian needs to know
about these two books on the drug war.
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, Rethinking
the Good War, and The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. His latest book
War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. Visit his
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